Is there a David Bowie of literature?—such an asinine question, as dumb as asking, “Is there a Virginia Woolf of music?”—arguing against it arguably as asinine as answering it at all, even on its own terms, which is to say, which “David Bowie”? which “literature”?; not to mention the problem of even locating a “there” with any kind of certainty, and of establishing what and/or where or whatever “Is” in this case is.
Let’s consider the problem as Warner grossly states it: “I began to wonder if we have a Bowie analogue when it comes to literature, a writer who consistently changes shape, each book different than the last.” The problem is faulty in numerous ways: Bowie certainly changed shape, but the changes were sometimes abrupt, sometimes gradual, sometimes subtle, sometimes indiscernible, those changes sometimes exploding forms, sometimes fusing existing ones, and there were moments of usually productive continuity, mining of a territory, deepening of a collaboration. Moreover, his albums aren’t always dramatically different from each other in either direction. This hardly diminishes Bowie’s accomplishments; instead, it further complicates them. Casting the narrowest of nets: what immediately “leapt to mind,” personal bookshelf-gazing, Twitter’s chitter-chatter, etc.; Warner comes up short, and the results are predictable.
Enough. Below I submit a few contemporary writers, whose work continually changes shape, whether book by book, or series of books within their oeuvre, whose work continually interrogates notions of form, genre, style, etc., whose work, like Bowie’s, however uncertain a comparison, continually changes shape, the changes sometimes abrupt, sometimes gradual, sometimes subtle, sometimes indiscernible, sometimes exploding forms, sometimes fusing existing ones, with moments of productive continuity, mining of a territory, deepening of a collaboration.
My list is by no means definitive, and likely comes up short. Please feel free to add to it in the comments below.
Update (January 24, 2016): Some others that ought to be included:
Jeremy M. Davies
Update (January 25, 2016):
John Madera is the author of Nervosities (Anti-Oedipus Press, 2024). His other fiction is published in Conjunctions, Salt Hill, The &Now Awards 2: The Best Innovative Writing, and many other journals. His nonfiction is published in American Book Review, Bookforum, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Rain Taxi: Review of Books, The Believer, The Brooklyn Rail, and many other venues. Recipient of an M.F.A. in Literary Arts from Brown University, New York State Council on the Arts awardee John Madera lives in New York City, Rhizomatic and manages and edits Big Other.