PDA

View Full Version : Realists vs. Experimentalists -- Have the Realists "Won"?



childeroland
10-16-2010, 07:30 PM
In Quarterly Conversations's review of Steven Moore's new history of the novel (http://quarterlyconversation.com/the-novel-an-alternate-history-beginnings-to-1600-by-steven-moore), the reviewer maintains that,
The kind of novel many people nowadays swallow like sweets is a mainstream work that contains a painstakingly assembled realism; in contrast, the kind of novel many people look askance at is called experimental. The realists have won the day, in most minds, when it comes to what’s considered a “real” novel, but it wasn’t always that way. I'd like to ask -- do you think the "realists" have indeed won the day, and if so is this equally true outside the United States?

By 'experimental' Moore means formally innovative writers like Gaddis, Gass, Joyce, etc.

aruna
10-16-2010, 07:34 PM
I never liked experimental writing so...
I don't think it was a battle, just a matter of taste.

Maxinquaye
10-16-2010, 07:53 PM
I write realism, and I'm a bit put off by the statement that I don't experiment. I do, a lot. All the time, and you really need to or you'll write badly.

childeroland
10-16-2010, 08:23 PM
So is it not so much that "one side" or another have won (I mean the hearts of most readers) so much as the distinction doesn't really exist? Or if it does, it's not really 'realist' vs. 'experimentalist' but something else, like 'traditionalist' vs. 'formalists' or whatever? After all, a lot of the innovations, to call them that, of earlier writers tend to become conventions in later 'traditionalist' writers, don't they? And a lot of so-called experimentalists like Sterne and Lydia Davis seem as realist to me as writers like Galsworthy. A lot of the writers Moore mentions as experimentalists never strike me as strange when I'm reading them. So could it just be that readers are shying away from what they consider stylistic extravagance and that is what Moore is really talking about?

gothicangel
10-16-2010, 08:54 PM
In Quarterly Conversations's review of Steven Moore's new history of the novel (http://quarterlyconversation.com/the-novel-an-alternate-history-beginnings-to-1600-by-steven-moore), the reviewer maintains that, I'd like to ask -- do you think the "realists" have indeed won the day, and if so is this equally true outside the United States?

By 'experimental' Moore means formally innovative writers like Gaddis, Gass, Joyce, etc.

Crikey, I don't think I've read anything like that since English Lit at college.

I think writing like that is what gives academics a bad name.

kuwisdelu
10-16-2010, 10:29 PM
I hope not. I love the more experimental writing.

It seems like 90% of the literary short stories out there are re-hashings of stories from Dubliners, and frankly, I want more of the new, amazing things.

leahzero
10-16-2010, 10:46 PM
Realism hasn't "won," because there was never a serious competition between "realism" and "experimentalism" in fiction. Realism is accessible by its very nature; experimental writing is more or less an intellectual exercise and is, by definition, niche. The experimental works that leak into the mainstream tend to be mild if not tepid exercises in experimentation. Joyce and his contemporaries weren't exactly turning fiction on its head--they retained vital components of traditional narrative structure and elements. Their innovations were primarily stylistic. And that's why they were able to pervade the mainstream and exert significant influence over the literary canon while other, more radical writers languished in obscurity.

I think certain aspects of narrative are essentially mandated in fiction that wants to appeal outside of an intellectual niche, because narrative is a part of the way our minds work. We assemble data into patterns, patterns into myths. We tell each other stories about our day. We teach children about the world through narrative. It's part of what we are. Our brains are wired for it.

Experimental fiction that diverges too far afield from accessible narrative is no longer a story, IMO. It's a mental game, a thought exercise, a verbal puzzle. Certainly these things can be and are enjoyable. But they're not really in competition with fiction that adheres to certain elemental aspects of narrative.

blacbird
10-16-2010, 11:03 PM
This is yet another pseudo-dichotomy. William Faulkner was nothing if not a "realist" in the stories he wrote and themes he addressed, but his craft approach toward them was decidedly "experimental".

KTC
10-16-2010, 11:28 PM
I really don't give a shit. I go for good writing. I can find that in both camps. I'm certainly not going to limit myself. That would be dumb.

DancingMaenid
10-16-2010, 11:35 PM
I wonder, is this anything new? If I'm understanding "experimentalist" right in this context, it seems to me that more "straight-forward" stories are probably more likely to have mass appeal in general. And people who are big fans of experimentalists may be able to enjoy the so-called "realist" stories, but the reverse might not always be true.

Maybe it's like modern art. Not everyone can look at a Jackson Pollack painting and see a great work of art. But I'd guess that most people, including Jackson Pollack fans, would be able to look at the Mona Lisa and see a great work of art. That doesn't mean that Pollack's work isn't good or that it isn't appreciated by a lot of people.

I don't see any competition. People who enjoy experimental fiction will continue to enjoy it, and I think it's always been a niche.

Jamesaritchie
10-17-2010, 12:25 AM
In Quarterly Conversations's review of Steven Moore's new history of the novel (http://quarterlyconversation.com/the-novel-an-alternate-history-beginnings-to-1600-by-steven-moore), the reviewer maintains that, I'd like to ask -- do you think the "realists" have indeed won the day, and if so is this equally true outside the United States?

By 'experimental' Moore means formally innovative writers like Gaddis, Gass, Joyce, etc.

Dear God, I hope the realists have won the war, and I hope it was an unconditional surrender.

aruna
10-17-2010, 10:00 AM
Experimental fiction that diverges too far afield from accessible narrative is no longer a story, IMO. It's a mental game, a thought exercise, a verbal puzzle. Certainly these things can be and are enjoyable. But they're not really in competition with fiction that adheres to certain elemental aspects of narrative.

Exactly. And I'm not interested in mental puzzles.
It seems to me that some people are slightly offended because creating this dichotomy appears at first glance divisive: if you are not experimental then you are, well, boring. Not so.
Real life to me is in itself exciting, invigorating; even the most mundance situations can, approached in a new way, be given freshness, depth and meaning.
As for me, I've always tried to write about the stuff no-else writes about; I go into obscure corners of the world, and that's experimental enough for me! But in style, I prefer to stick with the tried and tested. A story imo is there to be understood, not to be puzzled over.

Maxx
10-18-2010, 05:06 PM
In Quarterly Conversations's review of Steven Moore's new history of the novel (http://quarterlyconversation.com/the-novel-an-alternate-history-beginnings-to-1600-by-steven-moore), the reviewer maintains that, I'd like to ask -- do you think the "realists" have indeed won the day, and if so is this equally true outside the United States?

By 'experimental' Moore means formally innovative writers like Gaddis, Gass, Joyce, etc.

I'd say experimental novels are more common than ever and the difference is that these days the experiments are so successful that they are not even noticed as experiments. For example there's Nabokov, Thomas Pynchon, Philip Roth,Don Dilillo, Cynthia Ozick, and Michael Chabon and many more.

Maxx
10-18-2010, 05:07 PM
Exactly. And I'm not interested in mental puzzles.


It seems to me that any narrative of moderate complexity is inherently full of mental puzzles.

aruna
10-18-2010, 05:34 PM
I meant linguistic puzzles; where you have to pick each word apart to figure out what the writer means; not narrative ones. I love narrative puzzles.

Maxx
10-18-2010, 05:53 PM
I meant linguistic puzzles; where you have to pick each word apart to figure out what the writer means; not narrative ones. I love narrative puzzles.

Yep. Linguistic puzzles should be kept to a minimum. I'm all for a certain amount of puzzle-potential in the narrative as well.