The Schlock of the New

Maybe it was spending a week in France that got me thinking about Marcel Duchamp. Sipping coffee on the left bank; listening to music outside the Pompidou Centre; reading in Le Figaro about the award of this year’s Duchamp prize. Whatever it is, Duchamp has been weighing on me of late; “Fountain” and all. Which is somewhat uncomfortable, so I want to unburden.


What’s been bothering me is the problem of “the new”. We’re used to being told there are no new stories. There are seven stories, I believe, which can be endlessly retold by a million monkeys smoking Hamlet. Or something.


We can add new veneers to the furniture of The Story; we can add new accidents to the old substances – we can, in fact, perm any one of an infinite variety of Aristotelian synonyms whilst expressing the truth that there’s bugger all in heaven and earth, Horatio, that your nanny didn’t read you in the cot.


And we’re used to taking this truism and teasing another from it. There’s nothing new left in literature. I’ve said it myself plenty of times. Largely – and, I still think, justifiably – in response to another wave of excitement about the artistic groundbreakingness of some or other new tech or app. Twitterature is great – teaches starkness and economy. Blogging teaches spontaneity and may actually hasten the rate at which a writer finds her voice. Wikis can undoubtedly build communities. But they don’t promise anything NEW. Don’t worry – I’ll be back to the Interweb.


Take art, though. The last century and a bit has seen endless innovation. No wonder we writers spend our lives feeling like poor cousins to the art world (or is that just me?).


Only it hasn’t. Feel free to argue any of these points, by the way. I’m not an art historian. I’m a philosopher. Impressionism was really only the secularisation of Orthodox iconography put in the hands of a guy with dodgy eyesight. Fauvism followed the great tradition of Pre-Raphaelitism in being new by doing things people first did so long ago no one was still alive to remember it was actually really old. Cubism was simply an illustration of a Platonic textbook on aesthetics. Even Abstract Expressionism and Action Painting are really only mysticism without God.


But when Marcel Duchamp stuck a urinal in a gallery and wrote “R. Mutt” on it, THAT was new (OK, I DO have thoughts about fossil-hunting and Paley’s Watchmaker, but they can sod off to the awkward corner for now). Similar new things happened in literature. And in philosophy. And in architecture. Together and with far too much generality, we call the kit and caboodle Modernism.


Modernism is, I concede, rather similar to the medieval movement known as Nominalism, but I don’t care. Modernism DID what Nominalism IMPLIED. It was new (enough).


What did it do? It removed forever the necessary link between form and meaning. By uprooting things (sentences, shapes, objets trouvees) from one context and placing them in another to create DIFFERENT THINGS, Modernism once and for all invalidate the equation of one thing and one meaning. What it did with the results was to play around with things. Meanings mattered very little, except inasmuch as they were subverted, and forms mattered very much (Postmodernism isn’t new, because all it really did was look at the meaning side of the equation rather than the form one. Modernism was the thing that cut the umbilical cord).


All kinds of things have happened since Modernism that should have created something new – from videotape to Moog synthesisers. But they haven’t.


And when we as writers wring our hands and wonder when oh when is SOMEONE going to do something NEW with the wonderful tools technology provides, that should be a real comfort.


What we learn from Duchamp, and from the utter failure of Neil Gaiman or Cory Doctorow or MCM any other webwriting pioneers to do anything new in literature, is what we should have known all along. Newness has very little to do with technology. Sorry, McLuhan, but the medium is NOT the message. I’m sure that’s not the textbook account. Take plastic. We’re always hearing how instrumental it was in Modernism – Mies van der Rohe couldn’t have built half the chairs he did without it. But actually, plastic just happened to be the new material that was around. And the people with the new ideas found they liked it.


The point is this. Technology is a tool for the new. It is the means by which we can give better shape to the new, once the new comes along. And, undoubtedly, technology shapes our minds, provides our context, and it is bursting like an Alien from the chests of context that the new will come. When it does come.


Of course we have no idea of knowing what the new in literature will be like. But the point I want to make is that we DO know what it WON’T be like. Writers will probably illustrate (sic) it with technology, but it won’t consist in a new, tech-enhanced way of writing. So yes, as writers who want to be there at the birth of The New, we need to keep abreast of technology; we need to play and experiment and see where it leads us, and let it feed in to our subconscious.


