In Praise of the Weird & Unprofitable

The world of fiction writing needs to move away from the Manhattan literary formula into something weirder and more open to different voices.  I’d love to see Isaac Babel and Guy de Maupassant being talked about alongside memoirists like Nick Flynn and fiction writers willing to do interesting things–like Aravind Adiga and early Denis Johnson or Sam Lipsyte or Arthur Nersesian.  I think innovative writers like these guys, over the last 10-15 years or so, have been successful in spite of a system that sets a dollar value to every word.  And I think they developed unique voices because there were some teachers and writers connected to literary culture who said, “Look, Richard Ford is a really great writer and so was Raymond Carver and so is Alice Munro.  But their work has been so commodified–so accepted and worshiped and established and emulated–that we’re boring ourselves to death.”  Do we really want another coming of age story focused on a well-off young person discovering new things about relationships and sexuality?  Do we want more stories about suburban disillusionment or suffocating marriages or precocious children surviving war and famine?  If we have these stories, maybe we want them told in new ways.  I think they have to be because otherwise we’re dead; we’re not growing; we’re creating copies of copies.

So I think literary culture–and by this I mean global literature, because I think once something has been written and published at a certain level, it enters a global discourse (another reason we need to keep training good translators)–can change.  I don’t think the apoplectic elements of the New York publishing industry necessarily have a lock on all creativity in the western world.  And I think that those of us who care about literary art and who have the will to act have a responsibility to add to the creativity and newness in fiction.  It could be through individual creative work, but we could also do it through creating local literary environments that teach, promote, and encourage others to create for themselves instead of according to a pre-existing, vetted, marketable formula.  There have to be voices out there that wake people up to other possibilities.  And every interesting writer, at some point, picked up a book or attended a reading or listened to a teacher who said, “Fuck writing like that guy.  Do it your own way.”