- Nonfiction, Writing

169 Tweets on the Nature of Possibility, by Lance Olsen

  1. Follow most fiction-writing handbooks, and you’ll produce a well-crafted narrative that could have been produce just as easily in 1830.

 

  1. The benefit of performing such reiterative aesthetic gestures is…what, exactly?

 

  1. Habitualization, Viktor Shklovsky wrote, devours work, clothes, furniture, one’s wife, and the fear of war.

 

  1. The difference between art and entertainment:

 

  1. Art deliberately slows and complicates perception so that one can re-think and re-feel language, narrativity, and experience.

 

  1. Entertainment deliberately speeds and simplifies perception so that one doesn’t have to think about or feel very much of anything at all.

 

  1. Boredom is always counter-revolutionary, Guy Debord pointed out.

 

  1. Always, he felt it important to emphasize.

 

  1. Debord: In societies where modern conditions of production prevail, all of life presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles.

 

  1. Even bestsellers exist in a secondary position to the cultural italicizations of film, TV, the Web, the Xbox, the iPad, the iPhone.

 

  1. The world flies at us in bright splinters.

 

  1. Japan: 5 of the top 10 bestsellers in 2007 were originally cell phone novels.

 

  1. Mostly love stories written in text-message-length sentences sans the plot or character development found in conventional novels.

 

  1. My ambition, Friedrich Nietzsche commented 118 years earlier, is to say in 10 sentences what everyone else says in a book.

 

  1. What everyone else does not say in a book, he appended.

 

  1. I grow gnomic, announced Samuel Beckett in a (1934) letter. It is the last phase.

 

  1. What modes of writing, I wonder, what structures, what problematics, best capture how it feels to be alive in this instant, here, now?

 

  1. What, in other words, feels like realism to us?

 

  1. Why?

 

  1. What sort of writing currently answers the questions: Where are we (I use the pronoun loosely), and who, and how?

 

  1. Every age gets the literature it deserves.

 

  1. The Facebook novel.

 

  1. The Twitter.

 

  1. A writer, Thomas Mann suggested, is somebody for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.

 

  1. Stories you watch rather than read: Traveling to Utopia, e.g., by Young-Hae Chang.

 

  1. But also corporate authors’ novels that want to be films when they grow up.

 

  1. Everything will work out in the redemptive end, those books’ thematics and architectonics argue.

 

  1. Every story is the same story because every person is the same person. There is nothing new under the Ecclesiastes.

 

  1. Don’t worry. Be happy. Be sad for a little while, obviously, sense the dramatic tension, but then be happy.

 

  1. Characters are plump people triumphing over adversity. Plot is pleasant arc. Language plain transparence.

 

  1. The body is boring, politics passé, gender stable, the page a predictable array of paragraphs descending. Now go back to sleep, please.

 

  1. N.Y.C., 1968 = 100+ publishing houses = Barth, Barthelme, Coover, Cortázar, Gass, Kesey, Nabokov, Pynchon, Reed, Vonnegut, et al.

 

  1. 1973 = oil crisis = recession.

 

  1. Aesthetic concerns = economic concerns.

 

  1. Prophets = profits.

 

  1. N.Y.C., 2010 = 3 media corporations dominate commercial publishing (while using the print arms of their conglomerates as tax write-offs).

 

  1. Debord: Young people everywhere have been allowed to choose between love and a garbage disposal unit.

 

  1. Debord: Everywhere they have chosen the garbage disposal unit.

 

  1. This is a true story. That’s why it seems so unbelievable.

 

  1. Whatever you write, Beckett reminded us, never compromise, never cheat, and if you plan to write for money or fame, do something else.

 

  1. Dan Brown. Stephen King. Danielle Steele.

 

  1. (Amazing Race. Extreme Makeover. The Biggest Loser.)

 

  1. If you don’t use your own imagination, Ronald Sukenick always told his writing students, somebody else is going to use it for you.

 

  1. Once upon a time, we already knew these things.

 

  1. Mary Higgins Clark. Nora Roberts. Dean Koontz.

 

  1. The purpose of art, Shklovsky maintained, is to impart the sensation of things as they are perceived, and not as they are known.

 

  1. (The Hangover. Land of the Lost. Night at the Museum: Battle for the Smithsonian.)

 

  1. Bachelard re: art: an increase of life, a competition of surprises that stimulates our consciousness and keeps it from becoming somnolent.

 

  1. I can’t understand why people are frightened of new ideas, John Cage observed. I’m frightened of the old ones.

 

  1. The McDonaldization, you could call it, of arts and experience in America.

 

  1. It was, Dickens began, the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…et cetera.

 

  1. E.g.: The stunning proliferation, since the mid-seventies, of independent small/micro presses bringing out beautiful monsters.