But the person who gives birth to The New will be the one who sees behind the wires and the LCD and the e-ink and the Google Wave. They will be the one with the idea who rips a urinal off the wall, writes “R. Mutt” on the side, and sticks it in the gallery.

~ by yearzerowriters on October 25, 2009.

38 Responses to “The Schlock of the New”

  1. I’m …. ….. ….. Not …. …. …. going ….. ….. …… .. to … … … … … … rise to … … the ……..
    Oh who am I kidding?

    Nine years into the new millennium and where is the first of the genuinely 21st century novels that breaks with those of the last millennium? I haven’t seen it.

    What it requires is to offer a paradigm shift in thought. Your dissection of the radical divellencies of various art movements as new ways of seeing ultimately being rooted in pre-exisiting if forgotten intellectual bodies of thought is a good one, but I would refer you to a wonderful book Art and Physics by Leonard Shlain which matches important breakthroughs in artistic ways of seeing with paradigm shifts brought about in scientific discovery. The paradigm shifts in the way we conceive the physical world around us tend to come first from science. And right now and perhaps since the Second World War, scientists have struggled to encapsulate a world with particles that ought to exist but have never been found and quantum behaviour defying logic. Good say I, an artist. Their monopoly is broken and we can pick up the baton. With so much theorising by scientists., they are forced to resort ot our stock in trade – METAPHORS. String theory, Schroedinger’s cat, Einstein’s explanation of gravity. Well let us artists seize the iniaitive and provide the metaphors for us to guide our species by.

    Neuroscience is slowly opening up the workings of the brain. these are invariably NON-LINEAR, so maybe narrative prose might experiment with genuine non-linearity – not of time, but of thought. No longer just subject, verb predicate object perhaps.

    “Modernism is, I concede, rather similar to the medieval movement known as Nominalism, but I don’t care. Modernism DID what Nominalism IMPLIED. It was new (enough).” Here’s the nub. Modernism performed the separation, but went off pursuing the wrong half. It should have, or may now do so, investigated the nominalism rather than the decontextualised meaning side. How do things get their names? What are the economic/power/ relations behind words (not just in a dreary Marxist way). For example, the English language is at source composed of both Anglo-Saxon and Norman french – words from both language which over time have diverged sufficiently to allow shade of meaning – the difference between ‘ask’ and ‘demand’ for example. Why is a mass produced Ikea pine table, nominally the same as a ‘table’ made from the varnished ribcage of a horse, from an upturned ammunition case, from a slave forced to bend over for a master to place their feet up on them? Each may have the function of a table, but each brings a very different perspective to the function. Language is the only thing that can be used to interrogate nominalism, back to its very source. But writers seem to discount language as a tool in their utility belt. Possibly because they write ‘externally’, that is as if a camera were affixed to their head. It’s time to turn inwards, to get to the very creative source of poesis – language.

    “Take art, though. The last century and a bit has seen endless innovation. No wonder we writers spend our lives feeling like poor cousins to the art world (or is that just me?).” Can’t agree with this, art dies when Magritte captioned his canvas with “ceci n’est que une pipe” – an admission of semiotics could not function without language to explain it. All modern art these days is either commodification (NY art market, Charles Saatchi), or lifestyle, or both.


  2. Great post, compelling response!

  3. Marc, I don’t think we disagree at all.

    I’m ambivalent about science (my main bacjkground on science and paradigm shifts comes from studying Popper and Kuhn) – genuinely ambivalent and prepared to go either way – saying either that it is like materials – a tool for ideas; or that it leads ideas. I THINK at the moment I think of science forming the milieu from which philosophy draws the ideas. Art is the practitioner/illustrator of the ideas – by which I mean more than technician. I mean that which gives them shape.

    I DO think non-linearity is essential. I was making exactly this point (about dual-aspect thinking in relation to everything from the brain to traffic) on my blog with Larry and you this morning. And I think tech can be a great tool for it because it can create links and multi-positioned text.

    I’m also with you on language for all I rib you about it. We’re back to poesis/mimesis again – never takes long, does it? I think you’ve got a key point spot on – the use of language to interrogate language ISN’T a dead tautological exercise – it’s concept questioning concept, but on each iteration it filters through percept. So I think there is hope for us as we try to write a dialectic of word and naming. It maybe one of the reasons I’m so enamoured of prose-poetry at the moment – it seems to offer more opportunity than either poetry or prose for drilling down to the rhythm and the meaning of words.

