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Veronica Schanoes
Posted on Saturday, November 22, 2003 - 02:38 pm:   

Hello,

At least two users are having trouble loading the original Written Words thread due to the number of posts on it, so I've created this new thread to give those of us w/not-up-to-the-minute, or even not-up-to-the-previous-year, computers or browsers a break. You can find the previous thread here.

Did anybody else catch the review of two recent biographies of Patricia Highsmith in this week's *Nation*? The reviewer discussed the way that Highsmith's books confounded publisheres and marketers because they were "uncategorizable," both "high art" and "mystery," and as a result, they didn't know how to market her and her books never sold very well in the US.
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Neal Stanifer
Posted on Saturday, November 22, 2003 - 07:07 pm:   

Continuing from the previous thread...

Delia -- Thanks for the clarity and especially the honesty. I'd have been very skeptical if you had said all those nagging problems have been taken care of. (I'm not even sure the problems I mentioned will be problems.) I'll be interested to see the website when it "goes live."

Veronica -- Do you think it's worthwhile to mix evaluative claims like "high/low art" with generic placement? I see that as causing more problems than it solves, reducing literature to an oversimplified hierarchical spectrum and holding the door open to snobbery and anti-genre disdain. I know you didn't make the claims yourself. Just wondered what you thought of the Nation's take.
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Veronica Schanoes
Posted on Monday, November 24, 2003 - 09:11 am:   

I am conflicted about using "high art" as a generic category, but ultimately I think we have to take it into account, if only because in the marketing/selling/reviewing/publicity side of things, genre fiction is often conflated w/"low art," or art that isn't worthwhile. I don't agree w/this equation of non-mainstream-marketed material with trash, but ignoring it won't make it go away, so I do think it's something we have to incorporate and contend with. I'm just speaking for myself here, of course.
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AliceB
Posted on Monday, November 24, 2003 - 12:12 pm:   

There's an intersting article in TIME about graphic novels. (Thank you Laura Williams McCaffrey for pointing it out.) The link:

TIME Andrew Arnold article

The article discusses, among other things, how the genre has been defined by marketing (with interesting quotes from Borders), rather than substance (e.g. why isn't MAUS shelved with other holocaust stories rather than with X-MEN).

All the best,
Alice
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Steve Rogers
Posted on Tuesday, November 25, 2003 - 09:29 am:   

Hmmm. This part from Ms. Sherman:

"The other thing we don’t want to do is equate Interstitial with cool stuff we happen to like. Not all good writing is Interstitial, nor should it be."

And yet, the reason I've been unconvinced from the first time I read about this "movement" is that it seems from these threads that everything *is* labeled interstitial in your eyes. Vess for example is a good artist but he's certainly not interstitial. In fact it seems like you have very few truly interstitial artists or writers in your group. So how can you really create this category if in fact you're all just fantasy writers pretending to be something else?

Steve Rogers

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Veronica Schanoes
Posted on Tuesday, November 25, 2003 - 12:28 pm:   

I've been requested to copy and post the last few messages on the previous thread, so that newcomers to this thread can see where the conversation last left off:

By Pat O'Connor on Friday, November 21, 2003 - 12:15 pm:

(I post this message on this stream because it's about writing, but also I think the essay in question is the sort of essay Delia would like. )

I have been subscribing to the new literary magazine The Believer, because I like the McSweeney's Magazine people who helped found it, and because some students I used to teach have published in it. I even wrote an essay for them about the IAF, comparing a representative sample of the works of the writers around the table at the New Paltz symposium with the stories in the McSweeney's Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales, with the current issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction. I hadn't read the Conjunctions anthology of "New Wave Fabulists" or the Trampoline anthology, or else I might have tried to squeeze them in too. The Believer people took forever to tell me that they aren't going to print the essay, but I harbor them no grudge.

Meanwhile they keep producing issues. This month's issue has two essays of interest, I think, to an IAF discussion. (It also has a swell interview with Tina Fey of SNL, among others.)

First, there is an essay about the life and work of Cornell Woolrich, an important-tragic pulp-noir author from the 20s through the 40s, about whom I knew absolutely nothing. The author of the piece, who has culled an anthology of Woolrich's stories and is re-publishing them, moves without apology between Woolrich's serious fiction and his "pulp," and seems to understand what noir fiction does and doesn't do in a society. Good comparisons are made to Alfred Hitchcock, both as film-maker and TV anthologist.

Second (not so interstitialist, but as I say, I think it's the stuff Delia likes), there is an essay by an older creative writing professor in Minnesota on (the end of) physiognomy in literature, on (the reluctance among cutting-edge writers to use) the observation and the description of faces as a springboard for the analysis of character. Quotes from Montaigne through Hardy through Flannery O'Connor through Bellow through Paula Fox, versus Delillo. He begins it all with an analysis of a Goya painting in a Minneapolis museum. I liked it.

By Nicholas Liu on Friday, November 21, 2003 - 01:31 pm:

Only slightly relevant, but Pat, if you haven't yet found another home for that essay ("comparing a representative sample, etc."), it would be nice if you could let the Whatnot have a look at it. It sounds very interesting.

By Neal Stanifer on Friday, November 21, 2003 - 08:07 pm:

Pat -- This is completely off-topic, but I just have to say I'm glad to know anyone who can use the world "swell" in a sentence, and continue to write. Good on ya!

By Terri Windling on Saturday, November 22, 2003 - 02:47 am:

Pat, I'm a believer in The Believer too. Damn shame they didn't take your essay. Could I persuade you to send me a copy if I ask really nicely? I'd love to read it.

By Neal Stanifer on Saturday, November 22, 2003 - 04:49 am:

Delia -- Regarding the IAF's position, and its goals: I'm pleased to read that you don't consider Interstitial a category in itself, though Veronica's and Dora's previous posts on this forum had already eased my mind on that score to a great extent. Given that, what seems called for, besides spreading the Gospel, is finding ways to get bookstores excited about the possibilities of separately shelving what most will doubtless see as merely genre-bending F/SF/H. Any luck with that so far? Any projections on how useful it will finally be?

I wonder if it might be more worthwhile to work locally rather than nationally or internationally. I flippantly tossed out the term "guerilla marketing" on another thread here (or I think I did -- I might have deleted the line). But giving it some more thought, it occurs to me that smaller bookstores with limited shelf-space (such as those here in metropolitan New Orleans) might either be among the hardest sells on this idea ("Oh, it's Sci-Fi. We don't really carry that, but here's five shelves filled with Cajun cookbooks."), or the most promising targets available. They're small; they're hip; they're not Barnes & Noble; they might attract a more amenable readership. I don't know the numbers related to this, so I'll defer to anyone with experience in pushing print product through the machine. But I get the half-formed impression that such a tactic of guerilla marketing/merchandising might work in certain small stores. Got rack slots for only twelve SF/F/H books? Why not make them books your Fic/Lit folks will like, and then advertise them as such? It seems to make sense to me, but then, as I said, I haven't thought it all the way through, and I don't know the biz as well as others on these boards.

One problem occurs to me. Well, okay, several problems occur to me, but I'll mention one. You say: "Not all good writing is Interstitial." True enough. The reverse is also true. Is there any guarantee, once these special "interstitial" shelves have found their way into bookstores, they won't be colonized by a kind of high-concept transgeneric work? That the cross-genre shelf you mention won't become a de facto Next Big Thing, with all the dross NBTs produce? "Check this, yo! It's Philip Marlowe meets Frodo in Dante's Inferno! It's Interstitial, baby!" You get the picture, I hope. On the one hand, publicising and making dedicated space for knowingly interstitial work opens up and holds open a new kind of market niche for writers (or at least foregrounds something which has been going on in the background for a very long time), which will perhaps encourage more writers to take greater liberties with genre, besides of course providing merchandising possibilities for those writers already doing it. On the other hand, it will almost certainly become its own category, will we, nill we, and then it will go the way of all categories: hacks will write high-concept and fill more rack slots than more accomplished writers. Maybe we can't get away from that. Still, the idea is intriguing.

Okay, I know I said "one problem," but tough; here's another problem: What happens when a writer already established in a genre niche writes something interstitial, as many established writers do from time to time, including members of your own IAF? Does it go alongside that writer's other books, making it available to his or her established readership? Or does it go on the shelf with other cross-genre work? Or does it go in both places at once? I guess what I'm asking is, how discretionary and arbitrary is this cross-genre shelf you speak about? Will Borders employees one day receive a FedEx package containing the newest page for their three-ring manuals: "Titles for February Cross-Genre Event"? Or will it be more of that nature of "Employee Recommendations" slots?

Perhaps you've already come up with answers to these questions, or perhaps I'm missing a piece of the puzzle. I look forward to hearing what you (and others here) have to say.

By Delia Sherman on Saturday, November 22, 2003 - 11:16 am:

These are really good questions, Neal, and I don't have answers for them.

