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JeffV
Posted on Wednesday, June 11, 2003 - 01:03 pm:   

I think it's awfully presumptuous for any pair of writers, no matter who they are, to not only be able to say what *is* "New Weird" but also, more importantly, *what isn't*. And try to make it stick. Especially with two writers as different as China and M. John Harrison.

The conversation is interesting, but it is also frustrating. There is the unspoken assumption that the New Weird, whatever it is--still not defined to my liking--*is* superior to whatever else is being done.

I just don't understand even the importance of a label at this point. And especially not a label that harkens back to a kind of "new conservatism".

I love the diversity of fantastical fiction right now. I love the fact that I can open up Trampoline edited by Kelly Linnk and find a ton of great stories that I'm loving even though they don't fit with the aesthetic for Leviathan (well, some of them do). How refreshing that there is such depth and breadth to fantastical fiction right now! I love the sheer diversity of it all. Fine, wrap some of it in a "New Weird" label. But I don't want to constrain my gaze that way when there's limitless horizon ahead.

As for the application of the post modern to the fantastic--there's a whole unmined vein of approaches out there. Application of the post modern to fantastical literature transforms the post modern. It often no longer tells the reader he or she is reading a story. It instead reinforces the fantasy of the story.

Cheryl: The whole point is that you should have the freedom to call it whatever you like. You should have a role in the naming of it. Instead of that role being dictated to us. The thread on the TTA message board seems to be aimed at snuffing out dissenting opinions over time. Or, to just ignore them. Or, to discount them without properly considering them. It is a lot of "talking at" as far as I'm concerned, not a lot of "talking to" or "talking with".

If someone calls my work New Weird, I'm not going to get mad. Or Interstitial. (Slipstream I draw the line at.) The fact is, we often have to live with being called things and defined as things that we really are not. But when I have the choice, I will not name myself those things.

I find a lot of this naming to be about power and not about the actual work. I don't want to name I've decided, when I can help it, any more, for fear of trivializing the complexities of the work I love.

Can you imagine a bunch of writers sitting down after Gormenghast was written and trying to create a name for what Gormenghast was? Or a name for what Alasdair Gray does? The whole point is that they've assimilated their influences to the point where they are originals. They exist outside of classification. And *that* should be the point and the goal--to strive for that, even if we don't always succeed.

JeffV
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John Klima
Posted on Wednesday, June 11, 2003 - 01:13 pm:   

MOVED OVER FROM OLD POST:

As someone pointed elsewhere in these boards, unlike the New Wave writers, there has been no momumental event to tie a lable onto (e.g. Dangerous Visions or New Worlds). We just have a bunch of talented writers who are doing something different. And there happen to be a number of them coming to promise at roughly the same time like a new generation or something. This may become a case where a name for this time is given after it is passed.

Writing and publising is a solitary public forum. You create your own world and then expose it to everyone. Then those people want to talk about your world--good or bad--and they need/want a way to talk about it and often the easiest (most understandable?) way to do so is to make comparisons or lump things together. So, these writers are forced to interact with people who give them a label or a grouping with which the writers may not like or agree.

I do not want to say that Jeff VanderMeer 'tastes like chicken' because he reminds me of something that is a known quantity to others. But it requires a lot of effort on my part to avoid such things. And I nearly always succumb to the succor of saying things like "KJ Bishop is reminiscent of Tim Powers." That's not a bad thing, but KJ is not Tim Powers. No one is except for Tim himself. And in the case of this 'New Weird' you have a bunch of people who do not write like each other, no do they write like anyone else, and so they get lumped together like giant literary bouillabaisse.

It's too bad really. As much as I loathe labels, I use them for my betterment, too. Without the act of grouping writers together, I would not have found many of the recent books I've read and loved.

Why not just call them The Unmentionables?

JK

(and quite frankly, VanderMeer at best tastes like Calamari, not chicken)
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John Klima
Posted on Wednesday, June 11, 2003 - 01:15 pm:   

JeffV writes: "If someone calls my work New Weird, I'm not going to get mad. Or Interstitial. (Slipstream I draw the line at.) The fact is, we often have to live with being called things and defined as things that we really are not. But when I have the choice, I will not name myself those things."

Very true Jeff. You've hit the nail on the head. The labels are not to be defined by those who are doing the creating, they are defined by those doing the reading.

JK
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Michael Cisco
Posted on Wednesday, June 11, 2003 - 01:19 pm:   

Also moved from former thread doggone it -

Not having followed the thread myself, I can only add my own completely unqualified opinions under the sign of the grain of salt. Considering the fact that I, and most of the other "weird writers" with whom I am acquainted, have been writing "fill-in-the-blank" or off-genre matter for +/- all our adult lives, the novelty of this "new weird" must have more to do with the attention such writing is now receiving from publishers than with any tendency on the part of the writers. Writers like Mieville become the center of attention because they are the flashpoint figures whose success triggers emulation on the part of other publishers (leaving to one side the question of emulation among other writers). We've all been at it for about the same length of time, and have all arrived at our own aesthetics largely by dint of protracted and difficult work against the grain of established popular literature, which means both laboring without the standard props and in obscurity. Now, those of us who have been working just as hard and just as long as those who have begun to receive recognition are under a kind of threat, that we'll be identified as joiners or copycats. Anyway, publishers create these new waves for the marketing reasons discussed above. Speaking personally, as someone who has worked for years without any real expectation of recognition, writing novels and putting them away in the drawer, the prospect of suddenly having to account for myself in these new terms is disturbing. It begins to feel as though something very essential might be snatched from me and appropriated by someone else, who will decide what it is I'm writing. The highly idiosyncratic, and often personal nature of this kind of eccentric writing makes it all the more difficult to discuss in the general terms of movements or schools. Certainly, there is a new interest in highly imaginative and more literarily complex fantasy. It might be useful to distinguish between the marketing term used as a makeshift description for this stuff and a critical term meant to identify its essence, and which is most likely not available at present. The surrealists named themselves, it's true, but the term was coined by Apollinaire, who belonged to the previous generation of poets. It may be that one of the terms applied today will be the word employed by future critics, and which will only become appropriate in this future use. I don't think that any of this should preclude argument about which term is best in the present, however.

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JeffV
Posted on Wednesday, June 11, 2003 - 01:22 pm:   

It might be useful to distinguish between the marketing term used as a makeshift description for this stuff and a critical term meant to identify its essence,

Re the above from Michael--I agree. As a marketing term, New Weird has its virtues. If we're talking about marketing terms, that's different. I'm not resistant to marketing terms when they have to be applied to help sell books.

JeffV
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Michael Cisco
Posted on Wednesday, June 11, 2003 - 01:33 pm:   

JohnK - on previous thread - thanks, but don't sell yourself short! The more the merrier, I say.

Des - you're not fooling anyone ... DES ESSEINTES.

I wrote the above screed before reading JeffV's initial post on this new thread (flippin' interweb!!) ... which I think makes the important point that something territorial and unedifying is underway around "new wumble". It seems to me such arguments, although I must repeat I have not been exposed to them firsthand, introduce all manner of largely gratuitous concerns for those of us who are simply writing what we want to write the way we want to write it. Jeff hit the critical point: if this label business impedes the free development of good writing, then it's more trouble than it's worth.
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Nicholas Liu
Posted on Wednesday, June 11, 2003 - 01:35 pm:   

Jeff:

>I think it's awfully presumptuous for any pair
>of writers, no matter who they are, to not only
>be able to say what *is* "New Weird" but also,
>more importantly, *what isn't*. And try to make
>it stick.

But surely anyone can start a movement and define it how-so-ever they like? You could declare right now that you're starting the New Cephalopodia movement, involving only the use of squid as viewpoint characters, and then begin using this criterion to decide who is and who isn't a New Cephalopodist. Would that be presumptuous? Presumably not, as it wouldn't really affect anyone who doesn't wish to be affected by it by defining themselves in relation to your movement. Doesn't the same thing apply to this whole New Weird malarkey? If the New Weird as defined by China Mieville and M. John Harrison doesn't fit your or my idea of what spec-fic--or just fiction in general--should be about, we're quite free to say "Oh, well we're not New Weird then" and leave it at that. No skin off anyone's back, as far as I can see, unless they choose to self-flagellate.

(In fact, now that I think about it, Alastair Reynolds did more or less that exact thing {with regard to the "oh well", not the self-flagellation}. He basically said, "Well, the New Weird approach doesn't seem like it'll work with the hard sf that I write", and if my memory serves me right, the reaction was more or less, "Oh, we're cool with that.")


>There is the unspoken assumption that the New
>Weird, whatever it is--still not defined to my
>liking--*is* superior to whatever else is being
>done."

To a certain extent, that's to be expected, isn't it? Isn't that what a movement is, really: a bunch of blokes getting together and saying "we personally believe this is the way such-and-such a thing ought to be done, and so we will do it that way"? As far as movements go, I don't think Mieville and MJH are being all that exclusive, really; they've both referrd to a number of works and writers as basically "excellent, but not New Weird". Any implied superiority at this point is, I think, left over from the earlier portions of the discussion.


>I love the diversity of fantastical fiction
>right now. I love the fact that I can open up
>Trampoline edited by Kelly Linnk and find a ton
>of great stories that I'm loving even though
>they don't fit with the aesthetic for Leviathan
>(well, some of them do). How refreshing that
>there is such depth and breadth to fantastical
>fiction right now! I love the sheer diversity
>of it all. Fine, wrap some of it in a "New
>Weird" label. But I don't want to constrain my
>gaze that way when there's limitless horizon
>ahead."

