13 July 2011

Response to General Overachiever's "Questions" from July 10

Claire had some questions for her readers on Sunday and true to my boisterous, opinionated nature I have some (long-winded) answers.

  • "Through what medium do you normally express yourself?"

The short conventional answer to that question is that I write but the nature of the writing is very varied. Inter-personal and political topics often manifest in poems I think because it is more accepted for a poem to end without an answer. While the American short story (and to a slower extent the novel) are getting better at being more open ended like their European counterparts it remains true that the average American reader wants stories that have endings. If the situation in North Africa and the Middle East is any proof, political issues tend to drag on and a poem of any length is more easily disposed to openendedness partly because nobody gets poetry anyway. I typically turn to fiction for more tangible things. Sort of like Maury in twelve point Times New Roman, my short fiction emphasizes things like uncouth character traits and relationship flaws.

I have a caveat to this however. I do not really think I am expressing myself in these pursuits. I am expressing perhaps my interests or sympathies but I like to consider myself somewhat more than the sum of these parts.  Creative Non-Fiction has emerged as something of a cousin to short fiction while also being a less dry form of memoir and has been helpful in pointing out that fiction writers are not necessarily autobiographically veiling their lives in their work. Because of the distinction people are less apt to argue that a book is true to the writer's life. The Beats were really good at doing the latter of course and with their prominence in American literature it is possible that they are to blame for the overused "autobiographical" reading of literature. However, it seems that lately writers are doing a better job of keeping their personal lives out of their writing. This is particularly reassuring when one reads characters like Brandon Tietz's Aidin.

Self expression is something of a flower-power term that I would rather steer clear of. Other people probably should too. I certainly do not advocate for repression; I simply prefer an emphasis on more far reaching themes and tones than those of single significance. Think of The Beatles: "You're really only very small and life goes on within you and without you."

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