We're a very new organization, and mostly what we've been doing for the past year is jumping through all the hoops the Government sets up for new organizations to jump through and setting up a complicated and (though I say it who shouldn't) beautiful website, due to go live sometime in December. We're just now getting breathing space to start figuring out what projects we need to set up and find funding for. One of the purposes of this discussion board is to raise questions and garner suggestions that we haven't thought of before.

I hasten to say that we're not so naive that we haven't considered both the difficulties you've brought up. We have. And we haven't come up with satisfactory solutions. We do try to talk about Interstitial works rather than Interstitial writers, since A.S. Byatt's VIRGIN IN A GARDEN is not at all the same kind of book as ANGELS AND INSECTS or A DJINN IN THE NIGHTINGALE'S EYE. And we try to talk about Interstitiality as a continuum rather than an absolute state, since books like Sarah Water's TIPPING THE VELVET are on the mainstream historical end of Lesbian Romance, and would need some study to figure out how it differs from historical/lesbian/romance classics like PATIENCE & SARAH--apart from being better written, which is certainly is.

But I digress.

We hope that developing a new way to talk about books is going to change how people market, distribute, and display them. At the moment, we don’t know whether this is going to work or how. We have some ideas. With the help of people like you all, we’ll get more. Some of them will work and some of them won’t. But already we’re having a discussion that’s a little different than the ones I grew up with, the ones I had in my graduate school days, the ones I left academia to get away from. And that’s all to the good.

Delia
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Delia Sherman
Posted on Wednesday, November 26, 2003 - 06:38 pm:   

Well, Steve, that's not quite the way we look at it.

What we're trying to do is focus on the work rather than the perceived genre of the artist. Certainly, most of the work Charles Vess has had published is pretty firmly in genre. The pieces that he has done that are not in genre are not particularly well known, mostly because he's known to be an illustrator and nobody will look upon him as anything else.

Similarly, all of us have written Fantasy (mostly), and we're not ashamed of the work we've done that concerns itself mostly with the tropes and conventions of that venerable genre. But all of us have also written works that have been reviewed and even published as something other than fantasy. Sarah Smith's A CITIZEN OF THE COUNTRY, for instance, which is a thriller/historical/supernatural/psychological kind of book published as a mystery. And my own PORCELAIN DOVE was published by Dutton as a straight historical, even though it was stuffed to the gills with magic drawn from the literature and folklore of 18th century France. It was a New York Times Notable Book even though the reviewer found it a little magicky for his taste. Some fantasy reviewers found it a lot too realistic for theirs.

And nobody could say that Kelly Link is pretending to be anything at all. She simply is one of the finest young writers of her generation. The stuff she writes--all of it--is also very, very difficult to classify as Fantasy, or any other genre.

As for us being fantasy writers, well, we're a young organization still, and still pretty much the province of the core group of hard-working and dedicated people who were willing todo the talking and organizing necessary to get this far. We're trying to find ways of reaching a wider selection of writers of all kinds--including mainstream writers who are having difficulting finding writing groups or publishers who are willing to read things that are anywhere genre of strict domestic realism. When we find them, we'll be a bunch of writers of all kinds looking for a little respect from the establishment, and much more likely to get it than if we were still a scattering of disaffected little groups, each thinking they were the only one like them in the creative universe.

At least that's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

So. Just in case I haven't made myself clear. We judge interstitiality work by work, not artist by artist. And it's not an absolute condition. It's a continuum. That's what makes it fun (for me anyway) to talk about.

Delia

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Terri Windling
Posted on Thursday, November 27, 2003 - 12:58 am:   

Steve, I appreciated your post because it demonstrated to me why the Interstitial Arts Foundation is so necessary and timely. When you put a label on a group of writers to say they're all "just fantasy writers," you're doing exactly what publishers do: putting writers in a box, slamming down those border gates. "You're just fantasy writers, or just mystery writers, or just children's book writers, or just gay fiction writers, or just Native American fiction writers, or just Korean American fiction writers" [I.A.F. members have published under all those labels] -- to which we say, "No, we're writers. Period." We may have written and published work in the fantasy/mystery/etc. fields, but that doesn't mean every thing we've written or will write in the future has been, will be, or needs to be, appropriate for a single genre.

Writers who become known for genre work are too often discourged -- by their agents, by their publishers, by the critics, even by their fans -- from crossing the borders into other areas of writing or, god forbid, staying on the border and incorporating the tropes from many different genres (including the "genre" of domestic realism) into the tales they want to tell. Mainstream writers of my acquaintance have told the opposite tale -- of being discourged from using genre-identified tropes in their work, even when the work in question would benefit artistically, lest it cause "genre anxiety" in book marketers, critics, and readers.

Our desire to start the I.A.F. grew out of our realization that many writers we knew (both genre and mainstream) had works they'd put in a drawer, or had not yet dared to write, because the publishing climate for border-crossing, hard-to-categorize books was so discouraging. Those who had dared to try something different from the category of fiction they were best known for and who had managed to get that work published often had the sad experience of watching the book sink like a stone because bookstores didn't know what to do with it, critics didn't know where to review it, readers didn't know what to make of it. (I'm thinking of Patricia McKillip's lovely, barely-known book Stepping from the Shadows, for instance.) We also want to give support to writers (and other creative artists) whose work has *never* fit easily into a single category, who have made the borderlands their home. Some of these writers, like Kelly Link, have been fortunate enough to find readers and critical acceptance on both sides of the borders they straddle - but for others this been more difficult. (Not that it was easy for Kelly, who has found her audience via the hard work of small press self-publishing.) We want to give these writers encouragement; we want to celebrate and promote their work.

We're here, very simply, to encourage and give support to these border-dwellers and border-crossers -- including writers who happened to have published fantasy books, yes, because we personally know a lot of them, but also border-crossers from other areas, with whom we're making common cause. We're not interstitial writers; we're not fantasy writers. We're writers. Some of what we write will sit squarely in a particular genre; some of it will cross borders.

The I.A.F. is an organization that's barely a year old, and--as Delia has said--much of our time thus far has been tied up with the legal and organizational mechanics of getting a Nonprofit up and running. As we go into our second year, starting with the debut of our larger web site in mid-December, one of our primary goals is Outreach, looking beyond the fields we know to dialogue with writers/artists/musicians/performers from a variety of fields. We've begun this already and we're hearing the same story from many different kinds of artists: that they feel constrained by marketing labels, that they're eager to know about others with an interest in border-crossing arts. The IAF will make networking among such artists a little easier ... and that's what I'm personally in it for.

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Terri Windling
Posted on Thursday, November 27, 2003 - 02:33 am:   

Pat, thanks again for letting me read your essay on genre and interstitial fiction. It's an insightful, thought-provoking piece. Witty too! And your last paragraph is one of the loveliest I've read in a long while. It's a real pity The Believer didn't take it, but I hope you find another good home for it so that others can read it too.
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des
Posted on Thursday, November 27, 2003 - 10:32 am:   

Steve, I appreciated your post because it demonstrated to me why the Interstitial Arts Foundation is so necessary and timely. When you put a label on a group of writers to say they're all "just fantasy writers," you're doing exactly what publishers do: putting writers in a box, slamming down those border gates.
******************
Their own names do this without any further help from publishers!
Late-labelling is perhaps the only answer.
Des
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des
Posted on Friday, November 28, 2003 - 06:28 am:   

H.G. Wells seems to be the perfect interstitial writer of fiction. (He also wrote 'The Invisible Man').
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Veronica Schanoes
Posted on Friday, November 28, 2003 - 11:42 am:   

Terri, I really enjoyed your post--it succinctly conveys exactly what I've been trying to articulate to myself over the past months. Thanks so much.

Des, my experience of authors' names has been quite the opposite. When I was a kid, for instance, I discovered Diana Wynne Jones and fell in love w/her work. After reading *Charmed Life*, *Witch Week*, and *Magicians of Caprona*, I read *Fire and Hemlock*. I immediately recognized that *F&H* was...different...somehow than the others, but I knew it must be great because DWJ had written it, and I was rewarded for my perseverence by enjoying the book immensely. Now, I can look back and realize that the difference I was feeling was one of genre: *F&H* is a book for adults, while the others were children's lit. Similarly, I read and enjoyed parts of *Of Woman Born* when I became interested in childbirth because I recognized Adrienne Rich's name from her poetry. I read Emma Goldman's essays on anarchism after I read her autobiography, because I was interested in her work. I read Aldous Huxley's essays because I'd enjoyed *Brave New World*. If publishers and marketers made it possible for more writers to cross genre boundaries I think they would bring their audiences with them.
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ellen
Posted on Friday, November 28, 2003 - 11:54 am:   

I agree that names are very important to readers and to attract potential readers. If I like a writer I'll try most of their work no matter what genre it falls into.

