IS THERE A GENERATION GAP ? PART II.
In my last blog , I had discussed the psychological perspective of generation gap. I had suggested that it is the difference in emotional development between the two individuals of different ages that appears to us as a generation gap. In this blog , I would discuss the literary context of the notion of generation gap. There are two aspects to this literary context. Firstly , does our choice of fiction depend on our age ? In other words , do we change our choice of novels as we grow old ? The second aspect of this literary context of generation gap is about novelists. Should novelists try to write fiction keeping in mind the age group of their potential readers ? I would try to deconstruct both these aspects in this blog.
Let me begin with our choice of fiction and how it changes with time. I am sure most of you would agree that each one of us has a set of favourite childhood books that we still remember and cherish. We also know , in our hearts , that we don’t remember and cherish these stories because they are literary master pieces. This is not to suggest that these stories are not literary master pieces. Rather , we remember and cherish them, not because of their literary merits, but because they have left deep impression on our minds. In our formative years , when our emotional universe was being created , these stories were first to enter our sensibilities and have left indelible marks on our sensibility. In fact , it happens sometimes that these stories become benchmark for us to define what a great fiction should be . We evaluate all the other fiction that we read later in our lives in the context of this benchmark. However , this benchmark is not permanent. As we grow old and read more and more fiction , this benchmark also changes. However this refinement of benchmark is not universal. There would be individuals who stop reading fiction and their benchmark remains unchanged. It is common to find grown up individuals who still keep reading juvenile literature. In fact , it is possible to classify people based on their literary preferences. This is not being judgemental, even I have stopped reading fiction some years ago. That fact , by itself , does not make me less perceptive. The key insight is that each one of us read only some kind of fiction and our likes and dislikes of fiction would be shaped by that repertoire.
This brings us to the question of generation gap in case of readers. If what I have written above is true , then it is obvious that our sensibilities are shaped by the kind of fiction that we read. More importantly, what we read during our childhood leaves a lasting impression on our sensibilities. However, the tragedy is that , at some point in our lives , we stop growing emotionally. We become less receptive to new emotional experiences , including the ones that a good fiction may offer. From that point onwards , our emotional universe is frozen in time. This is also reflected in our perception of what is a good fiction. Thus , there are no generation gaps amongst the readers but we have readers frozen in different sensibilities representing different emotional stages of human mind.
I came across this realization while writing my novels. In my first novel , the protagonist was a bibliophile. He was obsessed with books. While creating that character, I realized that I could correlate his subpersonalities with different types of fiction that I had shown him to be liking. The emotional conflicts within his mind were mirrored in the different types of fiction. Even in my second novel , which I am writing now , I have similar experience. Here the protagonist doesn’t like reading fiction. However, under the influence of his girlfriend , he starts reading detective fiction. However , due to circumstances , he stops reading fiction and therefore, his sensibility is still struck in his earlier reading of detective fiction.
Now , let me turn to the novelist’s perspective of generation gap. There are two aspects to this perspective. Firstly , it is apparent from the discussion that a novelist would be in a particular emotional developmental stage while writing a novel, thereby representing particular age group. Moreover , over a period of time , a novelist would evolve from one emotional stage to another. These transitions would naturally reflect in the novelist’s fiction. It is standard practice in literary criticism to evaluate the novelists in the context of their lives.
However , I am not concerned here about natural changes in a novelist’s sensibility and its reflection in that novelist’s creative outputs. This relationship is at the heart of creative writing and therefore sacred to me. I am concerned about whether a novelist ought to consciously fashion the fiction with particular age group of readers in mind. In present times , when the emphasis is on targeting the specific audience has become a major concern due to high cost of publishing and marketing books , this is an ethical dilemma. I am willing to accept a possibility that even a novelist wants to focus on particular age group of her /his readership simply because the novelist feels that the theme of the novel would appeal to narrow segment of readers. The key question is whether a novelist can do so without compromising literary merits of the fiction ?
I think the answer is no. A novelist can not fashion a novel , for any external considerations ,without compromising the literary merits of the novel. However , it may happen that due to emotional resonance between the sensibility depicted in the novel and the prevalent sensibilities of a particular age group of readers, a novel may find a niche readership. The point is a novelist can not consciously tailor a novel for the target audience. If such a targeting happens due to emotional resonance, it is always welcome ,but it can’t be manufactured.
I am not asserting this view from any high moral ground . Rather, I think it is not possible for a novelist to do such a thing because a novelist is driven by her/his creative processes which are , in some sense , not in novelist’s control. To think of a novelist as a master of creative processes is wrong. A novelist is a prisoner of her /his creativity. A novelist may be able to filter and refine the outputs of her/his creativity but can never manufacture a made to order fiction. Therefore my rejection of targeting a particular generation by novelists is not based on any idealism but it is based on limits of literary autonomy in creative writing. I can say this from my own experience. My first novel was written from the perspective of a middle aged protagonist. Therefore , I was determined to make use of different age groups of characters in my second novel. However , halfway through, I realized that it is the characters , themselves , who have their own sensibilities. I , as a novelist , did not have much of a choice in deciding the sensibilities of the characters of my novel. I could only observe them just as any worried but an indulgent parent would do. There are times when I think that the characters of my novels conspire against me and make me dance to their whims and fancies. There may be or may not be a generation gap in real life , but I can tell you that there exists a definitive generation gap between a novelist and her /his characters. This is because a novelist , being in loco parentis , is forced to understand and appreciate the travails and tribulations of her /his characters ,but the characters , being enfante terrible, are oblivious to a novelist’s plight.
In my next blog , I would discuss how changing technologies have influenced our own sensibilities. This is important from literary point of view because not just our idiom of expression but also our way of thinking has undergone a change due to change in technologies. I found it difficult to create a different sensibility for a young girl who appears in the second half of the novel.