A place to digress on topics fictive.
In my last digression I suggested the subject of "open" and "closed" approaches to form, closed forms, open forms, forms that open and stay open and forms that close. In poetry, openness pertains to post-avant (Anne Waldman's term that poet Adam Fieled -- her former student -- discusses near the end of this entry called "Genre Markers" at my blog:
"Genre markers," a term I don't swear by, is apparently also a term used in grammar. As I wrote in short forms (mixed-genre) at my blog, it became possible at blogger to tag entries by genre if I wished. The entry linked above is a discussion of how I dissected genre using my own short pieces. I'm less concerned with that now than I was on New Year's Day, 2007, when I wrote it. I seem to remember Pynchon in an introduction to "The Teachings of Don B." describing Barthelme in his toolshed weighing in his hand his short pieces by genre.
I think fiction writers do not have a term such as "post avant" to describe our present position in time as the poets do. As Fieled asserts, "experimental" is "too tame." He says something about "innovative," too.
Further digression, perhaps. I was doing some (Wikipedia) reading recently and stumbled across this (which was not new to me but was kind of new to me): "Avant-garde represents a pushing of the boundaries of what is accepted as the norm or the status quo [...]. The concept of avant-garde refers exclusively to marginalised artists, writers, composers and thinkers whose work is not only opposed to mainstream commercial values, but often has an abrasive social or political edge."
Immediately, I thought, you know, flash fiction fits this perfectly, doesn't it? Mainstream commercial values = traditional short stories, likely in the 3,000- to 7,000-word range, right? Which is to say that if you were to walk into a bookstore, pick up any random short story collection, this is the length you'd likely encounter. Flash, then, which aims to tell a story just as any longer fiction does, also embraces brevity and emphasizes the importance of each word, which must pull its own weight and (as Gary Lutz said in his interview with Michael Kimball) not hide behind the words and sentences around it. Like poetry, I'm tempted to say.
Further digression. I just wrapped up teaching Shane Jones's Light Boxes in a sophomore-level intro to lit course, and the last day of discussion tanked. Bombed. I'd given them the vocabulary during previous lectures, but when it came time for them to use it, silence. Crickets. Horror. Bottom line, they were confused. They had questions. It led to a lecture on meta, which was too advanced for them, I think. So I talked it out with a friend of mine, Ben Segal, who said that since Light Boxes is so language-driven, to approach it as poetry, to ask them to discuss it as poetry.
And now I've read your post about categorization, and I find it interesting, indeed. With a novella in verse coming out this December, I've found that this is the thing I have to explain to most people (family, mostly). It doesn't help, either that Mud Luscious Press is labeling the novellas in its novella series "novel(la)," which means my 8,000-word book could be either a novel, a novella, or poems. Confounding.
P.S. I've got Adam's "Chimes" on my shelf and need to read it, argh.
Molly, you seem to "think in books," a phrase I use for writers who conceive book-length projects and carry them out, and your books defy or straddle categories. Strategy, another word I use and forget to use: you pursue strategies. You seem game for challenge. In the "genre markers" post, the writer in the Guardian (the article is linked at the post title) describes writers of "literary fiction" as "provincial miniaturists," so I proclaimed myself a "provincial miniaturist" that day. Yet I doubt I thought of it again. Miniature, yes, bonsai. Bonsai novels. "A miniaturist," no. Four pages is my metier when I'm writing what Carol Novack calls "memfics." Twelve if bonsai novel. If 20 is a regular short story, I don't know how I do at it: there are only two of them. Alice Munro, whose Runaway I just read, gets a novel's worth in 40 pages: every story seems somehow miraculous, every character like an actual person not a type. I am comforted in reading her that I do not want to "see" how she does it. I just want to read it. 300 pages or so for a novel: often, I've finished reading one of those and thought it was a long short story.