Well, I don't see how anyone's actually saying you should do that.
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JeffV
Posted on Wednesday, June 11, 2003 - 01:37 pm:   

The initial discusssions are on the TTA message boards at: www.ttapress.com. Under M. John Harrison's thread. They're informative, fascinating, stupid, maddening, incoherent, and stimulating.

JeffV
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JeffV
Posted on Wednesday, June 11, 2003 - 01:38 pm:   

Nicholas:

I'm probably overreacting a bit. And you're right re movements and writers.

JeffV
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Des
Posted on Wednesday, June 11, 2003 - 01:44 pm:   

I think you should also be able to open up a book and not know who wrote it. (Is that relevant?)
Des
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JeffV
Posted on Wednesday, June 11, 2003 - 01:56 pm:   

But please consider this a forum to discuss these issues regardless of how you feel about the first post above.

Maybe we should be calling "New Weird" "New Pulp" instead.
JeffV
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Cheryl Morgan
Posted on Wednesday, June 11, 2003 - 01:57 pm:   

Jeff's quite right in saying that the TTA thread is "informative, fascinating, stupid, maddening, incoherent, and stimulating". It is a very slippery eel that people have been dealing with and there has been much talking at cross-purposes.

Essentially, however, it is about getting out of boxes. About doing things different and (hopefully) better. It is not about doing things X way or Y way, because that would defeat the objective. So when Jeff says on the TTA board that Mike's writing is nothing like China's writing, that's the point. And neither of them are like Jeff. No one wants a cookie cutter definition. (Well, none of the writers anyway. The likes of Kathryn, Jason and I have other agendas, but hopefully we try to bear your sensibilities in mind at the same time as trying to sell your work.)

It may well be that Jeff is right, and that trying to put a name to something automatically makes a cookie cutter, or at least gives people the impression that you are trying to reform the world in your own image. But unfortunately we humans use names to get a handle on things we talk about, hance circular argument, contradiction and thoroughly maddening but stimulating debate.
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JeffV
Posted on Wednesday, June 11, 2003 - 02:04 pm:   

It may be that I am totally wrong, too. Another thing is--writers should be in constant flux on such issues. To settle down on a particular point of view is in some ways a defeat. That may sound odd, but a writer has to be free to consider as many different (competing) points of view as possible.

I also think that on a message board, people should be able to say potentially stupid things without being pegged as stupid, if that makes any sense. In that this is medium is more like a congregation of thoughts and half-formed ideas--and it always will be. It's not a well-thought out essay, and anything positive that comes from it is not in the form of a theorum, but in the form of useful fragments.

Thanks for posting here, Cheryl. You're like a conduit between the two message boards.

JeffV

P.S. Also, lest anyone think differently re my post on the prior New Weird thread here, it was not China or MJH who felt threatened or unsafe by that thread.
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Jeremy Lassen
Posted on Wednesday, June 11, 2003 - 02:44 pm:   

"Essentially, however, it is about getting out of boxes. About doing things different and (hopefully) better."

I totally agree with Cheryl's statement above. Writers should always strive against any artificial limitations... And there is a long tradition of writers decrying the existence the "movements" of which they have been associated with.

However... you can reach the point of beating a dead horse... if you want to get out of a box... get out of it. WRITE something. Get out of the box with your writing, not by arguing about weather a label is a movement is a box is a tool for literary fascism is a crutch for the weak is whatever.... JUST WRITE! write criticism about other authors works... write new works... write scathing reviews... but don’t write ABOUT "the movement..." nothing cements a movement into the pages of history more than spirited debate about weather it exists or not. If you are talking about it, it exists. Its sort of like quantum physics, in that regard. The act of observation affects the subject....

Write mysteries. Write Romance, Write thrillers... write mainstream novels with no fantastic elements whatsoever... keep writing the way you always right. Do a “Dan Simmons,” for gods sake. His first novel was a psychological horror novel... his second was a vampire novel. He could have easily fallen into a box, but he got out of it, by writing a brilliant space opera. Then he wrote a mainstream novel about the lives of astronauts. Then he wrote a straight ahead thriller that featured mathematical theory. He stayed out of any boxes by constantly challenging himself. And he managed to create a successful career in commercial fiction while he was at it. He didn't give a shit about labels, and he didn't engage in endless debate over weather the labels were appropriate. He just wrote what he wanted to.

What a damn fine example... If you are REALLY worried about being confined in a box, write something that clearly doesn’t fit in that box. Otherwise you are just being pedantic.

Sorry… I don’t mean to step on any toes… but I wanted to interject a little bit of perspective here…. It’s not like ANY of the writers discussed or participating in this thread have been stifled or hurt by the presence of this Label. Use your resentment of being labeled as a catalyst for a new/stunning/kickass piece of fiction or whatever. But don’t spend any more time worrying about weather this label is going to limit you, or any other writers. At this stage, THE LABEL can only help you, and if you don’t recognize that, you are naive about the business side of writing. Be aware of the negative things that labels can bring… let this awareness inform what you do, and how you do it… but don’t WORRY about it. And don’t try and come up with alternate labels, cause they will help you less, and be just as confining.

I like new weird… cause I can say that instead of Magic Realism. As a reader and publisher, and bookseller, I find it useful. I don’t expect all writers inside or outside the “new weird” box to like the box, or stay there. As was pointed out earlier… the term isn’t there for writers. Its there for us other schmoos. Any writer who relies on these terms as a crutch inevitably ends up crippled, anyway. Just keep writing. And when your done with that, write some more. The rest will work itself out.

-jl
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Cheryl Morgan
Posted on Wednesday, June 11, 2003 - 02:53 pm:   

Jeff: "writers should be in constant flux on such issues"

Absolutely. That is part of it too. Kathryn got rather irritated with the TTA discussion because, I think, she felt that the definition of NW was continually being chopped down until nothing was left except maybe Mike and China. But what I actually think was happening was a continual process of refusal to be defined. Which is what you get when someone has a label that doesn't want to be a label.

And happy to be here. I know Mike and China fairly well (have interviewed them both), and I've lived in both the UK and US. Possibly I will be able to spot a few cultural differences before they blow up into flame wars.

Of course it also means I'll now never get any work done. All we need is for Jonathan or KJ to start one of these things in Australia and we can do without sleep as well.
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Jeremy Lassen
Posted on Wednesday, June 11, 2003 - 02:59 pm:   

“ I think it's awfully presumptuous for any pair of writers, no matter who they are, to not only be able to say what *is* "New Weird" but also, more importantly, *what isn't*. “

Jeff,

The act of creating is Presumptuous. The act of reviewing a work of art is presumptuous… the act of literary criticism is presumptuous. The act of calling somebody else’s actions presumptuous is in fact itself presumptuous (because it implies a complete understanding of the motives, and reasons for the other person’s actions).

The acts presumption does not necessarily invalidate the act. You may in fact have a complete understanding of the motives and reasons for the persons actions…


All artistic/literary endeavors are presumptuous… they are by their nature, acts of hubris. This includes literary criticism, and the act of trying to describe any artistic endeavor. The act of description will always have its limitations… will always have its blind spots… will never fully describe what it is that is being discussed. It will always be shadows on the wall of the cave.

Recognize that. Recognize the shortcomings of the shadow. But don’t decide that the shadow is useless and or serves no purpose. Dismissing the shadow as irrelavant is not only presumptuous, but misses the point of the shadow entirely.

Having said that, mistaking the shadow for reality also misses the point. Don't confuse the label for the work.

peace out.

-jl
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Cheryl Morgan
Posted on Wednesday, June 11, 2003 - 03:02 pm:   

Jeremy: really liked the quantum analogy. I suspect Mike will like it too. Have tossed it in his direction. Hopefully it won't explode.
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JeffV
Posted on Wednesday, June 11, 2003 - 03:33 pm:   

Jeremy:

You are a series of Zen koans or bumperstickers today. The act of creation is a necessity, not a presumption. The shadow in this case seems to me to be an inaccurate shadow. It is a shadow that is actually harmful.

I think, at base, I feel the opposite way of Cheryl--that the discussion on TTA is not aimed at non-labeling. That it is aimed at excluding--that's a different matter. And that dissent is being ridiculed or being snuffed out. I didn't feel a conversation was going on on those boards.

I'm fairly consistent in believing that labeling is harmful, beyond the kind of "this book is like Mieville" that goes on in marketing because you need to make the book-buyer buy the darn book.

JeffV

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Kathryn Cramer
Posted on Wednesday, June 11, 2003 - 03:35 pm:   

> But what I actually think was happening was a continual process of refusal to be defined.

I was willing to entertain the whole *post-Seattle No Logos* stance for the purpose of discussion, but what the whole exercise proved to me was that you can't really discuss literature in those terms unless you are talking only about a single author. I think I've learned my lesson and won't be drawn into a literary discussion on those terms again.

For the uninitiated, post-Seattle refers to the Seattle WTO thing as a pivitol event and No Logos aparently refers to Naomi Klein, who has codified post-Seattle politics or some such. It is the globalization of anti-globalization.

I have other problems with what I understand to be post-Seattle politics, but as a literary impulse, I think post-Seattlism DOA. It energized the discussion by creating suspense but prevented most of the actual discussion from taking place.

