Literature of Limits

THOUGHTS ON SALLY ROONEY’S NOVEL NORMAL PEOPLE

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ONE CAN’T HELP but notice, with the massive hype accompanying the U.S. release of the Sally Rooney novel Normal People, how willing literary people today are to settle for limited accomplishment from limited talents. To accept the achievement of small effects, delicately arrived at.

I read the novel before most because a friend of ours in the U.K. gave it to us. It’s not a bad novel. Not at all. But the final emotion given this reader upon finishing it was, “So what?” Is this really the best Big Five London-New York publishing can come up with? Careful language, careful plotting, careful characters, careful themes and ideas– as if today’s world of political correctness has put today’s writer into a cage.

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Maybe it’s not politics (though there are signs that it is). Possibly it’s the temperament of this age, to see the world in muted tones. Melodrama? Heavens no. The reverse. By and large no drama– other than a couple brief appearances of a mostly offstage male villain in the form of an angry brother– whose rage is never explained or understood. Or the drama of deciding which MFA writing program to enroll in. (I kid you not.)

For temperament and limits, this novel can be compared to the delicate poems of recently deceased award-winning poet Mary Oliver, which aim for modest achievement, limited effects. Worthy, if that’s all you want– but a distinct dropping off from the exuberance of a Walt Whitman or Allen Ginsberg. Or the craft and passion of a Sylvia Plath.

Today’s literature exists inside the constraints of a cage or a box. It’s time to crash out.

(As we’ll attempt to do with our 3D Story project.)

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-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit News

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Pop Lit as Art

BASICS OF 3D STORY THEORY

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WHAT Ernest Hemingway was working toward in his early short stories– before he adopted the persona of Papa Hemingway– was writing as art object. Whole and complete. As finished project.

MANY books and articles, too many to list, document the influence of modernist painters such as Joan Miro and Paul Cezanne on Hemingway’s writing. Though his quoted remarks are vague on the specifics of that influence, we can look at his works themselves to see. Not simply the marvelous descriptions (the opening to A Farewell to Arms for instance), but the sense of form and conciseness in his best stories. “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” to name one.

HEMINGWAY was working toward something which could metaphorically be put on a wall and looked at– meaning, seeing the entirety of the work. Moving away from linearity.

This is a starting place for Pop Lit. Emphasis on clarity and transparency. The essence of “Pop.” Pop as in an Andy Warhol painting, or in a classic two-minute pop-rock song. Or a two-minute punk rock song which gives the listener two minutes of concentrated energy, then abruptly ends.

This is what I was striving for in my experimental work Ten Pop Stories. (An ebook written under the pen name King Wenclas.) Ten pop songs– or ten pop paintings.

THE MAIN IDEA is giving the reader a sense of the American experience– as Andy Warhol in his depictions of Coca-Cola bottles and of Marilyn Monroe so brilliantly conveyed the fast-paced madness of American experience. The American civilization, which for a hundred years has been the world’s dominant civilization.

THE 3D STORY

Speed and immediacy– what this aspect of Pop-Lit theory is about. What the upcoming 3D Story form will be about, in multiples. If our experiments work, things in the literary realm are about to become very exciting.

yellowpop

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-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit News

 

The Bret Easton Ellis Show Trial

WATCH THE PUPPET MASTERS NOT THE PUPPETS

show trial

WHAT was the Bret Easton Ellis interview with Isaac Chotiner in The New Yorker magazine really about?

The intent was to expose Bret Easton Ellis to the world. He’d inadvertently taken the wrong political tack– had said that people overreacted to Donald Trump. (True– and likely the intent of Trump himself.) Which meant Bret Easton Ellis had to be taken down. Destroyed. Humiliated. Publicly.

FOR MOST of his career Bret Easton Ellis was one of the established literary system’s Golden Boys. The same system-lit people or same kind of system-lit people– the herd– now piling on Ellis, celebrating his takedown, once were celebrating him.

What can artificially be propped up can also quickly be taken down. Manhattan media created Bret Easton Ellis. But then the political winds shifted. Lit-darling Bret stepped over the line. Call in an attack dog. Assigned mission: embarrass Bret Easton Ellis. Which happened.

weathervane

Watch the literary/political weather vane. Which way is the wind blowing?

Are we at war with Eurasia or Eastasia today?
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-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit NEWS

 

Modernism and Editing

FURTHER THOUGHTS ON 3D WRITING

Paul_Cézanne_058(“A Painter at Work” by Paul Cezanne.)

