Happy Birthday, Lance Olsen!

Today, October 14, 2012, marks Lance Olsen‘s 56th birthday. In celebration of him and his work, and with a nod to a quote by Roland Barthes, I’ve turned most of the sentences found in the first chapter of Olsen’s The Architectures of Possibility into questions without answers. (You’ll also find that I’ve altered quotations, found in the selfsame chapter, from Brian Evenson, Fredric Jameson, and Curtis White, as well as the abovementioned Barthes).

  1. What would happen if you didn’t follow what most textbooks on fiction tell you?
  2. What would “opaque” language that doesn’t focus on your protagonist’s psychology read like?
  3. Why not produce a protagonist that is jagged, nonresonant, unbelievable, and/or anything outside of middle or lower-middle class?
  4. Aren’t there other settings besides the urban or suburban rendered with the precision of a photograph in which to set your fiction?
  5. What are some ways to alter the form your narrative takes so that it isn’t predictable, so patterned by convention, as to be virtually invisible.
  6. Why produce yet another fiction that has a beginning, a muddle, and an ending through which your character will travel in order to learn something about himself, herself, or his or her relationship to society or nature?
  7. Can you conceive of something other than a version of realism: a genre of averages—a genre about middle-of-the-road people living on Main Street in Middletown, Middle America?
  8. Have you considered detours away from Main Street?
  9. What would be the result of rejecting a pragmatic, empirical understanding of the universe that emphasizes individual experience and consciousness?
  10. What would a narrative that few might relate to look like?
  11. What are some ways to free your text from the various tyrannies of thought?
  12. Why not question or even reject the idea that human actions and human life is somehow a complete, interlocking whole, a single formed, meaningful substance?
  13. Does it follow that satisfaction with the completeness of plot is therefore a kind of satisfaction with society as well?
  14. What ways can you shape—or, perhaps more productively, misshape—what a narrative means?
  15. Are you aware that every narrative strategy implies political and metaphysical ones?
  16. If creative writing is nothing but a series of choices, what do the choices you’re making in your writing say about what you believe as a whole?
  17. If writing one way rather than another conveys not simply an aesthetics, but a course of thinking, a course of being in the world, then what does your approach to writing say about how you think, about your course of being in the world.
  18. What approach(es) to “reality” have you privileged over another?
  19. Given the Heraclitean techno-global, multi-cultural, multi-gendered, multi-genred pluriverse our fluid selves navigate, the question thereby becomes: is the Balzacian Mode the most useful choice for capturing what it feels like to be alive here, now, in the midst of the twenty-first century?
  20. Do you still intuit existence as necessarily meaningful?
  21. Are you satisfied with society?
  22. So why should you write as if you do and are?
  23. Shouldn’t our task as authors rather be to explore approaches to creativity that accurately reflect our own sense of lived experience?
  24. If so, what might those approaches look like?
  25. Why not conceive of writing as a possibility space where everything can and should be considered, attempted, and troubled?
  26. Why not push as close to “failure” as you can in your work, thereby opening up myriad options you simply can’t imagine while adopting conventional methods of narrativity?
  27. Why not take chances?
  28. Why not try to compose in alternative, surprising, revelatory directions?
  29. Why not try to move out of your comfort zone to discover what might lie on the other side?
  30. Are you trying again, failing again, failing better?
  31. Where are we in space and time?
  32. How might we most effectively capture that place and point in our own writing?
  33. Did you know that as writers we work in a post-genre culture, where there is no longer a significant difference between prose and poetry, between fiction and nonfiction?
  34. Did you know that writing is always-already a kind of theorizing?
  35. What are some ways of re-imagining what creative writing is and can be, and how, and why?
  36. How might writing be considered a manner of reading and vice-versa?
  37. Why are we often asked to read and write easier, more naively, less rigorously?
  38. Why are we often asked to understand without taking the time and energy to understand?
  39. What are the results of deliberately slowing and complicating reading, hearing, and/or viewing so that we are challenged to re-think and re-feel form and experience?
  40. What are the results of deliberately accelerating and simplifying reading, hearing, and/or viewing so we don’t have to think about or feel very much of anything at all except, maybe, the adrenalin rush before spectacle?
  41. What is the distance between David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest and Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol; between David Lynch’s Lost Highway and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen?
  42. Do stories generated and sustained by the American political system, entertainment industry, and academic trade (which might be characterized by their insidious simplicity, plainness, and ubiquity) teach us how not to think for ourselves?
  43. How willing are you to endure boredom…and to pay for it?
  44. What are the consequences of this dissemination of corporate consciousness?
  45. Is making money is what it’s all about?
  46. Why are we often asked to eschew close, meticulous engagement with the page; to search texts “for symptoms supporting the sociopolitical or theoretical template of the critic”; to flatten out distinctions between, say, the value of studying James Joyce, Lydia Davis, and Ben Marcus, on the one hand, and Britney Spears, The Bachelorette, and that feisty gang from South Park, on the other?
  47. Why do so many embrace and maintain the globalized corporate culture?
  48. Why not access the “Difficult Imagination”—that dense space within which we are asked continuously to envision the text of the text, the text of our lives, and the text of the world other than they are, and thus contemplate the idea of fundamental change in all three?
  49. What are some ways to make objects “unfamiliar,” to make forms difficult, to increase the difficulty and length of perception?
  50. What questions without answers are you asking?
  51. What if literature were neither the question nor the answer?
  52. When was the last time you found yourself standing in a kind of baffled wonder before something that insisted upon a slightly new method of apprehending, a slightly new means of speaking, to capture what it is you have just witnessed?
  53. Does your writing pose problems—ethical, linguistic, epistemological, ontological?
  54. Are you willing to draw on everything around you to pose tentative answers to these problems and, by way of them, pose problems of your own?
  55. How might we use our marginal status as innovationists to find an optic through which we can re-involve ourselves with the world, history, and technique, present ourselves as a constant prompt to ourselves and to others that things can always be different, more intriguing, than they seem?
  56. What are you doing with the imperceptible, nearly ahistorical clicks in consciousness that come when you make or meet an explosive, puzzling, challenging, enlightening writing thought experiment?
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