Sunday, November 28, 2010

Fiction's intersections, with puffins

As I was making coffee this morning, I saw a doe and her family grazing in the meadow my cabin faces (which now has an enormous crop of mushrooms of a variety of colors, sizes, and shapes). I've been waiting for them to appear and assume that the snow was the reason I hadn't seen them earlier.

I've been reading Fiction's Present: Situating Contemporary Narrative Innovation, ed. by R.M. Berry and Jeffrey R. Di Leo. Although its specific focus is the genre known as "innovative fiction," the essays in the book demand that the reader conceptualize "fiction's present"--i.e., "the intersection of everything that has been and everything that it will become"-- in terms of both its past and its future. And not only conceptualize it, but take an active role in determining what it is. Critics' constructions of fiction's present, as the editors point out in their introduction, are narrowly conceived, ignoring most fiction and recognizing only a tiny portion of the fiction that is published and read. As a remedy to that narrowness, the editors urge "writers and critics to exercise leadership" in challenging the dominant version of "fiction's present." They are of course addressing the readership of the book (which I suspect might be entirely made up of writers and critics) and are most interested in the exclusion of innovative fiction from "fiction's present." But I can't help reading this call as broader, particularly in light of the concluding words of the editors' introduction:
The present and dominant appear synonymous only to the dominant. If our current valuing of diverse voices and perspectives is to produce a present, then it must show itself to be the present meaning of postmodernism's account of voice and modernism's account of point of view. In this way, our freedom from their history is achieved. Although prior to inhabiting a present no one knows what will produce one, the testimony of psychoanalysis is that repressing the past leads only to compulsion. For the twenty-first century to liberate a new episode in the history of fiction, writers and critics will need to locate points of contact between the formal conditions of reading and writing and the demands of a multicultural globally organized technologically complex, and economically constrained world. To demand that fiction accommodate itself to this history without acknowledging the historical specificity of fiction itself is to erase it. The present cannot be the past's denial. It is the absence of any need for denial. From such openness, the future is born.
I suspect I'll be writing more about this over the next few days. I'm not sure if it's only "the dominant" to whom the present and the dominant appear to be synonymous. There are, after all, so many different kinds of marginality...

In the meantime, I can't help but report on some birding I did yesterday with Tom, who drove up to take me to lunch and then shopping for the week's groceries. Downtown in Port Townsend, at Point Hudson, we watched a few harlequin ducks swimming and dabbling near the shore, and a killdeer. The highlight of the day, though, was watching a crowd of horned puffins in Admiralty Inlet swimming and diving, with several hooded mergansers and western grebes clustered nearby. (The fishing, we conjecture, must have been very good in that spot.) I was also delighted to see a Northern Flicker (a woodpecker with highly visible orange markings) perching near the top of a fir tree near my cabin. There was no wind to speak of, and the sun shone down upon us, and so the day felt positively balmy.

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