Modernist art IS editing. It’s cutting away all unnecessary material and allowing our minds to fill in the empty spaces. A technique in writing pioneered by Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, and Georges Simenon.

These writers knew painting and they knew how a daub or two of paint could touch our emotions and allow us to “see” the reality of the image. In writing, a key touch of color or taste or sound to suggest something greater. To stimulate our memories, our own experiences.

This is the antithesis of standard literary writing which strives to tell you everything, overwhelming the narrative with details.

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AN EXAMPLE of modernist editing in another art form can be found in this movie trailer:

The film: the 1959 version of Ben-Hur. (Which WILL be playing in movie theaters across the country this month, April 14 and 17, to celebrate the film’s 60th anniversary.)

The trailer is a work of art, superbly edited to suggest the four-hour long motion picture. It achieves a conciseness, a modernist sharpness, not possible from the larger work it serves to advertise. Note especially how the unknown editor uses voice-overs from other scenes to make thematic points; and how he dissolves the two biggest sequences, the chariot race and the crucifixion, into each other.

All movies are shaped and “cut.” Material left out. The trailer is extremely cut.

The idea points a direction for those wishing to make fiction– the short story in particular– as sharp, angled, fast-paced, and exciting as possible.

Which we’re attempting to do with the 3D Story.
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Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit NEWS

Gimmicks and Art

THOUGHTS ON THE 3D SHORT STORY

IS the 3-D Story a gimmick? Yes. Most arts innovations at first are gimmicks.

A classic example was the change from silent movies to sound ones, which began in 1927 with The Jazz Singer. In that Al Jolson flick, sound was used strictly as a gimmick– intended only for the musical numbers. That Al Jolson ad-libbed a few lines of dialogue created (according to this video) a sensation and signaled the upcoming end of silent cinema.

CINEMA in its early years progressed through continual innovation. Most of them when they were tried were considered to be gimmicks. (As movies themselves at the outset were thought to be a gimmick and not art.) Among developments: Technicolor, introduced in the 1930’s and becoming widespread by the 1950’s. The 50’s also saw the rise of wide screen film processes like Cinemascope, Vista-Vision, and Todd-AO, culminating in triple-screen Cinerama, most famously used for 1963’s How the West Was Won. The ultimate movie gimmick of course, in the 1950’s and more recently, was 3-D.

Viewing_3D_IMAX_clips

All of them began as gimmicks, but some were perfected and became standard part of the film art form.

Sound became so dominant, the making of a silent film in 2011, The Artist, was– let’s face it– a gimmick

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GIMMICKS have sustained the world of painting since the late 19th century, beginning with the impressionists–

340px-Claude_Monet,_Impression,_sunrise(Claude Monet, “Impression, Sunrise.”)

–then expressionists, cubists, Dadaists and surrealists. Abstract art, fluxus, op art, pop art. Was not Andy Warhol a genius of gimmicks?

Andy-Warhol-Stockholm-1968

Only recently has the art world run out of new ideas.

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What about music? Rock n’ roll— though it sprung from authentic American roots music– was definitely a gimmick, promoted by carny barker hustlers like Alan Freed, Colonel Tom Parker, and Dick Clark.

rock n rollers(Little Richard and Elvis Presley.)

Some might say that hip-hop began as a gimmick as well.

dmc and mc hammer(Run DMC and MC Hammer.)

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ONLY ONE arts field has displayed no gimmicks– and no progress– for sixty years: literature.

Our task is to change that.

(We’ll be ready to preview our innovative new story in one month.)

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BONUS: “You Gotta Have a Gimmick” from Gypsy (1962)–

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Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit NEWS

How to Change Literature

WHO NEEDS THE 3-D STORY?

mosaic photo a lesik via shutterstock(Photo: A Lesik via Shutterstock.)

I’ve been engaging in a lot of talk about the three-dimensional story, and will engage in more of it, BECAUSE whether or not we at New Pop Lit are able to perfect the idea– or someone else does– it’s a way out of the box into which the literary art has placed itself.

rabbitinbox

WHO needs the 3D short story?

EVERYONE involved in the literary game in any way needs it– including at the highest levels, which are filled with caretakers and functionaries as much as literary artists. The scene is starved for a new kind of product– akin to the automobile business in the early 1950’s before the arrival of the Corvette, the Thunderbird, and the Mustang.

Thunderbird-1956-ad-2

(Especially had the only models available back then been stodgy Studebakers and Ramblers. Which is the condition of today’s established literary world.)

