Episode 56

Published on:

16th Nov 2021

Fiction & Platform Capitalism - interview w/ Mark McGurl

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Amazon permeates our lives in so many ways, from lightning-fast consumerism to hoarding metadata - it does it all. It makes sense that a platform originating in bookselling has had an impact on the author and of fiction itself. Literary critic Mark McGurl joins us to discuss his new book Everything and Less: The Novel in the Age of Amazon, and the deep impact that platform capitalism has had on the artform that is the written word.

About Everything and Less: The Novel in the Age of Amazon

Since it was first launched in 1994, Amazon has changed the world of literature. The “Everything Store” has not just transformed how we buy books; it has affected what we buy, and even what we read. In Everything and Less, acclaimed critic Mark McGurl explores this new world where writing is no longer categorized as high or lowbrow, literature or popular fiction.

Charting a course spanning from Henry James to E. L. James, McGurl shows that contemporary writing has less to do with writing per se than with the manner of its distribution. This consumerist logic—if you like this, you might also like …—has reorganized the fiction universe so that literary prize-winners sit alongside fantasy, romance, fan fiction, and the infinite list of hybrid genres and self-published works.

This is an innovation to be cautiously celebrated. Amazon’s platform is not just a retail juggernaut but an aesthetic experiment driven by an unseen algorithm rivaling in the depths of its effects any major cultural shift in history. Here all fiction is genre fiction, and the niches range from the categories of crime and science fiction to the more refined interests of Adult Baby Diaper Lover erotica.

Everything and Less is a hilarious and insightful map of both the commanding heights and sordid depths of fiction, past and present, that opens up an arresting conversation about why it is we read and write fiction in the first place.

Buy the book here

About Mark McGurl

Mark McGurl is the Albert Guérard Professor of Literature at Stanford University, where he has been a member of the English Department since 2012. His scholarly work centers on the relation of literature to social, educational and other institutions from the late 19th century to the present. He is former Director of the Stanford Center for the Study of the Novel, and has worked with the Stanford Literary Lab. He teaches a range of classes on American literature and related topics. His book, Everything and Less: The Novel in the Age of Amazon is forthcoming from Verso in 2021.

McGurl is the author of The Program Era: Postwar Fiction and the Rise of Creative Writing (Harvard), which was the recipient of the Truman Capote Award for Literary Criticism for 2011. Links to reviews, interviews and other articles related to this book have been gathered here. McGurl’s previous book was The Novel Art: Elevations of American Fiction after Henry James (Princeton). He has also published articles in journals such as Critical Inquiry, Representations, American Literary History, and New Literary History.

McGurl received his BA from Harvard, then worked at the New York Times and the New York Review of Books. He earned his PhD in comparative literature from Johns Hopkins, and until 2011 taught at UCLA.

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New Left Radio
News and commentary from behind the front lines of late-stage capitalism
New Left Radio is bringing you news and commentary from behind the front lines of late-stage capitalism through daily coverage of current events, and weekly long-form interviews and debates with changemakers with a view from the Canadian left, five days a week.
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