Fiction does not need theory to be written. First, the fiction written, the artistic moments, and the theory, or theories, arises as a consequence of critical reading. Theory is a coherent statement of known and verified material facts, in this case, works of fiction, and the formation of theory, if it's to be interesting, comes after the appearance of a primary source. Critics and erstwhile gutter-snipers of ill reputation seek to have a theory on the same level as fiction, literature, but in terms of actual practice, theory is a secondary activity, a delayed reaction to fiction, not a simultaneous occurrence. Changing tastes and fashions have more to do with novels falling off the radar, not an absence of theory. And a philosophy without a theory, to begin with, is not a philosophy at all, only the same said more fashionable chatter. For real philosophies that get dropped into our dirty bin, it's most likely that their systems and suppositions have supplanted, discredited and sufficiently critiqued into submission, which is just the happenstance of intellectual shelf life. All bad writing comes from writers who are writing badly, even normally good writers who've undertaken bad projects. There are many tangible reasons for bad writing, not the least of which is the plain truth that the world is full of bad writers who manage to get their scams published. Modernism cannot get "less modern", I think, because the modernism seems, in itself, only a tidying up of Romantic impulses before it, as postmodernism seems only a refinement, an updating of some essentially modernist tropes and stylistics. Each age takes the conventional set of dreads and sagas and makes their contours conform to the constructed world of the current moment. What counts is the individual talent that becomes the substance worth talking about.
Friday, December 14, 2018
Greatest American novel is a subject that exists alongside such topics YouTube topics who the fastest guitarist is, or the fanboy delights of slinging invective at each in the course of ruminating on the image of Superman v The Hulk. The fun in all that is that it inspires everyone to put on their Expert Pants and invent conditions, causes and criteria for their favorite --guitarist, Super Hero, novel--and use them as bludgeons against a legion of other equally engorged enthusiasts who, in turn, have their individual favorite and wield rhetoric devices no less bludgeoning. Even Norman Mailer, who was honest enough to admit that he actually wanted to write something called the Great American Novel admitted, after decades of brilliant books, that such a thing, a single entity, does not and cannot exist. The American Experience, or any historically collected National Experience, is too complex and changing too fast for one set of qualifications to set permanently. The greatest American novel, I think, will only be decided, finally, when we are extinct and someone else, something else assumes the job of figuring out who we were, what we did, and what of that is worth a damn thing.
One of those questions came my way, as in a friend asked me which mystery writer would I prefer to read, Robert Parker or Dick Francis. Honestly, I don't care for either, mostly because I generally don't read mystery novels. Crime fiction is another matter; in the case of classic writers of pulp fiction, the likes of Jim Thompson, Cornell Woolrich, James Crumley, and more recent artists like Elmore Leonard and Donald Westlake, the writer is crisper, snappier, the characterization of heroes, so-called, and the bad guys rich. That is to remark that the psychology, the worldview of the dank environment of criminal enterprise and the ethics therein, are sufficiently complex and twisted. At its best, crime fiction is a condensed form of the Tragedy: flawed heroes and crooks who upset the balance of the universe that contains will inevitably and irrevocably be taken out of commision. Ironic conclusions to one's career are not often a reward. To answer my friend's question, who would I read, I would select Robert Parker, in as much as he attempts to emulate a class act, Raymond Chandler. Dick Francis , I find, is unengaging. I had no interest in the world in which his mysteries took place. The sport of kinds be damned and the murder mysteries that occur within its snooty confines. Parker, though, is no Chandler by far. Even at best, he seems like a beggar wearing clothes he stole from a dead man's closet.
Thursday, December 13, 2018
Existentialism is when I discover that I'm the private joke that hasn't been shared with me.I think Beckett would appreciate those who are able to pierce through that psychic prophylactic against comprehension and grasp the humor he observed and recorded. I have the idea that Beckett permeated the membrane that separates this reality from the metaphysical one, in Plato's sense of the term (and Wallace Stevens as well with his theories about the Supreme Fiction) and instead of finding Ideal Types as promised, he found an empty room. In the Ideal World, Ideas never changed and neither did their representations in the material plane.
Maybe they didn't, but I imagine that the kind of fatalistic assumptions that existentialism brings us too--that we are always free no matter what the limitations upon us are, that we are always free to make a choice, even without arms or legs locked in a cell in a bunker fifty miles under a mountain of Bad Faith--but we soon enough get bored with the certainty that matters in the world, the objects of God's main made visible to us, and we go back to fiction, to poetry, to insanity if need be to imagine new ideas.
This world needs to move and we need to believe that there is an agency in this discussion, that we can destroy what God had wrought or create something new and previously unthought of from the raw stuff we find ourselves born into. We want to transform ourselves by transforming the dirt under the fingernails. Smart folks, the cynics, the nags, the braying chorus of told-you-so-ers will inform you that nothing can be created nor destroyed but merely transformed into a different form of energy. So does Plato's Cave endures? Or are we our own Christ and push the boulder away from the cave entrance and walk to to the stream and wash our faces, not fearing the water might flow through the holes in our hands as some of us might fear. It goes on. It is another night when the music stops playing and the chimney smoke as dissipated in a stiff evening breeze.
There is only the sound of cats brawling in bushes and shadow-cloaked homeless rummaging through the dumpster. Neither gives much thought to how nothing ever changes even as all alliances come loose and we invent more words, ideas, sentences to put them in. What matters is who owns the bush, who gets the half-eaten sandwich and the carton of soured milk.