    “Take art, though. The last century and a bit has seen endless innovation. No wonder we writers spend our lives feeling like poor cousins to the art world (or is that just me?).” I was actually arguing that we shouldn’t agree with this – the whole point of that section was that art has done nothing new. Personally I LOVE the Young British Art of the 90s – especially Landy, Emin,and Taylor Wood; and I think Tracey Emin’s confessional art is VALUABLE. In a deep way (I think our disagreement on this possibly has something to do with our conversation about dark places). But I don’t pretend it’s new

  4. (this might sound like I’m being argumentative, but I’m not. So here we go)

    Duchamp’s urinal was not art itself — the art was the idea. These days, art is not about the actual art anymore — we’re far far beyond aesthetics and perspective and proportion — but the modern art world is all about the behind the scenes of the piece. We aren’t required to like a piece anymore, but to engage with the idea of it.

    But this isn’t applicable to writing in the same way it is with art. I agree, writing and art are cousins — but you really can’t compare them. I spend hours trying to weave together metaphors and come up with insights about one through the other, and my head explodes every time.

    Writing still has to deal with the crutch of actually being good and you can’t, like in the art world, convince people that utter shit is art (and yes, you can take that literally).

    So yes, if writing wants to be new and transforming, it has to be through technology. It can’t really do it on its own.

    Though I pray that the only newness through technology won’t be just the e-reader. How boring and sad.

    • Er yes, you mean Chris Ofili?

      I guess there’s a debate about whether modern art really is dressed-up junk – it certainly lOOKS like it. But you’re right about the point I was making, that art has divorced meaning from content – I think that’s the same thing modernist writers like e e cummings were trying to do – it’s certainly what a book like House of Leaves tries to do. 99% of literature is, i agree, still content – but 99% of art is still painting and sculpture – I think in the 1% of each, the emphasis is equally on response and engagement. Which is all, essentially, the modernist legacy. I think both art and literature NEED something new – like you say, not just e-readers. And one of history’s lessons is that when the new is achingly, desperately needed, that’s when it bursts on the scene.

    • Sarah, it’s interesting that you say “behind the scenes of a piece.” Have you read Kundera’s The Incredible Lightness of Being? Great book. You should read it if you haven’t. There is an artist in that book who does a series called “behind the scenes.”

      Also, I agree that a lot of art today has gotten away from requiring technical artistic ability. However, I think that is a shame. I’m OK with a piece of art that is an idea rather than a painstakingly crafted work, but I wish I didn’t have to choose between the two. I wish both kinds of art could coexist side by side.

      And as far as not being able to convince people that shite writing is good. Well, I have to disagree. Afterall, they gave Ernest Hemmingway a Nobel Prize.

      PS: Kinda off topic, but my husband is going to buy me a print of your Goddess painting for Christmas. Can’t wait! I’m going to hang it over my desk.

  5. Spot on about the idea behind art – usually opaque without an explanatory text or title (ie words!).

    “So yes, if writing wants to be new and transforming, it has to be through technology. It can’t really do it on its own.” – not just tech, but also the form within the novel -ie non-linearity (re grammar) and language.


  6. Duchamp’s urinal was one of the great divides in modern art, and the abstract painters and sculptors I know (all 3 of them!) hate Duchamp, and would describe his work as utter shit, like Sarah – perhaps because he is seen as the ancestor of conceptual art. But going back to Dan’s point about technology not being the key to the new – it’s that difference between “making new” and novelty that Jeanette Winterson was banging on about. In itself, technology lends itself to a consumer society’s restless search for novelty, rather than being about making the familiar new, and therefore real and unstereotyped?

    Incidentally, painters seem to feel that fine art lags behind music, in terms of innovation, and we feel that writing lags behind fine art? While music carried on developing, and abstract painting is still alive, modernist literature struggled after Joyce? Today’s best sellers are all conventional narratives, aren’t they? I mean Tracey Emin might be one of our better paid artists in Britain, but after JK Rowling our best paid author is probably Jordan (for the benefit of American readers, a popular English beauty). While the British public is comparatively educated where music is concerned, they still joke about post-Impressionist painting, and have turned away from the experimental in 20th century writing?

    I don’t mean to sound pessimistic, because I think that all of you are part of a new wave, even though I’m not clear where it’s heading.