TIME FOR A NEW MODEL

The 3-D Story is the key to unlocking the future of literature. At this time, at New Pop Lit headquarters, in our labs and workshops, we’re furiously designing story prototypes– discarding some, keeping others, with a single goal:

To create the most brilliant and exciting short story ever written.

Once the new model is perfected and street-ready– fully readable and unique– the task will become leveraging it. Properly announcing the better literary product to the world.

These posts, at this blog, are laying that groundwork.
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-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit NEWS

The 3-D Story IS Coming!

DESIGNING A BETTER SHORT STORY?

3D postcard 1-page-001 - Edited

THE PROBLEM is that the new-style three-dimensional short story (now on our drawing board) is ridiculously difficult to write. The original plan was to have five or six prototypes finished by summer. As of now: One completed, another being worked on. I’ll be lucky to have that story revised and polished by summer. I have another 3-D story outlined (sketchy notes for others), and still hope to have that one ready by Halloween, as it has a Halloween theme.

My partner is trying the idea with a novel she’s been writing.
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My first half-assed attempt to place into reality ideas regarding “literary montage” was in 2014. That story attempt morphed into a novella–

ONCE the improved 3-D story is launched and successful, the price of “X” will be set dramatically higher, because– as imperfect as it is– the work contains enough clues on what the fully-realized version should look like to give the game away. IF the idea truly works, the trend-following literary herd will be certain to grab onto the concept. We plan to hold a monopoly on the style as long as we can.

The goal: To surpass-not-match ANY contemporary short story written by anybody.

With the 3-D story we fully intend to SHOCK the literary world.

Cassius Clay After Winning Championship

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-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit NEWS

Literature Living in the Past

(Editor’s Note: With this post we’re living in the past, in that this short essay originally appeared under the same title on August 9, 2013, at the Attacking-the-Demi-Puppets blog. It’s being reprinted because its approach represents the impetus behind our quest to reinvent the short story form– and because in five-plus years things haven’t much changed.)
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SHIRLEY JACKSON AND THE NEW YORKER

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The centerpiece of The New Yorker’s August 5 summer fiction issue is a story by Shirley Jackson named “Paranoia.” In style the short story reads like any other New Yorker short story published over the past year. Being from Shirley Jackson, it’s more entertaining than the run-of-the-mill NewYorker story. The biggest difference between “Paranoia” and other well-crafted New Yorker stories is that the story “Paranoia” by Shirley Jackson is sixty years old.

Did the run-of-the-mill New Yorker reader notice?

Likely not. In the first place, fiction appearing in The New Yorker is never read, A.) because the magazine’s purpose isn’t to be read, but to sit upon refined coffee tables in upscale residences from Manhattan to Newport Beach (but not very much in Newport Beach) as a marker of breeding and good taste—the unique cover announcing the week’s message; and B.) because the pieces that are actually read when an ambitious subscriber decides to read the magazine are the movie reviews and show listings, maybe the week’s big think piece, but never—never—the fiction. That the magazine still publishes “fiction,” even if no one reads the fiction, is all that’s required. “Oh, the fiction,” a person responds, looking at the Table of Contents. “Still there. Good.”

In on-line blurbs for the issue, The New Yorker hearkens back to a previous New Yorker story by Shirley Jackson, “The Lottery,” which received more mail response than any story they’ve ever published, before or since. “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson was published in 1948!

With today’s establishment-produced “fictions” we’re not talking about a healthy art form. There’s not been a lot of change in it. After sixty-plus years of presenting the same thing, the few remaining publishers of literary short stories have lost their audience. Renowned-but-little-read short story writer Charles Baxter acknowledges as much in a Daily Beast interview this week, with hardly a shrug. No attempt to understand the reasons. No desire to create something strikingly new. Charles Baxter has been writing the same kind of short stories for thirty years (not a long period from The New Yorker’s perspective). One thing we can bet about the short stories Baxter has published then and now is that they haven’t changed one iota. Since no one reads them, beyond dutiful writing students eager to learn how to duplicate them, does it matter?

A healthy art form—think of rock music from 1964 to 1967—is engulfed in explosions of creative discoveries everyplace, new trails blazed, the standard centerpiece of the art (the pop song) presenting radical new experiments and experiences by the week.

In literature, we get the unchanging literary story. As unchanged in 60 years as the proverbial generic McDonald’s hamburger left on a plate that never changes, always looking the same.

But The New Yorker is happy, and if they’re happy, the unthinking unblinking literary herd is also happy. Yes. A good year for the short story. 1948!

Maybe next they’ll bring back Joe DiMaggio to play for the Yankees.
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-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit News

Why Change?

WHY CHANGE THE SHORT STORY ART?

