Reports of the Death of Fiction Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

Fiction isn’t dead or dying, and neither is the literary magazine. Maybe the academic model for supporting it is, but that’s a wholly different thing. Instead of pining for the glory days, maybe we should instead turn our attention to the great independent literary magazines, whose futures are dependent on readers, not university decisions: Try Unsaid or Hobart or Barrelhouse or New York Tyrant or Keyhole or Annalemma or any of the other great online and print magazines out there. The people editing these magazines and publishing them without drawing a salary or having institutional funding have already shown the importance they personally put on the publishing of new fiction, and their contribution to the literary community is consistently ignored by academics writing articles like this one.

So says Matt Bell in response to the debate recently opened by Ted Genoways of the Virginia Quarterly Review, which has been unfolding online for a couple of weeks now.  Continue reading Reports of the Death of Fiction Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

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The Other Seven-Eighths of the Iceberg

At the height of his celebrity in the 1950s, Ernest Hemingway gave a now‐famous interview in which he credited the emotional power of his fiction to what he called “the principle of the iceberg.” An iceberg, he noted, floats in the Arctic with only one‐eighth of its mass above water while the greater, more potentially devastating portion hides beneath the surface and attracts our concern precisely because it is hidden. In the same way, he reasoned, the drama of a story can attract our concern if  we  are  allowed to glimpse  only  a fragment  of  visible  action that implies  an earlier, unseen experience of far greater magnitude and emotional significance. In other words, Hemingway would rarely detail a  sequence of narrative events  so that we may witness a drama, but would more often depict only the consequences of such events in a single representative scene from which we then infer the drama. In story after story, he effectively positions his readers as voyeurs eavesdropping on the aftermath of a dispute between two lovers, or as snoops lingering alongside some lonesome individual whose company we have entered by illicit means. He draws our attention to a dramatic scenario by carefully denying us a clear view of its  causes. He  concentrates our  concern on the dramatic tensions that he keeps outside the story by meticulously foregrounding their deliberate absence.

I have a short article on Ernest Hemingway’s iceberg theory and the resurgence of interest in his notorious six-word story (“For sale: baby shoes, never worn”) in the latest issue of Philament.

A Statement of Something Other Than Intention

First there were litblogs like Bookslut and ReadySteadyBook, largely dedicated to literary news and gossip. Then came “critblogs” like The Reading Experience and The Existence Machine, more interested in generating a substantive and sustained conversation about particular literary matters. In these pages, I too want to engage in literary discussion, but I want to engage in a different sort of discussion to what appears on both litblogs and critblogs.

I wouldn’t go so far as to make a statement of intention for this blog, but I will venture a statement of interest: I’m interested in exploring not only the literary experience as a subject of critical discourse, but also as precisely what it is: an experience. I’m interested in the quotidian aspects of reading and writing, the haphazard progression from text to text, the scattershot and fragmentary nature of the daily encounter with literature. Continue reading A Statement of Something Other Than Intention

thoughts on the what, the how, and the why of literature