    • I’m not sure about music and art’s pecking order for innovation- I would need to speak to my wife – I do think Schoenberg and Schenke and that crowd were roughly contemporaneous with Duchamp (?), but I’m not in a position to talk about what’s come since other than the grunge and electronica I listen to. I think you’re absolutely right about literature, though – it’s right at the bottom of the list.

      I’m not sure we’re a new wave – but i DO think that getting the right people together to think, play, experiment is what will enable something exciting to happen. And I think we’ve got some incredible people here.

  7. I’m not sure music is at all innovative. Restricted to the ‘language’ of harmonics and tones, it is a finite and sealed system, unlike language itself. Having worked 20 years in the music biz, you just see the same trends coming back into fashion, because the current generations didn’t remember them first time round.

    I believe that literature has failed its readership, partly as a result of how it is marketed with ridiculously diminishing genre labels, but also because writers have effectively practised self-censorship based on what they perceive the market to be, ie what they need in order to be able to sell. Can writers afford to tilt at loftier ambitions and hope to take a readership with them? Tough reads on a par with Joyce, Faulkner et al? Could there still be an appetite for it in a world of ever shrinking attention spans and lack of stamina for weighty reads?

    What do people think of Winterson’s novels? She is about the sole contemporary UK writer I look forward to a new release from. She does wonderfully poetic things with language and weaves beautiful images.

    • I haven’t read recent Winterson – I found her, in the past, rather too self-important, but after reading the article I’m certainly willing to give her a try.

  8. I read this and thought, great, I have so much to say in response, in agreement, in commentary, in counterargument.

    Then I read Marc’s, Sarah’s, and Larry’s comments, and I’m not so smart after all and don’t need to retread those excellent points…

    There are forever new art forms, subversive messages, thought-provoking pieces out there, regardless of the ‘isms we attach and group them with. One of the lamest attempts at critical thought is the grouping of artists’ intentions into an ‘ism.

    Where will we see the new literature? We are the new literature. Look at what we’re doing — we’re having the discourse that the Lost Generation had sitting at those Left Bank cafes in a cross-section of visual, print, and written word. We are new thinkers, integrating our hyper-educated backgrounds with our punk rock worldviews and coalescing it all with the technology that allows us to have the discourse to begin with.

    We can’t sit here being frustrated with a lack of newness, because it’s on us to do it. Every single day I am amazed at what innovative, out-of-the-box ideas are executed. Think about just 10 years ago how difficult it would have been to have these conversations, once we were out of graduate school? We had to operate in a vacuum and hope for the best, not knowing what our soulbrothers hemispheres away were dreaming up and not encountering it unless we mailed away for some arcane ‘zine for $5 in cash only to some address in Japan.

    We are cool, if we can ever stop whining and bask in our freedom.


    • Jenn, I’m sure you guessed I wrote the piece as a way to get us fired up rather than navel-gazing. I most certainly wasn’t bemoaning – I was saying it IS possible (against those who say it isn’t). I’d like to think that our indiviual work, fed by the collective background, can help us to get out there and try – even if we fail. “Better to be a glorious failure than never tohave tried”

  9. Subversives aren’t meant to be cool:

    “1. The revolutionary is a doomed man. He has no personal interests, no business affairs, no emotions, no attachments, no property and no name. Everything in him is wholly absorbed in the single thought and the single passion for revolution.
    2. The revolutionary knows that in the very depths of his being, not only in words but also in deeds, he has broken all bonds which tie him to the social order and the civilised world with all its laws, moralities and customs and with all its generally accepted conventions.”
    Sergei Nechayev “The Revolutionary Catechism”

    I know you’ve seen this before Jen, but I wanted to share with the group.

    Every time I retire abed I recite these words, replacing the word ‘revolutionary‘ with ‘writer‘.


    • Marc, I love that.I was thinking the same thing in the car this morning, funnily enough, on the way home from seeing The Dead Weather. Jack White is about the coolest man on the planet, but he doesn’t give a monkey’s testicle about being cool. He’s absolutely zoned in on his music. The key moment of the gig was when he stepped out from his drum kit and picked up a guitar – there was something about the way he looked at it when he played – an absolutely self-absorbed control-freakish perfectionism, that was absolutely electric.

