A question I carry around with me like my own skin, like dna, like dreamecho: in the clusterfucked world of American publishing, with its market-driven glitz and hype, its television-on-the-page drama and ineloquent plot thuds, its selling-is-the-center godhead, can fiction still interrupt capitalism? If certain fiction cannot be “sold,” does it have any value? And more specifically to my body, does innovative fiction writing by women speak at all? I am moved to use women writers as an example because I think of their bodies — corporeal and textual — as epistemological sites.
It used to be that serious innovative fiction was about art and aesthetics. I think of Gertrude Stein, of Marguerite Duras, of Monique Wittig, Clarice Lispector, and Christa Wolf. I mean a woman could literally point to the language of the text and see art and aesthetics in play, moving with and against the grain of culture.
As the novel called capitalism has overtaken art and aesthetics in this country, innovative fiction writing has suffered from a seemingly insurmountable obstacle: few people want to purchase a product which so self-consciously wrestles the knot between art and culture through the crucible of language. Bookclubs and talk shows have consumed artistic integrity and the risk to speak the truest language about one’s experience. There are times when I wonder if fiction can stake out its territory at all against such monolithic and simultaneously vacuous odds.
Then I’ll read something so alive my heart’s own beating nearly takes me out:
Night jasmine. Already?
On this slowly moving couchette.
Tell me everything that you want.
Wake up, Ava Klein. Turn over on your side. Your right arm, please.
Tell me everything you’d like me to — your hand there, slowly.
And I’ll think, who published this, this textual experience generating a value interruptive of capitalism, or more precisely, the texture of the present’s monolithic money drive?
The independent small press lives, breeds, creates, carries. The experimental fiction text interrupts, voices, embodies.
What hope we have rests in the idea that hope doesn’t always come from looking “up” (I put that in quotations to emphasize the capitalistic goal of money and power). What I mean is that we can yet ground ourselves in the “work” (I put that in quotations to emphasize a definition which is contra the superficial corporate and government-generated one). Because there are writers who yet interrupt the motion of the “present” (the one being sold to us via television, talking power heads, and consumer culture) with a different moment(um): Carole Maso, Rikki Ducornet, Leslie Scalapino, Lynne Tillman, Anne Carson. And there are presses, namely FC2, who remain willing to take on the “work” of women and men who have not forgotten that language is a medium and a socially and politically relevant space.
Sometimes that “work” will manifest on the page as formal innovation. Other times it will surface in terms of themes and contents which do not — either from blindness or fear or both — succumb to the dictates of the market. Still other times it will simply be work which makes the heart beat faster or breathing still for a moment … newly emerging hybrid forms, fictional frontiers, irreverent makings.
It is toward this vision that innovative fiction writers and the publishers who carry their bodies — corporeal and textual — must lean, shoulders, skin, voice, alive, noisy, and unflinching.
Lidia Yuknavitch is the author of Real To Reel and Liberty’s Excess from FC2.