Thursday, 8 October 2009

Gleaned Genius (Pt 4)

Today in my creative writing class, we discussed those quirky and very fine postmodernists, with emphasis on metafiction – that is, fiction about itself, or fiction with a self-conscious bent.

Hurrah! I have nothing much say, other than this was honey to me, since the writers discussed are people whose shoes I would happily lick clean and whose underpants I would nibble until the last few fibres of my dignity collapsed in a muggy heap.

Among these writers include the lesser-known geniuses
Gilbert Sorrentino and Flann O’Brien. The latter was among the first few writers to pick up where Laurence Sterne (the godfather of postmodernism) left off – inscrutable narratives running on hilarious tangents and mad comic energy. The former was a ludicrously gifted stylist, and pioneered the piss-take postmodern novel in his metafictional masterpiece Mulligan Stew.

This novel is ultimate cri de coeur of the struggling experimentalist – a dazzlingly hilarious poke at the pretensions of novelists and the pretensions of publishers. It has the last word to say on the plight of the ‘misunderstood’ writer, and is a must-read for anyone wondering why their writing has hitherto floundered beneath the radar.

Postmodern writing is still invading the cultural landscape. Novels no longer exist as self-contained entities. For the novel to evolve we must embrace metafictional devices and ride the undulating waves upon the ocean of progress. Or words to that effect.

Viva la PoMo revolution!


  1. It's a tempting device, especially for those who have been raised in focused, analytic education systems posing as enlightened experience. I think, at the end of the day, the post-modern focus is too narrow. This doesn't mean it's not worth doing. All sincere experiments are valid by nature and contribute. The test, for me, is whether the art (in any form) has given the greatest number of observers a direct experience of the self; not the ego self, but the universal one. Not a vulgar popularity, but the kind that endures. Does one come away from the observation (reading) as a changed individual? Probably the most joyous aspect of this or any new form is the confirmation of our curiosity and need to invent new realities. But there is also a danger. Like anything new, until it is part of the normal fabric of experience, the new thing is like a drug. The more you do the more you need to equal or surpass the previous high. That was one of the traps in "Belch." Will be interesting to see how you ultimately handled it.

  2. I think of postmodernism as the opposite of narrow. For me, it opens up avenues and areas of exploration unavailable to the genre fiction or humble literary fiction writer. It's a second, third and fourth dimension.

    Are you calling postmodernism an "experiment?" That's interesting. I suppose each technique might be construed as an experiment, though the form itself stands for a boundless form of literary experimentation, encompassing myriad ideas.

    I think it's asking a great deal from a book to "change" the reader -- there are books we read in our youths that change our approaches, perspectives to things and so on, but a complete reformation of character takes a book of Bible-like proportions!

    You read up to Part Two of Belch, I believe. Parts 3 & 4 are more of the same, though there's more of a "narrative" to these parts. Kinda.

  3. Narrow may have been a poor choice of words, but I do think it is very much an experiment. As for changing a reader - what greater aspiration? To have sections of a novel feel as palpable as any life memory - I'd like to be known for that.

  4. That's true. My ambitions don't encompass that quite yet, though. So I gesture, wide-armed, into the scary future.

  5. The term 'postmodern' is a funny one isn't it.
    Effectively stating 'going beyond the present, after the latest'.
    So it is essentially an impossibility isn't it? It can never arrive.

    What we're usually talking about is the ultimate omniscient narrator, where self is the one both stalkng and being stalked.

    I'm a boring old fart, I believe that I have far more genuine insight into my fictional characters than I ever will have with myself - hence I prefer to stalk them.

  6. Yes, postmodernism is very much the dog chasing its tail. Or a series of dogs chasing each others' tails and then chasing their own tails again for a laugh.

    Boring old fart? Never. Leave that to Derek.

  7. Expect a visit from Derek's mum!