I've also found that as an editor, if readers enjoy my work in one genre they're often willing to check out my anthologies in other genres. In other words, they follow my name. Without that, they would have no way to identify what they like, as my editing jumps between sf/f/h.
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des
Posted on Friday, November 28, 2003 - 12:04 pm:   

Yes, Ellen, I agree, it is hard to generalise about names. Traditions work most of the time. And names can indeed work across genres, across prejudices.
Equally, I don't think it's been tried ever before - publishing fiction without names (even with late labelling) -- and anything is worth a try at least once - especially if it evokes new angles and questions and interstices which might, just might, lead to new ways of considering publishing and reviewing ... even temporarily.
I don't expect Nemonymous to continue indefinitely.
Des
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Terri Windling
Posted on Saturday, November 29, 2003 - 06:43 am:   

Today's edition of The Guardian has this to say about Mary Gentle's work:

"Mary Gentle's novels hover in the grey area between fantastic, postmodern, and historical fiction -- and because of this she probably gets less attention than she deserves."
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ellen
Posted on Saturday, November 29, 2003 - 08:54 am:   

Yes, Terri, but I don't se how just giving it another label would help.
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Terri
Posted on Saturday, November 29, 2003 - 10:57 am:   

If putting a label on hard-to-categorize books was all the IAF was doing, I'd agree -- but what the organization seeks to do is support and promote such books in a variety of ways. I'm not saying this is going to be easy, mind you.
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Veronica Schanoes
Posted on Saturday, November 29, 2003 - 02:38 pm:   

Des, have you looked at the 19th-century English book lines that were specifically published anonymously? The publishers would make up a series about a specific topic, say fallen women, and then assign some writers to write novels that fit that particular formula, and publish them without listing an author. If you're interested in them, I can ask my friend who's writing her dissertation on them for some references. They intersect with some of what we've been talking about in that they were usually considered low-class reading material, kind of like pulp fiction, like genre fiction. They were often kind of formulaic, as I understand it, but that can be said of so many things! Anyway, I just thought you might be interested in the only example of deliberately anonymous publishing I know of.
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des
Posted on Sunday, November 30, 2003 - 12:30 am:   

Yes, I'd like to know more about that. Thanks, Veronica. You can find my email address on www.nemonymous.com. I do know of various previous anonymous publications, over the centuries, like fairy tales etc etc.
However, as you kindly raise the subject - just to get a plug in for Nemonymous whilst it is still alive - this is the contention (relevant to our discussion) I have for it:
"Important or not, in 2001, NEMONYMOUS was the world's very first self-contained multi-authored volume of anonymous stories collected as such. Plus, later, reportedly powerful author recognition."

Also perhaps relevant is this throwaway line on one of my websites:
"Unlike many creative forms, written forms usually have the creator's name print-embedded up front within the form itself."

Des







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Forrest
Posted on Wednesday, December 03, 2003 - 10:50 pm:   

Ellen said: "I agree that names are very important to readers and to attract potential readers. If I like a writer I'll try most of their work no matter what genre it falls into."

The potential trap here, though, is that if you find a writer who you don't like (how many pieces do you have to like to "like a writer"?) you run the risk of missing that one absolutely brilliant gem that rises above the author's mean, especially if that story is an early one in a string of remarkable work. You really do have to judge a story by the story itself, though I do agree with your initial sentiment about seeking out the work of writers one likes.

On the other hand, you said, in essence, that people buy books you've edited because of your name. That's fair and true, but why wouldn't someone buy works edited by Des because they happen to like his (Nemonymous) editorial style? If the editorial vision is strong, it seems to me that it will attract readers, then how much do author names mean, really? Are they simply a catalyst or a tool to bring in a fan-base and introduce new readers to an editorial vision? Or, perhaps because of authorial name recognition the editorial vision is spread more quickly? Can a strong editorial vision over-ride a lack of "big" names, or a lack of names altogether?

You'll note that these issues are relevent to my editorial pursuits as well. I'm asking out of a real interest in tapping your brain, Ellen!

Forrest
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Eric Marin
Posted on Thursday, December 04, 2003 - 08:57 pm:   

I find this thread of great interest on several levels: as a reader of literature who has a decided preference for the fantastic and speculative; as a writer of fiction who simply writes what flows from a curious mind through typing fingertips, some of which is speculative fiction, some of which is not; as a prospective small 'zine editor/publisher with an interest in publishing fiction of any sort that I love or simply find compelling; and as an attorney who just likes to problem-solve.

The thought that continues to pop into my head as I read the various posts here is that the IAF appears to have a need for feasible means to affect personal tastes of consumers of art in a way that increases exposure and, ideally, appreciation for works born in the shadows between the well-lit halls of established artistic categories -- art that denies categorization and is, therefore, ignored or neglected at present.

How does the IAF intend to address the need for an effective creative marketing strategy for interstitial art?

Frankly, this marketing challenge intrigues me, and I would love to help in some way.

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Theodora Goss
Posted on Friday, December 05, 2003 - 07:55 am:   

Hi Eric!

I actually copied part of your post to some of the IAF people (hope you don't mind). This is an issue they're discussing right now. One way the organization is planning to publicize interstitial art, and music, and writing, is through its website. I just heard that the new website will be going up some time around December 19th or so, and that it's over 100 pages. So that should be a start!

But if you have ideas, do share them. Delia Sherman and Terri Windling both check this board pretty regularly, and I know they'd appreciate any input!

(Hey, I used to be a lawyer! Until I entered the hallowed halls of academia . . . But it's very useful, as a writer, knowing how to read a contract.)
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Eric Marin
Posted on Friday, December 05, 2003 - 09:13 am:   

Hi, Theodora.

I have no problem with having my post sent to anyone you think it might interest. Perhaps it will prove helpful.

Thanks for letting me know about the website. The site should serve the IAF's marketing needs if the URL is made well known in the arts-generating and arts-appreciating communities.

I'll do some marketing-related thinking, and if anything of potential value bubbles up, I'll post it here.

So, you managed to escape the practice of law? I agree with you on the issue of contract-reading, and I find a legal perspective helps me get a better grip on the nature of the publishing industry as well.

By the way, I really enjoyed your recent story in ROF, "In the Forest of Forgetting;" it was a unique vision of breast cancer.
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Friday, December 05, 2003 - 12:38 pm:   

Many thanks! I'm glad you liked the story. Smiling (don't we all when someone likes something we've done), Dora
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Eric Marin
Posted on Friday, December 05, 2003 - 01:48 pm:   

Dora,

You're quite welcome! Thanks for writing a great story.

Yes, it's quite nice to hear people compliment one's work.
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Veronica Schanoes
Posted on Tuesday, December 09, 2003 - 06:14 pm:   

Hey Des,

I sent the email today, but I'm not sure if I sent it to the right address, so just let me know if you got it, OK? Thanks.

And yes, I agree that the "Nemonymous" title will be just as handy a marker to readers as an author's name. That makes sense to me.
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des
Posted on Wednesday, December 10, 2003 - 08:45 am:   

No - can you please put 'egnis' in the subject. Thanks.
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ellen
Posted on Wednesday, December 10, 2003 - 04:58 pm:   

Forrest,
Sorry, I've been out of town and haven't been checking the BBs as assiduously as I should be :-)

Let me try to respond to your various points:

When reading for SCIFICTION I've read stories by people I know (or don't know) for years without buying anything from them. Then whammo! suddenly one hits me between the eyes. It's happened in the past and will continue to happen. It's the work that I'm looking at that counts at the time I'm reading it. I don't se how leaving their name off submissions will make a difference.

I think that if readers like what Des is publishing then they'll learn to trust his taste. However, if you really want to reach thousands, not hundreds of readers, I think naming names is important. Certainly a lot of readers look for stories by their favorite writers and may be more willing to purchase a book with their names in it than with no names at all. I think it depends on scale.
But as I've written before, I think Nemonymous is an interesting experiment but nothing beyond that. I want my authors to be recognized as I want to be recognized. Call it ego if you will.

Of course, if Des tries to sell an anthology called Nemonymous to a big publisher (and without his name on the cover as editor) he'll have a difficult time. I know when I come across anthologies that have no editor on them (which very occasionally happens) I automatically think less of the book because to me that indicates that there is no editorial voice creating the anthology.

I rarely publish "big names." The ONLY big names who sell books in the real world are Stephen King, Anne Rice, Dean Koontz, and on a slightly lower level Peter Straub and possibly Neil Gaiman. And whether their names sell anthologies is an open question. I publish the writers whose work I like reading, hoping that enough readers of my website and anthologies will enjoy stories by those same writers.

<<<Ellen said: "I agree that names are very important to readers and to attract potential readers. If I like a writer I'll try most of their work no matter what genre it falls into."

The potential trap here, though, is that if you find a writer who you don't like (how many pieces do you have to like to "like a writer"?) you run the risk of missing that one absolutely brilliant gem that rises above the author's mean, especially if that story is an early one in a string of remarkable work. You really do have to judge a story by the story itself, though I do agree with your initial sentiment about seeking out the work of writers one likes.

