I’m officially moving my writing blog back to my livejournal. WordPress was an interesting experiment, but ultimately I think the social aspects of LiveJournal and the significant number of writers and book people on it make it a better platform for this kind of thing. Please update bookmarks, rss feeds, whatever you may have.
I’m starting to think of literary fiction as a genre defined by absences. It encompasses books that can’t be too sexy, have too much plot, be too funny or zany, that cannot, in other words, be too fun.
One book translated the ancient Chinese term “youxia” as “knights errant”. Another book translated the word as “gangster”.
Somewhat different perspectives on who these people were.
Alternate realities exist here on Earth, and they’re very easy to find. Right here in my own country, I can travel to Burning Man, the Gathering of the Juggalos or a Tea Party rally and be in a completely different world from the one I usually inhabit, one where people have completely different cultural backgrounds and preconceptions and live in a completely different reality. Lord knows Glenn Beck lives in a different reality from me, one where the way government works and the nature of the constitution are totally unlike my world. Same goes for anyone who believes Raiki is effective, or thinks that that George Bush planned 9/11. These are radically different realities.
(An excerpt from a longer piece I’m writing…)
Scott Pilgrim (both the comic and movie) mixes tropes of teen drama with the storytelling conventions of videogames to alarming effect, giving us a startling new perspective on the very old tropes of love, jealousy, dealing with your past, etc. However this is also an example of how one has to find something recognizable in the conventions in order for reinventing those conventions to have any meaning. Scott Pilgrim is necessarily generationally polarizing; older people who did not grow up with videogames do not understand it because the conventions of videogames have no meaning for them, and so mucking around with them has no resonance. For those of us who did grow up with videogames, however, Scott Pilgrim is pure, delirious joy, Barthes’ orgasmic jouissance.
Writing, free in its beginnings, is finally the bond which links the writer to a History which is itself in chains: society stamps upon him the unmistakable signs of art so as to draw him along the more inescapably in its own process of alienation.
The conception of style as craftsmanship has produced a mode of sub-writing, derived from Flaubert, but adapted to the aims of the Naturalist school. This writing, which is that of Maupassant, Zola and Daudet and which could be called the realist mode of writing, is a combination of the formal signs of Literature (preterite, indirect speech, the rhythm of the written language) and of the no less formal signs of realism (incongruous snippets of popular speech, strong language or dialect words, etc.), so that no mode of writing was more artificial than that which set out to give the most accurate description of Nature. This is no mere stylistic failure but one of theory as well: there is, in the Naturalist aesthetic, a convention of the real, just as there is a fabrication in its writing.
Roland Barthes, Writing Degree Zero
The definition of “mainstream” changes from medium to medium. For example, in film “mainstream” refers to popular hollywood fare, and is dominated by genres like science fiction-fantasy-action/adventure (“tentpole” blockbusters), romance, comedy and so on. In comic books, mainstream refers to superheroes, and the strangeness of this one, odd little genre having so dominated an entire medium has been commented on in many quarters. In prose fiction, mainstream refers to literary fiction. Indeed, no other medium I can think of is so preoccupied with the status of “literary”-ness than prose fiction (though there have been some attempts in other media– for example, the critics who try to separate “film” from “movies”). This has, of course, everything to do with prose fiction’s particular history and audience, but it doesn’t make the attempt to separate “literature” from not-“literature” any less pernicious, causing, as it does, great work in “genre” fiction to often be sidelined by both large portions of the reading public and the academy (and thus often future generations as well as the present ones). The notion that the particular set of conventions that we call “literary” is somehow inherently better than those we call “genre” is absurd on the face of it, but it is so intricately wrapped up in signifiers of class and social status that we have trouble making out the absurdity. In fact, the very act of reading itself is a signifier of class and social status, and many people come to reading fiction for pleasure, often at an early age (when most of their peers are only reading what’s assigned to them), specifically because they want to see themselves as more refined and sophisticated than other people–in other words, of a higher status. I will be the first to admit that I am as guilty of this as anyone else, and one can see it in the derrogations of genre–a lashing out and defensiveness borne of my own guilt in enjoying the stuff–that made up many of the posts in the early years of this blog. I can’t think of any other whole medium so wound up in ideas of status.