This list is biased and incomplete, because I am biased and incomplete.
There’s an idea that our generation (or to be precise, mine, those in their twenties) are numb and joyless, increasingly engaged with technology and not with each other. That brand names carry an ideological weight for us on par with a deity. That, in short, this is what people are like now: “I do this. Then I go over here. Whatever. Then I have meaningless sex, which I shall describe to you in a clinical fashion to convey just how alienated I am. List of brand names. Here are some swear words. I am nasty to someone. List of medications.”
I don’t know or care if this is what people are like. It’s dull and reductive, and suggests a snide condescension on the author’s part; that, you know, she/he sees through all that bullshit, welcome to the real world. None of the things mentioned are tedious in themselves, but Christ, say something new. Sex may be joyless. We may be numb. But that’s not even interesting enough to hold interest for a short story. If a character has no desire, no yearning, at least none that is represented in a compelling way, then why listen?
This isn’t even something I would know how to escape. They’re there, and it’s all James Joyce’s fault. Problem is, the bastard was damn good at them (notable exception: the ending to “Araby” is abstracted and terrible). Actually, an epiphany is arguably inescapable in some form. But I still cringe when a protagonist learns something in a moment of crystalline clarity, gets a glimpse of wisdom. Raymond Carver liked to have his characters get inklings of epiphanies, rather than go the full whammo. That works to an extent. I don’t know. This is something I’m going to explore a bit more in my next post (maybe).
3) Nature Fetishism
I want there to be a movie or book… let’s say movie, movies are stuck in more of a fetishist rut. I want there to be a movie where a middle-aged man, living a gentle and wholesome life in the countryside, perhaps self-sufficient, great marriage with little perfect children, smells flowers as a pastime, has friends who express concern for his material-free life and self-reliance, until something happens. Doesn’t matter what. But I want the protagonist to become reliant on technology and filth, on the stink of a good city, on smog, on everything artificial. That this, the modern, is what gives the person ultimate fulfilment. It is not the return to an idyllic natural life that never existed, couldn’t exist. The reverse has been done to death. It’s both the gall of fiction, or rather the people behind it, that peddles this New Age wish-fulfilment to people who buy battery chicken breast, and the fact that the natural world – definitely beautiful and definitely astounding – is also full of death and horror. A bit of both would be nice; terror and beauty and ugliness can be squished together. They should be. To speak of nature with such reverence, to be such a Thomas Hardy about the whole thing, smacks of an authorly fumble of how people actually are. I just don’t buy it. After all, most people are reasonably afraid of nature in all it’s glory (there are yetis outside). To quote Robert Meeks, as I often do:
“Abhorrent though modern life is, let us all rejoice that we can, at least, remain indoors. Dark things wait in the brambles and the hedgerows and the swamps. Children: The fairy-tales your mother read to you were correct.”
4) Lack of Alchemy
John Dee (1527-1608) said that a story without at least a brief scene in which the protagonist attempts alchemy is “of no merit by any mean,” and he should know.
Some issues here will be investigated further in next blog post that can’t be read, only inhaled, exclusively on slothrop.com (the drink of runners-up!)