a grouse with completely feathered feet


(And how do you leave What We Know For Sure About Art when you are What We Know For Sure About Art, that bad light, those muddy streets, that ice? --Joe Ahearn)

(It's very difficult to second-guess cultural development, because you are basically declaring that you are outsmarting and out-creating every other intellectual, critic and artist on earth. But outguessing a culture INDUSTRY, that's a different matter. Anyone can outsmart a businessman. --Bruce Sterling)

What Chris and Matthew have said about idiosyncrasy and the market. Great stuff.

What I worry about is how apprenticeships in the field can become mediated by purely market-driven forces. Where the fiction becomes a mere weapon in that tactical arena. There are many other ways to "succeed"--to sustain oneself with both language and an audience--but if there's a monoculture (do x, y, and z, or at least persevere to, and then you've "made it"; otherwise, things get a little, well, suspect), it can potentially distract a younger writer from finding the materials (aesthetic and otherwise) that will sustain the writing life in the long run. As well as resisting succulent formulas, which is certainly not easy. But the formulas exist for a reason; they're the lubricant that makes the vast majority of the whole shadow economy of writerly activities possible.

Formulas are most deadly when they seem to enliven a story, when pathos seems to come into play, in between the words. But in the rush to market, to market, the emotive quality of a story can morph into mere emotional quantity, a checklist of character physiogomy. Which might be "good enough" to be published--all of the characterization bases have been covered, after all! But sometimes the difficulties of storytelling are in themselves valuable, and in those long silences and tight knots, we might find configurations of word and thought that don't conflate "writing better" with "writing more sellable material." And especially with writers just starting out, there have to be alternative strategies, which don't involve obsessing about one's raw ambition, at least presented. Otherwise, the entire field becomes daytrading in a house of cards.

The following is an illuminating passage from Nick Piombino's essay "Writing and Persevering" (in regards to poetry):

We move forward by means of revolutions and resolutions and we sometimes go right by what's apropos. This is because the group has resolved together to decide what is true and sometimes the united mind is wrong. Sometimes a long look back can help, but most often an individual poet will detect by means of some kind of visionary process the direction away from the now paralyzing misapprehension which led to less vibrant states of being. This kind of apprehension is rarely fashionable. And we must have fashion.

This does not leave us with a point. Rather, it leaves us with a cloud--a blurry cloud of thought. We're back where we were when the impulse brought us here. There is a common ground in such shared confusion which may be better than shared delusion.

In this imaginatively malnourished era (both in our society's lack of imagination and the imaginitive ways in which our society keeps us malnourished), perhaps, in order to tell the stories we need to tell, our stories must at times become commercially awkward, maladjusted, and even asinine. I don't think there are any easy answers. I don't know any one method for writing that is surefire. I'm just saying that no one else really does either.


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