Friday, October 28, 2011

Against the Literary Slows


The prevailing characteristic of literary fiction today is how slow it is. Establishment writers from Jonathan Franzen and Jonathan Lethem to Ann Beattie and Alice Munro to Mark Gaitskill and Madison Smartt Bell to Francine Prose and Lorrie Moore think and write in slow motion. Not society's greyhounds or pit bulls. Poodles. They pile on irrelevant meaningless detail throughout their narratives, which slows things down until the pace is that of a turtle's. For them, slowness is of high value. So their stories and novels go ever slower, s-l-o-w-e-r.

The reader is asleep in his armchair, snoring loudly, head back, mouth open, book of well-crafted literary fiction dropped to the floor.


Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. . . .

The literary slows are caused by two factors.

One is the removal of these esteemed Approved writers from the hectic high-speed madness of the contemporary world. Through awards, advances, or university teaching assignments they've willfully isolated from the knockabout struggle of life which gives edge to an art. (Think early punk. Early rock n' roll. Think Van Gogh.) These well-lauded comfortable bowed-and-ribboned poodles-on-leashes have no edge. None. Not once does a one of them anymore lose control. Most of them never have.

The other factor is the way fiction writing today is taught. Painstaking craft, dawdling over the proliferation and precision of words, is the focus. They're conditioned to write not for readers, but their peers. They compete with one another to impress experts with word-clotted dead-thought go-nowhere slowness, reaching an audience of tepidly comfortable aficionados, or at least, themselves.

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