You just plain have to be able to say what you are talking about to have a meaningful discussion of literature. I think the noses out of joint are largely a result of the failure of this experiment.
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JeffV
Posted on Wednesday, June 11, 2003 - 03:52 pm:   

Yes--I agree. In fact, I'm beginning to regret posting anything about it at all. I feel like I'm being reduced to slogans and to half-articulate mumblings.

I'm not sure message boards are the best way to carry out a discussion of this nature.

Time to go back to the novel.

JeffV
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Cheryl Morgan
Posted on Wednesday, June 11, 2003 - 03:58 pm:   

Aargh. Had a long post written and the browser crashed. Let's try again.

Jeff: sorry if you felt the discussion was exclusionary. I guess Mike may have been somewhat antagonistic towards Kathryn (who seemed to be cheerfully pushing his buttons). He has a thing about editors. Go read my interview with him on Strange Horizons. Especially the bit about getting 20 page letters explaining how he should rewrite the Viriconium books so as to turn them into "proper" fantasy. Maybe then things will become clear.

But then again, you said: "A truly revolutionary fiction may contradict itself, it may be in constant argument with itself. It may never settle
down into a definable, finite, consistent beast." And Mike, China and I have all said that this is exactly what we want from NW.

Kathryn: Ignore the Seattle thing (which I suspect pushed buttons that no one in the UK knew you had). If NW were about smashing up Starbucks and Naomi Klein I wouldn't be there. If it has any meaning at all, it is to do with word-of-mouth globalization, as opposed to globalization by publisher's marketing departments. It is, perhaps, a recognition that writers can get the word out without relying on corporate marketing, in the same way that the Seattle folks got the word out without the mass media.
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Jay C
Posted on Wednesday, June 11, 2003 - 04:11 pm:   

Jeff, you know, the TTA board is like a British pub where the genre clique gets together to assign literary importance to what they do, all nodding sagely and mumbling together into their beers dressed in black. I've seen it at umpteen meets and I personally think that it's peculiarly British in its origin. The written word must have literary worth, and so there is much grasping and posturing in the aether as well as the smokey bar. We belong. We are. Therefore we are important. How many of the readers give a shit for this kind of stuff?
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jeff ford
Posted on Wednesday, June 11, 2003 - 04:11 pm:   

Jeff: Yeah, I think Jeremy makes a good point. To say a movment is pointless and then to complain that it is exclusionary, is like that Woody Allen joke -- This restaurant serves terrible food, and such small portions. But, what the fuck? It's all gas and fun anyway. It is this kind of stuff that eventually does make actually writing seem a joy, though.

Best,


Jeff
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Kathryn Cramer
Posted on Wednesday, June 11, 2003 - 04:14 pm:   

I admit to cheerfully pushing his buttons.

If I'd understood the Seattle thing to start with, I would have ignored it. I was caught quite by surprise by it.

Mike lost his sense of humor after a while. So I got very serious and summed up what seemed to be their established position, however foolish and however much I had goaded them into it.

(I'm still giggling over having goaded China into his *I'll do with Delany as I please* remark.)
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Cheryl Morgan
Posted on Wednesday, June 11, 2003 - 04:20 pm:   

Jay: pub talk it certainly is. But I'm curious as to why you seem to think that it is pretentious. Are you suggesting that it doesn't matter whether what we write has any literary worth? Sure the readers mostly don't care. They wouldn't buy formula fantasy if they did. But shouldn't the writers care about what they do?
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Cheryl Morgan
Posted on Wednesday, June 11, 2003 - 04:23 pm:   

<splutter> Kathryn: don't do that when I have a drink in my hand.
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Kathryn Cramer
Posted on Wednesday, June 11, 2003 - 04:24 pm:   

Jeff: An instructive annecdote: I had conversations very like these at the 87 Brighton Worldcon. I felt badly about them. I was all upset. I thought I'd been made a fool of, condescended to, maybe made some enemies, etc. Then I found out a week later that the people I'd been having the raging arguments with were going around behind my back saying what an interesting person I was. I was a conversational ritual hazing of sorts. I had stood my ground and therefore I was now OK.

I wouldn't regret posting about it if I were you.
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Jay C
Posted on Wednesday, June 11, 2003 - 04:27 pm:   

Sure we can care about what we do. I care very much about what I do. That doesn't necessitate going into a group hug of self-definition. It is not up to the writers themselves to determine whether they have literary worth or if they're a movement. Wait, wait, I am a movement. Anybody want to join?
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JeffV
Posted on Wednesday, June 11, 2003 - 04:33 pm:   

I agree, Jeff F. and Jay C. And thanks, Kathryn.

To clarify--and then I really do think has to be the last post or I'm going to go mad from not working on the novel--

Re "exclusionary" and "pointless". I'm not sure it is contradictory. I'm holding two ideas in my head at once: (1) that it might have worth but is making itself useless by dint of being exclusionary in a way that limits its usefulness as a term and (2) that it's truly pointless and in that case, as you say, it hardly matters what's included or not. Except you'd think those who are buying into the term would not be so quick to exclude if they want the term taken seriously.

Anyway, much of what Jeremy says above applies. You can always count on the Russian mafia with the souls of poets.

JeffV
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Liz 'briefly in stroppy mood' Williams
Posted on Wednesday, June 11, 2003 - 04:39 pm:   

>Apparently, we are a bunch of raving maniacs who wish to tear limb-from-limb any New Weirdo we may find prancing about the >streets after dark near the Milk Bar.

Well, DUH! Yeah - that would be me.

I so don't care what I _am_. That's for other people to wrangle over, and I fear that I find that I do not give the proverbial flying fuck what they think.

I DO, however, care about what I _do_ and will continue to do it to the best of my ability.

Classification and action are two different things, and I'm afraid I agree that agonising over one's self-classification is just a touch pretentious, yes.

Assuming that this is what anyone is actually doing - not having several free months to spend going over the Bible-sized posts on TTA - if this is actually the case, then I'm sorry, I think it _is_ classic British pub stuff. It's goatee-stroking, copy-of-Being-and-Nothingness-in-the-back-
pocket-of-the-duffle-coat literary discussion, and it reached its apex in the 50s, in my not-at-all-humble opinion.

Not that there's anything particularly wrong with it, as long as the rest of us don't feel that have to join in. As indeed we don't, and as I just did.

Er.....





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Cheryl Morgan
Posted on Wednesday, June 11, 2003 - 04:44 pm:   

So Jay, who does get to determine whether a writer has literary worth? Clearly not the readers, because you have already said that most of them don't care. And how is a writer to know whether she's getting any better at her craft if she's not allowed to sit down with her friends and discuss the quality of her work?
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Jay C
Posted on Wednesday, June 11, 2003 - 04:50 pm:   

But, that's not what we're talking about here. That's not what is happening. This is a public proclamation glued together with philosospeak. Probably hindsight is what will truly determine it.

You know, you can get anything you want at Alice's Restaurant.

Questions of craft or the quality of work is not what this is about.
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jeff ford
Posted on Wednesday, June 11, 2003 - 04:58 pm:   

Liz: Goatee stroking -- that's classic.

best,


jeff
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Liz Williams
Posted on Wednesday, June 11, 2003 - 05:00 pm:   

Hang on...most of us do sit down with our friends and discuss quality. Reviews will give you a chilling insight into what people think of your work, and so will letters from readers. What we don't do is sit around defining ourselves. That's what critics and history are for - 'hindsight' is right.

Give it a couple of hundred years and we'll all probably be tiny little footnotes, squeaking like mice in the annals of literary history.

Most of us are just too busy to worry about this stuff. I have deadlines up the Swanee to worry about in terms of writing and delivering novels, short fic, reviews, critiques - not to mention day-to-day living. This kind of discussion is diverting enough to get briefly engaged with as a late night divertissement, but not much more than that.
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Luís Rodrigues
Posted on Wednesday, June 11, 2003 - 05:06 pm:   

But then again, you said: "A truly revolutionary fiction may contradict itself, it may be in constant argument with itself. It may never settle
down into a definable, finite, consistent beast." And Mike, China and I have all said that this is exactly what we want from NW.


That doesn't explain why everyone's rushing to name what apparently should remain indefinite and indescribable. I can't see any sense in it, sorry, or perhaps by brain is going into overload.

About Jeff's post on the other thread: I'm not waging war against any "New Weirdos" :-) either. I'm all for revolutionary fiction and genre-breaking stuff, and love to have it at Fantastic Metropolis. I said it many times (perhaps not publicly enough): I'll just excuse myself from reducing what could be a great thing to a name that I don't believe even properly describes it (for starters, why "New"?) It's a matter of conscience. While I share Jeff V.'s scepticism about the label, the cruces of my misgivings are a couple of different points that I raised here and on the TTA boards that I fear may eventually ruin the "New Weird": factious readers & reviewers, and the opportunism of publishers. China may well be against hierarchising categories (so am I), but that's not what happens in the real world. Just look at the mutual contempt with which many 'sf fans' and 'mainstreamers' regard each other. There are many more examples both inside and outside the genre. And what is a useful marketing tool can easily backfire if it becomes popular, as many will abuse the label in order to envelop other, more dubious works.

