Interesting, critical essay by Miriam Burstein over at the Valve on How Novels Think (which, you'll have noted, was one of my Books of the Week last week, and which is going to be the focus of an Ongoing Valve Book Event). Burstein starts her paper saying, "to think about Nancy Armstrong thinking about the novel, we need to begin with Ian Watt." Ian Watt, of course, is the author of The Rise of the Novel: Studies in Defoe, Richardson and Fielding (1957) which was, for years, the standard work in the UK on the genesis and development of the novel.
... Nancy Armstrong’s work is itself a decades-long engagement with Watt’s The Rise of the Novel in general and his understanding of literary history in particular ... For Armstrong, novels make things happen ... Novels do not emerge from philosophical, theological, or cultural debates; instead, they at once create and are created by them. This new model of literary history elevates the novel’s cultural significance, granting it a role equivalent to that of, say, philosophical treatises. Real intellectual work, in other words, takes place in what looks like a popular form.