Thursday, February 09, 2006

Is Film The Next Novel?

Michael’s post below about the relationship between cinema and fiction, along with the following comment, from an article by Daniel Green from issue 14 of Context (thank you, Carol Novack), got me thinking about the impact movies are having on the state of contemporary fiction.

Quote:

“The movies especially seem to exert a powerful influence; not only are most best-selling novels published in the U.S. really film scenarios fleshed out with a bit of (bad) prose, as if to ease the transition from page to screen, but even in the publishing branch supposedly devoted to serious literature, the literary magazine, the cumulative impact of popular narrative entertainment is strongly felt.”

(Complete article here.)

Green suggests that this influence, among other things, is responsible for certain current trends in contemporary fiction whose general effect is that it (contemporary fiction) appears overwhelmingly traditional and conservative, preserving well-trodden avenues of expression.

Surely, it is impossible to escape the influence of film, and this influence may very well, even after ¾ of a century, still reinforce certain anti-experimental attitudes in the creation of literature. But I think this effect must also be considered in the context of narrative art in general. The novel is currently the predominant medium for the expression of complex narrative. But our literary tradition has splintered before – verse being freed, by the advent of the novel, to pursue less story-centric purposes, and thereby burdening the novel with the responsibility of representing on the page something parallel to what transpires on the stage. But both are accessible. Film is normally still very difficult to create, requiring vast resources. But that is changing.

I wonder if, as digital media make film making more accessible, people who currently tend toward the novel to tell a story might splinter, dividing into those people who, more generally, want to bring a story to life, and those people who want specifically to utilize the unique properties of the written word to do it. It seems this would, in the long term, be good for experimental fiction, as it would concentrate the attitudes and/or reasoning of those determined to create literature as opposed to other art work in other media.

This makes me wonder: could film be the next novel, and could text-based narrative art, therefore, eventually be liberated from the confines of “story-telling?”

(This entry reads like the beginning of Sex in the City: Literature Squad.)

Monday, February 06, 2006

Any length. Any subject. Anything goes.

The heading above is from the submission guidelines at the literary publication Fugue for a category called “The Experiment.” I encountered it while looking for new journals explicitly safe for unsafe writing. How nice, I thought. Then I read on. After a long, almost apologetic explanation for why they have a category called “The Experiment,” the following stipulation appears:

“It seems to us, at Fugue, that there is far too much about “experimental” literature that is gratuitous and self-indulgent. Experimental does not mean writing devoid of editing, nor does it mean writing that endeavors to create an impervious artifice or impregnable narrative. Instead, as we see it, experimental literature is the product of necessity – a last ditch effort to tell a story that can't be told in any other way. Really, for us, the literary experiment is an act of desperation, not subterfuge. There are stories that can not be told because the conventions are not adequate for telling them. In this case, which marks a rare and special set of circumstances, the literary experiment arises and presents itself as a thing of worth, a thing of beauty, and a thing in need of housing.”

(See full guidelines: Fugue)

Since no other section of the guidelines (fiction, poetry, non-fiction, literary criticism) merited this sort of cautionary statement, I can only assume the folks at Fugue are quite concerned about an imminent deluge of horrible experimental writing just waiting for a green light before flooding their mailbox.

There are two things about the above quote that I find interesting. Firstly, I thought it odd that just after the editors solicited work for an “anything goes” category, they decided it was a good time to insult some vaguely indicated percentage of those very writers interested, in fact, in seeing what such an “anything” might look like, and where it might go. It struck me as akin to a university appending its “equal opportunity” policy statement with a quick rant about how many wierdos and freaks there are out there who have the audacity to suppose they might be a good candidate for enrollment.

I’ve encountered this kind of sentiment before, and while I can easily understand why many people might not find enjoyment in experimental writing, what’s harder for me to grock is the vehemence with which otherwise perfectly intelligent, fair-minded, art-appreciating people go out of their way to rally against it. Why the urgent need to amend a category called “The Experiment” with so many modifiers? Experimental writing seems to present a serious problem for many people: there is an acknowledgement that our literary cannon is littered with work that has taken risks, and there is therefore a desire to fight against pre-defining, or limiting, what experimental writing can or should be. But there is, often in the same breath, a need to paradoxically restrict it in some way. If pressed, I wonder whether these editors would be able to explain what exactly it is that distinguishes “gratuitous and self-indulgent” experimental literature from, I suppose, “a last ditch effort” after all other attempts have been made to tell a straight story. Is there a rule of thumb?

Which leads to the other strange part of the Fugue statement. Is the notion that an experiment is what one does when the normal isn’t getting good results a common one? It seems almost diametrically opposed to the spirit of experimentalism.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Automated Cut-Up Engines

This site discusses and promotes the use of "cut-up engines" on the web to create "experimental writing." Just add sufficient gobs of words and it resorts them into groupings suitable for publication.

http://www.esoteric-sensationalism.com/theory.html

This is art? I'll bet this cut-up engine spew gets published.
Punch the pails and spray the paint, my friends!

I actually heard someone defend this shit at a conference.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

A Post from "The Reading Experience" Blog

And I quote:

"Stories are held in common by novels, plays, films, tv shows, video games. Surely it can't be the story alone, even if it is skillfully told, that commends a given work of fiction to us as worthy of our consideration. Most stories are, in fact, usually told with more immediacy of effect in these other forms than in novels and short stories. (My impression, as I have commented in previous posts, is that all too many current novels are written primarily under the hope they might eventually be made into movies. They are, in effect, movies presented through other means--certainly not through the belief that novels have a distinctive approach to story that can't be duplicated in movies.) A compelling narrative may hold one's attention during the process of its unfolding, but this in itself doesn't make it literature."


I get the point above, but most plot-unity-of-action stories will resemble three-act screenplays by default. Screenplays imitate classic drama, of course, i.e, the protagonist motivated by a major plot point to push for resolution. I would lean towards the opposite conclusion, however, and note that many movies are novels presented by other means.

One could certainly make a very visual indie film from a Robbe-Grillet novel.

Also, is the author implying that unless a novel is "experimental" it can't be considered literature?

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