Introduction to Literary Theory with Paul Fry

Spent a lot of time in the car today. Found this on Open Yale Courses and listened to the first lecture. I highly recommend it for both personal and professional reasons.

“In this first lecture, Professor Paul Fry explores the course’s title in three parts. The relationship between theory and philosophy, the question of what literature is and does, and what constitutes an introduction are interrogated. The professor then situates the emergence of literary theory in the history of modern criticism and, through an analysis of major thinkers such as Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud, provides antecedents for twentieth-century theoretical developments.

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/01-introduction/id341652579?i=1000063753360

Isaac Bashevis Singer on the State of the Short Story (circa 1980)

Although the short story is not in vogue nowadays, I still believe that it constitutes the utmost challenge to the creative writer. Unlike the novel, which can absorb and even forgive lengthy digressions, flashbacks, and loose construction, the short story must aim directly at its climax. It must possess uninterrupted tension and suspense. Also, brevity is its very essence. The short story must have a definite plan; it cannot be what in literary jargon is called ‘a slice of life.’ The masters of the short story, Chekhov, Maupassant, as well as the sublime scribe of the Joseph story, in the Book of Genesis, knew exactly where they were going.

Dirty Realism and Very Short Fiction

Over the years, many people have ended up at this blog because of some posts on dirty realism.  A definition of the style from Wikipedia, circa 2009:

“Dirty Realism is a North American literary movement born in the 1970s-80s in which the narrative is stripped down to its fundamental features.

This movement is a derivation from minimalism. As minimalism, dirty realism is characterized by an economy with words and a focus on surface description. Authors working within the genre tend to eschew adverbs and prefer allowing context to dictate meaning. The characters in minimalist stories and novels tend to be unexceptional.

Dirty realism authors include the movement “godfather” Charles Bukowski (1920-1994), as well as the short story writers Raymond Carver (1938-1988), Tobias Wolff (1945), Richard Ford (1944), Frederick Barthelme, and Pedro Juan Gutiérrez (1950).”

My favorite line from this description is: “The characters in minimalist stories and novels tend to be unexceptional.” 

When I was thinking about this a dozen years ago, flash fiction was not as well-established across the literary internet as it is today.  The flash fiction I was writing was almost exclusively in the dirty realist voice.  In my way of thinking, the stories weren’t really about what happens in them as much as what the actions (or lack of) and the urgency of shorter forms evoke.  Compulsions of style and length dovetailed by default.  For me, realism was (and maybe is) the natural voice of very short fiction, and very short fiction is a natural expression of the realist voice.

These days, I think there’s much more to it.  But there’s still a kernel of truth to these connections, at least for me and for my shorter work.  The trick is not to be too clever or too pithy, and sometimes that’s much harder than it sounds.

Tonight’s Reading Plan: Lawrence and Lebowski

I’m reading Lawrence, Hemingway and Anderson.

Tonight, I will read a few chapters in the Sun Also Rises and perhaps a little more of St. Mawr. 

I’m also reading The Most Excellent Comedie and Tragical Romance of Two Gentlemen of Lebowski.

You’re going to want to check that out.  Full disclosure:  I get a small percentage if you buy it through the link. 

I hadn’t heard of this work by Adam Bertocci until my wife bought me a copy as a surprise earlier this week.  The opening scene alone is worth the cover price.

PANK’s Sense of Humor, The Missouri Review’s Argument For Online Submission Fees

The Missouri Review
Image via Wikipedia

This post is from 2011.  Today (2019), online submissions are near-ubiquitous, and submission fees are, in my experience, even more common.

Sundry notes of the literary type ahead.

I got a rejection letter from PANK today.  Fine.  The address it came from?  awesome@pankmagazine.com.  Hilarious!

Dinty W. Moore, the  editor behind Brevity, shared a link to this piece from The Missouri Review today via Twitter.  From “Why Literary Journals Charge Online  Submission Fees” :

One of the things worth recognizing is that the cost of submitting to a magazine is a fixed prospective cost: a cost that will be incurred and cannot be recovered. Submissions have never really been free. It’s simply that the cost (paper, envelopes, postage, etc.) has been paid to the post office, not the magazine. It didn’t go to the magazines. And I’m not saying that it should have. Freed up from (some) of the costs of submitting to literary magazines, has there been an increase in subscriptions? Has there been an increase in financial support of literary journals from writers?

No. Not at all.

Later:

In fact, submissions increase significantly. This varies from magazine to magazine, but the increase in submissions is somewhere between twenty to thirty-five percent.

My comment:

The increase in submissions has more do with more people trying to be writers, getting MFAs, having to submit to more journals because of more competition, being unable to pay fees at every journal that charges them, or, if able to pay those fees, certainly not subscribing to more journals. It also just so happens that the streamlining of online submissions came at a great time: the world economy has been in the gutter for close to four years. I’m glad to be rid of the cost of paper and postage, but I’m not plunking those extra dollars down for more journal subscriptions. Yes, we keep hearing about how writers don’t have a lot of extra money, but that’s because, well, we (and you) don’t.

The fact that writers no longer pay the costs of postage to submit doesn’t mean that those phantom dollars are now a revenue stream to be captured.  That money’s already going to other things, like paying student loans.