 

  1. Coffee House, Chiasmus, Fiction Collective Two.

 

  1. All of us have a place in history, Richard Brautigan once remarked. Mine is clouds.

 

  1. Dzanc, Dalkey Archive, Les Figues.

 

  1. There are two kinds of writing in the world: boring & boring.

 

  1. Boring writing #1: unselfconscious, formulaic, tiresome. (Now go back to sleep, please.)

 

  1. Boring writing #2: writing that bores—as in burrows, plumbs, perturbs, troubles, termites along.

 

  1. Starcherone, Clear Cut, Raw Dog Screaming.

 

  1. If one doesn’t know these names, one doesn’t know anything about contemporary fiction.

 

  1. Shklovsky re: art: to make objects “unfamiliar,” to make forms difficult, to increase the difficulty and length of perception.

 

  1. Alongside the flat faded universe of commercial publishing, there sparkles an alternate one with its very own laws of physics.

 

  1. Independent presses: the quantum state of literature.

 

  1. Viz.: authors buying each other’s work, reading it, reviewing it, teaching it across the country.

 

  1. Viz.: authors launching FB pages, blogs, journals, presses; helping any way they can to get word out about the writing they love.

 

  1. Ask not what publishing has done for you. Ask what you can do for publishing.

 

  1. What have you contributed to fiction’s future this week?

 

  1. A generation, you could call it, of literary activists.

 

  1. Bookish tribalism: one can move among multifarious clans and coalitions as easily as one can move among the aisles in a(n indie) bookstore.

 

  1. Narrativity’s tomorrow, according to Michael Martone: anonymous, viral, collaborative, ephemeral.

 

  1. What modes of writing, what structures, what problematics?

 

  1. What, in other words, feels like realism to us…and why?

 

  1. Let’s begin again. Proposition 1.0: Writing should be a possibility space in which everything can and should be attempted, felt, thought.

 

  1. The postmodern, Jean-François Lyotard imagined, would be that which puts forward the unpresentable in presentation itself.

 

  1. Proposition 2.0: Writing (there is no longer a distinction between fiction & poetry, nonfiction, etc.) should be less accessible, not more.

 

  1. Lyotard: That which searches for new presentations, not in order to enjoy them but in order to impart a stronger sense of the unpresentable.

 

  1. Proposition 2.1: Writing should thus demand greater labor from readers, even uneasiness and apprehension, not effortlessness and comfort.

 

  1. Cf.: the difference between art and entertainment.

 

  1. Ergodic literature, Espen J. Aarseth wrote, is that which requires nontrivial effort on the reader’s part in order to traverse a text.

 

  1. Because—

 

  1. Because vexing texts make us work, make us think and feel in unusual ways, attempt to wake us in the midst of our dreaming.

 

  1. They are tools to help us thinkfeel.

 

  1. Writing that misbehaves is more valuable than that which agreeably tells us what we already know in ways we’ve already seen.

 

  1. Meaning is meaning, but structure is meaning as well.

 

  1. All art, Anthony Burgess noted, thrives on technical difficulties.

 

  1. Because—

 

  1. Literature, Roland Barthes noted, is the question minus the answer.

 

  1. Because—

 

  1. Stories generated and sustained by the American political system, entertainment industry, and academia, Curtis White noted, have taught us:

 

  1. Precisely how not to think for ourselves.

 

  1. Another way of saying this: The Difficult Imagination is dead.

 

  1. Another way of saying this: Long live the Difficult Imagination.

 

  1. Because—

 

  1. The Difficult Imagination asks us to envision the text of the text, the text of our lives, and the text of the world other than they are:

 

  1. Thereby asking us to contemplate the possibility of fundamental change in all three.

 

  1. Return, through complexity and challenge, to perception and contemplation.

 

  1. Can innovative writing be taught?

 

  1. Can essays (like the one you’re reading) be written that give productive advice on how to write innovatively?

 

  1. Yes.

 

  1. No.

 

  1. When we say We are teaching innovative writing, we really mean: We are re-learning methods of reading.

 

  1. We are re-learning how to experience textuality from the inside out.

 

  1. How to pay attention to narrative dynamics by practicing the thoughtful, passionate disruption of narrative dynamics.

 

  1. Every technique a writer employs carries with it philosophical and political consequences…whether or not s/he can articulate them.

 

  1. Whether or not s/he is even aware of the fact.

 

  1. Because—

 

  1. Fiction = technique = ideology.

 

  1. Meaning is meaning, but structure is meaning as well.

 

  1. In aesthetics, as in law, ignorance is never admissible as a defense.

 

  1. E.g.: When we say Freytag’s Pyramid, we mean: How can we undo it, redo it, ask why in one sense it exists and in another it doesn’t?

 

  1. How/why would Text X be effectively different if told in another style, from another point of view, within another architecture?

 

  1. What Eliot, Faulkner, Joyce, Kafka, Musil, Pound, Proust, Stein, & Woolf taught us, although we have already forgotten.

 

  1. When it comes to art, success is a vastly overrated affair.

 

  1. We write wholeheartedly into our own obsolescence, our own obscurity, Carole Maso declared—a place at once tender and absurd and fierce.

 

  1. What Kathy Acker, Lydia Davis, Gary Lutz, Ben Marcus, & Steve Tomasula taught us, although we aren’t conscious of it yet.

