Beyond Maximalism: Resolving the Novelistic Incompatibilities of Realism, Paranoia, Omniscience, and Encyclopedism through Electronic Literature

David Thomas Henry Wright, Chris Arnold

Research output: Contribution to conferenceConference presentation/ephemera


In The Maximalist Novel, Ercolino defines a type of novel that displays multiform maximizing and hypertrophic tension. He lists Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow (1973) and Mason & Dixon (1997), Wallace’s Infinite Jest (1996), DeLillo’s Underworld (1997), Smith’s White Teeth (2000), Franzen’s The Corrections (2001), and Bolaño’s 2666 (2004) as examples of the term, and classifies the maximalist novel using ten elements: length, encyclopedic mode, dissonant chorality, diegetic exuberance, completeness, narratorial omniscience, paranoid imagination, intersemioticity, ethical commitment, and hybrid realism. While Ercolino’s ten elements accurately identify and classify a significant novel form that has emerged, I argue that these elements are incompatible with one another, which has resulted in criticisms of maximalist novels, as well as a number of maximalist novelists to abandon the form. While Ercolino argues that these incompatibilities represent an ‘internal dialectic’ of the genre, I argue that this is too conflicting to be stable as a novelistic form. These incompatibilities include the incompatibility of multiple (hybrid) realisms, the incompatibility of paranoid imagination with ethical commitment, and the incompatibilities of narratorial omniscience and an encyclopedic mode with a persuasive realism. By examining contemporary fictional works written by previously maximalist novelists, I reassess Ercolino’s ten elements in order to identify the reasons why certain authors have moved beyond the limits of his definition. In so doing, I compare and contrast Ercolino’s ‘maximalist novel’ with Woods’s ‘hysterical realism,’ and Johnston’s ‘novel of information multiplicity.’ Using the Franzen and Smith corpuses as examples, this paper speculates on the future form of the novel as it progresses into the 21st Century. From this literary interrogation, I apply these conclusions to my digital creative practice by developing the digital novel The Perfect Democracy (funded by the Australia Council for the Arts). This work takes as its subject the entire population of contemporary Australia. Such a vast subject is impossible to represent in a work of fiction. The whole work is presented as a 3D frame-like artefact, that can be navigated as a whole, allowing readers to be presented with a multivalent, broad-canvas novel, while resolving the paradoxical issues identified in my interrogation of Ercolino. I propose that this will be achieved by utilizing Calvino’s Six Memos. Images of Australian currency will be used as a structural device to remove weight by representing the whole society from the richest to the poorest in the quickest way possible, and a multitude of simultaneous digital writing formats and voices will be used to precisely depict characterization.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 26 May 2021
EventElectronic Literature Organization Conference 2021 - , Virtual
Duration: 24 May 202128 May 2021


ConferenceElectronic Literature Organization Conference 2021
Internet address


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