Evenson on Maximalism

by on May.18, 2011

In The Collagist, Brian Evenson comes out in favor of minimalism against maximalism (though what he means by that term is probably slightly different from what Joyelle means):

We now live in a world inherently and banally maximal: the world of Gaggle™ and Facespace,™ a world where it takes me now four or five seconds to pin down the name of a song whose half-remembered lyrics have been floating unidentified through my head since I was twelve, a world in which I can track down a literary reference in minutes that two decades ago it would have taken a team of librarians a week to discover, a world in which I now employ the internet as my ancillary memory. In such a world maximalism and encyclopedism, erudite puzzle solving, simply feel like more of the same, and the last thing we need is more of the same. We need less, much less: we don’t need fiction that cultivates the general noise in a slightly more erudite way but still plays by the same rules; we need fiction that strips its way down to our nerves and fibers, simulations that are willing to cut enough of our context away to let us step outside of our own increasingly simulated experience and to see it afresh, from without.

Any thoughts?

6 comments for this entry:
  1. stupid poems

    one of the most effective ways to disarm the more malicious elements of our maximalist culture is to co-opt its symbols for uses for which they were not meant. It is possible to create something uniquely human from the symbols that make up our modern world. if it wasn’t, we’d be hopeless.

  2. young guy

    this is the first thing of evenson’s I have read in which he sounds like an out of touch fuddy duddy.

  3. Michael Peverett

    Sounds good but that kind of statement is in a long tradition. When haven’t writers and artists (not necessarily radical ones, in hindsight)tried to see their work as a hygienic corrective to the stiflements of mass culture – at least 150 years though the conception of the features of the dominant mass keeps changing: Baudelaire vs petit bourgeois values, Lawrence vs knowing and science, Orwell vs the cliches of journalism, Lennon against cash materialism. It’s part of the pattern, maybe a good one. But I think the purifying art needs to be modern too, as modern as its enemies. It cannot be defined only negatively, as some kind of breath of supposedly authentic air. That’s just death, but not in a good way.

    And anyway, why is it “more human” to do old-fashioned things?

  4. Josh Corey

    I am all for minimalism without Puritanism: a voluptuous and suggestive minimalism that by algebra turns subtraction into multiplication.

    Reading as I am a cache of David Markson’s late novels, I can’t help but notice that they are Wikipedia novels avant la lettre, crammed with literary and artistic trivia. What saves them from trivia is their aura of melancholy, an effect I am inclined to think of as Sebaldian: those books too are idiosyncratic wanderings through cultural detritus that are nevertheless very far from the spirit of a maximalist postmodern encyclopedia a la Pynchon.

  5. Johannes

    Yes, I think Evenson are using “maximalism” in a number of different ways. It’s hard for me to see Markson as “minimalist.” Or Blake Butler. Or Rene Gladman.


  6. Al Min

    Way late on the draw here, and I haven’t read the essay yet, but your excerpt made me think of Brian Dettmer’s book sculptures: http://boingboing.net/2009/03/19/brian-dettmers-book-1.html

    It also made me think of redacted text. It doesn’t look like what Evenson intended, but stripping us down to our “nerves and fibers” could make something grotesque and interesting in another way (as opposed to excess and over-the-top gore). And isn’t cutting context away just another form of “simulated experience”?