Experimental Fiction & realism

Interesting article here-

Personally, I don’t agree with anything she says. She seems to take insult at experimental writers (something I see a lot of in genre fiction readers as well) as if the writer- by handing her the freedom of personal interpretation, and giving her equal ground in the writer/reader relationship, has somehow slighted her or insulted her. It’s as if experimental fiction is attacking her personally…and I find that odd.

The fact that she calls herself a realist makes her no different than the genre folks who feel the same way about experimental fiction. This refusal to open a mind, to accept the freedom and responsibility for creation of your own symbols within a text, seems to be a common fate to a culture spoon fed their thoughts and imaginations via a drip feed of hollywood block busters and television shows that dictate visual signals that override the richness that textual symbolism has to offer.

In other words?


Just because she has “tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt towards an English degree” doesn’t mean she knows everything and anything about literature itself. Experimental fiction is as old as fiction itself. Unlike art, which went through phases of experiments making things more and more abstract, fiction has had works like Tristam Shandy from the get-go. The fact that she calls Joyce and Stein experimental (with disdain) shows how broadly she lumps everything together.

Personally, I like what Murakami said in an interview somewhere, when asked about his fabulist/magical realist elements in his narrative- that he considered himself a realist writer. Even in those sections, he considered himself a realist writer.

I loved that. It rings true, and challenges the notion of how textual symbolism can be real or not.


12 thoughts on “Experimental Fiction & realism

  1. Your frustration dovetails with the cult of plot that irritates me. Mimetic fiction has its function, but I find it most successful when peppered with experimental delivery. I’ve seen enough reviews of experimental approaches (including my own not-very-experimental approach) though to know that we’re in the minority.

    We should all be forced to take a comprehensive course in the nouveau roman–it will free the experimentals and buttress the mimetic-realists at the same time.

    • nouveau roman is great stuff- have you ever seen Alain Resnais’s films? Last Year in Marienbad is esp amazing, for the way it deconstructs memory, character and plot. A lot of the stuff I’m working on in a novel(la) I’m writing now takes a big page from this film.

      We’re in the minority, and yet, it seems like Ben Marcus might be leading a trumpet call to push us into a larger majority, if this can somehow be tapped and take us along with it. His novel the Flame Alphabet is doing exceptionally well (even though this editorial I linked to wanted to tear it apart).

      I’m wondering about ways to create more traction with experimentalism and having it spread via word of mouth to the minority that supports it- the minority I think can be a larger majority (but not THE majority) if people who are fans can easily discover more works like what they like. Right now experimental fiction is so scatter shot, that hunting down the good shit takes a lot of effort.

      I’m also starting to wonder if the perfect form for experimental literature might be the novella, that around 40-50k, these works can shine their brightest.

      • I’ve seen Last Year in Marienbad–great stuff. And I agree that length can be an impediment (clearly, I work somewhat short). When I think of Wittgenstein’s Mistress, I remember how much I loved it but also how its length made it sloggingly difficult to process at times. That can be part of the point, but it’s not always the most effective tool in the box, and that sort of estrangement/dislocation that can arise out of exhaustion is a trick played out, IMO.

      • You’re absolutely right…I don’t think it’s impossible to create a larger work of experimental fiction…but I think the end result is a different beast entirely.

        Like Dhalgren and Finnegan’s Wake, I think both of these books are not meant to be read from point a to point b. Dhalgren is meant to be read (IMHO) by picking up random places and reading then putting down, picking up later. While FW is meant to be a puzzle, something to philosophize over, a work of existence in itself.

        But those are rare beasts.

      • Also, I hate how experimental fiction is equated with Oulipo in most people…even though they wouldn’t know the name if it bit them on the ass. They just assume Experimental Fiction is experiments about leaving out a letter or two or something along those lines. And it’s so much larger than that, so much more interesting.

      • Trick is for me- most experimental writers I know have agents…which means the cost of doing the books goes up.

        My dream idea is for an experimental writer co-op, with each writer pitching in for different projects (some doing the design, the cover art, editing, etc) and then everyone splitting the profits

        But so far, no one seems to want to do that…which is understandable

      • Sometimes folks will sell a novella without their agents, since the pay is usually so low. Just gotta find the right hotbed of interest. There was a time when I would’ve thrown in my hat, but I’m just so project-exhausted these days, I’m still recovering from ’07-’09.

      • Oh no, I understand. I’m just reeling from a few people who insisted on a decent sized advance for this…which struck me as strange.

        Still, I’m just keeping things on the backburner, until I can throw more of myself at it.

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