If you shoot for ambiguity, some people are going to come away from your work bored or confused. Here's how to cope.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2018/01/11 17:00
From the last post: "Democratization should not consist of the destruction of mystery, but finding ways to encourage all and sundry to participate in the mystery just as it is — and, moreover, to not let that process become a form of mystification unto itself."
That was pretty gnarly and tough to decode, wasn't it? OK, decode I shall.
On very stable geniuses and the like.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2018/01/10 17:00
It's hard not to look at recent news of Trump's bragging about his very stable genius, and then flash back through the history of anti-intellectualism in this country's political history. The thing I find most common isn't so much anti-intellectualism, not so much being against higher thought per se, but something slightly different. It's resentment at the idea that someone might be smarter than you are, that they don't have to brag about it because they can just go out and be smart, that they are smart enough to lecture you about why you're wrong about something when you know you're right about it, and so the response to that is not to lift yourself up, but to drag the others down and usurp their place. You're the smart one, not them. Or at the very least, you're smart too, and anyone who says you're not is a lying liar.
"Are we so desperate to solve our art?"By Serdar Yegulalp on 2018/01/08 17:00
Are we so desperate to solve our art? Genuine mystery these days is in such short supply these days, so my advice? Listen to 1977's Low and let it guide your thoughts like an oar on the river of your imagination and the current of art history. We didn't come to Bowie because he could be easily understood. We put his albums on because they made our collective emptiness bearable. His albums made the journey of life seem like it had a destination.
Most people reading this might be familiar with A. J. Weberman, or at the very least "Dylanology" — the practice of trying to divine Bob Dylan's work as if it were god's entrails. I always found that kind of pseudo-scholarship repulsive, but it took reading the term "solving our art", as above, to really snap into place what's wrong with it all.
When is it OK to quit reading a "boring" book?By Serdar Yegulalp on 2018/01/08 08:00
There's a fridge magnet I ran into once — at the Strand, maybe? — that said something like, "Life's too short to read bad books." Meaning, if you find yourself 15% or 20% into a story that's you're just not feeling in any measure, put it down and move on.
It's good advice, and I've used it many times myself. But it also seems like a potential trap, a way to reinforce one's own bubble.
If written fiction's becoming nothing but a prelude to adaptation, what's that mean for written fiction itself?By Serdar Yegulalp on 2018/01/06 17:00
Great television is taking over the space occupied by many novels, and taking with them many excellent writers. And by and large, it’s delivering the same rewards to its audience. But what about novels that exploit the opportunities that are available only to the form of the novel, such as novels that explore interiority, or rely on the novel’s versatile treatment of time and causation? Who will speak for such novels?
If I seem reluctant to sound the alarm for the demise of the literary novel, even as a novelist myself, it is because modern fiction, particularly English-language fiction, has moved in the direction of the televisual, anyway. Much so-called literary fiction is evidently written with an eye to an option for film or TV adaptation. The response to the challenges from television and other media has been to become more like the offerings of those media. In some ways, this is understandable behavior on the part of each novelist. For all but a tiny few, it’s nearly impossible to make anything even approaching a living from writing literary fiction. But the effect of this in aggregate is to leave much of modern fiction looking like an inferior version of TV. If novelists are relinquishing the very things that are exclusively the province of the novel, then they are complicit in the demise of the novel. If they don’t want to save the novel, why should anyone else?
It's hard to make a living writing fiction, since the market for it dwindles ever more. There's more to read, more to watch, more to play, more to do than just read books, but reading books provide something you can't get from watching TV or playing video games or what have you. Not that they're superior experiences — that's up to the individual experience and the individual experiencer — but that they are singular experiences.
It doesn't surprise me, then, that making a work inherently that much more adaptable is a good way to turn what otherwise would be a marginal hobby into a way of life. This led me to think maybe the problem isn't in the work habits, but in the expectations; maybe the better thing to do is to treat literary fiction like a hobby and not a vocation, because we know the demand for it is correspondingly narrow, and we shouldn't be in the business of making social guarantees for people who want to do something that isn't all that monetizable.
And still nothing on.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2018/01/05 17:00
While there is more great television [now] than at any time in history, audiences are having more trouble than ever distinguishing the great from the merely competent. I also believe that there is so much U.S. television we have lost much of the thread of a coherent, collective conversation about what is good, what is very good and what is great.
I think one of the unanticipated side effects of having so much cultural stuff is that it's harder to make a conversation out of all of it.
On why books need to be written to be books, not film pitches-to-be.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2018/01/05 08:00
Last post I mentioned how the forthcoming movie Ready Player One, from Ernest Cline's novel, seemed like it was always meant to be a movie anyway. That, apart from how wretched the book was in general (nerd nostalgia is no less gruesome than any other kind), was the biggest thing I brought away from reading it. RPO read more like a treatment for a screenplay than it did a novel, so maybe filming it was just the intended end result anyway.
Science fiction, rebooted.
New York City
Other Lives Of The Mind