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For me, the word that best describes the novelist’s view of the world is tragic. In Nietzche’s account of the “birth of tragedy”… an anarchic “Dionysian” insight into the darkness and unpredictability of life is wedded to an “Apollonian” clarity and beauty of form to produce an experience that’s religious in its intensity… by “tragic” I mean just about any fiction that raises more questions than it answers. The point of calling serious fiction tragic is to highlight its distance from the rhetoric of optimism that so pervades our culture. The necessary lie of every successful regime, including the upbeat techno-corporatism under which we now live, is that the regime has made the world a better place. Tragic realism preserves the recognition that improvement always comes at a cost; that nothing lasts forever; that if the good in the world outweighs the bad, it’s by the slimmest of margins.

–Jonathan Franzen

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