Saturday, May 1, 2010


A few weeks ago an interview with David Shields on the Colbert Report caught my attention. The author of Reality Hunger is trying to “turbo charge contemporary writing.” He says “all writing is theft,” just as all art is theft, and talks about starting a writing movement that ignores the distinction between genres (like between fiction and non-fiction, or children and adult). His movement seems to be made up of quoting bits and pieces from everyone else, but his book got me thinking…

Is it possible to have a writing movement akin to visual art movements? Sure, sentence structure has changed from long compound sentences to shorter, punchier ones, and content changes constantly with the politics of the world. But the structure of the novel has stayed relatively the same. We get an occasional abstract novel, such as, Nicholas Baker’s THE MEZANINE, written in footnotes, or Jeanette Winterson’s WRITTEN ON THE BODY, a first-person novel about sex where you never know the gender of the narrator. e.e cummings did the no cap thing. But these are a few isolated experiments, not movements.

Do traditional forms make writing what it is, or does it limit us (as readers and writers)?
Imagine Pop writing, Neo-Classism writing, Impressionistic writing, Dadaism writing, Writing Nouveau, or instead of Ugly Art (or Outsider Art, which is the art of the untrained—or more specifically the insane) we can have an Ugly Writing movement… Could it work? Is it already happening?

Here’s the link to the interview and his website if you’re interested:


  1. Lots to chew on, Lisa. In addition to the limitations of form, I wonder if the private nature of reading has something to do with the lack of movements in literature?

  2. Still thinking about this. Would the pervasiveness of high concept in fiction be a movement? If so, does the market drive movement in visual arts the way it now does in publishing?

  3. Aren't "movements" really just trends that are so well-received that many writers start using them? Joyce, Faulkner and others utilized Freud's theories, focused on issues of their times, and Modernism was the result. The isolated experiments you describe may become movements if writers and editors like them enough. Isn't that where Movements are born? Is the current focus on crossover adult/YA memoir-style (fiction and nonfiction) narratives a movement?

  4. Lots to chew on indeed. I just finished Tim O'Brien's book "The Things They Carried," spurred on by a log post by Ron awhile and an interview I heard with O'Brien. Twenty years on, and he's still shaking it up with this interconnected set of stories that goes forward and back and all times in between, part memoir, part fiction, centering around a band of brothers during the Vietnam War. I love books that shake up genre like David Small's memoir Stitches that I already posted on.