Mark McGurl joins us for a discussion of his new book Everything and Less: the Novel in the Age of Amazon, in conversation with Mark McGurl. This program will take place on Zoom. Register here.
What Has Happened to Fiction in the Age of Platform Capitalism?
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.
Mark McGurl is the Albert Guérard Professor of Literature at Stanford University. His last book, The Program Era, won the Truman Capote Award for Literary Criticism. He previously worked for the New York Times and New York Review of Books.
Mark Greif is the author of Against Everything, and a founding editor of n+1. He is Associate Professor of English at Stanford.