Sunday, May 10, 2015

narrative maximalism

What happens when the experimental becomes a settled tradition?   Struck by the parallels between music and fiction when reading this LA Times review by Lydia Millet:

[Danielewski's] "The Familiar" is clearly located within a lineage of formal innovation, yet in a sense it's less innovative (since most of these devices have been used before, though probably not all at the same time) than interdisciplinary. It features colored page corners like an old-fashioned reference volume, scads of typographic eccentricities, pages of photo-like illustration, collage, poetry, a pastiche of epigraphs from cultural sources both pop and high, and smatterings of foreign languages.

This is a novel that's both brashly contemporary and deeply traditional. The contemporary part is obvious, with a narrative consisting of multiple points of view from multiple cultures and genders, seeking to encompass the world of the video game maker, the world of the immigrant, the world of the grad student/mother, the world of the mystic. But "The Familiar" is also materially traditional, both for its bombast and its coup-like seizing of authority, in a continuum with, say, Proust, Joyce or Pynchon (though in some particulars less accessible than these authors). Like a big man bloviating at a party, it makes no apologies for its enormous requisition of readers' time and attention: Give yourself to me, its bulk demands. I am worth it.

Can't think of an example off the top of my head, but it feels like in fairly recent left-field music we have seen a lot of this sort of thing -  epic-scale agglomerations of once-upon-a-time bracing, now wearyingly familiar avant techniques and gestures....  with pile-it-on recombinant maximalism seeking to compensate for or conceal the fact that no single element therein is actually new.

(Well, it's going on in classical music, as discussed in this blogpost  I did a few years ago chez Bruce Sterling -  riffing on a piece about trends in recent composition by New York critic Justin Davidson)

(Probably equivalents in the visual arts too now I think of it... )


  1. Another excuse for a tenuous Fall link:

  2. Re: equivalents in the visual arts - I'm thinking Juxtapoz mag. A lot of stuff in there ticks the Left-Field-Styles-Gone-By and Maximalist boxes. Seems to be a heck of a lot of Bad Trip Disney fare (doing the "well loved fictional character in dark / horrific / real-world scenario" gag), all borrowing heavily from leftfield comics and outsider art.

    I remember being quite excited when I flicked through a copy in WHSmiths, but several months and several issues later it all started to look the bloody same. Business as usual.