Britain's first book blogger (November 2000)

Saturday, December 31, 2005

Wounds of the negative: litblogging wishes for 2006

So, the final post of the year. Time for futile, litblog-related wishes inspired by browsing the new Metaxu Cafe coalesence.

First, when we're discussing contemporary fiction can we drop the word 'experimental'? As I’m keen to provide examples, see its use in yesterday's post at The World of Paul Jessup. ‘Experimental fiction’ is a pleonasm. A writer chooses or finds the most appropriate way to write a work of fiction. This is the necessary experiment. If it works, it works. If it doesn't, well, then you can refer to 'literary snobs'.

But of course, what does 'work' mean? It depends what you need from fiction. If you want to talk loudly in bars about innovation and postmodernism, I suppose the diarrheic imaginations of professional novelists is for you.

Second, which is closely related to the first: define your terms! For example, take the word 'accessible'. Paul Jessup, again, wishes 'experimental' writers were more accessible and wrote 'in order to please a literary audience'. Yet how can a writer know if he or she is accessible and/or pleasing to a reader? How can the reader know if the author is allowing them access or deliberately excluding them? Answering either with certainty reflects only the assumptions and prejudices of the reader or writer.

Third, name names. In a ventriloquised rant (i.e. no individual can hold these views without merging with the herd of independent minds), Sand Storm says
It seems like some reviewers have become so enamored of abstraction, indirect payoff ... and language gymnastics that the simple pleasure of observing an interesting set of characters moving through a plot (read: storytelling!) is just plain looked down upon.
And goes on in the very same entry:
The funny thing is that some of the very same critics who decry the state of modern literature, and who complain that the young folks aren't reading anymore, would somehow 'fix' the situation by recommending the literary equivalent of a tablespoon of cod liver oil - maybe a little 'difficult' but ‘good for you’.
Who are these critics? It would be useful to compare and contrast. But perhaps they're unnamed as they are shame-engendered figments of the imagination.

And, by the way, plot does not equal storytelling. Plots are for gardeners.

Fourth, stop asking rhetorical questions. Sand Storm again: What's wrong with a good story?

Better ask instead, what's right with a good story? As soon as you pursue a question (i.e. rather than just asking it), literature begins. No wonder some people have a problem with it. What do you want, sedation or a cure?*

Fifth, let’s all conspire not to mention - let alone read - the latest fashionable novel. Read what you have to read. Write what you have to write. Forget the rest.

In connection with this, I have to admit that I haven't read Ian McEwan’s Saturday, or The Time-Traveller’s Wife or anything by David Mitchell or A People's Act of Love or White Teeth or Thirty Days in the Samarkand Desert with the Duchess of Kent. And I don’t intend to, inasmuch as indifference is intentional. This might be due to snobbery, just as the fact that you haven't read Gert Hofmann's Lichtenberg and the Little Flower Girl might be due to an a priori rejection because you haven't even heard of it. Talk about a narrow mind!

*Answer: both!

4 comments:

  1. Again- it seems I am not quite adaquate at explaining what I mean.


    A writer chooses or finds the most appropriate way to write a work of fiction. This is the necessary experiment. If it works, it works. If it doesn't, well, then you can refer to 'literary snobs'.


    But you aren't defining what works or doesn't work- how does an experiment fail or work? If it doesn't work it has nothing to do with literary snobbery, unless someone calls a failed experiment a literary acheivement.


    Second, which is closely related to the first: define your terms! For example, take the word 'accessible'. Paul Jessup, again, wishes 'experimental' writers were more accessible and wrote 'in order to please a literary audience'.


    No, I don't. I was saying that I thought writing experimentally for me as a writer, was not enough anymore, and I thought it more challenging to experiment with the reader in frame, rather than experiment without care for the reader itself.


    Yet how can a writer know if he or she is accessible and/or pleasing to a reader? How can the reader know if the author is allowing them access or deliberately excluding them? Answering either with certainty reflects only the assumptions and prejudices of the reader or writer.


    Now we get to a good crux in the argument- how can you define a reader in which you want to include or exclude from an experiment?

    I must admit, you've proved me wrong simply in this statement. If a writer expects his audiance to have the same tastes as himself, than he should write however he feels, since he will never lose his target audiance.

    If a writer assumes his target audiance is any but himself, than he can't possibly write the book, he would not know wether or not it excludes or includes the reader, and hell it may even exclude the writer himself from what he's writing.

    Very good points. You might also be interested in what James Chapmen had to say in response in a my own blog (where I cross-posted the essay):
    http://kapo.ws/wordpress/?p=169#comments

    I think he agrees with you, and after the way you phrased the argument, I guess I have to agree with you as well.

    I guess it all boils down to this:
    I spent several years of my life writing in an abstract modernist fashion (very modernist). Most of the people I knew wouldn't read my works since they felt lost.

    I gave up writing for a few years and returned when I realised that I myself, personally, didn't like to read stuff that complex and started some stuff a little more mainstream but still with an experimental edge. I guess you could say the difference was before I was pulling out Zaum Zaum style writing, and now it's more like The Skin of Our Teeth in comparison.

    Or maybe, I'm experimenting but in different ways.

    But I still think people writing extremely isn't good enough anymore. Call it experimental, call if neo-dadism, whatever, I just don't think weird writing for it's own sake is enough anymore. It needs more. I need more from my work, and from the work I enjoy.

    In a later blogpost I'll probably get to specifics and name names and post works in contrast and comparison. But it all boils down to individual taste, really, and each reader experiences a novel differently.

    So you are right, how can you alienate (or make more accessible) a work where each single person views it completely differently?

    Meh. This ended up being a much longer response than I originally planned.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Woops, I thought I'd mentioned this earlier, but I didn't.


    Paul Jessup, again, wishes 'experimental' writers were more accessible and wrote 'in order to please a literary audience'.


    Actually, I don't think that's quite exactly what I meant. I don't wish anything. Hrm. I think I'll post more on my own blog after the New Year, since this actually is in reference to a series of posts on Matt Cheney's blog, and his particular tastes in writing (as well as his condemnation of anyone who disagrees with him).

    ReplyDelete
  3. "Fifth, let’s all conspire not to mention - let alone read - the latest fashionable novel. Read what you have to read. Write what you have to write. Forget the rest."

    For what it's worth, I agree wholeheartedly. I look at all of these end-of-year best-of lists and wonder when people find the time to read anything else.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Regarding no.5 - hear hear. The proliferation of obsequious 'top book' reviews will continue without us and in spite of us. Having said that, I quite enjoy David Mitchell's work - when I can distinguish it from Murakami, that is.

    ReplyDelete

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