Monday, March 28, 2011

literature as art

Academic Alan Ziegler says Some people afford painters more leeway than writers to interpret (or defy) reality, but all artists should share the same freedom. This prompted me to wonder how free are we as writer artists? Where's the literary equivalent of Cubism, of Surrealism, of insert-your-favorite-art-movement-here? It does exist. Perhaps one of the most famous is Franz Kafka's 1915 existential novella The Metamorphosis, in which a traveling salesman wakes to find himself transformed into a giant insect.

In recent years it seems we must turn to the genres of fantasy and science fiction to examine the nature of reality. In China Mieville's Perdido Street Station the "Remade" technology makes much of the world appear Cubist. For example, in the bordello, Each room contained some unique flesh-flower, blossom of torture. David paced past naked bodies covered in breasts like plump scales; monstrous crablike toros with nubile girlish legs at both ends... It just gets more freaky from there.

The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester gets quite surreal towards the end: Sound came as sight to him, as light in strange patterns. ...Motion came as sound to him. He heard the writhing of the flames, he heard the swirls of smoke, the heard the flickering, jeering shadows...all speaking deafeningly in strange tongues... The surreality continues as Color was pain to him..., Touch was taste to him..., and Smell was touch...

It's curious that so much of modern art has left representation behind but modern literature embraces it. Perhaps readers don't want non-representative prose? What do you think?

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