An update and synthesis of my literary philosophies.
I've been thinking about this a lot recently. It's something that waxes and wanes in my interest but after finishing my second novel length manuscript I come to this question again. Also reading novels had been strangely unsatisfying recently so I have been reading a lot of contemporary short fiction (NOON, Caketrain, Fence, Coniun review and Heavy Feather Review, for anyone who is keeping count).
I'm troubled a lot by the gap in rigor between hard intellectual activities (like mathematical or scientific research) and creative acts. I guess this is something that a person shouldn't worry about, but I'd like to think that then I am reading or writing a novel I could partake in something as timeless and real as someone who is constructing a mathematical proof or elucidating an enzymatic pathway. Maybe this is totally insane of me.
I guess I have brought this up before, but I'll bring it up again. I like to think of writing (or some writing, maybe great writing) as the qualitative intellectual endeavor, taking basic qualitative objects and their relationships and examining these in order to construct or discovering deeper or greater truths about reality. We consider mathematical objects to exist in the world of platonic forms and I wonder if literary truths, or literary 'objects' (like plot or characters) exist in this same 'world' or some other 'world'. Of course there is no way that a person could prove this. I'm driven to wonder this because certain texts, or certain literary ideas seem to exist longer and 'more stronger' than others, some of them seem to inhabit some collective truth that is more real than others.
Okay, enough rambling. Everything above may or may not be true about anything that has been written so far, but I'm going to ignore that for now. I want to start anew and use the ideas and tenets outlines above in my future writing. I want to work and act as if I were a mathematician of the qualitative, an investigator of humanity and the universe. I want to instill a sort of rigor (obviously not to the same degree or strength of those professions I mentioned above, but in the same vein, in the same spirit) into my work so as to not just tell stories, or entertain, or self express but to reach some sort of deeper truth, to examine some sort of novel insight into the workings of, if not our world, at least the world of ideas.
I wrote this next part earlier than the other part. I've been writing a lot of experimental stuff recently, just flowing and jumping between sentence breaks. It has made me think about experimental writing and what causes the difference between a jumble of disconnected sentences and ideas, and a striking piece of experimental writing.
Here's what I've come up with so far,
I think the only way to write is by taking into consideration all aspect of the craft. You have these people that focus on the poetry of the words, other writers who are devoted to strorycraft, others who focus on 'place', others on their characters, others on questions/problems/social issues. When I read interviews with writers or mastheads of journals which state their focus on only one literary aspect I am immediately turned off. Yes 'place' is important, but why not work hard to include and polish every possible aspect that literature is capable of conveying? I will probably enjoy a work that gets across one and only one 'aspect' very well but the only works that I have truly loved are those that have an eye for each aspect. So (I at least hope...) that in my own writing, and admittedly more so in my longer works than the shorter ones, I include all the literary aspects noted above. Great literature (the only type of literature we should tolerate spending/wasting our time on), I really believe, should envelop, should cover the reader's brain like an electric blanket wherein every nook and cranny and wave and lump fits perfectly into the crevices and hills of your mind and when the work is laid down in sends little sparks which activate every part of you at once.
I also value more highly those concepts in a work (or maybe 'the work that conveys concepts') which are more fundamental and universal. So a short story or novel which only has basic conversations between two people about some relationship or a television show (this an exaggeration, like this example would constitute the work which excited me the very least) excites me very little. But a mundane conversation where universal themes are alluded to, or a series of mundane conversations which limn a very deep concept or realization or recognition would probably excite me very much and, I think ultimately, would be doing what literature is really made to do.
If I could I would write stories which could be understood by subatomic particles at a distant, foreign, cold corner of the universe. Unable to write those subatomic stories I think I will just try to reach the limit, try to work as hard as possible to approach those stories. I think these stories are great because they should last a long time and pull their message into the future and should also stand up well to translation and consumption by people at far reaches of the world. This is important not only for revenue purposes but for that simple, egotistical urge (surely instilled in us by our viral ancestors) which drives us to disseminate extensions of ourselves (in this case memetic) as widely as possible. I guess my ultimate goal would be to write something that no matter who, and no matter when a person read it they would be able to say 'ah yeah, I get why people like this'. I guess it's just as important to me to have a sizable group of people who hate and rail against my work (this seems almost more important) though I don't think I'm quite up to that point yet.
Finally, and really unrelated to most of what I have written above. I believe in the ideal work the perfect, all encompassing short story and that the act of writing is just 'approaching the limit' just getting as close as possible to this ideal work, or at least this work filled with these ideal qualities.
In addition to doing 'everything' I would like to answer questions with my writing. Even more than writers (who are of course, artists, those that create) I respect and admire scientists (those that uncover, those that pose questions and search for the answers). Deep down I wish I could be uncovering fundamental answers about reality, how the world works, how we interact with the world. I don't expect to initiate a new revolution in string theory or discover the mechanism for major depression, but there are certainly a number of difficult questions in our society right now that I think need to be addressed. Urgent questions about our lives and out society, the answers of which could very well have wide reaching implications. I don't consider myself much of an activist, and I consider satire a means, not an end, and I think many of the writers that are 'socially conscious' today go down one of these two routes. There is the third, a route that has not been taken in literature (seriously) for a while. This is the route I would like to take.
For reviews my theories are perhaps a little more mainstream or predictable. I think a really great review first and foremost portrays the soul of the work, those parts of the work that are at its very core. I can't stand it when a review spends three quarters describing the plot, and the final third on whether the reviewer liked it or not and maybe a few sentences with some unusual words that sounds nice and important. I think this approach is absolutely worthless. If a book can be sufficiently summarized by it's plot then as far as I am concerned the book is already worthless. We essentially wore out the extent of plots three thousand years ago so there better be a lot more to distinguish the work apart from its plot. Similarly if there is more in the review about the life of the author, their previous works, drinking habits, sex life or misadventures then you know the story of the authors life is probably more interesting than the work itself. In that case I say ditch the book and wait of the author to have reality show.
The job of a review, I think, is two-fold. First to give a primarily unbiased view of the work (as one would ascertain the market value of a house or the structural integrity of a bridge) with a smidgen of subjective opinion ('the house is in good, shape, sound, the walls are good and it is attractive' or 'the bridge is free from corrosion and cracks, the tension wires are well made and it is a testament to 20th centure architecture') similarly the review itself should be an entertaining, well written, engaging work which can be enjoyed on its own, even if the book it is concerned with sucks. I think in place of summarizing the plot (and I guess I should place here that sumarazing the plot in itself is not a huge evil, it should be rudimentary at best, plus if the rest of the review is well written then the plot should either seem irrelevant or should be portrayed by the other aspects of the book) there should be greater exposition on: the language, interesting or novel usages, the ideas explored, whether the writing is moving or not, whether the author acheives the goals of writing, how this work fits into the other writers works (again only a small mention is necassary).
Extending out from here I think it is good to touch on how this work fits into the work of related authors and schools. This should be easier for older works though I think it could add some interesting information to recent and just published works. A strong review, after all, should attract readers of similar books to try out an author that they were unfamiliar with or had not considered reading but which they could appreciate. This, I think, is the ultimate goal of the review, above praising or damning a work, or even analyzing its points, to place the work in the hands of those who will appreciate it. To strengthen the network of works, authors, ideas and styles in order to create a web of connected works and immerse readers in this