Posts Tagged ‘experimental fiction’

American Fiction’s Calling: Semper Fi to Simplify

Posted in Criticism, fiction on March 8th, 2010 by Christopher – Be the first to comment

Anthony S. Maulucci of Red Room writes in “What’s Missing from Modern American Fiction?“:

What is missing from today’s fiction I asked myself once again, and the answer I came up with is the power of simplicity and passion.

On the surface, there is nothing wrong with Maulucci’s judgment; still, it would have been nice if he provided specific examples and name some currently read authors who are neither practicing simplicity or exhibiting passion in their writings. These qualifications, according to Maulucci, are absent in most modern American fiction, and if taken as truth, an the underlying question now emerges: What is wrong with or “missing from” modern American fiction? Maulucci doesn’t list any specific examples, but perhaps Bookbread can assume he is referring to the David Foster Wallace, Thomas Pynchon side of the shelf.

Along these lines comes a post entitled “Of Course Everyone Knows That There’s No Experimental Writing in America“, at Conversational Reading, which makes the claim:

True, as Hemon [editor of the Best in European Fiction] says there’s a lot of adventurous fiction languishing on the fringes, but that doesn’t change the fact that there’s also a lot of it getting published by the mainest of the mainstream. There’s a lot of fragmented, meta, crazy-type fiction going on out there in the U.S., and it’s getting published because American readers are pretty comfortable with it now, comfortable enough that it’ll sell in large enough volumes to make it profitable.

Really? Is there a metafiction best-seller’s list put out by Amazon? How many movies are being optioned by experimental American novelists? Is there a metafiction convention soon to be held around the corner, because I haven’t heard about it yet. Where is the experimental fiction booth at the National Book Fair? Where’s the SNL skit making fun of metafiction as a result of its apparent mainstreamness? Is Jon Stewart’s staff overly swamped trying to book experimental novelists on the show? Or are they confined to any CSPAN’s BookTV? Admittedly, Bookbread came across some minimal metafiction chatter on Twitter, but these kinds of questions are pretty much meaningless, when, according to the blogger at Conversational Reading:

After all, have you taken a look at life in the U.S. recently? I’d say it’s getting to the point that people I know are more familiar with fragmentation, multiple worlds, meta, etc than the other stuff that’s supposedly our bread and butter.

Yes, a majority of Americans may be quite “familiar with fragmentation,” but that familiarity doesn’t correlate with a claim that the majority of bookish Americans are buying and reading metafiction.

At the blog for the New York Review of Books, a post by Tim Parks headlined “The Dull New Global Novel” reports on the plight of twenty-first century non-American authors who must write in English, or in ways that can be translated into English. But this assumes all modern novelists seek a global audience. Are readers of the Review to accept that there is no such thing as niche marketing? Does no demographic segmentation of readership exist in the twenty-first century? Thankfully, a comment on Parks’ post by Patricia Wilson gets it right when she observes:

Too many think that the small audiences prior to the Victorian Era were [small] only because so few had the literacy and the money to purchase books. To a point it is true but even in the 20th and 21st centuries people having literacy skills and money prefer to read for enjoyment and entertainment, not only educational. It’s not so much that the reader knows it all but after working an 8-hour shift, working with one’s children with or without a spouse’s assistance, making dinner and cleaning the kitchen, there’s not much mental or physical energy left . Many of those that are highly educated have little or no interest in reading anything. But they are busy with their hands or in helping others do what the others can’t do. Be thankful the world is getting more literate. There are more readersthere are 6.3 BILLION people now in contrast to the short 2 billion in 1900. That means 2.1 billion now are reading in contrast to the 900 million in 1900. That keeps some bookstores, publishers and used bookstore still going. I know— I use them.

Many of those that are highly educated have little or no interest in reading anythingthis is readicideand it is not limited to modern children; it can afflict even those who formerly enjoyed reading. And regardless of Wilson’s accuracy, sources, and methods behind the statistics she providesher point that there are exponentially more literate people with access to more printed and electronic reading material than ever before must be remembered amid the doom and gloom that blankets the current economics around publishing. Witness these recent findings in The Guardian about “India’s new middle class for English novels ” :

In the next decade, publishers forecast that India will become the biggest English language book-buying market in the world.

Parks may claim that global English fiction is “dulling down,” but Bookbread must reciprocate from Parks and ask: Is there a case to be made that American Fiction is too simple, that is, too drunk on Hemingway’s style? Perhaps the solution is an American rendering of Finnegans Wake. Are there instances where modern American fiction was too passionate, in Maulucci’s terms, too “involved”? (None according to Genoways, or at least none nowadays).

The Expansive Nature of Experimental Fiction as an Ideal

Posted in Criticism on January 28th, 2010 by Christopher – Be the first to comment

Daniel Green over at The Reading Experiment concludes the end of a book review with a definition for experimental fiction:

In my opinion truly experimental or innovative or adventurous fiction attempts to expand the possibilities of fiction as a literary form and does so for the sake of the form itself, not to amplify social or cultural criticism or to intervene in philosophical debates (although these things might be an indirect effect, as is often enough the case in all worthwhile fiction).

The issue appears to be whether experimental fiction can be defined, whereby Green decides that such fiction must push the form, for the sake of the form, forward.

There is nothing wrong with propagating social/cultural/philosophical discourse, but that is not the primary “attempt” (Green’s word) of the experimental novel.

For most of the last century, readers were whipped into believing they must assume some sort of social/cultural/philosophical discourse as the author’s primary “attempt” or purpose or reason for writing. True, most fictional texts are not exempt from these types of analysis, but how should the “general reader” prioritize them? Should readers question themselves, as Green does, as to why they inherently assume social/cultural/philosophical “debates” function as prioritized parts of the primaries that constitute the writer’s purpose for penning an experimental novel?

Others may argue that in Green’s line of reasoning—fiction [that] attempts to expand the possibilities of fiction as a literary form and does so for the sake of the form itself—is itself a social, cultural, and philosophical judgment, but such a recognition assumes Green to be a Critic of the experimental novel pronouncing poppycock rather than a Reader evaluating the primary purposes of experimental novelists.