Monday, February 24, 2014

Sometimes an Experimental Notion

The following quotation is from the New York Times Sunday Book Review about a collection of stories titled, “Summer Lies,” by Bernhard Schlink. The reviewer, Lisa Zeidner, observes that “stories filled with observations of background details like the weather or birdsong can easily become dull — or, conversely, poetically overwrought.” However, this particular author of this particular book “avoids both pitfalls, and absorbs us with the blow-by-blows of his characters’ reactions, even when the plot is adamantly short on life-changing events.” This is how normative fiction is parsed, then. What does this quote say to you? Look at the worry and bother over a plot that leaves much to be desired because there are no life changing events. And the lack of life changing events aren’t saved by the other details provided that apparently batter up a bore, dilly-dally in a dullness, or are too elaborately and overly poetic. But, (always there’s a but), this particular author, in this particular piece of writing, saves himself by providing “blow by-blows of his characters’ reactions,” and to someone, somewhere, that was sufficient. (Or to be fair: to enough people, in many places, that was plenty). This is just to say that someone will lay any number of claims against your plot or your characters or your style or your phraseology or any number of things that we have been fixedly looking for in works of art ‘since the beginning of time’ (to quote a student’s essay).
And if someone will forever be displeased with one or all of the aspects that make up a piece of literature, (or fiction, if you’d rather use that referential in this case), then why in the world would you bother to cater to everyone? (Or more extremely, anyone?) Maybe that is a silly question, a rudimentary notion. Allow me to backpedal from that statement somewhat: Why not then, if people will forever be displeased, forget about the whole lot of ‘em and start writing (I guess in the modernists’ vein) to forever try to make it new (whatever that ‘new’ means to you)?
Why can’t a story be constructed entirely of “observations of background details like the weather or birdsong?” Couldn’t that present the possibility to make up a sort of narrative itself? Or instead of the “life changing events,” why not worry over language?
Language changing events—sentences, each, an event in itself where you can let phrases turn and unfold anew, follow the bricked yellow syntactical road at times, and see what pens the page. Take the sentence to a different place. (Ugh, pardon that). Vary sentence lengths, drop pronouns, add qualifiers to the point that an entire sentence, in fact, quite possibly, in all reality, may well, frightfully enough, or delightfully, be constructed of just that. It may come off as gibberish—especially if being read aloud. This is an inherent risk of fleeing, falling or flying from the nest of the normative. Writing is, or should be, a form of risk taking. Why continue scratching out the same grammatically correct sentence in the same neatly structured narrative? Why let words be absorbed into the background? Without the words, surely, all that’s left is __________.
But I’d like to think, or at least fool myself into thinking, that there can be more to an experimental piece that does bind it, enough so that it may even meet with Lisa Zeidner’s approval. One must needle the thread and weave some repetition throughout a piece so that there is something that leaves the reader, one who regularly chooses normative fiction over experimental fiction, less strung out. Give them a dose. Sedate the patient. A story most certainly can be found out in an experimental piece, if one were to look closely enough (if the writer executes the breadcrumb trail aptly). What is absented? What, then, is gained—beyond some selfish desire to scribble in such a way? For me, it seems the more natural approach to applying art to the world, or the world to art, especially that of language and thoughts happening at real time. But be prepared, however, for here teeters the edge of abstraction, and perhaps some vagabond vagaries found in your writing will be the only observables to the reader out there, the audience, so called. Jeanette Winterson, as she discusses patrons observing paintings, writes:
When you say ‘This work has nothing to do with me’. When you say ‘This work is boring/pointless/silly/obscure/elitist etc’, you may be right, because you are looking at a fad, or you might be wrong because the work falls so outside of the safety of your own experience that in order to keep your own world intact, you must deny the other world of the painting. This denial of imaginative experience happens at a deeper level than our affirmation of our daily world. Every day, in countless ways, you and I convince ourselves about ourselves. True art, when it happens to us, challenges the ‘I’ that we are. (Art Objects)
I like to think that we all want to be challenged, and not only does the presentation of experimental fiction challenge a reader to ‘figure it out,’ but it also calls into question the reason why there needs to be so much figuring in the first place. The same applies to writing, or attempting to write, experimental pieces. They challenge us to be unconvinced, and to provide some sort of object that is worth something, anything, in this world that is crowded by words and by screens and by war and by all of the rest of the etcetera, and perfectly plotted tales that do not exist in any world I’ve taken part in (including those presented in my colorful dreams). When Gertrude Stein arrived back in the States in 1934 for a lecture tour, she was met by a group of journalists and after “she went on to answer their questions lucidly and in good humor,” one of the journalists asked, “Why don’t you write the way you talk?” to which Stein replied, “Why don’t you read the way I write?”

Matthew Parker is a human being who attempts to write writing. He believes that being enrolled in a writing program such as FAU's MFA program helps coin the cup of that cause. As for the future, he suggests counting cards.


  1. Really enjoyed your thoughts Mr. Parker.

  2. Stop challenging my "I", Matt! Really, this is quite liberating.