Not being a writer, I'm not so worried about creative limitations like, for example, making a conscious effort to write "New Weird" (and to write "New Weird" seems to be about escaping its very conventions too, a very Zen thing). With "New Weird" being so persistently touted as the next cool thing, I'm sure at least a couple of writers will take that plunge, and quite possibly sink and drown. Whatever, I don't want to look back and see myself pushing them off the "New Weird" plank.

I know it's ridiculous coming here just to tell you I'm out, but, like I said, it's a matter of conscience, and I want it as clear as possible, especially given the errors of my youth.

To conclude, I won't lose any sleep over what you'll call it, and I'm not so credulous as to believe it'll remain nameless forever. I would prefer if it emerged "naturally" rather than be enforced by the authors, but I'm not terribly particular, it may well be an irrelevant distinction in the end as far as practical results are concerned.

I'm just not taking part in it, much less as editor of Fantastic Metropolis, which I try to leave open to a very wide variety of literature. I don't mean to sound all self-important, but the responsibility of it does weigh heavily on me. The site would only suffer if people thought "New Weird" or "slipstream" were sufficient to encompass the whole of the material there.

Best,
Luís
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Cheryl Morgan
Posted on Wednesday, June 11, 2003 - 05:07 pm:   

No Jay, that is what you have defined as happening so you can toss rocks at it. You might not like what people are saying there. You might not want to have anything to do with it. But don't make gross misrepresentations like that just so that you can make cheap shots at people.
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Liz Williams
Posted on Wednesday, June 11, 2003 - 05:10 pm:   

Well, folks, I'm going to bed, head-butting the wall en route and drop-kicking the cat out of the window.

Tomorrow morning, the 'play nice' button on the Williams Version 2003 Model Fembot will be activated and I will once more be the sunny, pint-buying character you all know so well.

A demain!

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Jay C
Posted on Wednesday, June 11, 2003 - 05:17 pm:   

Don't think I've made any gross misrepresentations at all. Nor taking cheap shots. I think it's ideal stuff to write about in the literature sections of certain newspapers, but I don't think it serves or does a thing to better the quality of craft or the literary value of what's produced. And you know what? I refuse to get huffy about it.
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Laura Anne
Posted on Wednesday, June 11, 2003 - 05:42 pm:   

Absolutely fascinating discussion. Here, anyway. I refuse to go anywhere near TTA. Of course, that's what I said about this place, too. Ooops.

Speaking as someone who cheerfully writes and publishes disgustingly commercial books in with the occasional literary one, I can say with complete sincerity that trying to create a serious and defining label for something you yourself are doing is akin to measuring your dick in public. No matter how impressive it may be taken for itself, you still look like an ass to the people walking by.



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KJ Bishop
Posted on Wednesday, June 11, 2003 - 06:05 pm:   

> 'All we need is for Jonathan or KJ to start one of these things in Australia and we can do without sleep as well.'

Fuck, no. I can't speak for Jonathan, but from now on, any time anyone mentions New Weird, I'm going to make like Sir Robin and run away, away.

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Night Shade Books
Posted on Wednesday, June 11, 2003 - 06:36 pm:   

I'm with her. Everytime someone says New Weird, I'm going to publish a Guy N. Smith Crab novel. So watch what you say.

Jason
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GabrielM
Posted on Wednesday, June 11, 2003 - 07:25 pm:   

Well, I've started my essay on "96 Hours: The Rise and Fall of New Weird", chronicling the entire history of the movement from its early beginnings in an M. John Harrison TTA post to its death four days later when people on the same forum started using "New Weird" in the same sentence as "post-Seattle" and "globalization".

Oh, but what glorious, heady days those were....

(P.S.: Jeff, be sure to look for the section entitled, "Hour 36: The Vanderschism")
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Jonathan Strahan
Posted on Wednesday, June 11, 2003 - 11:05 pm:   

Hi all

It’s interesting to see this conversation reverberating around the Atlantic and beyond like some strange electronic sussurration based on a pub conversation that probably happened somewhere dark, rainy and cold a few days back. Like Kirsten, I won’t be creating an OZ version, but I’ve been interested in what’s been said by everyone.

A little while ago JeffV wrote: "I'm not sure message boards are the best way to carry out a discussion of this nature." I don't really agree and the main reason that I don't is that I've found the discussions here and over at TTA to be interesting, provocative, frustrating, annoying, vague, fascinating and generally worthwhile. This is, as I posted to Kathryn’s blog, like the world’s most evolved fanzine letter column. I mean it’s 100,000+ words of discussion, analysis and bluff by people who are actively involved in what’s happening. I think it’s actually pretty wonderful. It just refuses to come to a point.

On the actual New Weird thing: I really don’t know. I tend to think that taxonomy should follow taxidermy, not precede it. So, if I had my rathers, I’d leave everyone in peace for a while and see what evolves. Then we can determine what it is that happened. That is, of course, unless one of the major players wants to start a movement or whatever with a DANGEROUS VISIONS or MIRRORSHADES (which I doubt). I do think the time will come for definitions, lists of writers, core texts etc., but I tend to think that’s the work of readers, critics etc and writers should probably get on with writing and not worry too much about it.

On embattlement: I’ve always found this curious and rather odd. What I mean by it is the way that person A is threatened by what person B is doing, even though those things have nothing to do with one another. For example, it’s like a reader of CITY OF SAINTS AND MADMEN feeling angry about the success of the new Robert Jordan novel. Apart from being non-realist fictions, the two books (and I suspect the two writers) have nothing in common. Yes, it would be wonderful if both were equally successful in commercial terms, but why get angry?* I don’t get it.

Best
Jonathan


* I should clarify – I’m not talking about Jeff or Jordan being angry, but folk who get angry on their behalf. For an example of someone being ‘embattled’, see Gabe Chouinard’s discussion here (http://hypermode.blogspot.com).
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Brendan
Posted on Wednesday, June 11, 2003 - 11:17 pm:   

Who determines if a writer has literary worth? Nobody. In many cases time does. But often even time fails. Literary worth? Pliny the Elder said he could learn something from any book . . . Movements? Without some kind of common moral, political or aesthetical goal a movement is not a movement but a stagnant pool.

Brendan
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Nicholas Liu
Posted on Thursday, June 12, 2003 - 01:35 am:   

I'm still not sure what all the fuss is about.
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Jack Haringa
Posted on Thursday, June 12, 2003 - 06:36 am:   

Jonathan wrote: "I tend to think that taxonomy should follow taxidermy, not precede it."

Very nicely said, and something that's been running through my head as I've read this and the interminable TTA thread. Unless someone fashions an intelligible manifesto of the New Weird (at least pointing to whether it's an aesthetic, thematic, structural, or other "movement")to which writers then actually subscribe, it's going to continue to seem like intellectual onanism to me--like most self-defining posturing about the arts. The majority of my own work over the past four years has been literary criticism rather than fiction, so I'm inclined to think that a certain historical perspective is necessary before a label of any critically functional quality can be constructed. Like them or not, taxonomies are inevitable, and as potentially liberating as it may seem for the authors categorized to get involved in the process, historically they (you) have little influence in how those taxonomies are constructed. With the exception of those rare manifestoed/ anthologized movements, taxonomies are made by three basic groups of readers, not by authors directly affected by the categorization: publishers, magazine editors, and booksellers; readers and fans; and literary critics (both academic and review-based) collaborate and conflict to hash out the details of literary taxonomy.

A second point (which was raised elsewhere either in this thread or over at TTA) that ought really to be making a larger impact on the discussion is the question of what precisely is being categorized. This also addresses the concern of being boxed as an author. We ought not to be talking about taxonomizing writers--as Jeremy pointed out, that sort of exercise is utterly pointless when dealing with an author like Dan Simmons, for instance. Genre definitions hardly ever fit writers even remotely well; they are designed to categorize works of fiction, not their creators. We may talk about Elizabeth Hand as a fantasy writer, but that's a gross and unfair generalization and fits only some of her works--The Glimmering is near-future, apocalyptic SF, for example, while Black Light is supernatural horror. All of her work is broadly "speculative fiction" or even more broadly "popular fiction," but there's no one genre category that fits Elizabeth Hand the author. If the New Weird label is going to mean something, it needs to become specific in its definition by pointing to works, not authors, that fit whatever criteria (aesthetic, formal, thematic) it thinks are integral to it.

Right now, it seems that the New Weird as a label is fairly pointless because it's being torn in two directions that render it useless. If JeffV is right, then its definition is hopelessly hyperspecific because "Mike and China" do not a category make. On the other hand, if its defining characteristic is "doing new good stuff in spec-fic," then it's hopelessly overgeneralized, and any subjective reader can throw anything he or she likes into the mix. [This second definition reminds me of one of my favorite bumper stickers: "Some people's minds are so open that their brains fall out."] A genre definition has to be measured not only against the content of the works that comprise it, but also against the exisiting genre definitions against which it is opposed or to which it offers an alternative. So far, New Weird is doing none of the necessary things to be useful to critics, readers, or publishers. I don't really know how it's meant to be useful to authors, except as a point of self-aggrandizement.

~Jack~
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Alan DeNiro
Posted on Thursday, June 12, 2003 - 08:43 am:   

Personally, I prefer PUFOFUS

People's United Front of Fucked Up Shit

Feel free to use that.
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Kathryn Cramer
Posted on Thursday, June 12, 2003 - 08:50 am:   

Good thoughtful post, Jack.

