If, Literature, Politics

Modernism and the Finite Territory of the Avant-Garde

Free Photo: Woman Entertainer in a Wooden Egg Costume

(WARNING: This post ended up taking a very meandering path to its central argument, which appears after the jump. Against the assumption that a new avant-garde is always possible, the post considers whether each artistic form, including lyric poetry and narrative fiction, might exist in a kind of finite territory of formal possibilities — so that formal experimentation ultimately reaches a point of exhaustion. Finally, the post considers whether modernity itself, and its economic and political possibilities, might exist within a finite territory whose borders are already open to view.)

I recently learned that within the hopeless market for literature professors, the situation is even more dire for aspiring professors who specialize in Modernism — my favorite period in English literature, the period stretching from writers like Conrad, James, and Yeats through writers like Woolf, Joyce, Eliot, Stevens, Pound, and too many others to list: Williams, cummings, Moore, Faulkner…

Apparently there are few or no openings for teachers of Modernism in the entire United States in an average year. A search of the MLA Job Information List seems to confirm this picture, although there are a few positions that include Modernism within a broader job description.

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If, Literature

Dendritic fiction: the structure of If

if graphviz kindle loc PNG

At long last, by popular demand, the graph above shows the structure of the chapters in If — using the “loc” (location) numbers from the Kindle edition, rather than the page numbers from the print edition. Click on the graph for a higher resolution, printable version.

A similar graph already appears at the beginning of the print edition, but with page numbers instead of loc numbers.

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If, Literature

If, Modernism, and Metamodernism

Free Photo: Log Trestle

As the publication of If recedes in the rear view mirror, and I move on to some other projects, I find myself wondering whether I took the right approach to presenting the novel.

When I decided to write If, I had in mind two general models, both modernist: Hemingway’s attempt, in his earliest stories, to “write one story about each thing that I knew about,” and Joyce’s attempt in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man to show the evolution of the character’s linguistic consciousness through the form of the novel. In If, it’s not so much the narrative voice as the genre and style of the novel that change in response to the protagonist’s development. I guess you could say that if the stylistic shifts in Portrait can be seen as reflecting how the protagonist might write (or, earlier on, think), the stylistic shifts in If often reflect what the protagonist at a given place in life might read.

None of the publicity materials for If mentioned either of these modernist models.

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If, Literature

If and Gamebooks

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As I’ve mentioned before in a post on the relation between If and “interactive fiction,” the process of publicizing If has made me aware of related genres and media with which I wasn’t familiar while I was writing the book. The earlier post noted the difference between a novel like If — where the reader makes a choice at the end of every chapter — and interactive fiction, a kind of text-based online game. The post noted that according to Wikipedia, the general category to which If belongs is not interactive fiction, but “gamebooks.”

Just as I discovered that there’s a thriving subculture devoted to interactive fiction (IF, not If), so it turns out there’s a thriving subculture devoted to gamebooks. The leading online resource (and the first result when one Googles “gamebooks”) is a site run by Demian Katz, Demian’s Gamebook Page.

I mention all of this today because Demian just posted a review of If in an online magazine devoted to gamebooks. The review can be accessed here.

 

 

 

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If, Literature

Emily Short, interactive fiction, and If (a novel)

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When I finished writing If, a novel of ideas with a choice at the end of each chapter, I knew almost nothing about interactive fiction, other than that it existed and made a nice acronym. For anyone who shares my ignorance, “interactive fiction” does not refer to Choose Your Own Adventure-style novels with a choice at the end of every chapter. It refers to a thriving genre of often online text-based games where the player makes frequent choices by clicking on hyperlinks in the text. The hyperlinked choices may arrive every few sentences, or even every few words. After clicking on a link, new text appears based on the reader’s choices, leading to new choices, etc.

If you felt like it, you could go and write your own work of interactive fiction using Twine right now.

By contrast, novels with choices at the end of each section — like If, Kim Newman’s Life’s Lottery, and the Choose Your Own Adventure series — apparently aren’t usually called “interactive fiction” at all. As discussed in my interview with Joe Rositano, there’s no commonly accepted general term for this kind of work. Most people say “Choose Your Own Adventure novels,” even though that’s a trademarked term for a specific series of books. Rositano favors “choicefic.” Wikipedia uses the term “gamebook.”

So: I’ve never written a work of interactive fiction — and, to be honest, I still haven’t had a chance to finish reading one, either. But working on the publicity for If has made me increasingly aware of interactive fiction, which appears to be going through a kind of golden age right now. One of the leading writers (and organizers) responsible for that golden age is Emily Short, so I was delighted that she recently took the time to write a lengthy blog post on If.

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If, Literature

An interview about If at SeattleWrote

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The intrepid Norelle Done at SeattleWrote recently posted our interview about If. I feel like I’m finally getting a little better at describing what kind of book If tries to be — in a way that neither sets readers up for disappointment by making it sound more lighthearted-and-easy than it turns out to be, nor alienates readers by making it sound more experimental and challenging than it actually is. For example:

Q: In any case: why write a literary choose-your-own-path (or “choicefic,” or “gamebook”) novel?

A: Partly because it had never been done before. People have come close, but I wanted to write a piece of literature that’s as serious and literary as my favorite novels, while still using this format associated with children’s books. I’ve always been attracted to works of art that bring together the difficult and experimental with the simple and playful. Like the Velvet Underground and Sonic Youth, Andy Warhol, Laura Riding Jackson, Borges. There are all sorts of strange ways that punk and surrealism and the avant-garde intersect with children’s literature and music. If tries to belong to that tradition. Continue reading

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If, Literature

If (a novel) now available on Kindle

 

 

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For anyone who was curious about my experimental novel If but thought — can I really afford to spend $17 on an unfamiliar novel of ideas by an author who does not even exist? — Livingston Press is making If available on the Kindle for only $2.99 for a few weeks. Please take a look — and if you like the novel, consider writing a review.

As mentioned in earlier posts, If is a philosophical novel with a choice at the end of each chapter. It explores themes of freedom and constraint. I discussed it in an interview with Electric Literature earlier this month, and I’ll have more to say about it in a soon-to-be-published interview with the Seattle Wrote blog. In the words of the publisher:

In If, you are the nameless protagonist, a young dreamer from northern California. At the end of each chapter, you must make a decision, some seemingly frivolous, some traumatic, but all far from inconsequential. These decisions shape your identity as the novel swerves toward twenty-two possible endings. From the margins of starvation in a third world country, to a romance in Paris, to an opulent party in a Manhattan high-rise, your life becomes the unexpected result of the choices you make. Can there be too much freedom? And how much of life lies within our control?

 

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