10 August 2012

Fuck Your Ending; Or, Why You Musn’t Ever Matter Except if There's a Lot of You and Even Then Only Sort Of

What I want to talk about today is the cultural background, the cultural context of written work, and by extension all art. I'm going to do that through the lens of 99 Brief Scenes From the End of the World, by a man who might just make himself the voice of a generation his bio insists he isn't even part of, one T. W. Grim. (Yes, I'm aware Usenet came about in 1980, Fact Checking Reader Who Lives in my Head. The point stands.)

First, though, I want to do a brief review of the book, because it's my party and I'll review if I want to. Review if I want to. 

99 Brief Scenes From the End of the World (henceforth 99S) is, and believe me when I say that I don’t use this term lightly or regularly, absolutely brilliant. It combines a technique which I've never seen before, writing 99 stories each several pages in length, with a nearly breathless but nonetheless well-paced tone.  I know I’m supposed to be in superlative rehab, but I'm jumping off the wagon with both feet because it really is the best thriller I’ve ever read and in my top 5 books written within my lifetime. It is also very possibly the most blatant and uncompromising look at the beauty which lies in ignoring the reader. 

Read it, and if you don’t love it quit reading and take up another hobby because you are clearly just plain not fucking cut out for it.

As for the cultural context, the Not Review portion of this post, 99S was originally written as a serial on Reddit, a site which is something like a sequel to that far more famous, or perhaps infamous, hive of scum and villainy, fiction and falsehood from the olden days of the web. What that means, for Reddit that is, is that despite its toothless debility it is still in many ways a microcosm of internet culture, a mirror of the inherent nature of a people which hide at the bedrock center of hundreds of web communities, providing us with everything from lolcats and  trollception to unbounded intellectual inquiry and sociopolitical activism.

99S embodies that same mindset: Digressive, irreverent, almost combatively uninterested in the comfort of anyone, anywhere; in short, all that the web is at its best and its worst, with nothing in between. It is a book which could not exist without untold millions of 1’s and 0’s and the culture they spawned. The beauty in this is that, unless I miss my guess, the occurrence is entirely unintentional. The book isn’t about the internet, doesn’t say a single word directly about internet culture; it was simply birthed by a creator possessed of, or perhaps possessed by, a cultural phenomenon beyond his control. 

As writers we are in no way immune to the influences of culture. Those of us whose egotism is exceeded only by our single-minded dedication to a goal very nearly unattainable often like to pretend that we exist in a world unto ourselves, somewhere between a fantasy and a vacuum, but at the risk of disabusing some pleasant notions, no man is island. I would go so far as to say that we who fancy ourselves artists are more so mirrors of the time and place in which we live, inadvertently exposing our cultural heritage for the viewing public in a way which is inextricable not just from the self but also from the collective. From what some might call the collective unconscious, the zeit- or volksgeist, or if they're dumb and whining at me (as is the wont of so many), the esprit d'corps.

The question, then, is how much is a work truly ours, as writers? Does the fact that we are often channeling some unseen force, drawing our story not entirely from ourselves but from the world we live in mean that in some way the work is the property of that collective unconscious? This is not a rhetorical question. 
As an extension of all this, we must face the topic which has occupied my mind for what would be fairly described as an embarrassing amount of time if I was capable of embarrassment; I am consumed by curiosity as to what the literary analysts will (or would...) find in my work, what voices enter unbidden...

So, I’ll issue this challenge, through not a spirit of generosity I’ve never possessed but rather in pursuit of what only you may give me, my dear readers:

If you fancy yourself a literary sort, the sort of person who finds things the author cannot, email me and I’ll have a PDF of anything published in your hands in hours, God willing, with the sincere hope that you will return to me a work of sublime insight somewhere between 1 sentence and a graduate thesis.

In the meantime, abandon your thoughts of my work, and bury yourself in Mr. Grim’s. It is, in a word, unapologetic, reveling carelessly in a quagmire of the sort of guiltless imperfection which stands in stark contrast to self-conscious literary vanity, a paragon of the nearly imperceptible.

I didn’t care for the ending, but you know what? Fuck my ending. And fuck yours, too. Genius answers to no one, or in failing to abandons itself to the mob.

03 August 2012

Seek Bliss You Self-Important Tit; Or, Popcorn is Good, Too.

This Not Review is about a freebie I stumbled across on Amazon, a book called Clockwork Blue that if I’m being honest I wouldn’t have picked up if it hadn’t been free. It’s an alternate history fantasy romance about the intervention of pixies in the Napoleonic Wars, or more accurately in the time leading up to the Napoleonic Wars. Or not leading up to them, if the fairies win. I don't know. Didn't finish it. Sorry dearest Gloria... you're in the 99%.

Think of this post as the inversion of my Pride and Prejudice and Zombies post; that is to say, a post about how things that aren't art can still be good.

What I want to write about today, if you haven't picked up on it, perhaps because you were distracted by the brilliance of that Not Review I linked above, is this: that of shallow, mindless storytelling. 

Now, reading that, you are probably becoming whiney and outraged, if you’re the sort of reader who should really sort themselves the fuck out like seriously, complaining that it’s unfair for me to look down on a work simply because it doesn’t adhere to my standard of what a book ought to be. Perhaps you’re even attempting to draw a parallel to the ‘artificial’ standards of beauty, if that happens to be your cause (as it seems to be for an anomalous number of my readers). However, this is not the case. Or at least, not entirely.

Some of you may recall, a while ago I wrote a brief treatise on G+ about the popularity of meaningless pop music. My approach to it was deemed artistic elitism and inspired a bit of ire, and if you were the sort who had that impression of it, prepare for a sense of déjà vu.

That question with regard to music, the question of why meaningless, musically questionable pop music continues to top the charts as it has for as long as charts have been a thing, has long been, and perhaps still is, a source of no minor bafflement in many of my correspondents. It is my suspicion that the same question may arise with regard to literature, so I’m going to address it. To summarize my previous work, what one must keep in mind is that not everyone goes to music in order to be altered as a person. Often they go to it to be entertained. This is also true of literature, perhaps even more so since ‘deep’ literature tends to be a little tiny bit 

Clockwork Blue is what Yahtzee Croshaw might call a popcorn book; a little bit of fluff which serves to distract us from the mind-numbing tedium which makes up the average human lifespan (not mine, of course, because I’m an international man of mystery, but work with me here). It isn’t very substantial, and I can almost guarantee it won’t change your perspectives on a goddamn thing, but it nonetheless serves a purpose, perhaps an important purpose, in the lives of its readers, and indeed in the world of literature as a whole.

While it’s important to continue to expand our minds and seek experiences which shake the foundations of our identity, it’s also important to embrace bliss, and bliss comes in many forms, not the least of which is the simplistic, the subliterate, the quietly pleasant and unassumingly enjoyable. 

The moral of this story is that you musn't allow your pretention to override your pursuit of pleasure.