In retrospect, I think there are two major areas which need further exploration:

1) *What* are they talking about? -- the general question of what is the New Weird.

and

2) *How* are they talking about it. The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that they have imported the "post-Seattle" tactics into litcrit and it's a dreadful fit.

The *what* can't really be dealt with until the *how* is sorted out. And Mike and China are really insistent on the second point, and it is on the second point much more than the first that I am in radical disagreement with them.
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JeffV
Posted on Thursday, June 12, 2003 - 08:52 am:   

I've read over the thread and although I think China is perfectly sincere re the New Weird and perhaps not "presumptuous," I still believe my original statement at the beginning of this thread accurately reflects my position. And is an accurate statement.

JeffV
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Alan DeNiro
Posted on Thursday, June 12, 2003 - 09:16 am:   

On a more semi-serious note on my part...

I've being staying out of the TTA Press discussion. 2Fast, 2 Furious.

Personally, I prefer the Interstitial Arts approach better. (I know Cheryl threw that in there a couple of times--did any of them appear interested in that at all?). Interstitiality, although more of a mouthful, seems to me to be a little more descriptive than New Weird, and more of an umbrella organization, a big tent, rather than a small tent, or at least a highly jostled one. Plus, IA does have a track record in terms of publishing at least in terms of what Terry has been placing in YBFH.

Also, the NW discussion, in many places (although not all) seems top-down heavy. A lot of the talk seems to be in regards to getting publishers to notice, to have some marketing...presence or vibe in which to create a collective publishing identity.

All well and good on one level; in fact, creating that kind of meta-identity was one of the reasons we started the Ratbastards. But this need to give something for big publishers to sink their teeth into, while not bad in of itself, doesn't HAVE TO BE where the action is in the first place. Which is where the small press and zines come in, which have sprung up more (I hate to use this word, but) organically of late. Rather than worrying about Terry Goodkind as The Enemy, publish what you can, be a mammal and scurry between the legs of the dinosaur and be on your way.

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JeffV
Posted on Thursday, June 12, 2003 - 09:25 am:   

I tend to agree, Alan. And in light of New Weird, I'm finding Interstitial Arts, despite being a mouthful, much more attractive--both as a possible "approach" and as a way of perhaps focusing attention on this kind of work without having to pin it to a killing board.

Back in the day, we tried the term Literature of the Fantastic, but it didn't get very far.

JeffV
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Cheryl Morgan
Posted on Thursday, June 12, 2003 - 10:13 am:   

Now that's fascinating. Because every Brit I've talked to about Interstitial has tended to react in exactly the same way that you guys do to New Weird. I'd figured that it was just a "not part of our club" thing. But I'm starting to think that it may be cultural. That the way that British writers think about themselves, and crucially about their relationship to the industry, is significantly at odds with the way that American writers (at least as represented here and at IAF, and with apologies to KJ). Dunno. Maybe I'm just being pompous again. Gotta go off line for most of the rest of the day. Play with that one for a while if it amuses you.
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Liz Williams
Posted on Thursday, June 12, 2003 - 10:27 am:   

>People's United Front of Fucked Up Shit

NO! I want to belong to the United Front of People's Fucked Up Shit!!! <with apologies to the Life of Brian...)

Cheryl - how _do_ British writers think about themselves? I am not being difficult - just a question. On this board, we've got Brits, Americans and Aussies, many of whom seem to agree with one another.
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JeffV
Posted on Thursday, June 12, 2003 - 10:39 am:   

And I'd sign up for PUFFUS in a second. At least that group would know how to have a good laugh.

There ought to be more humor in this.

JeffV
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des
Posted on Thursday, June 12, 2003 - 10:49 am:   

I still like Outréism -
Or simply Small Press.
Anything without a corporate image.
Des
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John Klima
Posted on Thursday, June 12, 2003 - 10:54 am:   

JeffV:

How about Story Tellers Under Publisher's Insistent Descriptions? There's a group I can get behind!

JK
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Forrest
Posted on Thursday, June 12, 2003 - 10:54 am:   

Cheryl, could you clarifiy this?

"the way that British writers think about themselves, and crucially about their relationship to the industry, is significantly at odds with the way that American writers"

I'm not sure if I agree or disagree because I don't know what it is your hinting at.

I tend to like "Interstitial" along with Alan, because it allows equal egress from just about any angle. Mainstream writers can get away with fantastical stories under it's umbrella, and primarily fantastical writers can focus on relationships and inner character development (normally the purview of "realist" writers) as well. I don't think the term "Interstitial" has been around long enough to be loaded with connotations, either. It's the closest thing to a non-label label that I can think of. It's also timeless - not tied to 1960s Latin America, or 1920s France, or anything New, Old, or otherwise. It denotes a "space" within fiction, not a particular atmosphere or writing style. I like it best of the labels that I hate (ie, all of them).

Forrest Aguirre
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Jack Haringa
Posted on Thursday, June 12, 2003 - 11:30 am:   

I'm a bit wary of the term "interstitial" for a couple of reasons. One is knee-jerk: it smacks too much to me of post-modernist/post-structural critical terms like Lacan's "liminal" modes and figures and the god-awful, vague, and very useless term "intertextuality." Then again, Derrida and Baudrillard make my blood boil, so that can all be taken with a grain of salt.

My second objection to "interstitial" is that it offers only a negative description: "this is what we are not" or "this is where we aren't." It allows other genre definition--those to which it is ostensibly opposed--to provide its boundaries. If this category exists between x and y, or within the overlap of x and y, then it agrees with the definitions of x and y tacitly. If the genre/movement is offering itself as something new, then it needs to be adding a circle to the Venn diagram, not coloring in an overlap.

Then again, I'm a formalist at heart, and I may be misreading the intent of "interstitial" as a defining term. (Intent? Fallacy upon fallacy!)

~Jack~
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Des
Posted on Thursday, June 12, 2003 - 11:59 am:   

A Pocket Sea of Genre Labels.
Des
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China
Posted on Thursday, June 12, 2003 - 12:53 pm:   

I had absolutely no idea this thread existed until just now. I also had no idea Kathryn felt flamed. If by me, I can only apologise. I was shirty because I felt misunderstood - radically misunderstood - which is of course quite probably my own fault. (And I stand by what I said about Delany)

This is no place to get into the specifics, people have obviously made up their minds and can continue to do so. I only want to make something clear about my own position.

I don't think of New Weird as a movement but a moment, a moment that's a bit useful in getting to grips with what's going on. It wasn't an attempt to create a movement, and as far as I'm concerned it wasn't invented by me. Mike came up with it, and in discussing it and tentatively, tentatively getting to grips with its shifting parameters, it *did a job* for me in making sense of a load of shit that I hadn't been able to make sense of until then, it drew connections where I'd sensed them but not been able to *make* sense of them. Therefore it's a term I find useful, because right now, it *helps me understand*. It's not a club, it's not a ghetto, it's an argumentative intervention.

As to the other stuff (the usefulness or otherwise of labels, eg) I've laid out my positions. I am *STUNNED BLIND* this discussion has generated so much heat.
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JeffV
Posted on Thursday, June 12, 2003 - 01:29 pm:   

I think it's the nature of message board discussions, China, for one thing, to generate heat. It may be heat lightning, though. Even reading through all of the TTA threads, it wasn't really evident what the intent was. It wasn't until I talked to you this morning, that I really understood the intent. At that point, I felt less passionate about debating it.

I'm not sure you've really come to grips with postmodern through this process, though--I think you've just decided to disregard postmodern. Which is unfortunate. Because "postmodern" contains so many different approaches and techniques.

Of course people are passionate about it, and at a gut level, *because* there is a sea change. Different things *are* being created. But in all directions, not one or two directions.

And some people, myself included, are wary of labels, as they should be.

Like you, I've found the discussion has solidified my own positions/thoughts about fantastical literature, though. I remain committed to the same approach I've had throughout virtually my entire career, going back as far as 1988.

And this thread started off, frankly, as a joke (see the prior iteration of it) among friends. I feel badly that that was misinterpreted as a true slagging off of an interesting conversation going on on the TTA message boards.

On the other hand, the Harrison threads feel constrictive to me--not interested in true dialog, or in getting a variety of opinions from voices, but more in scoring points and laying traps for people to fall into.

JeffV
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JeffV
Posted on Thursday, June 12, 2003 - 01:44 pm:   

BTW--this is absolutely my last post to this thread. I just don't have the time. Regardless of the interest level. But, please, do go on...

JeffV
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Liz Williams
Posted on Thursday, June 12, 2003 - 01:48 pm:   

Well, I obviously can't speak for anyone else, but it isn't true heat on my part (don't do heat, for the record - if I'm ever truly put out, as opposed to mildly irked, sub zero arctic temperatures are more likely to result...). But I don't mind letting the evil twin out of her closet now and again. She needs the exercise.

(And alas, some of us are used to academia - wasn't it Harold Wilson who said that it was a great relief to leave the venom and spleen of Oxford for the polite and gentlemanly world of national politics? :-) )

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China
Posted on Thursday, June 12, 2003 - 02:33 pm:   

'I'm not sure you've really come to grips with postmodern through this process, though--I think you've just decided to disregard postmodern.'

