The novel and the Avant-Garde

According to Umberto Eco, “contemporary culture is a culture of avant-gardes. ... because every avant-garde is the negation of a previous avant-garde.”

Thus, it used sometimes to be argued that the next stage in the history of the novel was always an anti-novel, which in turn became the novel that had to be countered with another anti-novel. But this seems not to be true. There is a long history of avant-garde fiction, which never ceases, as it should on this theory, to be avant-garde.

Therefore, what kind of cultural work is a novel doing? is a question that should be more frequently, and more complexly, asked of writers and critics of avant-garde novels.

In between "process-" and "product-based" fiction.

According to Nathan Hamilton, there are two general modes in UK & US [fiction] ... one is a product-focused aesthetic, the other is a process-based approach. The product-focused aesthetic relies on clarity of context, presenting self-contained, more or less complete thoughts and evincing a concern for descriptive accuracy when considering the external world. It is, to caricature slightly, occupied with realizing recalled events, sometimes through memory's distorting effects, while keeping failings of language under discursive control. This is often also called 'mainstream.’ Its weakness is that it can rely too heavily on rhetorical commonplaces, or conceits, and can easily feel naively decorative to the more philosophically concerned, or sentimental or even redundant in its efforts to describe the outside world convincingly. The process-led approach ... is concerned with [fiction] as a way of speaking about the world that simultaneously presents the difficulties of doing so. To the young contemporary ear, being too 'product' in approach can end up sounding pompous or over-wrought; old hat. Too experimental or 'process' focused can seem solipsistic and, again, but differently, over-wrought ... So, we have a popularizing neo-surrealist ironic school in evidence, growing out of a collision between the 'product' and 'process' approaches outlined; a [fiction] of the absurd, ironizing, meaning-making, which in fact one can find moving and meaningful, allegorically.

The need for 'Defamiliarization'

According to Shklovsky, “the purpose of art is to impart the sensation of things as they are perceived and not as they are known. The technique of art is to make objects 'unfamiliar', to make forms difficult, to increase the difficulty and length of perception, because the process of perception is an aesthetic end in itself and must be prolonged.”

         So in these caustic times, given the tumultuous reality we face all around the world, we must create. And it does not matter what we create, but it is imperative to subvert and defamiliarize that which is imposed upon us.

A sentinel, the cat.

Not that he’s guarding my house from danger, but that he hisses at conventional literature. He can sniff the blight and he skips through it. But he would dig into literary narrative with the left paw, with the right, he thrashes traditional expectations. That’s my cat!

About bread...

"This must be the smell of life. I don’t know how else to describe this sensation. So simple, yet so deeply rooted inside my brain. Bread can keep me alive, or maybe I’m alive so I can eat bread. So powerful, so elemental. And it doesn’t matter where I am, what city, what continent. This smell burs inside of me and reaches the core of my existence. More compelling than ecstasy, more potent than fear. I think of bread as the primordial substance. The man makes bread so he can continue to be a man who eats bread. Circular, never ending." --Viator

Flaubert on books and pyramids

"Books aren't made in the way that babies are: they are made like pyramids. There's some long-pondered plan, and then great blocks of stone are placed one on top of the other, and it's back-breaking, sweaty, time-consuming work. And all to no purpose! It just stands like that in the desert! But it towers over it prodigiously." --Gustave Flaubert

Winterson on art as antimatter...

"It is certainly true that a criterion for true art, as opposed to its cunning counterfeit, is its ability to take us where the artist has been, to this other different place where we are free from the problems of gravity. When we are drawn into the art we are drawn out of ourselves. We are no longer bound by matter, matter has become what it is: empty space and light." --Jeanette Winterson