Sea of Reads

Peripatetic, itinerant, eclectic musings about books, politics, history, language, culture, and anything else that interests me.

Why Do We Resist Experimental Fiction?

Because it doesn’t fit the “paradigm” we have come to associate with certain literary forms?

An experimental fiction introduces the “unexpected.” It makes the reader conscious the implicit paradigm is being violated. One might hope at this point that the reader would  exploit this intensified consciousness of difference to give the new a chance, to let the work be what it will be. Some readers no doubt do this, perhaps assuming the work eventually can be accommodated to the paradigm after all. Most probably don’t, either giving up when it continues to be “difficult” or finishing it but pronouncing it “boring” or “pointless” or “a slog.”

That readers might be confused or uncertain when confronted with an aberrant work of fiction is understandable. What is disappointing is that these readers can’t summon up more curiosity about the challenging or the unusual, using it to expand their appreciation of the possibilities of fiction rather than shut them down in favor of the already familiar. It’s my belief that fiction as a literary art depends upon challenges to convention or it becomes just a somewhat more respectable alternative to watching tv. Perhaps many readers are comfortable with this role for fiction, preferring not to burden it with the expectation it be “literature.” Perhaps it is just a fact of our brain’s wiring that we favor the customary and find its transgression disturbing. In this way we are all inescapably conservative.

Many innovations in fictional form or style–although not all–eventually become more accepted, more established as among the devices readers of fiction might encounter in stories and novels. Many writers initially judged too difficult or too adventurous gradually seem less so, although often enough the greatest of such writers, Joyce or Beckett or Faulkner, still can give uninitiated readers fits. By that time, of course, their innovations have themselves become conventions, which can be as overworked as any other, consolidated into “familiar pattern.” It may be that this is the best adventurous writers can hope for: long-lasting influence, but at best late recognition of their accomplishments.

Via FictionBitch.


2 comments on “Why Do We Resist Experimental Fiction?

  1. Debra Di Blasi
    December 29, 2010

    The problem is that the paradigm is from the 19th Century. Literature is one of the few art forms that does not reward invention and originality of content AND form. But it’s changing, and rather quickly. Younger readers have been/are being educated in postmodern literature and view it from the perspective of hindsight; therefore, they see it as part of a broader paradigm than, say, the commercially-based publishing industry.

    • Kathy
      December 29, 2010

      I have to admit I’m one of those who has a hard time with experimental fiction. The closest I’ve come to enjoying it was Hillary Mantel’s “Wolf Hall,” where the central character, Thomas Cromwell, was the narrator, but he referred to himself in the third person. A book told from a first person pov in a third person voice. 🙂

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This entry was posted on December 28, 2010 by in Uncategorized.
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