I spent about the first half of my intellectual life studying and thinking about postmodernism, and most of my late teens and early twenties as a 'postmodernist' of one stamp or another (also as a wanker, but who wasn't?). I was a huge admirer of many pomo writers of fiction as well as non-fiction. My falling out with a specific trope of one kind of postmodernist fiction (though I retain all sorts of admiration for many 'pomo' writers) was gradually arrived at, and took me a long time and a lot of thought to make sense of. It was the result of a great deal of gut-tugging, searching, thought, and theorising. Of course my critique may be wrong, it may be stupid, it may be self-defeating, it may be a thousand things, but it is the opposite of a blithe decision to disregard.

Hi Liz: I have no objections to polemical debate, either. I *love* academia, for my sins. :-) I *like* arguing.

Some people find the Harrison tta threads constrictive. Fair enough. Me? I've found those threads *humbling* in the amount they've taught me about fiction over the last month or so. Diff'rent Strokes, I guess.
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jeff ford
Posted on Thursday, June 12, 2003 - 02:48 pm:   

China: I agree with you to a large extent, concerning the devices of post-modernism. It's the reason why when asked which is Calvino's works is his best, people will often "say" If On a Winter's Night... but know in their hearts that it is really The Baron in the Trees. Nothing beats a great story, straight up, well told.
Reflexivity has limits and they are soon reached and are annoying when what you find beneath is empty. In Jeff's City of Saints, it became the focus of reviews, and I think actually sometimes to his detriment, sometimes not. Thier touting the novelty of the book made a lot of people take notice. What wasn't too well discussed was the terrific writing and story telling. These were the aspects of it that really drew me to it. The vision of Ambergris and the craft and style of the writing.
I don't mind a work that utilizes meta-fictonal devices if there is something worth seeing inside.

Best,

Jeff
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China
Posted on Thursday, June 12, 2003 - 02:56 pm:   

Hi Jeff. I've always admired JeffV's Ambergris stories hugely, for many of the same reasons you cite, and he and I have done rounds on the *other* stuff, the 'metafictional' stuff, which it's clear means a lot to him but which, yes, I have issues with.

This is currently obsessing me, this question of quite why it is I don't much like 'fourth-wall breaking' (except in pre-modernity. Yay Chaucer! Yay Tristram Shandy!). It's been the basis of a couple of talks I gave recently, and another I'm about to. I hesitate to go into it as it's probably dull as ditchwater to everyone else, but I'd love to talk to you about it over a beer. Worldcon, anyone...?

Great to hear from you, China
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jeff ford
Posted on Thursday, June 12, 2003 - 03:12 pm:   

China: Perhaps the reason why is that there is so little in life today that is honest and straightforward. And people can tell me that there was just as much deceit in the world when Chaucer wrote, but with what I've seen even in the last two years, on every level, I doubt it.
One of the things that pissed me off about the post modernists when I studied with some of those guys you were probably reading in your classes, was that they felt it encumbent upon writers to break the wall so that readers would not get caught up in the illusion of reading. That struck me as some kind of puritanical bullshit. Actually the puritans held fiction to be the devil's work because it set up an illusion against God's creation. When Jonathan Edwards finally got hip, and incorporated fictional techniques of metaphor etc. in his sermons, people were falling out in the aisle. It was like foisting smallpox off on the Native american tribes. They had no anti-bodies. But I give the reader credit. If my old man sits reading moby Dick at night, he isn't likely to forget he has to get up and go to work the next day, or deal with the daily bullshit or be disgusted with the politicians. What comes from the dreaming while wide awake that is reading is a powerful creative energy and exercise for the imagination. and one needs those to survive these times.

Best,


Jeff
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John Langan
Posted on Thursday, June 12, 2003 - 07:58 pm:   

Jeff and China,

As someone who's still scouting the territories of postmodernism, I'm a bit leery at offering too many sweeping generalizations about it. However, what I've read thus far of postmodern fiction leads me to believe that, rather than being a self-referential mis-en-abyme, most postmodern fiction is deeply interested in and even invested in narration, so much so that I think this period might well be looked back on as the great rebirth of story. Sure, there are writers like Donald Barthelme and Robert Coover who try to smash the narrative machine, but they strike me as a minority (if a brightly-plumaged one). Even writers like John Barth and Thomas Pynchon, whom I think might be lumped together with Barthelme and Coover as the patron saints of pomo, are fundamentally obsessed with story. At the risk of upsetting the whole apple cart, I wonder if it wasn't the writers we designate the moderns who didn't do more of a number of narrative (think of Faulkner, Woolf: all those narrators happening to the same event; think of the importance of the (lyric) epiphany in Joyce and Hemingway)? I don't want to push this point too far: it's simply that I find a great deal of story in Salman Rushdie and Peter Carey, and I think of them as pomo writers.

At the risk of sawing off the limb I've climbed out onto, I wonder if there aren't two issues (for want of a better term) at play here: The first is the confusing of a lot of postmodern theory with the literature written contemporaneously (though even Baudrillard emphasizes the importance of narrative to the postmodern condition); it seems to me that much postmodern theory has been responding to modernity, and that we're still in the process of figurig out how to respond to the pomo cultural moment. The second issue is that there may be more than postmodernism: in the same way some critics are starting to speak of different modernisms, it may well be (in fact, it strikes me there most likely are) that there are numerous postmodernisms: some placing more emphasis on the kind of self-referential inertia that frustrates the two of you, some more concerned with narrative. (The fact that the former has attracted more critical attention has no doubt helped it become identified as pomo with a capital P, but we need not accept such definitions.)

Thanks for listening.

Best wishes to you both,

John
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Alan DeNiro
Posted on Thursday, June 12, 2003 - 09:00 pm:   

A little theory heavy, but the review of this book points towards links between many recent "postmodern" novels and the work of Sir Walter Scott:

http://www.electronicbookreview.com/v3/servlet/ebr?command=view_essay&essay_id=d ouglasce

She posits the term "metahistorical romance" as more descriptive than "postmodern novel"-- clunky but interesting, imo

But yeah, some theory.
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John Langan
Posted on Thursday, June 12, 2003 - 09:38 pm:   

Two P.S.'s to my above post, one minor, the other more lengthy:

1. Lyotard is the theorist who's big on narrative.

2. I, too, love Tristram Shandy, and I wonder if some of its power doesn't come from its sentimentalism. This is distinct from sentimentality: the "-ism" is the honest expression of emotion, the "-ality" is the wallowing in it. I must confess, I find this a tad difficult to discuss all that well, because the critical vocabularies we have in place today by and large don't know what to do when faced with a narrative's emotional content. Nonetheless, for all its textual gamesmanship, the novel is a deeply felt one: Tristram's family are all lovingly, if eccentrically, imagined: in fact, a good part of the reason he (and we) love them as much as we do lies exactly in those eccentricities. In addition, the impetus behind Tristram's endlessly-delayed project is a very real fear experience of and fear of pain and death. I think that a number of the writers who fall under the postmodern rubric have been trying to make their way back to something closer to this use of emotion, whether it be Kerouac in Doctor Sax, or Rushdie in The Moor's Last Sigh.
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Cheryl Morgan
Posted on Thursday, June 12, 2003 - 10:13 pm:   

OK, got some time to catch up. Only brief though. Gotta rush off to Australia tomorrow night. So unless KJ wants to pop up to Sydney for a coffee (or has a spare ticket for the Wallabies game on the 21st) I'm out of here for a week and a half as of tomorrow afternoon.

Backtracking a bit, Alan: I think I agree with you about the small mammal thing. However, bear in mind that there is very little in the way of small press in the UK. We did have Big Engine, but that folded last month. There may be fiction zines like Rosebud Wristlet, but the only one I've heard of is Sheherazade (which I've leave to Liz to plug).

Now, Liz: clearly there is no particular way that British authors think. Or Americans, Australians or Martians. But one of the things that living on three continents teaches you is that there are cultural differences, and that you can get into big trouble if you run foul of them. I'm just wondering if we've found one here.

To highlight why I'm confused, just look at the situation we have here. The Interstitial Arts Foundation (IAF, much less of a mouthful) is a genuine formal organization that aims to take a very broad role in the industry. Although they are very polite about it, they make no bones about the fact that they consider lots of us to be part of them. If you are Slipstream, if you are New Weird, if you are Jeff Vandermeer, then you have been co-opted as Interstitial. What is more, they have a manifesto, they claim to be a movement, they want to go out and represent us to publishers, academia and the public. These are all things that New Weird has been accused of doing, which has caused great ire here. And they are all things that everyone I know well who is involved with New Weird is adamantly opposed to doing.

So what is going on? You think that Interstitial is OK, even though it claims to be doing many of the things you are complaining about New Weird doing. And you hate New Weird even though people keep telling you that it isn't about what you are saying it is about.

Something else that struck me is that several people here said that they found IAF less unpleasant because it they had a clear manifesto. So maybe it is simply a clarity thing. But the British people I have talked to about Interstitial (which does not include Liz) find it disturbing, mainly because it has a clear, campaigning manifesto.

