"Art of the Rant" was the title of an essay I wrote for my New Philistine newsletter. I compared the violent, passionate rants of Frank Norris's novel The Octopus to what zeens of the 90's perfected.
One of the distinguishing features of many 90's zeens was the inclusion of striking rants. Punk and anarchist zeensters especially relied on rants to draw attention. I think of some of the best, like Kombat, or the Big Fish music/political zeen out of Grand Rapids. Many zeens included the word in their titles, like This Space for Rant, or Alfred Vitale's Rant.
The written rant is like a building crescendo in a rock song. (Think of how Pearl Jam ended many of their hits.) The rant's power comes from the words that are said, but also from the energy and rhythmn of the cascading words. Nothing in literature is more powerful.
The Octopus itself is music, notes turned into words; a vast sweeping symphony, themes played at the beginning extending and growing in thematic narrative velocity, driving building expanding crashing together spectacularly in an over-the-top display of the emotional power of outrage.
Hang onto the outrage. Norris's characters live full out-- love or hate. They plunge into their conflicts the same way Norris plunges fully into the ideas of his story.
In the aftermath of the ULA's 2001 debate with the Paris Review staff at CBGB's Gallery, as George Plimpton and myself discussed matters over beers, the old boy told me the one point on which we were wrong was the idea that polemics had a place in literature. I'd been told the same thing by other literary people over the years: No polemics!
Yet isn't polemical language part of life? Shouldn't it be yet one more tool to consider in the writer's toolbox; which can be used well or used badly? Should anything be excluded from literature-- including language which can stir arouse awaken anger the reader?
I've never bought the Ray Carver idea that people talk in monotone sentences of few words. When I worked in industrial shops or bartended near factories I heard workers' rants, riffs on their anger over spouses bosses jobs lives: the world. Their anger gave their expressive words rhetorical power. They ranted! They didn't sound like Ray Carver.
The art of the rant is polemics brought to life in the most forceful way possible.