Today, guest blogger Salvatore Pane puts on his cape in order to explain why people keep declaring that fiction is dead:
I’m writing this 30 minutes after the end of LeBron James’ THE DECISION Special on ESPN. I’ve been a basketball follower my entire life. I’m a diehard New York Knicks fan, which explains my currently petulant mood, but the idea I couldn’t help shake during the entire drama-less, lifeless special was how on earth did a championship-less free agent drum up this much nationwide interest and why can’t contemporary fiction do the same? Don’t worry, I’m going to come back to this point again later.
I’ve written about the various tirades decrying the death of fiction many times before, and like Robert and Adam and Carolyn already pointed out, these rants are usually the products of aging writers frightened by technology and the rise of the all-too-dreaded narrative nonfiction. I don’t want to repeat things I’ve already written, so instead, I’m going to pick up a thread started by Adam: the idea that literary fiction isn’t being crowded out of the cultural limelight by creative nonfiction but by video games, television, movies and the myriad forms of entertainment that have emerged in the past hundred years or so.
Compare an issue of Amazing Spider-Man produced today to one forty years ago. How about movies? Check out Inglorious Basterds and then watch an early talkie. Video games? Video games. Look at Modern Warfare 2 then Commando for the Nintendo Entertainment System. Do a side-by-side of The Wire and Leave it to Beaver. These forms of entertainment haven’t just become slightly more sophisticated over the years, they’ve developed their own working languages; they’ve evolved. As funny as it is to say, these forms of entertainment are the new kids on the bock, and of course they’re going to weazle in on the culture at large’s time to read fiction. And to double back to the spectacle that was ESPN’s two-year long coverage of LBJ’s impulse decision to play for Miami, there are just so many other media distractions. Why should I read contemporary fiction when I can play Advance Wars: Days of Ruin for three hours on my Nintendo DS (something I’m guilty of doing this very day!) or watch nonstop debate over why Stephen Strasburg deserves to be on the all star roster?
I can’t remember who said it, but I was reading a recent interview with a writer who said that novels are beginning to occupy the same cultural space that short stories held in the 1980’s–and that short stories are becoming the new poems of the 2010’s. This seems like a fair assessment to me. In the 80’s, a few writers made their livings composing short stories. Today, a few writers make their livings composing novels (George Saunders and a few others notwithstanding). Lee Siegel referred to Harper’s and The Atlantic as “little literary magazines.” This line of thinking is absolutely insane. Neither Harper’s nor The Atlantic claim to be revolutionary or little. They’re the vanguard, much more in line with The New Yorker than McSweeney’s. The reason why I don’t think fiction is dead is because of the wealth of activity and aesthetic diversity I find online. Sites like HTMLGIANT, The Rumpus, Maud Newton’s blog The Millions and The New Republic’s The Book are fast becoming the cultural meeting grounds for the new literati even if the outgoing generation, Siegel included, is unaware. Flash fiction is well on its way to becoming the most innovative genre in contemporary American fiction and the work being published in places like PANK, The Collagist, Pear Noir!, elimae, Caketrain, Annalemma and many others shows firsthand that there’s a burgeoning scene of emerging writers who are not just rehashing trends and styles that have come before.
For much of my “WRITING CAREER,” and I use those words in the loosest possible sense, I always thought that I was doing my work in a kind of void. Sure, I knew people through my MFA program or undergrad institution who were writing, but I never really felt part of a large, nationwide (or global) community. That is no longer the case. We as writers and readers have so many great outlets now for networking and meeting other writers and readers interested in similar material. The enthusiasm I see day in and day out on these websites is more than enough to convince me that fiction is not even close to dying, and although our place on the cultural totem pole may be shifting, new writers are emerging and the work they’re doing is unquestionably important.
Salvatore Pane was born and raised in Scranton, Pennsylvania. After college, he attended the University of Pittsburgh where he received his MFA in Creative Writing.
His fiction has been published by PANK, Quick Fiction, Weave, We Are Champion, Corium Magazine, The Catalonian Review, The Boston Literary Magazine and Folio and is in current consideration for the 2011 Pushcart Prize. He won the 2010 Turow-Kinder Award in Fiction judged by Stewart O’ Nan with an excerpt from his novel-in-progress, The Collected Works of the Digital Narcissist. Salvatore also writes comic books. His debut, a 110-page original graphic novel, The Black List, is forthcoming from Arcana Studios. He co-wrote it with Mark Kleman. Lamair Nash supplied the art. You can visit his blog here.