Posts Tagged ‘literary fiction’

Jane Underwood

❝Interestingly, literary fiction is considered to be free of formulae. Sometimes, my students even insist that the difference between literary and genre fiction is that the former isn’t formulaic. But isn’t it? Don’t most literary stories start a scene, then introduce some back story, create primarily emotional conflicts, and then end only a few paragraphs after the protagonist experiences an epiphany. Sounds like a formula to me. Of course, there are an infinity of stories one can tell with this formula, or with subversions of the same. That’s true of literary fiction, definitely!❞

To Underwood’s blog entry, “On Formulas and Fiction”…

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☞ At the onset, I must say that what Emmanuel Iduma says below deserves to be heard. However, with regard to his belief in the need to transcend genre in order to engage in politically committed writing as an African writer — or as any writer from the third world for that matter — I am not sure if I agree with him completely. I have to say at the same time that I am hugely sympathetic to his cause, but perhaps not precisely in the terms formulated by him. My difficulty lies with the belief that genre could be avoided, or that, to use his word, it could be transcended. I don’t think genre can be sidestepped. It exists in all texts. Even Finnegans Wake belongs to an overall genre, even if it is the only member of its generic category. It should also be said that a complex of (other) genres infuses Joyce’s work: it might be “genre-bending,” but genre or a whole army of genres informs the work. Writing something elemental, essential or basic does not mean that genre can be left aside. If there is an obsession with literary classification, and with placing works according to their genres for commercial purposes, it does not mean that genre itself is at fault: it might be an overly simplistic or mechanical understanding of genre for taxonomic purposes that is amiss here. What is perhaps needed is a more complex and less rigidly formulaic appreciation of genre, and the kind of simplistic pigeonholing of creative texts for commercial purposes is something that we should all move away from. (See also the next entry: quotation from “On Formulas and Fiction” [listed below]).

“‘An elemental narrative’ is the description we should use for a story that transcends genre. Our understanding of  ‘elemental’ relates to what is ‘essential’ or ‘a basic part.’ It means that our elemental narratives always bear the premise that we are writing a ‘basic’ story that touches at the heart of who we are and what we have become. The goal of the writer will be to write a story that is as elemental as a shared humanity, those recognizable qualities that makes us human, and sometimes inhuman.

The word ‘novel’ will serve merely for classification because in my thinking a narrative traverses the edges of fiction, reality, and everything in-between. The writer will not seek to write a story that fits into such categories as literary fiction, because in our time no one has successfully defined what those words mean. Perhaps that term, and classification, resulted from the arrogance of writers of an earlier generation who wanted to distinguish the stories they wrote, or told, from those of writers whose work did not fit into their artistic vision.

Even more, this goal should be taken seriously by an African writer. In truth, classifications – and the conscious practice of adhering to them – have not helped us much. Our publishing industry suffers in part, I believe, from an attempt to elevate one genre over the other. Genres may suffice for bookstores, and libraries, but they should not suffice for writers when they struggle in solitude. Assuming the African writer cares little about attempting to write ‘literary fiction’ but feels compelled to imagine a post-apocalypse world in Mushin, and remains faithful in telling the tale, perhaps we can have narratives that reach an otherwise neglected audience.”

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