Experimental Fiction –
An Introduction for Readers and Writers
By Julie Armstrong
Bloomsbury – £17.99
If you don’t feel compelled to write reams of stuff by the end of reading and (hopefully) fully digesting this sheer ambidextrous explanation of what great literature has to offer, then writing’s probably not for you in you anyway. For such is the altogether, colourful gambit of Experimental Fiction – An Introduction for Readers and Writers, that upon reaching its more than measured conclusion, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if a vast number of inspired ants in pants make a cathartic calamity of themselves.
Reason being, Julie Armstrong’s concise, chronological investigation bequeaths the reader with over a thousand ways in which to approach writing. Or not approach writing – as is more often than not the case.
From ‘Form and Fiction’ to ‘Gender Crisis,’ ‘Spirituality and the Beats’ to ‘Sexuality, Drug Culture and Fiction;’ from ‘Identity in Flux’ to ‘Giving Voice to Other,’ ‘Changing Perception of Reality’ to ‘Electronic/Hyper/Interactive Fiction,’ the authoress traverses an exceedingly wide terrain of literal potentiality.
And with having done so within the parameters of a mere 196 pages, it’s no surprise she cuts to the chase in next to no time.
Already in Section One, (‘When Was/What Was Modernity(ism)?’), Armstrong immediately discusses the profound impact that modernism has had upon fiction: ”Fiction became self-reflexive, that is, the work was not a representation of reality a realist art was, but a representation of the processes of representation; a work that explored its own structure. So the way the story was told became as important as the story itself. For example, in Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, Hemingway treats narrative and dialogue as self-conscious exercises by which the author himself recognizes to be exercises […]. And so, new forms and writing techniques came into being […], symbols, motifs, fragmentation dislocation, juxtaposition, collage, ambiguity, montage, stream of consciousness and multiple narratives, as the focus came to be on a character’s conscious and subconscious mind, as opposed to character development and plot.”
Needless to say, the further one delves into the book (which, given the subject mater, can on occasion, border on the scientific if not the seemingly dense), the more on stumbles upon the many varied offshoots of totally different writing styles.
One such instance is that of identity, where, at the outset of ‘Identity in Flux,’ Armstrong reminds us of the long lasting trajectory of Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex: ”Even as far back as 1949 […] gender, as distinct from biological sex, is a construct, something made by society, that is, one is not born a woman. If gender, then, is a construct and can be changed, manipulated and even performed, it can be viewed as a facet of a multiple, contradictory, fluid identity, one, that is, in flux.” While a little further into Experimental Fiction, Armstrong tackles the continuing influence of scientific theory upon literature; and she does so by way of addressing Jeanette Winterson’s Sexing the Cherry: ”Winterson is making the claim that time and space can only be represented through language and since language is arbitrary to the extent that different languages have conflicting systems of representation, how can we ever begin to suggest that words have any direct link to the concept which they are trying to evoke?”
In and of themselves, there’s much to ponder within the above quotes; just as there indeed is throughout much of this contemplative, and very worthwhile book. The mere fact that so many writers are touched upon and discussed (James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Franz Kafka, Marcel Proust, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, William Gibson Italo Calvino to name but a few), exemplifies as much.
An inspired way to start the year, especially so far as both the understanding and the fulfilment of challenging writing is concerned.