In a famous article for The New Republic, the critic James Wood first named and then criticized the hardening genre of “hysterical realism”, claiming that “the style knows a thousand things, but does not know a single human being. On these grounds, it was in dereliction of its principle duty: the main function of literature is “to teach its readers about other people” via the vehicle of believable characters. Attacking William Gass’s line that Henry James’s character Mr. Cashmore is fundamentally not a person, of whom anything that would be appropriate to persons could be said, Wood remarks: “Gass’s words pose as skepticism but in fact simply represent a dandyish flippancy, a refusal to be taught by literature about other people. To my mind, to deny character with such extremity is essentially to deny the novel.” What Wood has in mind is the the novel of characters understood as moral persons. Other definitions are possible. In Finnegans Wake, James Joyce stripped language down to characters: HCE, ALP; which became castles and humans, concepts and mountains. Howth Castle Environs. Humphrey Carpenter Earwicker. Anna Livia Plurabelle. “What is a character?” James Wood asks. A very small unit of code, In a world soaked with language, language plays tricks. A masterpiece promises skeleton keys; an index or frame through which to decode all the other books, and their other; the world. In the rain, About the size of an bee.


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