There is nothing beyond what is written…

lifteditedI recently was treated to the claim that ‘omitting speech marks’ was a passionate act by a writer determined to leave their mark on the consciousness of the world, one we too rarely see…

I had to address it, at length, in exasperation, bewilderment, despair, cycling back to exasperation. I may even have to make a separate category for it. For the tl:dr brigade you have been warned..

Putting aside the fact that it is utterly derivative, done by many before, some of whom have been read and enjoyed by many and.. Joyce.. let’s address the matter of how you could possibly imagine this would in any way ‘wrestle the literary world into submission.’ I am not sure I wish to wrestle the literary world into submission, I am not even sure I care for any who would but should you attempt it at the very least acknowledge the magnitude of what you are about to do and respect, as every dictator before you has, that this monumental task begins with understanding the world on its most basic level and manipulating the shit out of it.

Essentially, you need to understand how literature works.

Most of life alientates us, we are forever looking in, nose frustrated against the window. Images of atrocities pass before our eyes almost daily and that thought often wanders through, ‘just like in the movies’. The images remote and unreal. We can commiserate tea in hand, never worry our passionately half assed thoughts will ever need to hold up to anything sturdier than the pub pedant. Its all quite safely apart.

But…

the unique, utterly unique, quality of literature is that it happens inside our heads, not on a screen, or a stage. The only senses we have are those that the author gives us, as they lead us blind, deaf and helpless through their world. We cannot say we saw happiness because we were sure we caught a smile lingering at the corners of the actors lips, not unless the writer tells us, but if..if.. he tells us, we will feel it.

A teacher once said to a student diligently trying to conjure excuses for a character’s behaviour, ‘there is nothing beyond what is written’. This is its brilliance, its potency and why it, above all other art forms, can get under our skin. We are offered a complete world, but to appreciate it, we must surrender.

Why would you want to change that?

And yet most of lit-fic seems determined to do this.

Am I being unfair? Have I misinterpreted the term? Undoubtedly not all books sold under this tag will fit, but I would say they are in the minority, albeit a beautiful one. Literary fiction, if it can be defined at all and it does by nature seem to repel this, revelling in being both an intractable label and undefinable quantity, gives itself away by its very name and its position determinedly opposite ‘commercial’ fiction. It is erudite, serious, searing to the ugly core of human nature, offering up the unpalatable truth the rest of us shy away from.

All good, but…

The biggest criticism of most lit fic books, if you look them up on amazon reviews or just, you know, ask a friend, a normal everyday reader, is that the characters are completely unlikable. This may not be a universal truth but it is most definitely a prevalent one. A common feature, long considered out of date in genre fiction, is that of the omniscient point of view. A great deal of literary fiction still chafes under the ego of its narrator and it makes it difficult for us to connect to characters we are constantly being told are contemptible. It is even more difficult when you see yourself in the pathetic, and all of us with any self-awareness likely will, but we still like to think of ourselves as unneeding of redemption, simply human not monstrous.

And that’s only the tip of the proverbial. Every prevalent quality of current literary fiction seems designed to alienate the reader, taking pride in quirks of form, while the content itself has become what it prides itself upon opposing: a genre. Its conventions as well worn as any other, the characters are points not people, the world a series of metaphors all elegantly strung together and saying nothing. Emotion is almost invariably melancholic; it seems faintly built in to literature, maybe something to do with relating events that have already passed, but reaches its zenith in lit fic, a single note unchanging. As such the minute I begin reading I know what I am going to get and how things will end, but most importantly I know I will not be allowed to get close enough to care. And it leads me to wonder, why bother beginning?

Are they genuinely so utterly unaware of how literature (their chosen field) really works? Or do they simply not care? Whichever it is, it really pisses me off!

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