Digital Times: The Present-Tense Novel as a Response to Digitization and Social Acceleration


  • Carolin Gebauer University of Wuppertal, Gauss Str. 20, D-42119 Wuppertal, Germany


present-tense novel, generic change, configurations of time, digitization, social acceleration, Bernadine Evaristo, Sally Rooney


How does generic change manifest itself in the twenty-first century? Proceeding from the increasing popularity of present-tense narration among contemporary novelists, this article claims that the present-tense novel is a direct response to the cultural changes and challenges of the digital age. The essay unfolds this argument in two steps: It first establishes a link between digitization and our current understanding of time, which is determined by notions of the extended present (Helga Nowotny) and social acceleration (Hartmut Rosa), and then goes on to investigate how present-tense narrative reacts to these developments. Taking Sally Rooney’s Normal People and Bernadine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other as examples, the article shows that the present-tense novel negotiates contemporary configurations of time in various ways, as it either imitates the fast and superficial practices of storytelling in the new media environment or functions as a literary corrective to digitization and the acceleration of life.