On the other hand, you said, in essence, that people buy books you've edited because of your name. That's fair and true, but why wouldn't someone buy works edited by Des because they happen to like his (Nemonymous) editorial style? If the editorial vision is strong, it seems to me that it will attract readers, then how much do author names mean, really? Are they simply a catalyst or a tool to bring in a fan-base and introduce new readers to an editorial vision? Or, perhaps because of authorial name recognition the editorial vision is spread more quickly? Can a strong editorial vision over-ride a lack of "big" names, or a lack of names altogether?

You'll note that these issues are relevent to my editorial pursuits as well. I'm asking out of a real interest in tapping your brain, Ellen!

Forrest
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des
Posted on Thursday, December 11, 2003 - 04:55 am:   

Ellen says: I think Nemonymous is an interesting experiment but nothing beyond that.
**********

The obvious implication or logical-sequitur from those words is that Nemonymous is a *failed* experiment. A successful experiment automatically goes 'beyond'.
And I tend to agree with that verdict ... caused by my own failings in editorship/distribution and/or the other reasons (eg. a subconscious or conscious steering away from a vehicle that does not ostensibly further the Name), many of which factors I have already put forward on other boards here and on the Nemonymous discussion forum elsewhere. Whatever the outcome of Nemonymous, it has stirred a lot of interest and its first issue in 2001 was the very first of its kind ever in world literary history (I claim).

If it is *me* that has caused the experiment to fail, then it is a shame, because I truly believe there is an intrinsic 'experiment' within the Nemonymous ethos that should and could succeed. On the other hand, if it is the fact that there is more disinterest in Nemonymous than there would otherwise be (all other things being equal) because of its 'anonymous' angle, then that is also a shame, because many have told me that they enjoyed the Nemonymous experience as a writer and the 'late-labelling' aspect has actually drawn more attention to their name subsequently than would otherwise have been the case. Des
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ellen
Posted on Thursday, December 11, 2003 - 07:25 am:   

Des, as a magazine/anthology producing a beautiful package and some excellent fiction it has not failed. But as a means topromote excellent fiction in a consistent way I don't think it was meant as anything more than an experiment was it?

It isn't you personally as an editor that has failed in my opinion, but the idea of anonymity in writing that you have chosen to pursue--it's a contrivance. It's not natural to most readerly expectations and needs. I personally am annoyed when I read an anonymous piece of work, not mystified, not eager to wait till next issue to discover who wrote what.

Perhaps if the issues came out more often it wouldn't be as annoying. By the time the next issue comes around I don't _care_ who wrote the story. That's not good for the author or the story--reader memory works as an association. Some people remember a title, some an author's name, some a bit of the plot. All these enhance the memory of a particular story so that readers of the future can discuss that story.
This is all of the top of my head. It's not something I've mulled over but it feels right to me in the way I discuss old stories with others.
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des
Posted on Thursday, December 11, 2003 - 07:41 am:   

Yes, I think many feel like you, Ellen, and thanks for articulating those thoughts. As an experiment - which it was and still is - discussion like this is its life-blood.
You say: "It's not natural to most readerly expectations and needs."
Well, Ellen, tradition certainly is behind you on that. But I feel (and many have said this to me unsolicited), the actual practice of publishing a a set of multi-authored anonymous stories as a self-contained anthology has resulted in a new experience of reading. A positive and revelatory one. Not to be compared with the traditional one. Some of the comments that this experience has so far elicited have been quite unpredicted by me, but do back up (in retrospect) my instincts about it. I am left with a very positive impression about the result from much of the feedback. But, I do agree, that my wider hopes for Nemonymous have so far faltered, but I retain pride in what Nemonymous has done so far and I intend to let it continue.
Thanks again for the feedback.
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JV
Posted on Thursday, December 11, 2003 - 07:58 am:   

With all due respect, I think it's disingenuous to claim complete objectivity with regard to story. As long as you know the author's name, and especially if familiar with the author through conventions, etc., that is going to eat away at the objectivity over time. It may not do so in a uniform way, and it may not do so in a way that hurts overall quality of the work being selected, but over time, it will erode the objectivity to the point of some stories getting through because of *who* they're by, not on the merits of the story itself.

This isn't particular to one editor, but to all editors. Which is why it was refreshing when somebody, I think Mark Helprin, instituted a kind of anonymity when reading for the O'Henry Awards a few years back--it resulted in some real surprises.

And, getting back to Nemo for a second, it may *seem* like a gimmick, but even if on a small scale, I think it has changed some reader expectations. It certainly changed expectations for a couple of readers who don't like my work but enjoyed my piece in Nemo, at least partially because they didn't know it was me.

JeffV
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ellen
Posted on Thursday, December 11, 2003 - 08:40 am:   

JeffV,
I won't disagree that there's a bias in reading stories. I admit to looking forward to reading a ms by someone whose work I've enjoyed in the past much more than someone whose work I haven't. But that doesn't mean I end up buying every story by the author whose work I've liked. I don't. The complement holds as well. I can names many authors whose work I hadn't bought for years and year and suddenly they started writing stories I like.
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des
Posted on Thursday, December 11, 2003 - 10:40 am:   

Any debate about bias (or not) in editors was not a concern of mine primarily when I conceived Nemonymous. It was mainly to see if my crackpot (!) theories about the intentional fallacy and formalism (which have been discussed in recent days on the Nick Mamatas thread) held water. I think they do hold water, as it happens, together with the unexpected spin-offs I mentioned above. Regarding editorial judgement, however, I *invited* anonymous submissions for nemo~1 (but did not insist on them). Only recently with emails has it been possible for *any* editor to allow anonymous submissions. Likewise nemo~2 (and one of the stories in there has remained anonymous forever, at the choice of the author, a story that has also received great acclaim). And likewise with nemo~3. Now with nemo~4, I am *insisting* on anonymous submissions - and I am getting far more submissions and ones of far greater nemonymous-type suitability. I don't know what that says. So many, I can't keep up with them!
But, I repeat, my main area of interest is in the reader's reaction to a set of anonynmous stories *not* in the editor's.
And I claim, if nothing lese, that Nemonymous is far more 'Interstitial' (as I understand the term - and we are using one of their threads at the moment) than anything else conceivable! :-)
Des
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des
Posted on Thursday, December 11, 2003 - 11:03 am:   

"But, I repeat, my main area of interest is in the reader's reaction to a set of anonynmous stories *not* in the editor's."

Sorry, this would be better expressed as:
But, I repeat, my main area of interest is in the reader's reaction to a *set* of multi-authored anonymous stories rather than in an editor's reaction to *individual* story submissions.

Des
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Brendan
Posted on Thursday, December 11, 2003 - 12:05 pm:   

Personally I think anonymity is actually far more ‘natural’ than otherwise. After all, all mythology starts off as anonymous tales. The Bible is anonymous. So much cool folklore is anonymous. Really, the basis of all ‘fiction’ is anonymous. And a great great many more recent (less antiquated) works were written under pseudonyms, which is also a form of anonymity. So, it is really quite natural. For Nemonymous itself, there is strong taste of the un-natural—because the anonymous nature of fiction is being pushed in a way that is against the current social environment (name = brand etc.)—but abstractly it can be ‘successful’ because it is quite obvious that the current population of the world revels in all things synthetic.
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Neal Stanifer
Posted on Thursday, December 11, 2003 - 01:48 pm:   

Brendan: "After all, all mythology starts off as anonymous tales. The Bible is anonymous."

Right, but these are works from the oral tradition (or at least pre-capitalist cultures), as is the folklore you mention. Anonymity is their primary state, so of course it's going to be natural. Anonymity in early printed works often reflects a non-proprietary notion of intellectual property, something which stuck with us in one form or another all the way to the middle of the nineteenth century, but is no longer the norm. Sometimes anonymity (or pseudonymity) reflects transgression, a disguising of the author(s) of a scandalous text.

As Des has explained his project, Nemonymous is the way it is for none of the above reasons, but for reasons of the primacy of text over author recognition. I think you're right to point to the "un-natural" feel of a project like Nemonymous. It bucks expectations. But does it do so in a way which achieves the results Des is looking for? Will people see it as a revealing experience, or an annoying affectation? I think the answers to those questions will determine whether or not Nemonymous is a success.
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GabrielM
Posted on Thursday, December 11, 2003 - 02:11 pm:   

>>Will people see it as a revealing experience, or an annoying affectation?

As with other interesting experiments, like Oulipo or "automatic writing", I suspect it may not be an either/or proposition.
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Brendan
Posted on Thursday, December 11, 2003 - 11:47 pm:   

Well, whatever Des is looking for is probably not what he is or will get, since people rarely get what they were looking for. For instance: if the idea is really to highlight the primacy of the text over author recognition, then obviously the gimmick of revealing the authors in the next issue disturbs that—because, it seems to me, that people are as or more interested in the ‘late-labelling’ aspect of the project than the actual words on paper.