It is all very odd.
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jeff ford
Posted on Thursday, June 12, 2003 - 10:32 pm:   

John: The original impetus behind post modernism was to break down the hegemony of Western thought, to de-center the experience of the reader and make it more free floating so that the usual assumptions one makes about the world can not be relied upon and one can experience creation anew. If you think about the image of God in the old testament, sitting outside the world and playing mankind like the puppet master, smoting this individual, sending a plague out over there, totally in charge, that is analogous to the way the western mind and we, supposedly, as individuals view our lives – with us at the center of the universe. Think about it, when you get into an elevator and there are two other people in there speaking in a language you don’t understand, what or who are they talking about? The reason the New Testament (and believe me, I’m not approaching this from a religious standpoint) is a revolutionary work is that God is cast out of his position at the center and is forced to wander the world, errantly. Many writers throughout the history of literature have dealt with this idea. One can easily see it in Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, Petronius, The Confidence Man by Melville, even The Gilgamesh, to name just a few. Foucault goes into this in Discipline and Punish. He shows us the Panopticon, a design for a prison where one guard, in the center at the top of a tower can view and guard all the prisoners. We are all in the panopticon and post-modernism’s mission was to remove us from the center, to make us wander errantly and discover the world one day at a time, one minute at a time, to sunder all assumptions of entitlement and supremacy. Even though the center feels safe and comfortable, it is in its own way a prison. To quote the Misfit at the end of Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” when speaking of the controlling grandmother – “She would have been a good woman if there was someone there to shoot her every minute of her life.” This idea, I find to be a valid one. Look around at the presumed centrality of the Western mind today, at work all over the world. Think about how the majority of people in this country view their importance in relation to existence (I’m not excluding myself here). It’s laughable. Our gas guzzling autos, our commodity guzzling lives, our feeling of entitlement. Some writers achieved the effect of de-centering by the kinds of stories they told and tell. Others used or use meta-fictional devices that at times become controlling and gimmicky. And the reader feels like they are being manipulated, as if someone is trying to do them some good, as if they might not know any better. As Thoreau said, “If I knew someone was coming to my home to do me good, I’d run in the other direction as fast as possible.” What I find interesting is that some of those same meta-fictional devices, like those Shakespeare employs in The Tempest, can also serve to bring the reader more deeply into the fiction and not break them from the vivid and continuous dream that is experienced when reading a great story. It depends on the writer. So I don’t think the discussion is really about the ideas behind post-modernism as much as it is about the means or necessity of achieving the effect in fiction, whether it is a natural outgrowth of the writer’s experience, subconscious, art and craft or merely a gimmick used as a club. Sometimes, even the person with the key to the prison cell, promising to set you free, can be a fascist.
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Michael Cisco
Posted on Thursday, June 12, 2003 - 11:36 pm:   

"New Weird" - The general level of interest in or demand for this kind of writing is new. The novelty or strangeness, experimentation or freedom of this writing is not necessarily new, but the interest is. All of this is a matter of examining the thing, as China M. says above, as a moment in history when there is this sudden and very unexpected convergence of writers and readers. This entails pressing words against the sleek and resisting vagueness of something that has only just started happening. (I'm digging it myself).

To me, postmodernism is a movement that went farther than was merited by the philosophical work that triggered it, based largely on a series of misinterpretations and impetuous transpositions or generalizations from the work of a handful of thinkers like Derrida or de Man (I'll leave the latter to his own devices). Derrida was the product of a highly conservative and conventional education, principally in the philosophy curriculum. Very few students in literature departments are qualified to read his writing carefully, and his writing demands exceptionally careful reading (and even then it isn't necessarily all interesting). When he uses words like "pharmakon" or "transcendental", for example, he employs them in a technical sense derived directly from Plato or Kant, both of whom he has read and referenced in their original languages. When such texts are offered to students in introductory methods classes, who have nothing like a systematic background in canonical philosophy, and when such a style of writing is represented to them as a method of thinking, which is not exactly what it is, then the results are predictably inferior. Derrida doesn't eliminate or discard the Western way of thinking, or look for an alternative, so much as he, unless I am mistaken, employs it ironically. This irony doesn't at all vitiate its importance; the aim is finally Thoreau's aim, to remain free. What does this freedom mean? I think it means freedom for thought. The problem with thinking is that it's uncomfortable, and always looking for a way to stop (it resembles physical exercise), and final answers, systems, etc. represent and end of thought. The aim of this new kind of thinking was ultimately self-preservation; thought doesn't want to die into final answers. In the end, I think Derrida intends a kind of thinking which is not an end in itself exactly, but which always leaves an opening by means of which it can escape and move freely around the question again.
(audience: ZZZZZZZZZZZ)
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Michael Cisco
Posted on Thursday, June 12, 2003 - 11:43 pm:   

(Oh God not him again)

Just a bit about meta/fourth wall, because I go in for this kind of thing myself. This is just my nonsense, but I like the idea my characters know they are characters in a narrative. In "The Tyrant", one of my characters reaches out an idly strokes the words you are (at that time) reading - from the other side of course - like a bead curtain. I like this idea because - and I think this is an element in modernism, especially Joyce and Proust - it seems to me that we, or at least I, think in narrative, understand the world by means of narrative and even by means of fictions, and so the meta-narrative is not about fictions within fictions and the disorientation of a mise-en-abyme for me as it is a matter of establishing a continuum between the characters and the readers, based on something other than say, verisimilitude in the rendering of a setting or a way of life.
I'll climb back into the teapot now and be quiet.
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DF Lewis
Posted on Friday, June 13, 2003 - 12:11 am:   

Just a minor interpolation on my part. I have read many of the writers being discussed here (Barth, Barthelme, Rushdie, VanderMeer, Mieville, Sterne, Chaucer etc etc over the fifty odd years I''ve been reading) - and I love metatfictional work (I think I understand what that means!) -- metafics giving some belief in a system beyond the plot because it implies there are Russian Doll worlds inside each other (ad infinitum), giving more believablity and wonder to each meta-level. Having said that, books, for me, go in one eye and out the other. I don't reconcile or rationalise them. I genuinely don't understand much of what has been said on this thread and the TTA one about New Weird. Like my love of music, my reception of art goes, I think, into a cabinetless sump where it must percolatte (I guess) --- and this process makes my imaginative and creative life simply *better* than it was, but otherwise indefinable and unphilosophisable. Just a phenemonological sunbed. My memory is poor. I can't remember plots or the complexities of all the books I have read. I am very ecelectic and catholic in my tastes. But I love brainstorming. And I've found much inspiration (if not understanding) in these New Weird threads. More power to the elbow of my nameless sump, I say! So I also say thanks. But *what* is postmodernism? I've never really known. Des
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Jack Haringa
Posted on Friday, June 13, 2003 - 05:51 am:   

Caitlin Kiernan introduced me to the phrase "trash taxon"--essentially a label that doesn't have a useful definition or really describe anything in particular and into which taxonomists throw everything for which they don't already have a name. In terms of literary taxonomies, this is post-modernism. I have the same complaint about it as I do with "interstitial" as a descriptor: it offers only a negative definition, one limited purely by its predecessors (in this case) or its contemporaries (as with "interstitial"). It strikes me as a reactionary term, and a vague one at that--certainly not everything produced after Year X is either modernist or post-modernist; unfortunately, Year X may be too close to us to afford the necessary historical perspective for us to sift and classify the various schisms of literary thought and production.

Michael Cisco--I had the experience you speak of with Derrida et al. in a graduate seminar on contemporary literary theory. While I'm not formally trained in philosophy, I've done some fair self-directed study; the poor undergraduates in the class were clearly entirely at sea when it came to plowing through the French theorists. Nonetheless, you're more generous than I when it comes to Derrida--his conception of the malleability of "pharmakon", for instance, works much better in French than in English, and the conclusions he draws from it seem to me drastically overextended. Whatever ironies he might have intended in his work have been forever lost to contemporary critics likely because of the way in which American pomo critics of the late '60s latched on to certain misinterpretations of his work and ran with them straight to impenetrable PMLA articles. I think Derrida also hurt himself when he entered into an argument about what he himself "meant" in letters recently published. He should have known better than to claim meaning after all he had written.

Speaking of misinterpretation (and somewhat drastically off-topic), I wonder how many self-proclaimed "phenomenological" pomo critics have read and understood Husserl--my experience so far is none.

China's expression of the New Weird as a moment, a phrase to make sense of the immediate, works terrifically, I think, since any sort of "new" is made necessarily ephemeral by the passage of time. It doesn't take long for it to stop being new, especially these days. One thing the phrase has going for it as a descriptor (at least in my eyes) is its inherent reference to an established tradition from which contemporary literary fantasy derives. It the term ends up sticking (floats meme-like into critical thought), this may be the first direction in which to look for defining characteristics.

~Jack~
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jeff ford
Posted on Friday, June 13, 2003 - 06:48 am:   

Jack, Mike and Des: You guys obviously are more conversant on this subject than I am. I've enjoyed your posts. As far as post-modernism goes, I have to say, the term, the philosophy or any of it never enters my mind when I sit down to write. My whole point with that gas leak above I committed was to say that sometimes I think the fictional devices associated with post-modernism, namely metafictional, can be both liberating and constricting. Don't worry, as soon as I'm done here, I'm unplugging the computer.

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JeffV
Posted on Friday, June 13, 2003 - 07:56 am:   

I said I wouldn't post, so obviously I have to stop making pronouncements. One last thing, though.

China and I are totally in agreement on this issue of surrendering to the text on the part of the reader. I wouldn't want anyone to think I don't believe in the passion and the catharsis of that approach. I think the disagreement comes from the idea of how you can reach that point as a writer. I find that I can reach that point through traditional means *and* through postmodern techniques. I have enjoyed the sense of play involved. I have enjoyed the way in which certain postmodern techniques, applied to fantasy, are transformed--they no longer support the unreality of the story: they support the reality of the fantasy.

