by Johannes Goransson on Mar.26, 2012
“Kim” wrote this comment and I thought it was really interesting so I’m putting it up here as an official post (I hope you don’t mind, Kim):
I agree with all points made within the context of that particular polarization but I can’t help to wonder about the polarization itself, that which pits experimental, excessive, gimmicky (those flamboyant howling hyenas) against the earn-your-image “realist” fiction or poetry workshop bunch. In much of the work the latter’s fidelity to realist narrative strike me as limiting as the experimentalist’s distrust of the same. A kind of mutual disregard for narrative as a tool, lifting it up either to the point of (puritan, no doubt) religion or trying to tear it down with dionysian fervor. Both sharing, in a way, an aesthetics of completeness, while the art, or Art, or writing, or other medium, that continually “shatters” me is that which dares to venture into the unknown, where narrative is used, often with the fidelity of that dull realist crowd, though not always, but which is also allowed to crack, fall apart, fail. I love, for instance, how in Bolano, the narrative is temporarily abandoned because a word or topic comes up that needs further exploration, whether poetic or informative, even political. Or David Foster Wallace’s wonderful self-consciousness gnawing beneath the text. I love to read writers fail, fail because they’re trying to do something that is impossible, because the vision is too big. A failure that is almost non existent in so called “realist” writing, but equally so in most “experimental” writing. Barthelme I suppose is some kind of experimentalist house god, but I find his weird strikingly coherent, his “excess” perfectly realistic within his different worlds, a workshop craftsman if there ever was one. Ironically Carver to me is far more out there, his underlying current of menace and violence and weird, not as a premise or aesthetics but as exploration. Couple meets peacock. One-armed photographer tries to eat jello. Blind man watches TV. I don’t think he gave two cents for “realism”.
Anyway. I suppose this went far off topic, still, I’m curious to know more about this montevidayoan (if you will) aesthetics in regards to use of narrative. Does narrative become superfluous in an art which seeks to engage more directly with the world, or other works in the world (as kitsch?), that in a way the surroundings of the work is the narrative with which it breaks?
My response was first of all that I don’t sees experimental as aligned strictly speaking with the “kitschy.” If anything, “experimental” writing seems to be a terrain which depends on and/or provokes a whole lot of anti-kitsch rhetoric (think of Ron Silliman’s “soft surrealism” – and for that matter “quietism” – or Marjorie Perloff comparing Merwin to Longfellow etc). In fact a lot of the instances in which I’ve encountered the use of the “gimmick” charge has actually been from experimental writers, who appear to feel concern with emphasizing the “rigor” of what they are doing.
I also agree about Carver: a much stranger writer than people who claim him as their lineage seem to realize. For one, his narrative technique seems paralyzing and paralyzed: The short sentences allow very little sense of interiority as well as very little mobility: you can only get those brief sentences and brief vignettes, sometimes coupled with a gap and a later scene (she goes home and tells her boyfriend that she’s served a fat man, she tells her friends about the weirdo who put the furniture out on his driveway).