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Jason Mantilla
Posted on Friday, February 21, 2003 - 08:41 am:   

What defines good versus bad experimentation, I wonder? A lot of it seems like a steaming pile of...
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Forrest Aguirre
Posted on Tuesday, February 25, 2003 - 07:35 pm:   

Good question, Jason. And I don't have a definite answer for you. I know what I like and don't like, but beyond "I'll tell you what I think is good when I see it," "good" experimentalism is difficult to define.

That said, I would love to see authors reveal more about their own experimentation: a true experiment has controlled conditions that can be replicated by another, if we take the word literally. Under what conditions did the author write the experimental work? What were the laboratory tools? What algorithms were used? What are the experiments boundaries? How and when did you know the experiment was complete? If I were to attempt the same experiment given the same criteria and circumstances, would my results look the same or at least similar?

In writing what I call my more "experimental" pieces, I've at least had these questions in the back of my mind. While the literal application of these questions could really stifle the creative process, I think that it's good, from time to time, for the writer to go back and ask him or herself these questions. Otherwise things do tend to spiral out of control and come out as a steaming pile of . . .

But I am convinced that there is much great writing out there that spurns the accepted conventions of character, plot, dialogue, grammar, and language. I think that some of it is rather inaccesable, though, Jason - and I get the feeling that this inaccesability might be the source of your critical assesment of experimental literature on the whole. I'm wondering if it would help if the author had a chance to explain himself/herself?

On the other hand, rather than getting a decent explanation, you might get a steaming pile of . . .
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Michael
Posted on Tuesday, February 25, 2003 - 11:21 pm:   

For me, experimentalism has more to do with results; in particular, with not knowing what they will be when you embark. I think much of the best experimental writing is continually embarking, as opposed to following the usual trajectories.
In the stricter sense, I experiment fairly little. At the end of a chapter in the most recent novel, I wanted the main character to drift off into sleep and dreams in medias res. I'm a serious Burroughs fan, and his cut-ups, while they may be enervating to read, are by no means sterile. So, I thought, let's try cutting up the events of the preceding chapter (through which this character has only just passed) and see what we get. The result was something I think could be described as, quite literally, a dream of the text; by doing this experiment, I discovered to my own satisfaction that a dream is essentially a series of dissasociated images from the preceding day or so (with a few ringers), floating together to form random juxtapositions which then suggest narratives.
All my novels are written in the first person, and this was an experiment also. I chose the first person because the events I was writing about weren't historical events belonging to some past moment nor were they pretending to be. They only happen as they are read, and therefore always take place in the present. Now this sounds good, but, if the resulting writing had been stinko, I would probably have tried something else.
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RobertW
Posted on Saturday, March 15, 2003 - 11:23 am:   

Hi Forrest,

Speaking of experimentalism, I read "Waiting for Felicity" in the Journal of Experimental Fiction. I loved the way you used the columns to show the man in the middle and the exhibits on either side (which begin to break down as he goes along...). Great use of the form of the page to show what’s happening in the story.

So hurry back from canoefest!

Robert
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Forrest
Posted on Tuesday, March 18, 2003 - 07:04 pm:   

I'm back, Robert - and was ill the whole time. Still am, a touch.

Thanks for the compliments. I'm pretty proud of that story. It was touched off by a friend of mine who had been to Prague recently who told me about the national museum - apparently the birds in the cases were infested with maggots. The imagery caught on and, well, you've read the rest.

And that story was a f**ing pain in the a## to get formatted correctly!!!! I banged my head bloody against the computer screen before I got it right. Maybe that's why I'm so proud of it - it's a symbol of me conquering one tiny piece of Bill Gates vast empire. Or maybe I was just absorbed by it, I dunno.

I've been reading the other stories in TJOEF #24 and must say I am very, very impressed. Any writer reading this, drop what you're doing and go buy a copy now. Then read it and come back to whatever it is you're writing - you won't look at it the same, I guarantee it. And Jason Mantilla, if you come back here to visit, I encourage you to get yourself a copy of The Journal of Experimental Fiction #24. To me, this volume is chock full of good experimentation. And just to avoid the appearance of shameless self-promotion, I encourage you to rip out my story and use it for TP while you're reading the other stories in the bathroom. I'm willing to sacrifice my work to your toilet in order to introduce you to the other great work that's between the covers. Now can you get a stronger endorsement than that, folks???

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