Marco Roth is an idiot.
At the very least, he’s severely mistaken.
It’s impossible (for me) to read things like:
“Is the interest in neurological anomaly not symptomatic of an anxiety about the role of novelists in this new medical-materialist world, which happens also to be a world of giant publishing conglomerates and falling reading rates? […] To put all this more simply, the neuronovel tends to become a variety of meta-novel, allegorizing the novelist’s fear of his isolation and meaninglessness, and the alleged capacity of science to explain him better than he can explain himself.” (4)
and not laugh. What truly bizarre things to say. Of course, I knew Roth was an idiot even earlier on, when he wrote, “Faulkner’s Benjy spoke in a strange and addled voice—but then so did Faulkner’s other characters, along with those of Joyce, without their needing to be mentally damaged” (3, emphasis added). It truly sounds like Roth is whining because suddenly characters that aren’t neurotypical are appearing in books, and he has to read these books. The horror! Just replace “mentally damaged” with “gay” or “black” to understand my point of view. I won’t even touch the word “damaged.”
Describing a passage in McEwan, he writes, “The reader is presented simultaneously with an effect and a diagnosis of its cause; the writer indulges in some fancy language or rare perceptions, and then hastens to explain why, on medical grounds, this is allowed” (3). Did he never learn that the character is not the author? Just because the character feels a need to explain his perceptions in scientific terms does not mean the author thinks he must justify the character’s perceptions in scientific terms in order for them to be understood or accepted by the reader. Of course, if Roth actually acknowledged that, he wouldn’t have been able to write this ridiculous essay in the first place.
He claims “neuronovels have in them very little of society, of different classes, of individuals interacting, of development either alongside or against historical forces and expectations,” but if you have finished The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, you already know this is untrue (4). Christopher interacts with many people, he goes out into the world on his own, and he comes to understand that he is more capable than he believed he was at the beginning of the novel. I haven’t read any of the other books that Roth mentions, so I can’t say whether or not he is being unfair, but I suspect that he is.
Roth would do well to listen to the advice Jurecic offers in “Neurodiversity:” “uncomfortable as the idea of innate cognitive difference may make us, it is time to open ourselves to learning as much as we can…” (439). That is what writers do when they write: work through problems or issues or even just ideas so as to learn and show others what they have learned. Neuronovels are not a portent of doom, a sign of the end of the novel as Roth claims when he writes: “So the new genre of the neuronovel, which looks on the face of it to expand the writ of literature, appears as another sign of the novel’s diminishing purview” (5). They’re an acknowledgment of the fact that not everyone is neurotypical, and that atypical minds deserve representation, too. Frankly, I love that these novels exist. If authors did not explore everything that is open to exploration, if they stuck to only what they know and understand, perhaps then we could talk about the death of the novel as a thing that is coming to pass. Because in that event, the novel might actually die off. After all, there would be little to write about.