Experiments with Fiction, Part 3

No exploration of experimental fiction would be complete without reference to the Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle (Workshop of Potential Literature), or Oulipo.

This literary circle, founded by the Surrealist Marcel Duchamp and some friends in France in 1960, literally plays with words. The group is famous for making an almost mathematical use of “constraints” to stimulate creativity and form new works.

Italo Calvino, perhaps one of the more famous members, wrote a number of beautiful works of fiction, some of which experiment with their own creation. If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler takes you, the reader, through a succession of novelistic passages, each one unique, and yet driving a plot forward as you search for your companion, another reader. Another elegant experiment of his is The Castle of Crossed Destinies (Italian version only), which builds a number of tales out of the archetypal figures of a deck of Tarot cards as they interact.

Georges Perec, another Oulipo member, and one of the more productive authors, wrote a metaphysical mystery novel called A Void, in which Parisian Anton Vowl goes missing, and as his friends search for him by reading his diary, they disappear as well. The original French novel was notable for never using the letter E, and the English translation completely captures the fun.  The Art and Craft of Approaching your Head of Department to Submit A Request for A Raise was crafted in the late 1960s with flow charts and the modern computer in mind, eliminating all punctuation and capitalization. In the age of texting, it deserves a second look, especially for its depiction of office anxiety and humor.

Raymond Queneau, another of the post-Surrealist founders of Oulipo, wrote a number of famous experimental texts, but his most influential was perhaps Exercises in Style, which tells the same story – a man sees a certain stranger twice in one day – 99 different ways. Another influential title of his is Zazie in the Métro, which is told completely in street slang, jargon, and cant (a much bigger difference in French).

Experiments with Fiction, Part 2

In my first post on experimental fiction, I mentioned the Library of Congress and its creation of the term, but I didn’t communicate how idiosyncratically the term is used. The good people at the Library of Congress created the term, but applied it in ways that might puzzle the attentive reader. Why, for instance, does Gertrude Stein never have the term applied to her strangely repetitive works? Why do two of Thomas Pynchon’s novels have it, but the rest, which are surely more qualified, do not? And what on earth is Garth Stein doing in here? Continue reading “Experiments with Fiction, Part 2”

Experiments with Fiction, Part 1

Find Tao Lin's eeeee_eee_eeee in the Seattle Public Library catalog.I recently read a strange little book by Tao Lin, called Eeeee Eee Eeee. It is fiction, a novel of sorts, although its characters are almost uniformly flat and disaffected (including the dolphins and the bears), anything resembling a plot dissolves after a few pages of slightly bored or mildly anxious introspection, and the language feels deeply repetitive. I would recommend it to you, but when all the usual crowd pleasers are missing, how can I?

Continue reading “Experiments with Fiction, Part 1”

New literary craze has readers topsy-turvy!

Readers of avant-garde literature are flipping over the latest experimental wrinkle in fiction. Inspired by the narrative hijinx of such post-modern stylists as the late David Foster Wallace, and Mark Danielewski (whose Only Revolutions asks the reader to rotate the book while reading), a bold new breed of writers and publishers are literally overturning the literary scene with what may be the most dramatic re-purposing of traditional prose since Lawrence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy: inversive fiction, or upside-down books.

inverted-copy-of-john-irvings-a-son-of-the-circus-courtesy-of-justluc1Although the tropes and conventions of these new topsy-turvy tomes are similar to and in many cases identical with more traditional — or “right-side-up” — books, they are framed in an entirely new way that places radical demands on the reader. “Inverted literature is certainly not everyone’s cup of fur,” remarks professor emeritus Duns C. Penwiper of the Stanislaw Lem Institute for Narratological Science in Cheney. “These stories place great demands on the reader, requiring them to learn what is in effect a completely new language — a language that is, as one might say, both upside-down and Continue reading “New literary craze has readers topsy-turvy!”