Re China's position on New Weird. I want to state explicitly that I did not mean to misrepresent his position--I'm totally cool with the idea of a discussion that explores (fully and allowing full participation by all interested parties) this "moment" that fantastical literature has come to. But the consequences of the discussion on TTA were that many people were thinking of "New Weird" as a movement. That is where I began to get irritable. Not to mention that one particular writer's message board (whether MJH's or mine) is probably not the ideal setting. There's a certain amount of control the owner of the board can wield, if he or she so choose, that influences the discussion in an untoward way.

I see China's assertion re the "New Weird moment"--what NW is or could be--as interesting, but the three points he's mentioned to me are to me either all *subsets* of the approaches I want available to me or speak to *technique* that can and cannot be used in a "New Weird" work. (That sounds more prohibitive than China would likely want it phrased.)

Because this "New Weird moment" is only a subset of what I, as a writer, want available to me, the moment, or the movement, is not really that useful to me.

I am curious as to whether this "surrender" China has talked about is supposed to also be a surrender by the writer. If not, great. If so, it becomes something of a religion rather than about writing itself.

I don't know if it is related to this discussion, but in my opinion, a writer does not have a set approach to morality, to society, to character development from story to story, from novel to novel. There may be certain beliefs or approaches that are engrained, but they're not set in stone. In this way, on one level, each new piece is an exploration for the writer, either a testing of previously held convinctions about people and the world--and not the same every time. It is a continual questioning of the world, a dialogue with the world, with the reader, with the idea of the human condition.

For me, the continual testing of new techniques and the application of them is a way of finding different approaches to *a* truth. It is in some sense spiritual. It is definitely passionate. (I am totally against any implication that use of the postmodern drains passion from the work, or drains compassion toward the characters.)

Finally, once again--if China feels that I've done him wrong, I apologize. This was not my intent.

And this conversation is fascinating to me.

JeffV
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Jack Haringa
Posted on Friday, June 13, 2003 - 08:04 am:   

Jeff--I think yours is probably the best approach to the catch-all post-modernist term: weed out those devices, structures, phrasings that are useful and leave the rest (and hopefully most of the posturing terminology) to MLA wranglers. I take a pretty eclectic approach to my own critical writing, slapping together a hodge-podge of formalism, psychoanalysis, reader-response, and whatever else works for the text I'm looking at. In fiction it's the same thing, to me. A blatantly "pomo" work like Danielewski's House of Leaves, which plays with metafictional constructs, bizarre typography, and literary hoaxes works wonderfully to my eyes. I think the best thing pomo theory did for literature was legitimize "play" within a text. And that's not limited to whimsy--an author can be perfectly serious thematically and still play with forms and devices as steps toward eliciting the frisson of fantasy.

I think you're right on target in saying these devices and structures can be both liberating and constricting. Extrapolating from that, genres (meaning popular categories like SF, Fantasy, Horror) are similarly liberating and constricting meta-structures. Using them the way Chandler used the mystery or Straub the ghost story as forms in which to experiment is akin to a poet using the sonnet or triolet; the structure forces the writer to work harder to create something more than trite but provides a skeleton on which to hang the meat of his work.

You're also dead on when you say that these structures have been around a long time--they aren't new and (as someone said above) can't be relied upon on their own to provide the weird. Employing them in the process of creating weirdness, however, is as legitimate as any other--contemporary literary theory corroborates auctorial instincts in this instance.

Please don't feel like you should unplug. If you have to, make sure it's just the internet--keep that word processor humming.

~Jack~
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jeff ford
Posted on Friday, June 13, 2003 - 08:13 am:   

Jack: Thanks.

Best,

Jeff
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John Langan
Posted on Friday, June 13, 2003 - 10:15 am:   

Dear Jeff,

Though I in no way mean to be difficult, I'm not sure your own response to my post doesn't bear out my assertion that the work of theorists and novelists is being confused. You quite rightly point out that so-called pomo literary strategies have been available to writers for pretty much the entire history of western lit, starting with Gilgamesh and probably earlier, and continuing through Petronius, Swift, and Melville to the present. However, you turn to Foucault in order to provide the rationale for how these strategies are to employed pomo-ly. This leads me to a more general point: you write about "the original impetus behind post modernism," but I'm not sure there was any single such impetus. This is not to deny that there were a lot of people saying similar things who were in dialogue with one another, but it seems to me that you have to turn to the works of a lot of secondary and tertiary critics in order to find those conversations being compacted into a dense impenetrable cube that has since been packaged--and in the great majority of cases bought--as pomo. This is not to deny the efficacy of such packaging, but it is to distinguish the final product from its ingredients. What's more, such a package is still theory. While a writer like John Barth did produce an essay like "The Literature of Exhaustion," which shares some of the pomo theorists' concerns, it seems to me sufficiently idiosyncratic to be its own thing. Perhaps this is so much Aquinian hair-splitting: if so, I apologize; as Sterne would remind us, we each ride our own hobby-horse.


Best,


John
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Alan DeNiro
Posted on Friday, June 13, 2003 - 10:58 am:   

Cheryl:

Maybe the IA "movement" feels less heavy handed to me, personally, because I've been to five Wiscons and have heard those folk (Terri Windling, Midori Snyder, Heinz Insu Fenkl, etc) talk about it throughout the years. Since it's such a nurturing, relatively stress-free environment to have these conversations, it might feel more approachable to me, in a way that reading lots of words on a screen might not. I think, also, that they're taking a two pronged approach--one definitely moving through academia. The manifesto-like documents seemed to be geared towards that approach, filtering ideas into the classroom by a sustained infiltration, if you will. Whether this will be successful or not remains to be seen. The more writerly aspects, while not completely disassociated from this, feel to me to be much looser and much less programmatic. Interstitiality for me seems to be something of a "secret" definition, in that you don't really need it until you're in an epigrammatic corner. People's mileage may vary, of course.

Loosely, then: Descriptors vs. perscriptions, manifestos vs. passenger manifests...

I don't know if any discussion of movements or moments, even, can be wholly one of these or the other...The thing that I try to remember in all of this, is that there are some amazing writers out there. I know, that might seem kind of dopey, but the breadth of the field, and those on the other side of the field, is astounding.

The cultural differences are fascinating to me, in the same way I'm fascinated that there aren't more, say, Irish SF/F magazines.
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Alan DeNiro
Posted on Friday, June 13, 2003 - 11:14 am:   

Oh, and have a great flight, Cheryl.

Alan
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Cheryl Morgan
Posted on Friday, June 13, 2003 - 11:49 am:   

Hi Alan: I'm a Wiscon regular too, so I'm very relaxed about the Interstitial folks. It really surprised me when people started getting all defensive about them.

As to Irish magazines, I suspect that the UK and US markets swamp them. I suspect it is much harder to get started and get distribution from Dublin than it is from the UK. So they just all join in with Interzone and TTA. Shame really.

I have a copy of Ilium to read. I'm pretty confident I'll enjoy the flight.
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Michael Cisco
Posted on Friday, June 13, 2003 - 02:21 pm:   

Re Derrida - Well, I'm not as generous as all that really. I've never had all that much use for him, but I have tried to understand him in the larger context of what's going on (mainly because I found it so alienating). I give him the benefit of the doubt, but I see him as something more like a virtuoso performer than as a teacher. His close readings are astonishing, but neither they nor his other kinds of work are transportable as a method. At most, he represents a style which has been appropriated by people who don't have a strong understanding of what they're doing.
I see Derrida as a scholar whose work was pitched in a minor key, for specialists and as food for thought among advanced students, but which, for a variety of reasons, were repeatedly thrust into center stage. I believe Derrida was unprepared and overwhelmed by this, and has himself become largely irrelevent to most of the people who claim to be most influenced by him. I don't believe that the increasingly dismembered and manic condition of literary studies is in line with his intentions.
How did I become his ambassador? I don't even like him! Phooey.

JeffF. - NO! Turn your computer back on!!
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Michael Cisco
Posted on Friday, June 13, 2003 - 02:38 pm:   

Here's something that just occurred to me - it may be that "new weird" is really an attempt to destroy the distinction between imaginative genre fiction and mainstream fiction.
I think many of us started out reading genre during the successive booms in fantasy and horror in the seventies and eighties; now we're writing our own stuff, and we want to deepen the literature.
What do you think? Back in the teapot?
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Cheryl Morgan
Posted on Friday, June 13, 2003 - 02:47 pm:   

Michael: yes. Didn't we ever say that? That's what the whole thing at the ICA was about.
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MichelleL
Posted on Friday, June 13, 2003 - 02:59 pm:   

But do you really destroy that distinction with a label that seems to reaffirm a border?

Just wondering. As a newbie writer, this is all very fun to read through.

Michelle Larsen
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Cheryl Morgan
Posted on Friday, June 13, 2003 - 03:06 pm:   

Goodness only knows, Michelle. But remember that mainstream is not borderless. It is full of subgenres. The only difference is that they are on the inside of the fence and we are outside.

Interestingly the attempts by Harper Collins in the UK decouple fantasy from SF and present it as mainstream work in the same direction. Except of course they are doing it because they don't want their top-selling fantasy stuff tainted by association with the UFO nutters, and they are expecting SF to be left behind in a shrinking ghetto. We want to take SF out alongside fantasy.

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