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us versus them

in my previous post, tim jones-yelvington brought up this important point (somewhere along the comment stream) about this us v. them dichotomy: “my kind of writer” or not, with us or against us, etc etc.

this is important because this isn’t just an “innovative” v. “traditional” writer question. even within our little world, small though it may be, there’s this split, where we have to “prove” our coolness. i mean, look who we promote. look who htmlg promotes. it’s totally a cool club. (i admit my egotism: i troll hoping to see my name. who doesn’t?) but it’s more than just that.

at &now (a conference for “innovative” writing), i found myself an underwhelming minority. when we (“my kind of writer” which we all were there) went out, i was consistently the only female, among fifteen to twenty males. when we went out, james yeh & i were the only “non-white” people. when we went out, almost all of us had academic affiliations in one way or any. (yeah, here, there was a bit more of a split, but come on!)

let’s just say: there’s a mold.

“my kind of writer”: turns out he’s not really “my kind” at all. so then it becomes problematic for me, where it’s impossible to NOT question whether i’m just a “them” being paraded with “us,” a poster child for diversity & open-mindedness. (ok. i get it. asians are, after all, the “model minority.”) i don’t want to be a token. nor do i think i’m being too sensitive about this.

ok. this isn’t where i wanted this post to go at all. but this is where it went. i want to ask about clubs & exclusivity. i want to ask about the hip factor. i want to ask about gender and class and race and heteronormativity. i mean, let’s just admit it: we’re a privileged crew, whether monetarily or educationally.

so what’s “us” anymore?

8 thoughts on “us versus them

  1. I think this has been a problem that’s plagued a lot of experimental movements. I think that experimental or innovative writing often wants to be divorced from context in some way, divorced from the body, and that it ends up excluding narratives by people who are forced by the culture to experience a different kind of embodiment.

    I’m thinking of the dynamic between the language poets and the new narrative group (admittedly as summarized by the new narrative writers), where the language poets were trying to exclude story and the new narrative writers (a largely white LGBTQ population from what I know of them) said, look, you can do interesting things with language and have story at the same time — story is important — story and body are part of who we are and what we have to say because these stories and bodies are marginalized. It can be about the language, but context is not a *taint*, embodiedness is not a *taint*.

  2. It’s a strange situation. Many innovative writers, I think, feel excluded from a kind of popular continuum–excluded from a larger “in crowd” in other words–and their response is to try and ignore the consideration of “external” factors (to the text) in an assessment of value.

    I see this quite a bit at HTMLGIANT–when anyone comments on the hetero and/or anglo-normative nature of a post (full disclosure: I have made such comments more than once), that commenter is pounced upon for such considerations.

    It’s odd, this disinclination to create bridges between other overlooked or otherwise excluded groups.

    1. “It’s odd, this disinclination to create bridges between other overlooked or otherwise excluded groups.”

      You don’t think it’s a function of the social hierarchies themselves? I think there’s this idea that when we create new spaces they are free from social hierarchies until those hierarchies are brought into them, but really, the hierarchies are immediately present, and work must be consciously undertaken to ameliorate this effect…

      I’m not disagreeing with you, just trying to change the angle a little?

      1. great points, both shya and rachel. like rachel said, i think a “social hierarchy” might be the condition FOR any sort of experimental movement.

        but i say this as a white and, i guess, privileged, heteronormative (albeit self-effacingly so) male.

      2. No, I agree with you entirely. I felt that as I was writing, too: that I shouldn’t really say it’s odd, because it’s not. It’s not surprising. I just wish it wasn’t pulling teeth to make people consider it.

      1. If it was anything like that thread on the cartoons you showed me… pounced would seem like a good word.

  3. Lily, you were hardly underwhelming at &Now!

    I’m reminded here of debates I used to hear, way back in the 1990s, as to why there were no female experimental writers. (I swear, I really used to hear people debating this! Publishers and editors! Debating it seriously! Or at least in their minds.)

    Personally, I think the answer why is fairly obvious: in experimental fiction, like in most aspects of our culture, straight white men tend to be in charge. And they tend to favor other straight white men. And so here, as elsewhere, other views get pushed outside the center. “This” is what experimental writing is. Not “that.” And the straight white men (me and my friends) are doing “this.” “We’re” the experimental ones.

    Just for fun, let’s look at how the Wikipedia (currently) defines 20th-century experimental writing:


    Cutting down to just the names mentioned: “D’Annunzio, Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, Gertrude Stein, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Kenneth Patchen, Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, John Barth, Jorge Luis Borges, , Thomas Pynchon, Donald Barthelme, Robert Coover, Ronald Sukenick, Italo Calvino, Michael Ondaatje, Julio Cortázar, David Foster Wallace, Rick Moody”

    That’s quite a list! Leaving aside as to whether these writers are experimental, I’m personally surprised that two women are even mentioned.

    …This straight white male-centric view is changing, I think—I hope—but probably too slowly.

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