Sunday, June 06, 2010

Synthesized Lit

THE MANDARIN PROCESSORS of literature insist that I accept established lit’s failed standard—the old aesthetic. But with the ULA I was bringing, from the outside, a NEW aesthetic to the table.

In a way I’m glad that the ULA’s publisher didn’t clean up James Nowlan’s short novel, “Security.” As is, the work stands as a blatant assault on literature’s regulators, on the processing system. “Security” is a demonstration that a work can be unprocessed yet at the same time literature.

Art isn’t something that can be contained inside a box. Art breaks free of all shackles. Art demands that we continually view it with fresh eyes.

I invite everyone to buy “Security” and read it in its entirety, and tell me it’s not literature. It’s the essence of literature. If you nitpick this word or that word you’re missing the point.

What we have now in lit-journal after lit-journal is synthesized lit. Processed. Plastic. Dead.

Take a standard award-winning literary story and place it next to Nowlan’s novella. One work is clean and tidy: processed. It takes no risks, offers no narrative strength. No artistic vision. Alongside it, “Security” is a mad chaotic mess. All it does is speak the truth. It rips the mask of cleanliness off the world around us, to show us things as they are.

The Processors are great rationalizers. Like arts apparatchiks of any era, they have turf, jobs, and reputations to protect. They have much to lose if their system with its narrow vision of literature is overturned. They will fight hard to protect the status quo. They’ll squelch all outside ideas, all dissent. So fearful are they, there’s no room, in their eyes, for a single contrary voice.

As we’ve seen in comments on this blog, and may see in more of them, they’re able to exert pressure to conform. If even I’ve felt the pressure, it’s easy to see how young writers are swiftly brought into line. Every lever of power lies in the hands of status quo apologists.

Their chief justification for the refined art they offer is “language.” For them, “language” is a euphemism for the processed article.

Truth and immediacy are rejected. Instead, endless revisions. The first emotion or first view are lost within layers of processing.

A punk rock band is allowed to attack the listener with raw, untrained emotion. With lit, all the reader is ever given is a Mozart string quartet.

Accept the Nowlans of the world as writers? Impossible! The Processors, Synthesizers, and Regulators fluster. “Illiterate! No talent!” Dare someone write without system training and approval? No. Not in their eyes. Literature belongs solely to them, kept in a well-guarded glass museum case at Columbia, Princeton, or Brown.

Synthesized lit dominates literature. In bookstores it sits packaged in slick lit-journals which, with one or two exceptions, are never sold. There’s no excitement to a one of them—certainly, definitely, not the excitement of new art.

Literature’s highest purpose is the presentation of truth. Ever has it been. That purpose is bolstered by powerful words, by strong writing.

Yes, I understand this isn’t the only standard. Some writers follow less ambitious paths. They’re content simply with the play of words. They accept the sole criterion of language.

You’re free to follow that standard. But please don’t try to impose your narrow vision upon myself!

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