All this might seem very theoretical, very illusory, if something were not actually changing – changing totally, definitively—in our relations with text. Which is why we glimpse an answer to the old ironic question, “Why now?” There is today, in fact, a new element that separates us radically this time from Dickens as from Austen or from Brontë: it is the destitution of the old myths of “depth.”
We know that the whole literature of the novel was based on these myths, and on them alone. The writer’s traditional role consisted in excavating Nature, in burrowing deeper and deeper to reach some ever more intimate strata, in finally unearthing some fragment of a disconcerting secret. Having descended into the abyss of human passions, she would send to the seemingly tranquil world (the world on the surface) triumphant messages describing the mysteries she had actually touched with her own hands. And the sacred vertigo the reader suffered then, far from causing her anguish or nausea, reassured her as to her power of domination over the world. There were chasms, certainly, but thanks to such valiant speleologists, their depths could be sounded.
It is not surprising, given these conditions, that the literary phenomenon par excellence should have resided in the total and unique adjective, which attempted to unite all the inner qualities, the entire hidden soul of things. Thus the word functioned as a trap in which the writer captured the universe in order to hand it over to society.
The revolution which has occurred is in kind; not only do we no longer consider texts as our own, our private property, designed according to our needs and readily domesticated, but we no longer even believe in their “depth.” While essentialist conceptions of man met their destruction, the notion of “condition” henceforth replacing that of “nature,” the surface of things has ceased to be for us the mask of their heart, a sentiment that led to every kind of metaphysical transcendence.
Thus it is the entire literary language that must change, that is changing already. From day to day, we witness the growing repugnance felt by some writers for texts of a visceral, analogical, or incantatory character. On the other hand, the visual or descriptive adjective, the text that contents itself with measuring, locating, limiting, defining, indicates a difficult but most likely direction for a new art of the novel.