Adventures in Cultural Consumption, Marías for Nobel edition

Javier Marías, A Heart So White

If ours is an age dedicated to realism, and realism as verisimilitude, the verisimilitude we seek is in the collection of a million tiny data points. It was there in embryonic form in David Foster Wallace, who conceived of daily life as an unending stream of information constantly bombarding the individual person, too much to handle. It has blossomed into everyone's favorite complaint about the internet containing too much new content to possibly read. It is there in the fetishism of violence and destruction in comic book movies--one must be real even in the unreal--and in the lavish praise for TV shows that can manage impossible fidelity to nearly-past historical recreations. Its apotheosis as of the moment is Karl Ove Knausgaard's My Struggle, the 6000-page listicle of things its author has thought, thinly disguised as a novel-memoir.

Marías, thank goodness, swings as far as possible in the opposite direction. The essence of reality cannot possibly be the welter of information, most of which is instantly discarded by our brains and the rest of which gets minimally processed. (A favorite example from philosophy of mind: what's going on with the bottom of your feet right now? Your brain is constantly receiving nerve signals from them and almost always ignoring them unless conscious attention is placed (or forced). So also everything else in life.) Reality is not information-rich but narrative poor. In the average day, nothing of much consequence happens, even in those parts of life when exciting things are supposed to be happening all the time. As a friend of mine one remarked: "I was prepared for how challenging college would be. I wasn't prepared for how boring it is." Those things that happen are few, and the challenge we face on a daily basis is making some narrative out of those events, from which we can anticipate the future or make decisions about how we will act. Marías is the novelist of that reality.

All Souls is the archetype here: a novel chronicling an affair over the course of an academic year, which intersperses its brief moments of action with long reflections about what, if anything, that action is supposed to mean. In A Heart So White, the narrator is recently married, and is reflecting, in a variety of circumstances, on what that change is supposed to mean, and how to best integrate it into his life. There are, as typical in Marías, unexpected things and narrative twists, but he mostly takes up his idea and examines it from all sides.

On the twists: he is the master of never wasting material. All references are intentional. Any threads that appear to have been left unresolved will be brought up again at the proper time. This is most remarkable in the 1000+ page Your Face Tomorrow, but never not impressive.

He may be the only novelist I've read who has not written a bad book--a judgment I feel safe making with two novels left to go.

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