      I agree totally with Jenn that we are in a great place to do exciting things. But the moment we worry whether we’re cool we put ourselves a mile behind the game – interesting these comments have taken a similar twist to the discussionon Aggie – I think the whole strength of Year zero is we don’t care what people think – “uncut prose”, putting our stuff out there in the form we want it, and seeing if anyone wants to bite.

  10. Stimulating post Dan, thankyou.


  11. Very interesting post,as always, Dan. My thoughts are still being ordered but here they are as they come, for what they’re worth:

    – Yes, I have often remarked that art is in a constant state of re-assessment and re-invention but literature remains a 19th century form fine-tuned in the 20th. Why?

    – Maybe the assumption that art needs to constantly ‘progress’ should be examined. OK, the novel has remained static whereas other art forms haven’t stood still – does that mean, say, conceptual art is ‘superior’ or ‘more relevant’ than novels? By whose criteria?

    – I have many friends who are contemporary artists. I’m amazed at what they can get away with, and the poverty of the intellectual/critical context in which they work (sour grapes? of course). It’s hard to fake it in novel, but I know (and have worked with) artists who have a quarter of a half-baked idea and run with it. Good luck to them, but it’s a weird old place, the art world. Strip away the fashion aspects, celebrity culture and the banking/investment context of the gallery world and often there is very little left. I disagree with you about Emin who I think is mediocre at best.

    – What, to me, is enviable about the art world is not that they are in ‘advance’ of literature in any way, but that there seems many less strictures about what is ‘acceptable’, ‘publishable’… you may not make any money out of art, but no one rigidly defines the form before they will even consider you.

    – Despite what I said above, I can appreciate the argument that the novel is, if not obsolete, irrelevant to many. If it feels that way, then don’t do it. I don’t know if I’ll ever try to write a novel again. There are many other ways to express yourself.

    – For me, the greatest work of art so far this century has been The Wire.

  12. “you may not make any money out of art, but no one rigidly defines the form before they will even consider you.”
    That’s a great way of putting it – even in the most conservative public imagination, there is still, somewhere at the back of their mind, this idea that anything can be art so they’d better give the thing before them a look and see. That second glance isn’t afforded to the writer I wonder if that produces a feedback loop with writers therefore not wanting to present something that will, worse than being ridiculed, simply be ignored. I wonder if it’s also why poetry, where it seems to be acknowledged no one could possibly earn a living, SEEMS to be more experimental sometimes.

    New doesn’t make better per se, but I AM interested in seing if I can do something that hasn’t been done before – I would ask rhetorically “isn’t everyone?” but I guess they’re not. I’m also interested in telling stories the old-fashioned way.

    We still have the whole of The Wire to watch, piled up in videos on the living room floor. Very much looking forward to having tim to sit and enjoy it.

    • There’s a tension for many of us between modernism – which since Pound and Elliott has been suspected of being elitist – and emulating the traditional story-teller, who carries his audience with him. I think you’ve touched on this before, Dan, in discussing Agnieszka? There are recent developments that, while innovative, remain accessible – the readership for free e-books comes to mind – contemporary literature that is judged non-commercial can still become popular?

  13. I have permission to post this response, very kindly e-mailed to me by the author many of you know as Absolution:

    “I have thought about this. Me, thinking is not normally a good thing – no good can come of it.

    Follow my thinking: Sir Clive Sinclair invented that silly C5 thing. How ridiculous! Battery powered transport for urban dwellers – absurd. The man was a fool. Cars and motorbikes have internal combustion engines, the C5 will never work.

    Retrospectively, he was a genius. Formula 1 cars are now part battery powered and all the major car manufacturers clamour to produce electric and hybrid powered vehicles.

    You see it’s all a matter of timing.

    Enter the lowly audio book – a doomed silly idea. A failure on long-playing vinyl and a joke on multiple cassette tapes. Another disaster.
    Books are written on paper, and they are far too long to be put into any convenient audio format.

    For change and reaction, there is often a harmless catalyst, none forecast the effects of its presence.

    Enter the arena: Messers Kindle and the e-reader gang. Well financed, these people are as I write, sowing the seeds of the destruction of the book as we know it, and in the finale, destroying themselves. For they will convince people ‘a book’ is not a permanent paper product. – And people will accept it.

    Destroy the sanctity of the physical book and floodgates open, people become more open to new or other ideas.

