My own concept of “avant-garde” has to do with something constant…this constant is a quality of coldness, detachment, ruthless determination to face up to the enormities of ugliness and potential failure within ourselves and in the world around us, and to bring to this exposure a savage or saving comic spirit and the saving beauties of language. The need is to maintain the truth of the fractured picture; to expose, ridicule, attack, but always to create and to throw into new light our potential for violence and absurdity as well as for graceful action.
He goes on to say:
I don’t like soft, loose prose or fiction which tries to cope too directly with life itself or is based indulgently on personal experience. (61)
– from Critical Essays on John Hawkes:
In light of this, one wonders: what the hell happened? What Hawkes is defining seems to have been much more celebrated in decades past, the ’70’s especially, when Pynchon, Barth and Gaddis won the National Book Award. Of course there are exceptions, but the fiction of the traditional narrative arc and characterization by way of the Joyce of Dubliners dominates now. Who is avant-garde today?