As for the those early works being from an oral tradition: no more so than much contemporary fiction. The Bible is based in part on oral traditions, but it is my belief that the whole new testament was written very much like any other anthology of short fiction. In the big picture: the overall history of the human race, I am not sure there is any difference between anonymous words and those ascribed to Plato or Jean Paul.
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des
Posted on Friday, December 12, 2003 - 07:23 am:   

Brendan says: For instance: if the idea is really to highlight the primacy of the text over author recognition, then obviously the gimmick of revealing the authors in the next issue disturbs that.
*************

I knew I would receive hardly any submissions at all without that 'late-labelling' "gimmick".

Nor, I felt, would there be any feel of provenance in the product if I didn't at least *try* to give it some trust by attaching my name to it on the Internet -- but not within the pages of Nemonymous itself -- as the editor/publisher.

And each set of new stories in each issue itself is wholly and self-containedly anonymous.

It seems to me the most natural thing in the world for, say, short fiction to be published anonymously in this way. Why has it ever been done in any other way? After all, many other art forms or creations do not have the name of the artist clearly print-embedded up front as part of the art itself. Mainly writing has that happen.

Des
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ellen
Posted on Friday, December 12, 2003 - 08:24 am:   

Des, the artist's signature is often in the piece of art. I see it in museums and galleries.
Ellen

<<It seems to me the most natural thing in the world for, say, short fiction to be published anonymously in this way. Why has it ever been done in any other way? After all, many other art forms or creations do not have the name of the artist clearly print-embedded up front as part of the art itself. Mainly writing has that happen.

Des
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des
Posted on Friday, December 12, 2003 - 08:30 am:   

Not always, Ellen, and often indecipherable. It is not clearly print-embedded up front as it is with a story. And works of architecture and scuplture have different approaches. As do films (with credits often being ignored by the audience and TV replays cut them out altogether). And design features like fashion etc. And music does not have the name embedded as part of the art form itself. des
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Brendan
Posted on Friday, December 12, 2003 - 08:44 am:   

Much of the greatest Chinese art has no name attached to it; and almost all Roman art is that way. The best fragments of Greek art we have have no name attached to them: So here I agree with Des. The ancients were not as concerned about this sort of thing as we are; and the reason we are is, oddly enough, because of the legacy of great art the ancients left us, as filtered through a number of historical periods. . . . It should also be noted that the best modern/contemporary art (the classiest) is usually unsigned.
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des
Posted on Friday, December 12, 2003 - 09:11 am:   

Also, with story-writers, their name is not only shown under the title but often at the top of every other page!
As for me, personally, I'd love to be printed in Nemonymous. I'm the only writer in the world who can't get a story published anonymously or considered for publication anonymously! Should not writers actually relish the opportunity of having one of their works considered as it stands, at face value, without the influence of their name staring out at the reader from the top of the story? (At least sometimes!)
That was not, however, the prime purpose of Nemonymous - giving that *opportunity*.
The purpose was (as I said before) more the testing of the audience's reaction to a set of multi-authored anonymous stories in as fine a setting as possible. And the result has been more interesting than I ever anticipated.
Des
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GabrielM
Posted on Friday, December 12, 2003 - 09:16 am:   

How is this relevant though? I thought the issue was anonymity, not whether the name of the author is attached to/inscribed in the work. (Obviously they're completely different things.) Des himself made the point that the only reason he reveals the names of the authors after the fact is because he wouldn't be able to get anyone to contribute otherwise, not because he's trying to make any sort of statement through the late-labeling. I assume he'd rather have all the works remain anonymous if he could. (And the fact that he can't indicates to me that the difficulty with anonymity may not be so much a problem of readers' expectations as of authors' expectations.)
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GabrielM
Posted on Friday, December 12, 2003 - 09:40 am:   

Oops, cross-posting. I was responding to Brendan's post.
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Veronica Schanoes
Posted on Friday, December 12, 2003 - 09:49 am:   

Anonymity may have been the norm for ancient Greek and Roman sculptors/painters (and I wonder how much of that anonymity is just us not having access to most of the cultural knowledge), but it wasn't for their writers, who competed publicly, wrote poems dissing each other, etc. But it's difficult to make generalizations about ancient Greece/Rome, because we're taking about hundreds and hundreds of years.

Regardless, anonymous publishing is an interesting idea. My question--how does anonymity relate to interstitiality?
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des
Posted on Friday, December 12, 2003 - 10:30 am:   

GabrielM says: How is this relevant though? I thought the issue was anonymity, not whether the name of the author is attached to/inscribed in the work.
**************
I was simply attempting to answer Ellen's point that it wasn't 'natural' to publish stories anonymously. It just seemed the most natural thing in the world to me, as a lover of classical music, for example ... and that took me to the point about 'name-embedding' in the art form itself in contrast to some other art forms
*********.
Veronica says: Regardless, anonymous publishing is an interesting idea. My question--how does anonymity relate to interstitiality?
**********
It seems to me to go hand in glove. Interstitiality is about gaps, widening the gaps... as well as lots of more intangible factors that seem to connect the two (as I understand Interstitiality). Not the blank story in Nemo~2 but, for example, the gaps where the by-lines should have been.
des

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Brendan
Posted on Friday, December 12, 2003 - 02:59 pm:   

Oops, is this an interstitiality board? I must have gotten lost. I thought this was where we discussed Attic red-figured vases.
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Neal Stanifer
Posted on Friday, December 12, 2003 - 09:06 pm:   

Anonymity goes hand in glove with interstitiality? The gaps where the bylines should have been? Good lord, maybe my boxers would make a good flag, after all. Interstitial uber alles!
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des
Posted on Saturday, December 13, 2003 - 12:57 am:   

To understand the *context* of Neal's 'boxers' reference, see 'Nuns Fret Not...' thread on the Nick Mamatas boards, where he says:
"My boxers are interstitial because they are neither my legs, nor my trousers, but fall somewhere in between. Let's have a revolution; we'll use my boxers as our flag."

More seriously, I love the word 'Interstitiality' - I've always enjoyed using 'interstice' now and again in my own fiction. (I think it's probably too much of a mouthful for a movement).
But, if nothing else, the word is about gaps. And gaps (and the philosophy of gaps) have figured strongly in 'Nemonymous' from day one. Gaps in fiction itself and in the presentation of fiction. Hope that answers your question, Veronica.

I've just noticed that my own name appears about 200 times in my recent book 'Weirdmonger Nemonicon' because the publisher has put it at the top of every other page! Why have writers always had empty spaces filled with their own names - and not, say, composers??
des

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Paul Evenblij
Posted on Saturday, December 13, 2003 - 03:25 am:   

Des: > Why have writers always had empty spaces filled with their own names - and not, say, composers?? <

Composers have too, in printed editions of their works!

(BACH's name as a motif in one of his own fugues being an entirely different use of the composer's name, of course.)
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des
Posted on Saturday, December 13, 2003 - 03:37 am:   

Yes, that's true. And Alfred Hitchcock appears in his films. But usually with all art forms (other than writing) there is late-labelling, eg approaching a sculpture and often looking at any label after one has already considered the work of art. Late-labelling seems to me to be the most natural method of labelling art (and thus writing). (Disregarding pure anonymity itself for a moment). des
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Dawn
Posted on Saturday, December 13, 2003 - 05:08 am:   

Art dealers always make you sign things, if they can - it will be somewhere, on the back, in the margins. The idea of anonymity would make both dealers and buyers really, really nervous. For commercial reasons, only.

Des's adventure in anonymity is daring and much more than a gimmick, no matter how short-lived (or not! I don't see you losing steam yet) it turns out to be. A concept doesn't have to be of long duration to have impact.

When it comes to author egomania, that's another matter - but I do like the image of a brawl between, say, Aristophanes and Aeschylus over who's the greatest.
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des
Posted on Saturday, December 13, 2003 - 05:16 am:   

Yes, Dawn, your first para - quite right and correct. Writers sign a contract for their stories in Nemonymous, in the same way. But I am really interested in the audience reaction to labels (late or otherwise or not at all)...and how differently it makes the fiction seem.

Thanks for your kind words, btw, re Nemonymous.

Re Aristohanes and Aeschylus, reminds me of this quote;

"It's like the question of the 'Iliad' ... the author of that poem is either Homer or, if not Homer, somebody else of the same name."
Aldous Huxley.


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Brendan
Posted on Saturday, December 13, 2003 - 06:02 am:   

You will rarely find a bigger crop of idiots than in the world of art dealers. As for collectors: any collector who knows their salt will not insist on an artist signing their work. Not on the back or anywhere else. Conceptual art would have never gone anywhere if people were overly worried about signatures. As for the battle of the Greek playwrights: this was not really the situation. The truth is that many Greek comedians simply put barbs in about various well-known locals. That some happened to be other poets is just a matter of incident. In Greek comedy there are far more jokes about famous prostitutes than famous artists, playwrights or poets.
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Neal Stanifer
Posted on Saturday, December 13, 2003 - 08:26 am:   

des: "Late-labelling seems to me to be the most natural method of labelling art (and thus writing)."