THE ATTITUDE throughout the literary world is that our stories are very good no one could do better so why change anything?

Yet art like everything in nature needs to adapt, mutate, change.

The Rolling Stones

THERE ARE scores of bands today who can do anything the Rolling Stones did– in presentation, posturing, music– likely better, but the Stones got there first. Or almost first. Early enough.

Bob-Dylan

Hundreds, maybe thousands of wannabe folk singers can sing and play the guitar as well or better than Bob Dylan ever did– some even write as well– yet Bob Zimmerman got there before them.

ABBA_-_TopPop_1974_1

Dozens of singers in groups and bands can blend their voices as well as did the 70’s Swedish pop act ABBA. But ABBA did that kind of thing before them.
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Here’s a photo of an ABBA sound-alike group from California, Music Go Music. They’re pretty good. Ever hear of them?

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MEANWHILE, there are at least a hundred rock bands out there influenced by– and sounding and looking very much like– the classic rock band Led Zeppelin. Most prominent among them is Greta Van Fleet, which won the 2019 Grammy for Best Rock Band. (You know rock lost its cred and impetus when they created a Grammy category for it. Tamed and neutered.) Here’s a photo of the band:

greta van fleet

What, are we back in the 1970’s? This is not called reinventing an art form, or even renewing it. It’s called recycling something which lost steam more than twenty years ago. It’s art going through the motions– staying alive in a culture, but barely. On life support. (The situation “Literature” has been in for decades.)
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THERE ARE EVEN today painters who can paint just like Paul Gaugin and Vincent van Gogh (if not with quite their amount of passion and soul), but when those two artists came onto the scene no one was painting like they were painting.

We remember the pioneers, the innovators, the creators-not-regurgitators, in any field.

WHAT are we asking of short story writers?

We’re asking them to be prepared to scrap their current beliefs on how to write, to be ready to radically alter their present modes of writing– to be willing to change the way they view the art, because one way or another, from this corner or another, artistic change IS coming.

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Not “Literature.” Instead: POP LIT.
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-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit NEWS

Busting the Supply-Demand Equation

THE NEED FOR FICTION REINVENTION

Tesla_colorado_adjusted

People fail to realize the extent to which most things in life are influenced by the supply-demand situation.

For instance in politics, the enormous oversupply of liberal arts graduates is one of the drivers of left-wing activity. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (who after college worked as a bartender) is a classic example.

But what about art? Writing?

WHEN GOOD ISN’T GOOD ENOUGH

Many competent short story writers are published every year in literary journals across the country. Several of them are crafting short stories better than vaunted New Yorker magazine fiction– which for decades has been the model for writing programs across the nation. We’ve published a few of those better writers at our main New Pop Lit site.

Having fiction placed in The New Yorker has been thought of as the Holy Grail for the standard MFA writing student. Thousands of MFA grads are attempting to follow that model. To squeeze through that narrow doorway. Lining up. Jamming up. A department store before the doors open on Black Friday.

black-friday_target_long-lineup

THE PROBLEM

The problem is that there are too many creative writers, and too few paying-or-prestigious outlets for their work. A vast oversupply of product. To meet it, tiny demand: very few people who read the overwritten New Yorker model. Today the creative writer’s audience consists of other creative writers, who’ve been trained to read and appreciate that obsolete style of story writing. (New Yorker stories themselves, with rare exceptions, are unread by most New Yorker subscribers.) Well-crafted literary stories are made to be admired, not read.

Today it doesn’t matter how well you the writer can write. The margin of difference between the best and the merely competent is small enough that decisions on who deserves publication and attention are made for reasons other than quality and talent. Instead, they’re made for reasons of politics, correctness, or connections.

THE SOLUTION

breaking glass

The solution is to bust the supply-demand equation which currently exists in writing. This can be done on both ends.

1.) Create a faster, vastly more readable and exciting short story model– one so new and thrilling it demands to be read. Done right, this could grow the audience for short fiction several times over.

At this point the art is so marginalized there’s ample room for growth.

2.) Create a short story prototype so different from the standard– and difficult to do well– that few writers will be able to write it.

Doing this will create the “perfect storm” of jump-started demand, with few writers able to fill that demand. Those writers a step ahead of cultural history will be in a valuable spot. The vocation of fiction writer will become a worthwhile pursuit, for the first time in years.

Creating that new product won’t be easy. I’ve been working intensively on the matter for many months– really, longer (did my first rough version five years ago)– and am finding the going anything but easy.

Then again, life isn’t easy.
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-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit NEWS