Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Things Have Just Happened

Charles Baxter on dysfunctional narratives:

The trouble with narratives without antagonists or a counterpoint to the central character—stories in which no one ever seems to be deciding anything or acting upon any motive except the search for a source of discontent—is that they tend formally to mirror the protagonists' unhappiness and confusion. Stories about being put-upon almost literally do not know what to look at. The visual details are muddled or indifferently described or excessively specific in nonpertinent situations. In any particular scene, everything is significant, and nothing is. The story is trying to find a source of meaning, but in the story everyone is disclaiming responsibility. Things have just happened.

From Charles Baxter, "Dysfunctional Narratives: or: 'Mistakes Were Made'" in Burning Down the House: Essays on Fiction (1997).


Matthew Tiffany said...

I don't know that that would necessarily qualify as a "trouble" - when everything in a scene has potential to be significant, or insignificant. That would fall under the existential books category, no? Does Baxter dislike existentialist writing?

apostata said...

That's an intriguing perspective. I'd probably need to read more of the essay in order to know for sure whether I'm in full agreement - does he cite examples? Interesting book though.

It begs the question of whether fiction is being clouded by a solipsistic trend, where the magnetic poles (good/bad, right/wrong) which necessarily draw the reader in are being neutralised, and the reader in turn is left without any sense of tangible conflict.

lucette said...

I just wanted to let you know that I'd ordered your book from Amazon (not Amazon.ca) and they said they couldn't ship it. I just ordered it from somewhere else, but I thought you might want to know abt that, although I'm not sure what you can do.

LK said...

Interesting! Another book for the TBR.

I like the fact that Baxter is at least pointing out some of the pitfalls in contemporary writing.

Seachanges said...

Interesting thought and especially apostata's one that without a moral stance an author might leave the reader without a tangible conflict to be drawn into. Could this mean an author is unwilling or simply unable to commit even as far as her/his own convictions are concerned? Existentialism on the other hand is about meaning of life as relevant to the individual so good and/or bad are relevant, but to the individual in their particular world. That still poses interesting dilemma's, also for the reader.