Your repeated use of "natural" in connection with works of art is troubling. Art is not "natural." It is specifically artificial. That's why it's art.

Your claim might work if our experience of art were entirely serendipitous. It's not. When I go to a gallery, I usually know whose works I'm going to see. I've spoken with someone attached to the exhibit, or I've read an account in the paper, or I've taken in some other bit of advertising which has convinced me that going to this gallery will be a profitable expenditure of my time. And after the fact, I form judgments about the work I've seen, and that helps me to decide which names are deserving of my time in the future.

There is a coyness lying at the heart of late-labelling, a gimmicky trickery that I find suspect. It's a cliff-hanger, a twist ending. It might be different if the author were never credited at all, as in the cases of collective authoring. But when there is a previous expectation of individual authority, and when we know the stories in question are singly-authored, I don't see a true anonymity. Only an authorship deferred.

I'm not saying the experience can't be different or worthwhile, mind you. I like a good twist ending as well as the next guy, and if I find the editorial vision in keeping with my tastes in literature, I'll keep reading. I just don't see this as a more "natural" way to come to art.
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des
Posted on Saturday, December 13, 2003 - 08:50 am:   

neal says: Your repeated use of "natural" in connection with works of art is troubling. Art is not "natural." It is specifically artificial. That's why it's art.
*************
Yes, I agree. I was taking on the word Ellen used when expressing the view that publishing fiction anonymously was not natural.

Re the 'gimmick' of late-labelling, indeed it was a means to an end ... to attract submissions, but at the same time enabling my main objective which was to fulfil the following claim and, more importantly, to test its effect:

"Important or not, in 2001, NEMONYMOUS was the world's very first self-contained multi-authored volume of anonymous stories collected as such."

I added the following phrase later to the above because of the completely unexpected results of the whole enterprise:
"Plus later, reportedly powerful author recognition."


Still early days.
Des




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Veronica Schanoes
Posted on Saturday, December 13, 2003 - 10:55 am:   

Some kind of authorship, or at least creatorship, is usually embedded up front in movies, these days, not only through reviews and ads, but also right there in the movie. You know, a little squidget of action, and then the name of Famous Actor 1 appears, followed by Famous Actors 2 and 3, in Director's Movie, a Producers' Production. All before you actually get to watch the movie. TV, too. *Buffy* always had a whole bunch of credits up front.

Myself, I usually read the little placard next to the piece of art before I look at it, but I also realize that that's a weird and silly way to approach art. Often I don't need to, anyway. I can usually pick out Dante Gabriel Rosetti's work, for instance, and I *know* that the Water Lilies were painted by Monet.

As to the many ancients, I hadn't even thought about the Greek playwrights. I was thinking about Erinna, who I believe references Sappho in a "Step aside, lady" sort of way in one of her poems, and on the other hand, of Virgil, and the big deal that he was selected by Augustus, and the various propaganda about him that was popular at the time.
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Brendan
Posted on Saturday, December 13, 2003 - 11:44 am:   

For the Greek playwright comment I was referring to Dawn’s post, but the writings of Errina are a good example of the anonymous nature of ancient Greek. The only thing existent we have are a few Doric fragments ascribed to her. That she was supposedly a pupil of Sappho’s only makes things worse: because Sappho wrote in Lesbian dialect, which makes it seem unlikely that Errina was her pupil—But my point was not that all ancient writings and art were anonymous, but that the modern idea of ‘the artist’ as being some sort of grand figure straddled atop their own name is something rather grotesque and not particularly natural. So, Nemonymous, the magazine, is no more un-natural than the rest of it. . . . All this again simply referring to the original idea that the equation work + name = art is false.
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Veronica Schanoes
Posted on Saturday, December 13, 2003 - 07:40 pm:   

I didn't know that Erinna was thought to be Sappho's student. A neat bit of possibly apocryphal legend to have! But I don't know about her fragments supporting anonymity as an ancient artistic concept--they may be anonymous to us only because a lot of other material and cultural context has been lost, and wouldn't have been anonymous in their original context.

Yes, the modern conception of "Artist" is just that--very modern. I would guess at its roots being in the Romantics, with the notion of solitary, self-propelled genius. Collaborative writing was the norm in Renaissance theater, and the contemporary fetishization of originality was unheard of. Some published playscripts had the author's name on them, some didn't (I assume depending on whether or not the author's name would help sell them). I'm with Neal in not thinking that any particular mode of art is more natural than any other.

So, does the absence of an author's name automatically propel a work into interstitiality? I don't think that can be the case, myself, as folktales and myths are anonymously authored in most cases, but fit quite comfortable into and have definied their own genres. It seems to me that anonymity can aid and abet interstitiality in the marketing end of things, with no name to determine where something gets shelved, although that of course supposes that the name in question is already well-known enough to carry some generic weight. I mean, if I publish a book, my name won't mean diddley squat to a marketer or bookstore shelver.
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GabrielM
Posted on Saturday, December 13, 2003 - 09:54 pm:   

Brendan: There is a form of anonymity that occurs accidentally as a result of a gap in the historical record and there is a form of anonymity that occurs because a writer voluntarily chooses to keep their identity secret. You seem to be conflating the two and I don't see how that's at all helpful to your defense as anonymity as natural. Certainly there is a fair amount of anonymity in religious texts but there's a clear reason for that, namely the idea that the text is either to be viewed as written by the divinity or inspired by the divinity, and either way the identity of the human writer is best viewed as superfluous. But that's a specific element of the genre with which you're working,
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Brendan
Posted on Saturday, December 13, 2003 - 11:52 pm:   

Veronica and Gabriel—Well, there are two stories about Erinna: one is that she was Sappho’s lover, the other, her student. I don’t think she was ever considered to be her poetic enemy. There is some silly Romantic painting somewhere that shows them intertwined in each others arms. As far as interstitiality goes, I will leave that up to you, as I am neither a judge nor a particular advocate for it. That old texts are somewhat anonymous is for a variety of reasons:

1) They are actually anonymous
2) They are ‘ascribed’ or misascribed
3) They are forgeries

I never said that things were anonymous because people voluntarily wanted to keep their name secret. It is simply that in the old days people wrote for different reasons then they do today. Now people write because somewhere along the line, probably in high school or college, some inspired professor filled their heads with the glories of Shakespeare and Hemmingway. Others write because they think they can make money at it. Few, if any, write or perform any sort of art these days simply to praise their tyrants or bed partners or the deeds of the gods.

But I am not saying anonymity is natural. I am simply saying that is as no more un-natural or less un-natural than our contemporary obsession with the ego-author.
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des
Posted on Sunday, December 14, 2003 - 04:24 am:   

I suppose the most interesting late-labelling is represented by the naming process of human beings.
Pre-epochal, pre-womb, post-womb, post-marital, posthumous?
Also, I'm often called 'silly old bugger' when I make an apparent mistake and 'darling' when I've done something ostensibly good.
des
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Veronica Schanoes
Posted on Sunday, December 14, 2003 - 10:02 am:   

Point taken, Brendan, in that I thoroughly agree that the concept of the writer as personal genius is a recent development (although, personally, the glories of Hemingway? Boring.). But I don't think most writers *ever* wrote "simply to praise their tyrants or bed partners or the deeds of gods." Writers throughout history (and, yes, I'm breaking the cardinal rule of academia, which is to avoid universal statements, but since I'm not on the academic thread, what the hell) have written for money/personal gain (wandering balladeers got food and shelter, Shakespeare made a lot of money and then retired, Ovid wanted to come home from exile), under threat (do you say "no" when Caesar asks you to write a national epic?), or to show off (Renaissance sonnet sequences), or, I suppose, to experiment with the abilities of the art. That's not say that they haven't also wanted to praise their tyrants, lovers, and gods, but I don't agree that such was their only motivation.

OK, after all that Erinna stuff, I find that I am completely mistaken in my memory. I apologize. The fragment I was thinking of was written by Nossis of Locri, and cites Sappho, as well as embedding her own name in the poem: "Stranger, if you sail towards Mytilene of the beautiful dances/to be inspired by the flower of Sappho's charms,/Say that the land of Locri gave birth to one dear to the Muses,/and when you have learned that my name is Nossis,/go your way."

Even more of a fixation on the named self there than I'd remembered.
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Brendan
Posted on Sunday, December 14, 2003 - 10:23 am:   

Its ok. I understand the mix-up. Some say Erinna was the daughter of Nossis. In any case, their names are linked together — though sometimes for filthy reasons.
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des
Posted on Sunday, December 14, 2003 - 10:53 am:   

I was wondering how collaborations and/or shared worlds/shared universes fiction fit in with the concept of Interstitiality. They seem to fit in with the concept of (temporary) anonymity and fusion of styles/mind-sets. Working within the gap(s) (or overlapping Venn diagram(s)) of two or more writers?? des
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Pat O'Connor
Posted on Sunday, December 14, 2003 - 12:14 pm:   

I'm much less knowledgable about genre fiction than most of you, so feel free to add nuance to this or to simply ignore it if it's way off-base, but my sense is that shared-universe fiction is easily marketed within the genres of fantasy and/or science fiction.