A poetry editor recently contacted me to submit poems to his journal. I wrote back and pulling out Carol's word, I said I had memfics to show him. Sure, he said. I gave him the links then he wrote back saying a couple things: one is "too long" for his internet publication. Think: four pages is too long. Also, he'd had to turn away prose writers in the past: no prose or mostly no prose. I sent him a few poems and now hope he can use them.
Is discursive a better word? Ramble, itself a genre.
Yes, I see "flash" as inherently at least a little radical, as post avant. I don't worry so much that it's a trend or fad, if it is, but worry more when the flashes I read in publications are less than damn-near perfect. That is my bias.
as biases go, ann, that's a damn good one to have--
Ditto Gary. Whew, yes, totally with you on that one.
Interesting discussion, ladies. I like how your minds work.
Yes, I see Flash Fiction as avant garde, as pushing the boundaries and limits of writers and literature that has come before it. It seems the natural evolution of things.
In their day, the Romantics etc. were also avant-garde. All seems as it should be, literature ever evolving, ever expanding; the current push driven by the ever shorter, ever limitless.
I modestly offer an opinion--A flash is either a distillate intimation of a longer traditional piece or a kind of Art Povera concrete-poetry thing, a language object. Neither strikes me as avant garde, both have been going on for about a century. Whereas, the pov that Henry James uses seems permanently avant garde, (most lit classes don't address how insane and radical is his strategy as I suspect many lit teachers don't appreciate his decision not only to "host" his novels and stories, [talk about postmodern!] but to do so in a koo-koo plural that is "we" but not the royal "we") and again, thus, therefore, nothing can be new except the self. I read writers who have settled on a time and place and method and who are, sadly, suddenly, irrelevent. Everyone knows the punchline. The effort to evolve a 2009 self will be, perforce, different from a 1968 or 1868 self but have nothing to do with history or literary trends or technologies. No literary artist makes this argument as clearly as does Godard, a film maker who refuses and refuses to belong to any time or syntax or code and always seems fresh as new paint. He's talking to himself. He will edit and cross out on screen and he can use a dissolve to evoke regret, while another film maker is still trapped in narrative. I'm saying the battle for the new is entirely internal and related to form or genre in no way.
Jim, "exposition" and "exegesis" ("exegesis" Biblical, not what I want here, hermeneutics). Your exposition (above) of Henry James' p.o.v. is amazing. Seems like Henry James (I want to distinguish Henry from William, correlated, as I discovered in writing a paper for Lois Zamora, to Cather and Stein) is on the minds of some of the best writers now working: Ozick, Moore. The prose poem (and book-length prose poetry) are not "new," as you mention. The paper I wrote for Zamora I conducted as a self-interview, intraview. She rather liked its format, but I didn't use it for anything besides a grade until I ran it this year as 300 words at Mike's Writing Workshop and Newsletter (on the web). Cather and Stein both modernists, studied with brothers James, migrated East to West then East again, wrote Europe in America. Their relationships to the past (time) and to language distinct. Stein an expat. Then I quote Perloff and Hejinian: Stein a "realist" who used language as object reality. They lived the same years: 1873 to 1947, plus or minus one or two. That both women are on "famous lesbians" posters is a brief mention.
I think of Charles Bernstein snarling out in a poetry reading that poetry is "non-fiction." Non-fiction is where poetry is shelved in libraries.
Narrative trap: a conflict between "language" and "story" that wouldn't be my conflict in a less demanding aesthetic environment where nothing is (not) right with everything.
Who do you have in mind who settled on time, place, and method who are suddenly irrelevant?
I have in mind writers I would rather not mention--but as a blatant example, in adult (meaning retired people) workshops I teach now and then, there are stories we consider which would have been perfectly fine in Collier's Magazine, 1940, (I imagine) and therefore have some value as such, but are just quaint now. Impossible to critique. Easiest just to praise and move on.
I was just reading Lois Z in the college library because she was in a section of books which addressed Clarice Lispector. The library had books about, but only one sample OF, Lispector.
