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e_moon60

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Unexpected Consequence of Literary Exploration [Jan. 8th, 2015|10:12 am]
e_moon60
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[Current Mood |tired]

Yesterday evening, when the internet was down for awhile, ...for a time yesterday, I read a literary writer's work.

It had a strong effect.  I dreamed about being lowered into a shark tank with one limb at a time dangling so the shark could bite it off about six inches at a time.  When that limb was a little over half gone (and healed) whoever it was would carefully dip the next in the tank.  Eventually I had no limbs left, and was helpless.


Naturally nothing in the book was  that dramatic.  It was, like all such books, about ordinary people living ordinary lives of apparent modest satisfaction and covert modest misery, and mostly nothing happened to change that though sometimes the people made abortive modest efforts or  had pastel-tinted sex with someone who was married to someone else, which did not accomplish any real change except to expose the covert modest misery of both.  The most exciting thing in the whole book was a cow moderately upset by a stranger on the railroad tracks carrying a suitcase.  The moderately upset cow was reluctant to come into the barn to be milked.  But not for long.  Because even the cow wasn't allowed strong emotion.

No, the dream was my brain telling me how it felt as story after pointless story entered my eyes and then brain and then passed on, leaving only gaping emptiness behind.

If the standards of modern literary fiction were applied to fiction of previous ages, we would not have any of the classics, but a collection of anecdotes told by polite people sitting around in the ancient equivalent of beige living rooms and classrooms.  "In the market, it was dusty.  Sarah bought two shekels' worth of unground grain.  It was warmer than usual.  She was aware of Josiah's wife Leah watching her. She went home and made bread as usual.  First she ground the grain.  She always ground the grain first, though her mother-in-law Rachel sometimes softened the grain in water before grinding it.  That made the mush sticky, she said."  And on through a day in which at the end Sarah gives her husband bread for supper and he says thank you but you missed a grain--look, this is still whole.

And it would be said to fairly reek with Meaning.

Oh, and nuance.  Nuanced Meaning.  Subtlety, one shade of beige among many but if you're really an expert, you will know exactly which one, though there may be a polite argument about whether it's beige 234 or beige 233.   You must go to college and study hard to learn to tell the difference and apply the correct number to the correct shade.  No one who mistakes 234 for 231 is a real reader--only 2 digits away are allowed to educated persons.   Anyone who said "It's all beige" would be outed as a common person hardly able to read "See Dick run," who probably read (gasp) genre fiction and (sneer) liked it.

I am going to spend the day helping my brain regrow four limbs and my tongue, which was nibbled off by minnows in the last part of the dream.

To start the recovery process, I shall swear not to read any more literary fiction this year.

My brain's a little clearer already, though I can't trust it with the day's work of writing fiction, because what I wrote while in Beigeland certainly colored my complaints about Beigeland.  I need to get rid of the beige floaters in front of my mental vision.  There are red gas cans and blue gas cans sitting the yard--different fuels for the lawn tractor (which is green and yellow--not beige) and the chain saw.  The cat, by the pond, is frustrated because it is frozen.  She usually drinks her morning water out there.  Birds were skidding on it earlier.

No, see, the beige is still in my writing.  "The lion leapt on the wildebeest's hindquarters, digging in with its claws, weighing it down, kicking and [what noise to wildebeests make?], until the other lion caught up, clamped down on the wildebeest's throat...."  No.  Still. Damn beige.  Damn the shark tank dream.  Even strong language can't scrape it off my mental teeth.  Between me and the story I'm writing is a so-far impenetrable pane of dirty glass, making everything beige.  Or maybe taupe at the edges.

Already I can't remember the names of the people in the literary writer's books.  Or the scenes, though they were described, I believe, accurately enough, just without any attendant color.   There was snow here.  Trees there.  A field or two (with a cow in it.)  Railroad tracks.   Houses.  Apartment buildings.  Streets.  The usual generic settings for modern fiction.   All in the muted colors of yarn in some knitting shops where everything is dulled, softened, and if there's one skein of red, you know it's in the fall, the red is called Christmas Red, and it looks garish.   People and settings and situations, all flattened, softened, made as close to beige as possible--the faintest touch of blue or green or yellow mixed with the beige, just enough to see vague outlines of the generic Everyman/woman/child, Everyhouse/store/neighborhood.

Sigh.   Every year I read at least one volume of literary fiction, and most of the time I come out of it feeling as if someone had soaked me in water until all the flavor was gone.   Or as if parts of me had been removed, the interesting parts.  I don't mind that people write this way--it's their right, and everyone should write what he or she wants.  But why, with so many examples of vivid, interesting, colorful, memorable writing in the past, is beige the only color range in the literary palette?

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Comments:
[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2015-01-08 07:30 pm (UTC)
I know...they say it's character-centered, but it doesn't feel like it to me. It feels attenuated-character-centered. Nevil Shute's one of my favorites and his work is intensely character-centered but the characters are...interesting people. People who would be interesting if you overheard them chatting in an airport.
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From: geekmerc
2015-01-08 08:12 pm (UTC)
I think the problem centers around the authors, though. Perhaps they feel that real people can't have exciting lives. They are limiting their scope in a strange belief that imagination does not belong in their work. However, real people have imaginations and adventurous people turn those imaginations into reality.

Fantasy genre in particular has always been exceptional at making me reflect on my thoughts and beliefs. There is a reason I read Deed 5+ times in a single year. I believe it's because fantasy has more freedom to consider deeper issues without offending people. The closer you are to the real world, the more you will have characters trampling on what people cherish.

I don't cherish events for the event itself. It was the feelings that I remember; conquering fear while bungee jumping, watching fondly as my best friend joked around while looking out over the breath-taking lights of New York City from the 108th floor of the WTC on New Years, 2000. Stories about every day life seem to just fall flat.
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2015-01-09 01:04 am (UTC)
A writer's brain (at least mine) absorbs events both as personal experience (which of course includes the emotional component of the memory--the feelings) and as Material. In the latter role WriterBrain is relentless in noting, consciously, things that the writer IN the experience might prefer to just feel. It's like a photographer's brain automatically noting f-stops and apertures and which filter he/she would use if this were an occasion when he/she was shooting (and for some reason isn't.) I sang in one concert during which WriterBrain kept popping up to note how much my feet hurt and exactly how, something I was trying to ignore. (But which, of course, showed up later in a story, just this past year. WriterBrain stored the physical sensation *and* the words it prodded me to think of using to describe it at the time. All while I was standing there listening to a soloist before the choir's next entrance, and also storing up the expression on the conductor's face, a slight different buzz on one string of one period string instrument, and so on.)
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[User Picture]From: mrs_redboots
2015-01-08 08:35 pm (UTC)
Your characters are like that, too - I've told you before that I sat up far too late reading one of your Herris Serano novels because I really cared what was going to happen to Lady Cecelia, even though I knew perfectly well, having read a later novel, what did happen! But you made me care about her.

Some of these beige novels (what a good description, by the way), you find yourself thinking, "Why am I reading this drivel about people I really couldn't care less about?" Even worse, in some of them all the characters are deeply unpleasant people, and why would I want to waste my time reading about them?
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