04 April 2007

what should fiction do?

Lidia Yuknavitch recently posed the following provocative question on Other Mouths, the Chiasmus Press blog: What should fiction do?

Here are several of the answers, some from our own bloggers at Now What.

What form would your answer take, hmmmm?

andrei codrescu: Writing should . . . give you a feeling of "weight" when you walk around, it should make people soft and hard, it should keep playing in your head long after it’s written/read, and it should be swift and consensual.

trevor dodge:
Writing should share a hot shower with you, towel you off with a high thread count, and then retreat downstairs to powder the sugar on your pancakes. But before all that, writing should throw a psychotic fit in front of you because you haven’t been paying enough attention to it lately. You, with all your InterWebs and XBoxing and iLife–a-ma-jigging that you do; with all your attempts to tell writing what it is (a juice extractor!) and what it is not (a mini-fridge!), you are missing what writing could be, and this is why writing is so thoroughly and justifiably pissed off at you right now.brian evenson: I don’t think that writing should be doing anything in particular, but I do think it should be "doing." It’s easy for writing to slip into old tired patterns where it doesn’t have to "do," where it’s following the same groove in the same record, where it’s covering the same tired ground, where it’s one of the millions of cars on the same superhighway, inching along with everyone else. How much better if the writing is traveling down disused back roads getting knocked by branches and trying to make it around places where the road has been washed out. Or threading itself thinly down an animal track. Or hacking its way deep into the thicket of being without having decided in advance what it’ll find there. The more effort, the better….

lance olsen:
In The Middle Mind, Curtis White maintains that the narratives generated and sustained by the American political system, entertainment industry, and academic trade have taught us over the last half century how not to think for ourselves. Essentially, those narratives shun complexity and challenge; avoid texts that demand attentive, self-conscious, and self-critical reading; and embrace The Middle Mind’s thoughtless impulse toward the status quo. In a phrase, what we are left with is the death or at least the dying of what I think of as the Difficult Imagination. What writers can do is attempt to revive the Difficult Imagination by exploring various strategies that call attention to, reflect upon, and disrupt the assumptions behind conventional narratives, thereby challenging the dominant cultures that would like to see such narratives told and retold until they begin to pass for truths about the human condition. "Our satisfaction with the completeness of plot," Fredric Jameson once noted, is "a kind of satisfaction with society as well," and I would add much the same is the case with our satisfaction with undemanding style, character, subject matter, and so forth. My orientation, then, rhymes fairly closely with those posed by Viktor Shklovsky for art and Martin Heidegger for philosophy: the return through complication and challenge (not predictability and ease) to perception and thought.

davis scheiderman says:
What shouldn’t writing do is perhaps a more germane question if writing mainly gets us—in the form of the most obsequious best-seller—only more of the same hum-drum mediocrity of the spirit, dead-eyed keno zombies mugging their way through the Shop N’ Save in search of Tostitos, cheap soda, and maybe on a whim at Wal-Mart, or Sam’s Club, some dime-store book about the good within us all, et al. Why write at all about anything, really, if living in American is so damn, well, like being the butt-end of some data-mining target marketing campaign that plays and plays and reads itself into the uneasy sleep of an over-stimulated 10-month old rubbing her eyes, right now, jet-lagged from a cross-continental air trip from China where she was just adopted, and ready to spring back into action at any moment. Why write? For her of course. And what shouldn’t writing do? Make her world smaller with every word. Baby, I say starting now, we’ve got a long way to go.

lidia yuknavitch says:
It should break the back of language in its truths, then softly heal her, cradle her, sing her back to life.

2 comments:

Brian Flanagan said...

Often when I write, I think about something that Guy Davenport wrote about Donald Barthelme's [excellent] writing. He said, "Barthelme can focus our feeling into a bright point that can raise a blister."

I like that. A large part of writing is understanding the way emotions work, and, to put it bluntly, exploit them. The more genuinely we do so, the more effective the writing will be.

Charles said...

it should make us feel like we're nothing while reading it and, once we're finished with the story or novel, it should make us feel like we're everything.

sorry. i know that's vaguely maudlin, but it was the first thing that popped into my head. and fiction is also be an ardent proponent of the spontaneous. so. it's her fault.