I made an attempt to tell this story at my blog in 2006, but it's buried there like a patio: it's a tribute to my father who rode the bus (after he'd tired of commuting to St. Paul) with one of Lispector's translators, Ronald Sousa. Sousa struck up a conversation because my father was reading novels, specifically, novels by women writers: Anne Tyler, Louise Erdrich. We tried to read in synch after a while and talked on the phone about the books until he died in '92. He, by the way, was disappointed in reading some of my stories that they were not more pictorial but tried to get behind the language. Lispector is obviously a writer "for me," obvious to me, but she became a family heirloom besides. He sent The Passion According to G.H. Now Lorrie Moore is on her: people will believe I copied her (again) as people believe I do (copy). I wrote to Jornal do Brasil in 2000 and offered to write Cronicas from America, but the query was too long and disappeared when I sent it. At that exact time, I also wrote a list (4 pages) of topics pertaining to "experimental fiction" and sent it to Ron Sukenick and three others. Sukenick called (I was in NY visiting) and we met. He thought I was a lulu, I knew that, but I think he took my list and wrote on some of the topics before he died. As we sat in his high-up apartment in Battery Park, red hawks circled among the buildings. His emails were like fortune cookies in answer to hoopla.
If I get back to teaching, I'd like to teach that group: returning or continuing ed.
No confusion from me with you or your work and LM's, and never
thought of you
"copying" anyone, although I know you studied with LM, and no crossover from you and Lispector, aside from a happily shared spirit and happy surprises in where you both choose to focus.
I don't know how well Sukenik holds up as I haven't read him in 25 years or more. I take it from your experience that he was worth a visit, (his work maybe worth revisiting to) but maybe something of a jackdaw.
Continuing ed is great if the class members want to continue their education. Many do.
It might be useful to discuss further the difference (or lack thereof) between the critic and the artist. For even though the work of one may sometimes serve the purposes of both, the job of reacting to the traditions of art falls more often (or at least more ostensibly) to the critic than to the artist.
It is in this context that Mr. Robison’s statement – “the battle for the new is entirely internal and related to form or genre in no way” – is perhaps most relevant, because it appears to differentiate between the critic and the artist by relegating the term ‘form’ (and, by virtue of the term’s presence in interpretive work, the critic) to a place outside “the battle.”
Edward, I answered your cue for "How I Write My Songs" at the very short fiction thread. It hurts my heart to think of it too hard: that side criticism. It amuses me no end to think of it as art (parody/satire) or even as representational art (mimicry).
"The battle for the new is entirely internal and related to form or genre in no way" and also at the very short fiction thread: the writer's personality emerging, becoming in/as writing.
I'm thinking that Jim has a rather large set of former writing students to draw on in making these observations. I think of a handful of peers in fiction, especially when there's been a way (i.e., publication) to follow them later. With ads, there's hype. There's facsimile innovation. Is the obsession, fixation, insistence on genre splicing or fusing, for example, an internal or external illusion that conceals a real struggle of the writer to, for example, complete projects? There may be other reasons for such an illusion, not knowing, for one, that it is one.
Woiwode had a faith-based approach to writing a novel (he's a Christian, yes, but he taught the method the same way to atheists): draft daily pages without rereading until you reach the target length then rewrite. The faith-based aspect was in believing while drafting that there was a design to the narrative: like creeping along on a dirt road that snakes up a mountain and at the top of the mountain looking down and seeing the shape of the path. So the writer, matured, sees the design not only within self/pieces/books but out of the written life.
I think Gary has much to say (and added at the very short fiction thread) after writing fiction v. teaching philosophy of literature and the place of criticism outside art/art as best commentary on art.