    Accepting that ‘story is king’, new evidence and the audio book come back into play and MP3 is in effect. How long does it take to read an average novel? You can get 22hrs of 64bit audio on a CD, and in all likelihood the DVD player in your lounge and the stereo in your car are equipped to play it. Not to mention MP3 players like the iPOD can also read your story.

    What do we have? The Davinci Code read by Morgan Freeman. He’ll read you a chapter before you go to sleep – just like mummy used to, and he’ll read you the next chapter while you drive to work in your car. Have you every tried reading whilst driving – it doesn’t sound easy, best let Morgan do it. The audio book has no competition, no more tired eyes while reading. Just think of it like listening to radio plays, but you get to choose. Old people love the Archers.

    That’s the old folk covered. The young?

    No longer are you a nerd bookworm just because you like a good story. Nobody knows what your iPOD is playing you as you walk to school with Joanna Lumley reading you Harry Potter. And on the way home you listen to Henry V because it’s part of the curriculum.

    Young people used to love Jackanory.

    So there you have it: people on their way to work headphones in ears with a best-seller being read to them by some celebrity.

    Of course there will be those strange people who for some reasons like reading writing.

    So yes, writing will change. Story will regain it’s crown and once again voice will rule, and sell the product – but it won’t be your voice.”

  14. Abs – was that really you? You really tidied up your grammar, man. No full stops mid-sentence. Nice.

    Audio books have been around a while now. Didn’t they plateau already? How are they gonna come back, and bigger and stronger too?

    Technological change…can it change literature? It can change the format but, and i think someone else said this before, once you bring video and audio into it, is it really literature anymore?

    The form/language is the only change area, perhaps? And, after the likes of Burroughs, Barthelme, postmods etc what else is there left to do? Upside down text? Someone’s probably already done it. What else?

    postmodernism seems to have stretched to its limit. How many new ways can we put the author in the text or take the characters out of it? I don’t think we can.

    Narrative tricks like second person protagonist? Been done, many times.

    So what’s the next new? I guess i should suggest something…how about putting more confusion into our texts/characters? I’m not sure how to explain that one, but make it less assured, less about the author…ok, i really don’t know how to explain it.

    Or how about we just go nuts…plan as little as possible then write whatever comes into our heads? Maybe one of us will be loopy enough to come across something new…


  15. Yes, Oli, it’s really Abs – I messaged him on Authonomy & he very kindly e-mailed me.

    There’s definitely a consensus emerging around non-linearity here.

  16. What might we actually mean by non-linearity?

    Well take the basic building blocks of writing. We can mess around with the linear sentence, that tends to be subject, verb, predicate object. Well, lose the subject for some disorientation maybe. Place the verb in such a way as it’s not entirely clear who’s doing what to whom, so maybe the action of the verb itself becomes the central focus. I’m just throwing these out by the way, I haven’t thought them through. Compound words (like in german) when the precise shade of word you want doesn’t exist in the dictionary.

    Then we can start playing with the alphabet/typesetting, And here is one arena I might be persuaded to embrace the technology – to make the visual experience of a book more than just a block of monotype for page after page after page. I’ll post a piece I’ve written which is all about text on a computer screen deliquescing and reforming as a viral war is being launched against the computer software; now if someone could model this on a computer, so that what I’ve written could actually be modelled in some way, then I’d be impressed. Words swirling and breaking and reforming in front of the reader’s very eyes. An aesthetic of text.

    Finally back to the linearity of sentences again. This time not a s a grammatical assault on it, but trying to mirror how the human brain constructs its thoughts – ie in a non-linear way, from all sorts of reporting outposts of sensory feedback, both how the mind monitors the external world, but also how the external world acts upon the mind. This does not match the unidirectionality of a written sentence. It is more of a feedback loop. Oliver Sacks’ books are very illuminating on brains who have been impaired in parts of these type of functioning.


  17. Representing how the external world acts on the mind and how it is monitored…that is incredibly exciting.

  18. @Daisy: Back to Foucault and Panopticon!

    @Marc: I totally don’t get what you’re explaining, but I like it theoretically, at least. It seems to go back to what we were discussing a couple of weeks ago about shedding the rules (as I embark on ending my phrases with prepositions–look out world) and then rebuildilng an amorphous text? But how do we make it accessible to those brains outside our own skulls? I sense an enduring tension between the simple and easy to read writing and the convoluted difficult to read writing. Easy to read writing in my opinion is not for the stupids; rather, it conveys complex thoughts in simpler text. Isn’t our point to keep people engaged? Or no?


