Monthly Archives: September 2012

Stances

DW:This brings us quite neatly around to a question with which we could ‘close’ this discussion, if only by opening it onto others. Let’s say that, as ever, literature’s death looks a little exaggerated. If this is so, I’m with you in ardently wanting not to ‘have done with’ the modernist impulse, in the way we’ve sought to describe it.

“How then might writing return to the problems that modernism presents? Or rather, how will writing refuse to delude itself that it’s rid of those problems? And can it still do so while ‘making it new,’ that is, without lapsing into pastiche, or fetishising a ‘period’ that’s part of the past?

“For the record, one literary form I do think is ‘dead’ is the novel of ideas. I’m a cultural pessimist insofar as I can’t see our future producing another Mann, a Goethe, a Sartre. But nor would I want it to. I’d say the days of the great, stately ‘philosophical’ novel are gone, and they’re gone for a reason. Put bluntly, I think it’s no longer enough for writing to ‘thematise’ its conjuncture. Today, treating modernity as a theme has become one more way of turning away from it.

“You mention Bernhard in the same breath as Lydia Davis, which I think is fruitful. What I mean here is that I read Bernhard for the same reasons I read some recent American writers. I want to say that I read for the style, but I don’t mean ‘style’ in the ‘superficial’ sense you astutely describe. In the work of the writers I most admire, a style is always also a stance. That is, for them, a way of arranging words on the page is also a way of reaching a view of the world.

“I don’t want to go on and on, so all I’ll say is this: if modernism persists, it surely doesn’t do so as a disembodied idea. Instead, it’s deeply embedded inside the stylistic stances of writers who might not think of themselves as ‘modernists,’ but whose writing itself somehow can’t help but be modern.

Modernism then and Now By David Winters and Anthony Brown.

So something is clearly broken somewhere

It’s been a while. August was a series of daily struggles at work with the evenings spent exhausted and trying to rest. September looks the same. Everything might get easier a few weeks into October once Jen’s move to mine is completed and we’ve settled down to a new routine. What little time there’s been has been spent reading/dissecting V.S. Pritchett and Lydia Davis stories.

The two things that have caught my attention recently are Paul Kincaid’s review of two of the 2012 best of the year anthologies and Ian Sale’s post on the continuing parochial nature of the Hugo awards.

The overwhelming sense one gets, working through so many stories that are presented as the very best that science fiction and fantasy have to offer, is exhaustion. Not so much physical exhaustion (though it is more tiring than reading a bunch of short stories really has any right to be); it is more as though the genres of the fantastic themselves have reached a state of exhaustion.

Paul Kincaid makes very few new allegations: the charge that the genres of the fantastic are exhausted is not new. Cheap Truth asserted the same thing about fantasy way back in its first issue. The symptom Paul identifies is that science fiction’s authors and audience have lost confidence that the future can be comprehended. It seems that few have been able to get over that crisis; most seem to have resorted to repeating the same faded tropes endlessly. Even the best stories are exercises in nostalgia. I’ve had similar feelings for years. But then I grew up in the noughties when everything was already broken. I suspect what excites me as a reader and writer in their mid-twenties doesn’t overlap much with what gets Gardner Dozois & Richard Horton excited. I’ve an affection for the motifs of SF but find the content lacking, so get better literary kicks from other genres.

Last Sunday saw Hugo Awards handed out to several people for producing, or so the award would have us believe, the “best” of their category in the previous year. It’s complete nonsense, of course. The Hugos, despite half-hearted changes implemented over the years, are based on a model of fandom which hasn’t existed since the 1960s.

Ian Sales criticises the Hugo Awards again, and I mostly agree with him as the Hugo’s bore me senseless. Its voters are all older and more American than me: we’ve lived very different lives and it shows in the books and other media we get excited by. It’s that difference in generational and geographical demographics appearing again.

People have disregarded Paul and Ian’s criticisms. I don’t care to argue against them for doing that. They have reasons to preserve the status quo; I don’t. If nostalgia is the prevailing mood then it’s time to examine the foundations of science fiction for extensions, restoration, even, if needed, demolition.

Something is clearly broken somewhere. This is clearly an opportunity to rebel and explore new space.