January 27, 2010

"A Critical Dimension"

Warren Motte, interviewed at Word Without Borders:
"You know, I had for a long time thought the word 'experimental' described the literature that most interested me, and yet experimental literature is generally taken, as you know, to designate literature that is highly bound up in questions of form. So it might not apply very closely to literature that's invested in other kinds of experiments: experiments in theme, in voice, in idea, and so forth--works that can be very deeply interesting to me. Then for a time I thought that I was interested in the avant-garde, but that term has fallen into a kind of... well, it's belated, now, it's vexed, and I don't think that it really is a performative term any more. Now, John O'Brien has talked about 'subversive' literature in one of the pieces in CONTEXT, where he describes the kinds of books he's looking for in his catalog, and I think that's a very apposite way of thinking about the kind of literature that interests me. But recently I've become convinced that more than anything else the books I'm interested in have a critical dimension, and by that I mean several things: on the one hand, they take a critical position with regard to literary tradition, put that tradition on trial in a variety of different ways--on the level of the page, and so forth. They put themselves forward in a way that promotes or enables a critical reading as well, so that you can read them flat on your back on your sofa if you wish, but they reveal their richness most abundantly when you approach them from a critical perspective, in other words with an awareness of the kinds of gestures that they perform with regard to convention, the canon, and so forth firmly in the mind."
And here's the John O'Brien statement on "subversive" fiction that Motte may have been thinking of:
"Several years ago someone in an interview tried to get from me a one-word description for the kinds of books we publish, and she suggested the words that you have. I finally said that the correct word was 'subversive,' which is still the word I would use, though I know it's rather useless in terms of trying to pigeonhole what it is we publish. My point was that the books, in some way or another, upset the apple cart, that they work against what is expected, that they in some way challenge received notions, whether those are literary, social or political. And this is precisely the kind of fiction that I find interesting: it does things I haven't seen before, or it requires me to be figuring out how in the hell the writer is doing what he or she is doing. This is of course quite removed from the idea of being a passive reader, that you are in the backseat of the car and the writer is taking you on a tour."

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