    • Of course, if you lose your audience you’re stuffed. Apart from technological aids, such as layout on the page, embedded vids or computer images, the writer can also build up the logic of the book/narrative carefully enough to bring the reader along with him/her, to be able to navigate their own path through.


    • This is a really tough one – if you are trying to push at boundaries, do you explain yourself? If you create a means of access for the reader are you implicitly giving up on newness? Do you have to make something accessible to be engaging with readers? I must confess at the moment I’m not sure of the answers to any of those questions.

      • Oooh, ooh, I know, I know, pick me, pick me!

        (1) Don’t ever have to ‘splain yourself. If you’re a good writer, your message is clear. [do you have a message? if not, why are you writing? <–real question, not facetious]

        (2) I don't think access and newness are mutually exclusive. Not everything new has been inaccessible–if it were, no one would have gone back to it and "it" wouldn't have blossomed. Exclusive, maybe, but inaccessible, no way.

        (3) YES, you have to create access for reader engagement, or else you're just being self-gratuitous, which, I believe, is a cardinal sin in the arts.


  19. “This is a really tough one – if you are trying to push at boundaries, do you explain yourself? If you create a means of access for the reader are you implicitly giving up on newness? Do you have to make something accessible to be engaging with readers? ” –
    If you want to engage people who are interested in the sort of things you yourself are interested in, where’s the conflict? New ideas should be exciting, and engaging – if not, you are doing something wrong. That’s what I feel now, anyway. As long as you are not aiming at the entirely mythical ‘general’ reader, that is, there is no excuse for being boring.

  20. Jenn, yes, self-gratuity IS a cardinal sin for the arts. It’s about conversation – but how much of the old terms of reference have to be there for the new conversation to start? Is it legitimate to set soething up and ask your readers to engage with it as wthey will, so THEY start the new conversation?

    @Roland – good point. Maybe ideas emerge out of conersations between interested parties and readers then accrete should these conversations approach critical mass

  21. Are we approaching what I think we may be approaching: that art imitates life, or wait, no, isn’t it the other way around?

    Enabling your reader/spectator to derive meaning and sprout conversation is exactly where we want to be! Creating a community to discuss ideas is our paramount objective, isn’t it?

  22. Art interrogates life.

    Art gets beneath the surface of life

    Art shows up the submerged connections and relationships between things

    Art (ought to) create fresh ways of seeing

    That it so rarely does so these days is either suggesting that all the connections have been unravelled, or that we artists just aren’t hitting the right notes in the will o the wisps we choose to chase down. I know which of those 2 explanations I’d veer towards.


  23. Ok, I really ‘get’ this, Dan. Thanks for articulating it so clearly. It’s a case of choosing our weapons in a fight we don’t yet comprehend. Yet as writers, we have to hearken to the call anyway.
    God help us all! ; P
    Donna Carrick

  24. Hi Donna – that pretty much sums up how it feels!

  25. I could never understand how people allow and enjoy the so called ‘modern’ art anyway. I think it has something to do with ‘The emperor’s new clothes’ effect. No one wants to look dumb and uneducated by stopping the wave to stand up and say, ‘Hey! but this is shite!’ I’ve said that (not in so many words) a few times.
    About new writing, I’ll have to agree with you. I think that’s why there is such a challenge for us to develop a new way of saying the same old things. Someone has already claimed, ‘a chill went up her spine,’ ‘rivers of blood,’ ‘driven by rage,’ etc.

    Too many people have been writing for too long. What do we do now
    and how do we recreate the old to make it stand out? That’s the hard bit.

    I see my picture has returned to haunt the comments again. I don’t know what to do to get it off.

    Anne LG

  26. Anne, maybe we should just accept that you’re meant to be our public face 🙂

    Yes, we’ve been telling stories for a long long time, whcih is why I think people look to technology rather than ideas for “the new” – it’s so much easier to come up with a new gadget than a new idea. And so much less satisfyoing (unless it’s a portable wafflemaker or something like that, of course)

  27. […] (no one likes a smart alec but forgive me for mentioning that I was writing about it well over a year ago), so when I hear “indie” writers gang their jealous asses up on Amanda Hocking or complain that […]

  28. […] pen to paper, make it time to put some thoughts in order. It’s more than 5 years since I first wrote about “the new” in literature and art, and so much has changed in that […]

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