Fiction, Friction, Text

September 17, 2011

So: I had to pound away at a short story manuscript all week and went to the local university library to check out as many books of short stories I could find by people my age for comparison and it turns out that my deal is a whole different deal.  Not better or worse, just different mindset.  My whole generation has been affected by what I’ll call the Quirk Decision.  This “decision” (not a problem) presents itself when writers are more interested in finding novel ways to tell old stories rather than finding novel ways to tell new stories, so you get a lot of writing that lives in a kind of brilliant magical or cartoon world where things are emotionally flat but linguistically dazzling and impressive.   And there’s a whole world of trad fiction that’s only emotion and no spark but I’m not reading that stuff at all.

It’s not a problem–all the stuff I found is great writing–maybe just a sort of late-postmodern quandary of where to go next after David Foster Wallace basically did a checkmate on contemporary American fiction writing with Infinite Jest in 1996.  The problem for me is that I don’t want to dazzle people, I want to draw them in and show them new, complex, uncomfortable and sometimes inexplicable things and states, which I don’t know if I’m doing and can do or not.  But what’s in my work is a sense that things are for real and as dark and disturbing as they are, whether or not there are consequences for bizarre behavior, the world is a complicated place and it’s the world we live in, not a magical one.  This may well be a failure of imagination on my part, though.

This follows hard on seeing a group show I’m in here in Milwaukee.  Everything’s fine and good, but my work looks like it comes from a whole different society (very west coast) and sticks out, neither as better nor worse but as “this does not belong here.”  In the show, the key thing I noticed was the Quirk Decision: artists were very invested in novel techniques and presentations but not in the ideas (even wordless aesthetic ideas) offered by the work.  It’s the old story told with quirk.  And all the art is good, some of it is great, quality is not the issue, what the deal is is that again I’m worlds away from where everyone else is.

Somehow I wandered off on my own in both my writing and my art, and I don’t know whether that’s good or bad.

And so with the intensive writing I haven’t been making any artwork but this weekend should change that with some text pieces, more of the wrong kind of quirk.  I’ve been reading a giant Tracey Emin book so get ready.

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