Monday, November 23, 2009

New Avant-Garde II

The first question is whether a new literary movement is needed. I've argued strenuously that it is. That's what my "attacking" of Demi-Puppets and Overdogs was about-- making the case for an entirely new American literature. If you don't agree with the premise, then it's useless for you to read what follows.

We're so marginalized, so at-the-bottom of today's literary pyramid, there's nothing to lose by crashing out of it.

The next question is what our new literary art will look like. I avoided this question when fronting the Underground Literary Alliance. We allowed underground literary art to speak for itself. Much of it was good and most of it was adventurous. Yet, in hindsight, this wasn't good enough.

Should new writing be neo-traditional-- clear writing; a return to the "stuff" of literature: character, structure, and plot? Or should it be a new avant-garde, escaping in an entirely new direction?-- if so, what would that new direction look like?

I'll be arguing that new literary art can-- MUST-- be both.

"Literary" fiction has been stuck in ruts promoted by MFA programs:
1.) Overly detailed static workshopped stories.
2.) "Minimalist" lobotomized static workshopped stories.
(Both of these types, whatever the setting, present a narrow and timid view of the world. Novels of this kind are in fact heavily padded short stories whose viewpoint scarcely advances. See Lorrie Moore. Genteel subtlety is the overarching quality.)
3.) David Foster Wallace-style postmodern verbiage, presenting mountains of endless long sentences of insane solipsism.
4.) Eggers-style cutesiness; a toned-down, less intellectually crazy version of #3.
5.) Variations and hybrids of the four accepted styles.

But wait! A new phenomenon in the reading experience has been the rise of the graphic novel-- whose genesis was the popularity of the "Dark Knight" Batman comic books of twenty years ago. Curiously, leading status quo postmodernists like Jonathan Lethem and Michael Chabon are big fans of this genre-- even though graphic novels represent the opposite of their own word-clotted art.

What is the graphic novel art? (The superhero/detective versions.)

1.) Plot, in the sense of ceaseless narrative drive containing hyperbolic action.
2.) Writing stripped to its essence. The "Keep-It-Simple" sales maxim of engaging the customer/reader.
3.) An artsy, impressionistic "look" in the panels, which equates to stripped-down description; or, description cut down to its essence. The hint; the impression; the glance.
4.) Melodrama: every remaining ingredient exaggerated. Exaggerated character, personality, dialogue, emotion, and plot.

How is this traditional?

Many 19th-century giants, in some of their works, were already doing these things. Think Dickens, Dumas, Hugo, even Dostoevsky. This was done more in over-the-top popular French fiction like Leroux's Phantom of the Opera and the serial Fantomas, which were indirect influences on the early, darkly melodramatic "Batman" style comic books. The cycle of life and the world: Everything comes back to its start.

Graphic novels without the graphics, if done right, can convey more, in character, narrative drive, and emotion, than the graphic novel itself. The graphic novel IS the substance of fiction-- all unnecessary postmodern/literary garbage taken out. Can we do this using only words?

To do so would be the ANTITHESIS of status quo literature now.

Other undergrounders may have different takes than mine on how to create non-graphic graphic novels. I'd like to see the underground's best writers-- Wred Fright, James Nowlan, Pat King at least think about how to do it. In different ways, they have talents (Wred's "pop" qualities; Nowlan's darkness) which might be put into play toward this goal.

One thing I know: we need a more unified aesthetic-- theory put into practice-- if we're to create a more coherent, cutting edge movement.

To be successful, new art-- a new avant-garde-- will have to blow readers out of the water. We as writers have to imagine new writing, then CREATE IT. It will have to be both simpler, more basic, more exciting and more colorful than "traditional" novels, taking the core essence of the art and exaggerating it.

I don't know if this is possible. It's an open road.

These are my ideas. What are yours?