Edward, when I noted here late last night I was not able to get traction -- a word I picked up here from Scott Garson, I think -- on the question: critic or artist. A few years ago, I set out to write a music review, and after seven years I published what I had written as a short story whose narrator, "one," is a "critic" in attendance at Leo Kottke's annual Thanksgiving concert in St. Paul. Writers naturally think of ways to make money (or a little money) at writing: writing reviews may be a way, yet I'd always known I would not know how to write about music: I am near people who can. In the first year (the millennium), I wrote about Kottke's monologues and mocked my attempts to describe or leave out critical examination of the music. I bring in Calvino's story "Distance of the Moon." I sent it to The Nation. I sent it to guitar magazines. The art editor at the Nation wrote back that he'd been thinking about it, perplexed, etc. Ditto one guitar magazine editor, who liked perplexity. My secret model in conceiving a tardy review was Melville's review of Hawthorne's Mosses from an Old Manse. Melville read Hawthorne's book four years after it appeared, after a chance meeting (before Melville wrote Moby Dick) that began a literary friendship that shaped Melville's becoming. I tinkered. With it. In the end, I sent it upon request to a start-up literary journal in rural Wisconsin who published it seven years after the first of two concerts cited in the piece.
Last night, I read about Lorrie Moore's new novel in Poets and Writers. I felt blinded by the words -- words that gain over time in force and shine but repeat what her readers already knew. The article is a blurb. It seems she herself might rather read -- might she? -- a creative interpretation of her work than another summary of her eclipsed biography and the news that her characters pun. The praise without evidence of what a friend just yesterday called "engineered dialogue" is threatening to become, because so unanimous, over praise without specificity. Lethem's review in the NYTBR changed not one neuron in my brain. He did quote a passage from the novel that did. Could we name a critic or two? Who writes about contemporary fiction in a way to engineer dialogue or change neurons?
William Logan's poetry reviews: any thoughts?
Despite the caustic sensibility he displays in his book of essays on contemporary fiction, “Hatchet Jobs,” the writer Dale Peck is a valuable critic. (There are many who would disagree, but any source of intense disagreement usually indicates something worth discussing). Peck seems to prefer narrative for its possibilities as an artifice (i.e., for how it can be used in a story or novel to create characters who amount to more than simply the representation of ideas), but his disparagement of writers who depart from this model (or ones like it), though arguably extravagant, arises not so much from bitterness (as has been suggested by writers he has critiqued) but from a passion for art, and from an intellectual curiosity that is capable of subtlety and insight.
Ben Marcus might occupy another place (not necessarily in opposition to Peck) along the spectrum of contemporary literary criticism.
I’m sure there are others (both poetry and fiction critics) who are worth mentioning and discussing.
Oops..that last post was meant to be from Edward
You know the very act of responding makes for some very interesting art. I see a great many feats of fantastic unwinding in these narratives above. And the writing that results from deep thinking. I think it goes without saying though that one must find one's own way whether or not one has been shown a door by someone else. The act of you going through the door will never equal the act of someone else doing the same thing. That's the mystery we're in because it can look very twin like and yet can never be completely the same. This is what frustrates many of us as we attempt to come up with something entirely our own. First we must know ourselves well, but isn't that still a balancing act between the life we lead and the final act of breathing? Meaning one can never nail it down to absolute truth because that is a moving target. But the pattern of taking our shots and doing the best we can and accepting the failures as well as the bulls eyes can and does create meaningful meetings with the moment. Beauty can both talk and listen but when she gets up to leave we often sob without meaning to.
D.P., I meant to thank you for this comment a month ago and thank you now: great comment.
A correction: I seem to have misquoted Charles Bernstein as having said at a poetry reading "poetry is non-fiction," when, in fact, he likely said, "poetry is not fiction" and may have been quoting Sharon McCartney who said it in 1991. It may have been in an audio interview that I heard it rather than live. Question mark.
We're an online literary journal that publishes works of short, indeterminate prose and accompanying criticism. We feature one author every posting period (every two weeks). Every so often a question related to the form and function of fiction will be posted here for discussion.http://www.matchbooklitmag.com