 

  1. (Petronius. Laurence Sterne. Joris-Karl Huysmans.)

 

  1. The narrative you are working on today is only as good as the best narratives you have read within the last two months.

 

  1. Mark Danielewski. Shelley Jackson. David Markson.

 

  1. Lance Olsen to his workshop: If you have any questions, I’ll try to answer them. If you have any answers, I’ll try to question them.

 

  1. Laird Hunt. Susan Howe. Joe Wenderoth.

 

  1. Try again, Beckett’s protagonist in Worstward Ho eggs himself on. Fail again. Fail better.

 

  1. Samuel R. Delany. Kate Bernheimer. Raymond Federman.

 

  1. Limit Texts = those that take elements of narrativity to their brink so that we can never think of them in the same ways again.

 

  1. Innovative Narrative = narrative that asks: what is narrative, what can it do, and how and why?

 

  1. Because—

 

  1. On the other side of failure lies opportunity.

 

  1. Noy Holland. Lidia Yuknavitch. David Foster Wallace.

 

  1. What modes? What structures? What problematics?

 

  1. On the other side of failure lie Guy Davenport, Gilbert Sorrentino, and Michael Joyce.

 

  1. There are some texts that, once you’ve taken them down from the shelf, you’ll never be able to put back up again.

 

  1. Ask yourself: If it’s the case every genre does something other genres can’t, then what does “fiction” do that film, TV, the Xbox, etc.?

 

  1. Martin Heidegger. Hélène Cixous. Mikhail Bahktin. (Theory being a subset of narrative that informs narrative.)

 

  1. What genre besides “fiction” allows you to reJoyce in language, explore the complexities of consciousness, for hours, weeks, on end?

 

  1. The only useful advice on craft I have ever given: craft is always about more than craft.

 

  1. Write the narrative you’ve always wanted to read, but then ask yourself why you’ve always wanted to read it.

 

  1. Jacques Derrida. Walter Benjamin. Jean Baudrillard. Michel Foucault. Georges Bataille. (Ghosts in the machine.)

 

  1. Don’t write about what you know. Write about what you want to know.

 

  1. The only useful advice on craft I have ever given: Write a novel that’s seven chapters and three pages long.

 

  1. Write a narrative that fits on a postcard, then send it to a friend who lives across the country.

 

  1. Write a story that’s precisely 140 characters long. One sentence. 10 words or fewer. How are they structurally different?

 

  1. Write a story composed solely of nouns.

 

  1. Write a critifiction, when critifiction is defined as what you imagine when I say the word critifiction.

 

  1. Write out of restless curiosity.

 

  1. Ask yourself: Why is self-therapy the opposite of literature?

 

  1. Write out of restless curiosity.

 

  1. Ask yourself: What did Truman Capote mean when he said, re: Jack Kerouac: That’s not writing. That’s typing.

 

  1. What did you try and what did you learn?: the only significant questions to ask yourself after finishing a first draft. (There should be at least five drafts more after that.)

 

  1. Ask yourself, along with The Talking Heads: Well, how did I get here?

 

  1. Where? Who?

 

  1. The only useful advice on craft I have ever given:

 

  1. Write a fiction set inside an disembodied mind. Make it impossible to know the world outside. Shun details, senses, traces of externality.

 

  1. Write because you don’t know what you think until you do, and then you know it even less.

 

  1. Write a narrative in which none of the words are yours, but cut-ups of passages from J. K. Rowling, Cixous, and Joyce’s Ulysses.

 

  1. Remember: whenever you write, you are carrying on a conversation with other authors across space and time.

 

  1. Remember: “Writing in isolation” is an embarrassing Romantic myth.

 

  1. Narrative, Barthes noticed, is a multi-dimensional space in which a variety of writings, none of them original, blend and clash.

 

  1. Or, for example:

 

  1. Write a narrative in which characterization undoes the Freudian model of identity that believes: past trauma = present self.

 

  1. Undoes a narrative that believes in a unified operator sitting in a tiny red chair behind your forehead.

 

  1. Because—

 

  1. Because writing should always be a thought experiment.

 

  1. If not that, then what?

 

  1. Because when we say characterization, we really mean: How do biology and culture manufacture identity through us?

 

  1. By re-imagining characterization, we come to contemplate the devices by which we tell, retell, and untell ourselves.

 

  1. We remind ourselves we are always-already not ourselves and not not ourselves.

 

  1. (For example.)

 

  1. Because when we say We are talking about craft, we really mean: We are really talking about everything else.

Lance Olsen is the author of many novels, including My Red Heaven, Dreamlives of Debris, Theories of Forgetting, Calendar of Regrets, and Head in Flames; five nonfiction books, five short-story collections, a poetry chapbook, and two anti-textbooks about experimental writing, including Architectures of Possibility: After Innovative Writing; as well as editor of two collections of essays about innovative contemporary fiction. Recipient of numerous awards, he teaches experimental narrative theory and practice at the University of Utah.

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