by Johannes Goransson on Nov.15, 2011
In my last post I posited that “surrealism” has to do with the kitsch, the immoral, the anachronistic. And perhaps most importantly, it is defined repeatedly as “fake,” tying into Jared’s and Monica’s recent posts. It is “candy surrealism”; it is artifice made unhealthy; it is saturative; it is the virtuality (it’s not “just language”), the “dark matter” of poetry, it’s corrupt and corruptive.
Clement Greenberg, that icon of american taste, was opposed to the original surrealists on the same ground! They were fake! Or: “postcard kitsch”, as he liked to say. They were not medium-specific, not pure, in the way he imagined high art. They were engaged with a mass culture Greenberg wanted “avant-garde” art to be “above.”And it’s kitschy in its seductiveness, its viscerality, its impact. As a result they were not truly “avant-garde.”
That is to say, in Joyelle’s terms, they did not fit in with Greenberg’s linear progression of innovative art (a horrible use of the term “avant-garde”):
I think so-called progressives and innovators need to think carefully about how their ideologies of experimentation, innovation, newness, progress and improvement remap or offer support to these ideologies of capitalist, corporate, historical, patrilinear time. The true experimenters, it seems to me, are the bugs who fail, who die six times a summer, 150 times in a normal human life, who are mutant and non-durable, who are the repositories of anthropogenic forces.
Moreover, readers who do expect that an anthology of innovative fiction will exhibit significant formal innovation will probably be disappointed with 30 Under 30. On the whole, the selections included are quite heavy on narrative, even old-fashioned linear narrative, however surreal or fantastic the events chronicled often are. Indeed, surrealism or a fantasy-inflected version of absurdism seems the dominant strategy in these selections, but it is a fabular, allegorical mode of surrealism in which the reader’s attention is consistently oriented toward story. Many of these stories have strong affinities to the work of Aimee Bender and George Saunders, who, to judge by this anthology, may be among current writers the strongest influence on the rising generation of “younger writers,” although some of the fiction in 30 Under 30 subtracts the essentially whimsical humor that characterizes Bender’s and Saunders’s work, making these surrealistic fables somewhat starker in their distortions of reality.
This to me seems a fairly typical defense against impure innovation, against corrupted innovation, against disappointing “paramodernism.” Surrealism/the surreal here signifies something anachronistic, something leading the young astray from true innovation, something “weird” but not properly “innovative.”
They rely for instance on the improper method of “linear narrative”, something that official “innovative” writing has apparently rendered obsolete. They provide “distortions” rather than insights. They can’t even get George Saunders “right”. They are bad copies. They are genre (“fantasy”). They’re mutations. They’re “bug-time.”
(Bolano could be said to be the icon of this “plague ground” in that he is obviously a fascinating writer but he doesn’t follow the rules for being “innovative,” being more interested in genre conventions and HP Lovecraft than “true innovators”. And obviously being really into narrative.)
What is true innovation? Green suggests it has something to do with (lack of, or “beyond” or rather “above” as one detractor wrote in the comment field a while back) narrative and, more importantly, something to do with form=functions, that very modernist paradigm.
For example, when discussing Zach Dodson’s pieces, which were copied notebook interface, Green suggests that the technology has nothing to do with the content: there’s no reason for the “innovation”:
“…but finally there’s really nothing about the substance of the story–a series of typically disconnected musings by an unidentified diarist–that really is either enhanced by the formal framework or seems to require it.”
Ie true innovation “requires” its innovation; it’s not just wasteful artistrying, not just fucking around, bugging out.
Ie, as I said in my talk at &Now, according to this academic idea of “innovative” writing, the innovation “redeems” literature, purging the corrupted and corrupting pageantry of “surrealism.” Ie Green seems to think there’s something excessive about the form, or the vehicle does not refer back enough to the tenor of the allegory, it’s a “headless allegory.” The weirdness, the Art-ness is not redeemed, made proper and “significant”.
The artwork’s Art has to be redeemed by a function.
Has to be made to work for purpose.
Cannot be waste, shit, Poetry.
Rather than “the original” who get canonized, we get “open source” proliferation of texts.
With Bataille and bugs as my model, I reject the so-called economy of corporate time, capitalist time, so called ‘linear’ time, triumphalist time, which is a golden lie anyway, and instead I recognize this tide of shit and waste, I recognize that that is where I live, if I live, on bug time, on bug time; in Indiana, in the necropastoral; I have no interest in myths of posterity, in a secured future, in the supposed future of literature or humans or anything else; the way I’m writing now is disposable; in disposible media and unsturdy genres; but it’s the most important thing in my milisecond life; that’s why I want to be wear my grave clothes now, ceremental, distressed, and yes, bug-eaten, moths in my hair, Miss Death-in-life, like PJ Harvey in her Mercury clothes, mercury poisoned, one part Miss Havisham, one part Gregor Samsa…
Sean Kilpatrick is in this anthology, and this is what I wrote about him in my “Attention Span” list of best books of 2011:
The violent, sexual zone of television and entertainment is made to saturate that safe-haven, the American Family. The result is a zone of violent ambience, a “fuckscape”: where every object or word can be made to do horrific acts. As when torturers use banal objects on its victims, it is the most banal objects that become the most horrific (and hilarious) in Sean Kilpatrick’s brilliant first book.
ie, Kilpatrick “shits silk.”
That is to say, it’s art as luxury, not necessity (necessity either by moral claims or claims of lineage or claims of form-function).
“Innovation,” we are reminded over and over again, is something very much tied up with “lineage” with the “future” with a literary order, with canonicity. “Innovation,” it seems, must be repeatedly protected against the fake temptations of “surrealism”, that anachronistic force which threatens to ruin our canons of lineage, of taste.
Ie it’s Bug Surrealism.