Saturday, January 23, 2016

The State of Writing Today (on Fiction)

This is an attempt to look at the state of writing today. As a writer of fiction, I suppose I should do this more often—in the monetary sense, that is. But let me not speak of the market (for short stories or novels) and let me speak of the state of the art. Contemporary fiction and its ability to move me. [1]

Now, if you've read some of my previous work, you would know that I take a grim view of books or authors who have been given a prize. My main point being that it has nothing to do with timelessness, even though prizes usually pretend to be above the fray of the market given prize. [2] In fact, the entire literary genre seems to be based on trying to be above the fray, and yet feels as contrived [3] as any other book from the "lesser genres", to say nothing of the better books of those lesser genres.

One person who agrees on this matter of contemporary literary writing being below the mark is BR Meyers, in his infamous Reader's Manifesto. In that long, and dare I say brilliant, rant, Meyers tips a few of the sacred cows from the literary clubhouse. Though at times he seems to go overboard, it does seem that the prizes go to those who act literary, have the talent to paint beautiful descriptions, and yet don't challenge anything in the status quo, or probe deeply into life.[4]

Even Dissent Magazine has an interesting view of the "boring literature", though I'm not entirely sure that a welfare state would work to help it out. In fact, I'm one of the few people who still thinks that the e-publishing wave will yet produce some great works of fiction [5]. So on that point I'm hopeful. Yet I still look to the writers of today to produce something that will more than just be well crafted and will instead be thought-provoking. I personally have not found many such works and even this list seems lacking at times [6]. But I could have missed that great book. Anyone out there have a great piece from the past 20 years they'd like to share?

[1] So then this is an entirely idiosyncratic analysis and has little bearing on what others think—it's a blog, what do you expect?—though I will do my best at confirmation bias and look for my points being agreed with by others. But I do think a book that moves someone on a point other than simple emotion is a great example of timelessness.

[2] In the sense that almost all prizes think of the biggest best sellers as not worthy of the only prize—a fair judgement—but can't find books that actually matter in the long term. So in other words, they're simply applying a slightly different (perhaps elite) set of judgements not much different from what the "mob" set in buying certain books en mass. 

[3] My main gripe with many books that are touted as deep is that they don't seem it at all. Perhaps it's all above my head, but many seem to tackle philosophical questions I remember in high school or freshman year college, and hardly even try to look deeply into the societal ailments of the day. Again, sometimes I feel like I'm certainly missing something, but such is my feeling when I look over the current array of literary (ostensibly "deep") writing.

[4] Again, at best these try to exhibit a few known arguments on the left and right and tell us the cure is to retreat into some private world or succumb and thus it pretends to offer some weary, worldly nihilism whereupon it's simply better to disengage and hide out in a nice house (or be nice to one person in your life) than to engage the world with its tough questions. As Terry Eagleton says, this is little more than a convenient suburban ideology... one that is shallow at best. 

[5] Convenient, I know, being that I'm a benefactor of said wave. But bear with me. Again, I don't mean a bestseller, but rather something that will win out over time as a truly deep piece of fiction.

[6] Even now as I scan the list, I'm thinking that they won't survive longnot in my mind, not in my heart—and that even the likes of 2666, a book I want to read again, is more confusing nihilism than anything. Of course, I don't mean to belabor the point, as I tend to get lost down that post-modern rabbit hole and simply think that predicting any one book's longevity is a matter of sniffing the winds of power and change in power and trying to predict which power in the future will like which books... or perhaps it's simply a melancholy Friday night? But I digress... for this brings me to my writing: Am I that much better? I try to be, but perhaps I'm failing as much as anyone.

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