Novel Gazing

Bring out the handcuffs: I am a guilty man. Too long have I fixed my eyes on one thing at the expense of others. The literary field is a large field – and yet so often I find myself standing here, stuck to one dull spot like a cod-brained tourist, surveying an all-too-familiar sight. What lurks there yonder in the long thin grass? I do and don’t care. I’m a glutton for obscurity, of course I am, but this doesn’t mean that sometimes I’m not, in other ways, a sombre sort of traditionalist.

I refer, in this case, to form. Or to be more exact, the manner in which form is categorised. Yes, I know, I know. We all hate that word. Categorised. It makes one’s right foot sweat just to hear it. And yet, stale and ancient limpets that we are, we stick to it. 

As for the ‘all-too-familiar sight’ of which I wrote, I was here referring to that pretty yet cumbersome boulder we call the ‘novel’. Ah yes: the novel. The great form, according to some. The Real McCoy. The Genuine Article. The Empyrean Avocado. A deadly category to which readers turn, again and again (and after that, again).

What’s so wonderful about the novel to keep harping on about it so? What song does the cliff sing to the lemmings? Why devote so many hours of my critical career to compiling a list of the greatest contemporary novels? Is it not true, as Andrew K writes here, that ‘the very notion that imaginative writing should have to flow into the form of the novel is a kind of tyranny’?

In all fairness, the novel ain’t so bad. And yet the faint stink of correctness continues to drift, as a perfumed miasma, from Mr K’s wise comment. There is so much more to writing than this. So much more. And no, I’m not talking about poetry, per se. Or plays, or essays, or dialogues, or prefaces, or pamphlets, or screenplays, or sketches, or skits, or whatever it is you may think that I am talking (or writing) about. At least, I’m not talking about them directly – though any of these categories may contain, in the opinions of some, the sort of thing to which I am referring. Which is, of course, that great neglected category of literature: Writing That Doesn’t Quite Fit Into Any Sort Of Category.

Describing such writing is not something one can do in so small a space as this. On that basis, I will say no more at this point. What I will do, however, is to make a promise that, in the future, I will be making every effort to spend more time looking at pieces of writing that are neither novels, nor poems, nor anything of a form that slots like a coin into the obstreperous categorical vending machine. This may or may not include the work of Ingemar Holleston, Yevgeny Nonik, Puvis Montagnier, Frank Key and Oa Aayorta. It will definitely not include the work of Ka Naurauch, Fjona Uu and Sir Walter Scott (whoever he is).

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