[Perhaps someone else has already mentioned the shared-pseudonym practice of the Nancy Drew and Bobbsey Twins etc. books. Again, genre fiction.]

I don't know of any contemporary collaborative works outside genre. Of course there are secret, hidden collaborations (Yeats's wife pretending to her husband that she was being possessed by a spirit that moved the Ouija board around): lesbian and gay studies author Wayne Koestenbaum's first book, academic but very readable, is entitled Double Talk: The Erotics of Male Literary Collaboration and does a range of examples. For some of them it's very naughty to think of these pairs as having an erotic component (Pound's contribution to Eliot's The Waste Land, a collaboration between Conrad and Ford Madox Ford), as well as important basic pairings for gay studies to think about, like Freud and Fliess's epistolary collaborations, and how J.A.Symonds let Havelock Ellis use his autobiographical writings for Ellis's sexology books.

And then, in a still naughtier direction, there are all the compendia of slash fiction and other on-line phenomena where you take other people's characters and do your own thing with them. I admit to only being interested in fanfiction.net fiction when there is some sort of sex going on, in part because it usually entails a sort of desecration of those little gods that are media icons. If it's done creatively, it's also fun to see made explicit emotions that seem perfectly visible to me, but denied by the official stories of the characters.

[I think there would be a consensus among the interstitial people I know that fanfiction.net and slash fiction was once interstitial and now is no longer so: an example where the sheer volume of work managed to normalize a transgressive practice, even though virtually no marketing occurred and almost nobody made any money off it, just a handful of computer jocks at FanFiction.net, I suppose.]

If the authors of shared universe fiction are intent on harmonizing with each other, then for me it's not too different from the way superhero comic book franchises go from one author and artist to another. Every so often I will buy the hype that (say) Grant Morrison is revolutionizing the Doom Patrol or the JLA or the X-Men, but sometimes he is and sometimes he isn't; and in any case, this is hardly going to complicate auteur theory as I gather Des would like.

It sounds like Des is hoping for examples that are less messy and more inspiring than slash fiction. For those of you who do know genre fiction better than I do, are there examples of shared-world fiction where there is no attempt to harmonize the various contributions? Violent genre shifts between authors? I suppose it could be argued that when an author like Le Guin revisits a place like Orsinia or Earthsea after twenty years, she wants to do a different thing with it than she used to, and that gap can disorient her loyal fans.

Have any of you writers actually participated in shared-universe projects? Did it feel different?
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Brendan
Posted on Sunday, December 14, 2003 - 12:34 pm:   

Some cool writer collaborations:

The Goncourt Brothers
Ford Madox Ford and Joseph Conrad
Emile Erckmann Emile and Alexandre Chatrian
Paul and Victor Margueritte
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des
Posted on Monday, December 15, 2003 - 09:12 am:   

And 'you' and the 'muse'
Anyone believe in the muse?
des (nemonymuse)
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des
Posted on Tuesday, December 16, 2003 - 08:08 am:   

So after this discussion, I contend that Interstitiality can mean to work within the gaps and to widen those gaps.

Gaps between two or more people (i.e the Collaborative Gap).
And gaps between names and people (the Anonymous Gap).
As well as gaps between genres (the Genre Gap) - classic Interstitiality.
(Also gaps between words - the Noumenal Gap??)
des
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Veronica Schanoes
Posted on Tuesday, December 16, 2003 - 10:49 am:   

I don't know that I can buy collaboration as automatically being interstitial. Collaboration has been a recognized mode of artistic creation for ages--it's easily categorizable in that it has its own category: collaboration. It doesn't necessarily produce unusual or difficult-to-categorize work. I'd say that it's even the norm in some kinds of art: music, for instance, usually takes more than one musician, not to mention a composer, and sometimes a lyricist. Mick Jagger/Keith Richards, one of the all-time great rock and roll collaborations--but interstitial ('scuse me, Mr. Jagger, I mean *Sir* Mick)? I wouldn't say so. Beaumont and Fletcher, almost inseparable, but were their plays interstitial? Again, I'd say not.
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des
Posted on Tuesday, December 16, 2003 - 11:33 am:   

Well, classical music rarely has collaborators (unless it is an opera). A composer composes a string quartet and the musicians continue interpreting it many times after the composer's death (which is not collaboration but performance) ... A big subject this.

No, what I meant was - the result of a collaboration is not necessarily Interstitial (though it can be), but the act of collaboration itself is Interstitial.
A collaborates with B, and there is fusion within the interstice between A and B. Collaboration *fills* the gap.
des
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Veronica Schanoes
Posted on Tuesday, December 16, 2003 - 01:36 pm:   

Yes, that makes more sense. But I'm not comfortable w/separating performance from creation. What makes a musician an artist if it is not through his/her creation of the music? Especially before the era of audio recording, music could only exist in live performance or written down--isn't that performance an act of creation? Because not all performance of a certain piece of music sound the same, and musicians can invest the music with different styles and energies (I'm drawing this statement from my stepfather's and ex-boyfriend's talk about classical music and my own experience of blues and country and rock'n'roll musicians covering other songs), even, or especially when the performers are of very high calliber. I've heard *Ring of Fire* performed by Johnny Cash, by Blondie, by Social Distortion, by a bar band I used to go see back in my mis-spent youth, and it was very different each time.
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des
Posted on Tuesday, December 16, 2003 - 01:46 pm:   

I completely agree with all that, Veronica. A musician interprets and performs the score he's presented with and each occasion is a new work of art. Exactly.
But there is a difference between that and two individuals, say, consciously collaborating to produce the 'score' (poem, story etc) itself.
des
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Neal Stanifer
Posted on Tuesday, December 16, 2003 - 05:44 pm:   

Pat: "[Perhaps someone else has already mentioned the shared-pseudonym practice of the Nancy Drew and Bobbsey Twins etc. books. Again, genre fiction.]"

This grew out of a pulp tradition of promoting the illusion of single authorship. Many pulp serials carried a single author name which was the obligatory pseudonym for anyone writing those stories, even if, as in the case of my favorite pulp, The Spider, the author was pretty much the same guy (Norvell Page) all the way through. Norvell Page wrote as Grant Stockbridge. He's worth checking out. Page was a working-man's pulp writer, even if The Spider was the true precursor to aristo heroes like Batman.

Brendan: "Some cool writer collaborations..."

James P. Blaylock and Tim Powers have put their heads together for some interesting projects. The problem is that they are close friends, so collaboration becomes a foggy term. Still, "On Pirates" is a true collaboration, as far as I know, and a hoot besides. And they also did a cookbook with a fascinating recipe for Wild Turkey Cherries.

On Interstitiality: Anyone considering shared-world fiction as Interstitial is giving the game away. Ain't no way in bloody hell this stuff is anybody's Interstitial, genre-wise, market-wise, or author-wise. No-wise. And if it is, then Interstitial is even emptier than I thought it was. For Fantasy, at least, you can't get any more solidly core than the shared-world series. This is not to take away from the shared-world folks (I thought George R. R. Martin's "Wild Cards" and Robert Asprin's "Thieves' World" series were fascinating for a while), but this is the core of the core of the core, folks. If you want to market it, you stick it exactly where it belongs in SF and Fantasy, and that settles that.
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des
Posted on Tuesday, December 16, 2003 - 10:44 pm:   

Is not the '87 cabinets' on these boards shared world and ostensibly Interstitial (as I understand the term)? Seems the most natural way to create Interstitiality having several writers involved.
des
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Ellen Kushner
Posted on Saturday, January 10, 2004 - 07:58 am:   

In his Jan. 4, 2004 NYTBook Review of Stephen King's latest, WOLVES OF THE CALLA, The Dark Tower Book V, Andrew O'Hehir writes:

"Early in 'Wolves of the Calla,' Roland asks Eddie about 20th century America and its narrative preferences. 'Do people in your world always want only one story-flavor at a time?...Does no one eat stew?' Eddie...replies that some in his world indeed eat stew. But 'when it comes to entertainment,' he continues, 'we _do_ tend to stick with one flavor at a time, and don't let any one thing touch another thing on your plate.'"

Oh, boy! Another perfect metaphor for what we're up against! I particularly love it because it makes the genre-bound (in which I include the literati and other purists) sound like the picky 6-year-olds at the banquet table that they are.
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Pat O'Connor
Posted on Tuesday, January 13, 2004 - 07:36 pm:   

To Neal: Your intemperate confidence that shared-world projects are not at all interstitial sounds absolutely right to me. On the other hand, I've never written under those circumstances, so I was wondering if it felt different when a writer writes it, not whether it's marketed differently. I certainly agree with you that in my limited experience, such fiction doesn't read differently.

