Sunday, March 27, 2011

The vastness of the short story

Good article on the short story by Chris Power. I particularly like this:
...novels that seek to contain multitudes, to embody a particular society at a particular time, seem doomed to fall short. The short story, by contrast, acknowledges the vastness and diversity of life by the very act of focusing on one small moment or aspect of it. The story is small precisely because life is so big.


Tim Love said...

I've heard people (me included) say that short story reading suits busy life-styles, but I don't believe it anymore, so I was glad to see these quotes -

Joyce Carol Oates: unlike the novel, the short story is "invariably literary."

William Boyd: the “well-written short story is not suited to the sound bite culture: it's too dense; its effects are too complex for easy digestion.”

Lorrie Moore: that is often how novels are read, fifteen minutes at a time. You can’t read stories that way.

dan powell said...

Great quote that. Thanks for the link, heading over to the article now.

Dan Holloway said...

Quite so. I'e written about this many times over the past couple of years. Fiction fails when it tries to convey universals, generalities, principles and messages - these reduce it to tropes and types, with which the reader identifiesd not at all because no reader is a trope or a type. When we take a situation in its stark indivuiduality, then and only then do we stand a chance of connecting with readers by touching the one thing we all share - our uniqueness/aloneness.

I've found this position crystallising from three fascinating but very different angles. First (chronologically), a paper I wrote on cosmpolitan theory and my then-current novel for a conference marking the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall ( where I was drawn to conclude that my characters' journey - starting out trying to decide between polar opposites such as real/virtual; past/future; east/west and concluding that these distinctions are white elephants, that life does not consist of two-dimensional poles but as many unique three-dimensional relational matrices (she doesn't put it like that, honest!!) as there are people - reflects a greater reality about the nature of identity.

Second (chronologically) came a fascinating conference on cosmpolitanism at which the key note speaker was the marvellous Rey Chow who talked about Chinatowns and nostalgia. It was there I first had a proper insight into the Kyoto School philosophy that the universal and the individual are interchangeable flipsides (something that helped me understand the "down the well" passages in Murakami's The Wind-up Bird Chronicle for the first time).

Finally (chronologically) came a protracted debate on twitter and the Year Zero website about confessional art, and the importance of the artist reaching within, not seeking to concretise the abstract but simply to reach inside and clothe the concrete (a debate that interestingly reflect that age-old debate within neoplatonism that I've also found myself commenting on a lot recently in relation to the dual history of western literature: between fragmentation, from the cries of the ecstatic to Ginsberg's Howl; and the unitive force that has driven the demand for Narrative from Chretien de Troyes to Dwight V Swain

Elizabeth Baines said...

Sorry not to publish these earlier: Blogger is failing to alert me to comments (and I've had moderation on as I've been suffering spam).

Litrefs: I agree. When we were publishing metropolitan I used to use that argument about stories suiting busy lives, but I think it's quite wrong, and have come to think quite the opposite.

Dan H: this is very interesting (though I need some time to digest it!). I've been thinking myself about this fragmentation/unifying thing and may blog about it - if I find the time from my novel which is meant to be about fragmentation but is pushing further and further away from fragmentation in terms of structure!

Dan Holloway said...

I shall very much look forward to that post! Equally as much if not more I'll look forward to the novel, though! My last one was about the paradox of our connectedness and disconnectedness in the modern world (there's a linky to it if people click my name). It's such an important subject - especially now we've got all this Big Society talk going on that still seems to define community in purely geographical terms. We need more novels on it - either that or they needed to put Atomised on the WBN list!

Elizabeth Baines said...

Dan, your novel sounds fascinating. I've thought a couple of times about starting the post, but my creative and intellectual energies are so tied up in the actual project, that it may be some time...