It’s interesting when you’re thinking about something and another piece comes along to confirm or to challenge what you’re thinking. I was thinking how – as writer – we’re in a way constrained by the forms we use. So, it’s either a novel or it’s a novella; it’s either an essay or it’s a short story, and that’s pretty much it. I see how visual artists experiment with different media within a single work and maybe we should do the same.
So, I’m thinking about all of this, and I read an article by Zadie Smith on “the essay”. There are a number of important quotes contained within. Firstly, she talks about a new book called Reality Hunger: A Manifesto by David Shields:
“Shields argues passionately for the superiority of the messy real … over the careful creations of novelists … For Shields it is exactly what is tentative, unmade and unpolished in the essay form that is important. He finds the crafted novel … to be a dull and generic thing, too artificial to deal effectively with what is already an ‘unbearably artificial world’. He recommends instead that artists break ‘ever larger chunks of ‘reality’ into their work’, via quotation, appropriation, prose poems, the collage novel . . . in short, the revenge of the real, by any means necessary. And conventional structure be damned.”
While I wouldn’t exactly be sounding the death knell on the novel just yet, this does tie in with what I’m thinking, not only with regard to new ways of writing, but it also ties in with the “Fragments” idea I mentioned in a previous post, the idea that the world now should be made up of short bursts of fiction or music or video. I think there are definitely a lot of people thinking about different ways to – as Smith says – “Make it new”.
“The pages are filled with anti-fiction fighting talk: ‘The creators of characters, in the traditional sense, no longer manage to offer us anything more than puppets in which they themselves have ceased to believe.’ And: ‘All the best stories are true.’ And: ‘The world exists. Why recreate it?’ It’s tempting to chalk this up to one author’s personal disappointments with the novel as a form (Shields hasn’t written a novel since the early 90s) …”
“Generally speaking, there are few things more exciting to a certain kind of writing student than the news that the imaginative novel is dead (with all its vulgar, sentimental, “bourgeois” – and hard to think up – plots, characters and dialogue). When your imagination fails you it’s a relief to hear that it need no longer be part of a novelist’s job description.”
This is an interesting – and not unfair point – that just because you’ve gotten sick of writing or reading novels – or are incapable of writing them – that doesn’t necessarily mean that fiction is dead or that the novel needs to be reinvented. However, we are in a new century and I think people are struggling within the constraints that the fictional form places on the writer. Yes, people want to read and write shorter or more experimental pieces of writing, but that doesn’t always necessarily mean it’s because they can’t write anything else. It is sometimes simply because that is the way the written word is evolving.
Traditionally, there was a market there for short stories and for poetry, and it wasn’t as difficult to get a book published. But these outlets have dried up for many people. So now, instead of spending a year writing a book that no-one will ever see – or even a month on a short story that people will never see – writers want to do short, sharp blasts that – whether seen or not – they haven’t wasted their lives on. Or blog posts that they can get out there in front of people. It doesn’t always mean that quality is good (it oftentimes means it’s not) but these are simply the new ways that the writer is interacting with the world.
(On that point, I have tried to do something along those lines with the “V-Fiction” experiment here)
You can read the Zadie Smith article that I quoted from here