The only exception to that rule would be the small vertigo I feel when a serial publication passes the torch from one strong-minded author to another --again, the obvious person to bring up would be Grant Morrison's effect on superhero comic books. The convention that the characters that he is writing are the "same" characters as the ones he inherited stretches mighty thin at times. When Tim Burton rethinks Batman for people who had only seen the camp TV series, he gives that audience something like the jolt that Des is talking about in some of his general thoughts about straddling gaps.

I think a lot of us felt that way when comic books became "adult" in the '80s thanks to Frank Miller, Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, and eventually Neil Gaiman. And, since you and I have been very firm in arguing that there has to be some sort of infrastructural shift that helps make the gap happen, or helps make the gap feel like a gap, it's of course worth remembering that the '80s marked the creation of the comic book store as a venue that offered a place for the redefinition of the comic book.

The example is possibly useful to think about because of the phenomena of DC's Vertigo as a house organ for only-somewhat experimental comic books --the analogy to the independent studios is interesting, although in the case of comics, DC created Vertigo as a niche market subsidiary after they realized that some of their most popular writers were not writing within conventional superhero formulae, whereas in the movies the smaller studios were founded independently and were only gradually bought up by the bigger studios, but the result is very similar: a stereotypical, limited notion of what it would mean to be independent and experimental. (And of course, as Terri says about genre fiction all the time, some people actually are very happy that the subgenre/niche-market developed the way it did and they produce very satisfying works of art within those constraints.)

If I felt a stronger effect when Gaiman takes on a chunk of comic book mythology than when John Gardner stuck up for Grendel over Beowulf, it's probably because the investment I had in comic books happened younger and went deeper. (It also helps that both Gaiman and Alan Moore are so much better read in a British gothic tradition than I am --I really don't care who Aleister Crowley is, but it pleases me that these guys can thicken their stories and their symbolisms by referring to him.)

But I also think it may have something to do with a certain earnestness in Gaiman and Moore (which I don't at all feel in Grant Morrison). Every writer has to invest his seriousness somewhere, and Gaiman and Moore invested it in their characterizations, which they developed in the '80s in solid, almost 19th-century novelistic ways (even though they were talking about swamp things and deliria).

Delia and Ellen tried to start a literary movement before, you know, whimsically called the Young Trollopes. They felt (and, I believe, still feel) that a great --perhaps the only?-- problem with postmodernist theory as they had been reading it was the abandonment of characterization. Modernism never could quite make up its mind about characterization: there's the faction that thinks that Ulysses is just the bestest Victorian novel ever, where we get to know Bloom, Stephen, and Molly better 'n' Anna Karenina, even; and there's the faction that are passionate about Ulysses's parodies and catechisms and word-salads and other stylistic devices that foreground language at the expense of character. Proust versus Gertrude Stein. Often the way the Modernists got around their impulse to dissolve character was through a very dodgy belief in myth --and you no doubt know what the literary criticism from that era sounded like, when it bought into myth criticism.

Sorry, I'm digressing all over the map; the beginning of this post has nothing to do with the end of it (and The Young Trollopes are quite decidedly unrelated to the interstitial art movement, except in that both movements were an expression of frustration with genre expectations --but the expressions go in very different directions). Let me try to sum it up anyhow: If you want readers to "feel interstitial" (detect a transgressive approach to categories of reading that had hitherto belonged together in their reading experience) when they read your work, then futz around with the conventions of characterization that they're comfortable with and believe passionately in. (These conventions differ across the literary landscape.) (Des is no doubt right that conventions of our relating to those implied characters, Authors, are likewise rigid, in differing places along the landscape.) If you take a genre which had been feckless about characterization, such as superhero comics, and you import middle-to-highbrow earnestness into it, as in The Watchmen or The Sandman, you can make an awful lot of readers incredibly happy (while not, perhaps, being truly avant-garde). Conversely, I'm suggesting that this border is more fraught for me than other borders: I'm willing to read all sorts of experimental writing, but I do get grouchy rather than inspired when I don't trust or don't understand an author's approach to characterization. Maybe I should be working on that--
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Dan L-K
Posted on Wednesday, January 14, 2004 - 07:50 am:   

If you want readers to "feel interstitial" (detect a transgressive approach to categories of reading that had hitherto belonged together in their reading experience) when they read your work, then futz around with the conventions of characterization that they're comfortable with and believe passionately in.

I would love an example of the kind of thing you have in mind. The way you put it excites my interest, but I'm having trouble making it resolve into anything tangible in my head.
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Pat O'Connor
Posted on Thursday, January 15, 2004 - 11:13 pm:   

Hmm. This is taking me longer to answer than it ought to, Dan L-K. And it sure sounded as if I knew what I was talking about....

A sideways example. Let's say that you'd never read Freud, never thought about "Oedipal relations" much. Then you read the Kafka story "The Judgment" in which, with almost no warning, the father says to the son, "I condemn you to throw yourself off the bridge and into the river!" and the son immediately and without being able to stop himself goes and does that and dies, end of story. The characterization seems to make no sense; you start spinning a theory about absurdity or maybe treat it as an (awkward) allegory about divine power and magic, but it still leaves you unsatisfied. But then someone encourages you to read Freud and/or think about fathers and their power over sons, and you're satisfied that Kafka really cared about his protagonist and wasn't just doing this thing to jerk the reader around but was trying to portray something twisted but deep and true about how people's minds and families work.

In the age of hifalutin literary theory the French would call that trying to recuperate a system. You have a sense of how people work, systematically. Then a text violates that sense, so you then refine or complicate your sense of how the system works, and you end up congratulating yourself (and the author) for having a deeper understanding of how people work than you used to have.

Sometimes a writer sets out to attack a system of characterization, and writes a literary satire or a parody. That's why these books can seem to be heartless, because they deliberately beat up their characters: Candide, or (in some parts of it) Don Quixote, takes his lumps because the author wants to show that real people wouldn't really live like that. I don't mean that kind of deliberate failure of traditional characterization, or not principally.

(And yet I sometimes sort of do mean this funny bunch of Classic Books which seem to be --inadvertently?-- satirizing the conventions of characterization: Euripides sometimes seems to think that his tragic heroes are idiots, Ovid sometimes seems to be saying that his tragic heroines deserve what they get and then some, even Laurence Sterne (who's supposed to be a "sentimentalist") sometimes means to be snickering his way through Tristram Shandy. And that's one of the reasons why some of Shakespeare's "problem plays" are problem plays, right? There are some really big gaps between our expectations of characterization and decorum and how the characters actually behave, a lack of consistency between how characters act in some scenes and how they act in others. In all these cases, as with the Freud example, we can claim that these surprises and discrepancies are challenges to our understanding of the human mind, and we can recalibrate our systems of characterization accordingly.)

The last glue sticking strange behaviors together into a single character in the age of high modernism was myth. Characters did what they did, sometimes in spite of themselves, because they were recapitulating famous mythic patterns.

So people don't believe in myth any more, in post-modernism. The first generation of metafictionalists are constantly being criticized for not wanting to create, or not succeeding in creating, characters we care about. All of Pynchon's protagonists are all alike, all of Barth's protagonists are all alike, all of Barthelme's characters are all alike. A certain streak of writers take the next step and dissolve characterization altogether: in Burroughs and Acker sometimes the character is an alien in one scene and a human the next scene.

Because of an old-fashioned commitment to character, I sometimes read the writers of that generation as claiming that that's how personalities work nowadays, that as writers they're still callin' people as they see 'em. I try to recuperate their portrayals as a new psychology. Sometimes I think I'm doing the right thing, and sometimes the wrong thing, to expect Abhor in Empire of the Senseless to show me something about the way some people think, the way Ivan Illych in Tolstoy shows me something about the way some people think. But it's either that or I stop "caring" about the characters in Kathy Acker, and try to find my literary pleasure on some other level.

I think that's partly why some people insist on making "unbearable lightness of being" claims for postmodernist fiction: it's not like you're supposed to *care* what happens to these protagonists. And so then the field splits into the satirists, who make you feel like a sucker if you care, or the pop sentimentalists, who claim that a stripped down psychology, nostalgic and very easy to figure out, is how the world really works. I actually like authors in both these subfields: I thought the early David Foster Wallace I read was mighty interesting, and every now and then some campy Latin-Boyz-Go-to-Hell pop extravaganza tickles my fancy too.

I guess I just wish that the avant-garde hadn't handed over psychological examinations of fictional characters to the middlebrow. Maybe that's why so many people continue to worship Nabokov's Lolita, as the last American book that managed to be both avant-garde and based thoroughly aorund character. Already by Pale Fire the games were too heavily underfoot. Except in the poem, I guess. Should we all be reading Anne Carson now?



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Eric Marin
Posted on Monday, February 02, 2004 - 06:29 pm:   

The first issue of my webzine, Lone Star Stories, is now online. I believe some, if not all, of the fiction within could be considerd interstitial. I would like to know what y'all think. Thanks!

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