From this great essay in The Point on how literature reminds us that liberalism may not be dead but flourishing, even after 2016, in its enduring relationship to failure. The writer, James Duesterberg, is responding to the critical monograph Bleak Liberalism by Amanda Anderson:
It’s important to say that these novels [Anderson covers] do not just depict a character dealing with failure, as if providing examples of how others navigate the disappointments of life. For that, we wouldn’t need literature; journalism would suffice. Anderson is after the essence, the form of the literary imagination, and she pursues it by asking how characters’ own limited desires and beliefs link up with the novel’s omniscient perspective—the godlike capacity to see and know everything in its world, by virtue of having imagined it. Think of how the narrator in Eliot or Dickens will generate sympathy and identification with a character by depicting their moral challenges and their always-partial ability to meet them. For Anderson, the text and its characters are engaged in a complex reciprocity. The characters are trying “to meet the exacting demands of the novel’s informing moral doctrines,” and yet these ideals themselves only acquire moral weight—only come alive—through the characters’ failure to live up to them. The novel succeeds because its characters fail.
I’ve got a PhD in the novel form and I’ve never seen it understood in this way.