[W]e are up against what truly seems like the obsolescence of serious art in general. Imagine that human existence is defined by an Ache: the Ache of our not being, each of us, the center of the universe, of our desires forever outnumbering our means of satisfying them. If we see religion and art as the historically preferred methods of coming to terms with this Ache, then what happens to art when our technological and economic systems and even our commercialized religions become sufficiently sophisticated to make each of us the center of our own universes of choices and expectations? Fiction’s response to the sting of poor manners, for example, is to render them comic. The reader laughs with the writer, feels less alone with the sting. This is a delicate transaction, and it takes some work. How can it compete with a system—screen your calls; go out by modem; acquire the money to deal exclusively with the privatized world, where workers must be courteous or lose their jobs—that spares you the sting in the first place?

Jonathan Franzen, “Why Bother?”, in How to Be Alone