Contemporary Novelists and the Aesthetics of Twenty-First Century American Life gives us a new way to view contemporary art novels, asking the key question: How do contemporary writers imagine aesthetic experience? Examining the works of some of the most popular names in contemporary fiction and art criticism, including Zadie Smith, Teju Cole, Siri Hustvedt, Ben Lerner, Rachel Kushner, and others, Alexandra Kingston-Reese finds that contemporary art novels are seeking to reconcile the negative feelings of contemporary life through a concerted critical realignment in understanding artistic sensibility, literary form, and the function of the aesthetic.
Kingston-Reese reveals how contemporary writers refract and problematize aesthetic experience, illuminating an uneasiness with failure: firstly, about the failure of aesthetic experiences to solve and save; and secondly, the literary inability to articulate the emotional dissonance caused by aesthetic experiences now.
“This invigorating book shows how writers today are evoking the dynamism and disruptions of aesthetic experience as a means of rethinking the very anatomy of the contemporary novel. Through her striking, patient, and absorbing readings, Alexandra Kingston-Reese illuminates the emotive and critical provocations of aesthetic attention as it is modeled in twenty-first-century fiction, enriching our vocabulary for responding to the affective unpredictability of artistic form.”
—David James, author, Discrepant Solace: Contemporary Literature and the Work of Consolation