October 27th, 2011 / 2:37 pm
Craft Notes

“A Dozen Dominants: The Current State of US Indy Lit”

[Update: Some reader comments below prompted me to write a follow-up post.]

I was asked over the summer to contribute a critical article to the online UK journal Beat the Dust; they wanted me to write on the current state of US literature. I “narrowed that down” to indy lit (small press publishing, whatever you want to call it)—still an impossibly huge topic, of course. So I ended up proposing twelve dominants that I’d argue govern the current indy lit scene (at least as best as I can see things from where I’m sitting—Chicago, USA, 2011).

Dominant” is a term I stole from the Russian Formalists; it essentially means a feature or aspect of a text that most people feel that the text, to be valid, should demonstrate or otherwise include. (e.g., rhyme was often a dominant in English poetry until the 20th century and the advent of free verse; now the situation is mostly the opposite.) (See also this.) Below, I’ll list “my twelve” dominants, but please see the full article for a more thorough explanation…

So here are The Twelve (slightly revised). As a bonus, I’m also including their “opposites,” which is something I’ve been thinking about since (and thanks to Anne Shaw for her help in thinking through those):

  1. Ironic vs. Sincere
  2. Brief vs. Long (essentially a Minimalist/Maximalist distinction)
  3. Twee (Precious) vs. Ephemeral/Disposable
  4. Clean vs. Messy/Careless
  5. Nostalgic vs. A-historic/Present
  6. “Languagey” (Ornate) vs. Prosaic/Plainspoken
  7. Conceptual vs. Organic
  8. Parataxical vs. Hypotactic/Syllogistic
  9. Collage vs. Homogeneous
  10. A-narrative vs. Narrative/Anti-narrative
  11. Vulgar (Profane) vs. Classical/Mystical
  12. Confessional vs. Mediated

And a few explanations/caveats:

  1. The qualities on the left are the ones that I find to be (currently) more valued, but that’s not to say that everyone then accepts them as dominants in their own work. But I do think that these qualities exert a real pressure on all of us. (I know I feel them.)
  2. In other words, the easiest way “to get by” right now is write work that features some or all of the qualities on the left. (Note that it may not be possible to include all of them; I am surveying a pretty large scene which is itself comprised of lots of different scenes. Part of what I found challenging about writing the article was that it was asking me to summarize a lot of disparate writers, when I tend to favor a more thoroughly analytical approach.)
  3. Obviously—but I feel this bears repeating—this list is subjective and contingent. (I’d be happy to hear about what elements you feel as dominants.)
  4. Also obviously there are alternatives other than the simple binaries I’ve presented here—but, again, I think that these binaries do exist “out there,” and are strongly felt.
  5. See the original article for a more thorough explanation of all of these. (Although not that thorough: I was told I had to stay under 2000 words, preferably closer to 1500—there’s that pressure toward brevity!)

And because I want to better explain/test all of this, let’s try applying these concepts to Tao Lin’s Shoplifting from American Apparel (2009). Now, I have no idea what Lin was thinking/feeling when he set down to write that novella. But it now exists, and is part of the literary landscape, and as such it in some ways helps configure that literary landscape. And a lot of indy writers are influenced by Lin. So what are Shoplifting‘s qualities as per the above list? That work is, I’d argue:

  1. Sincere (although people may disagree with me there—but I feel as though Shoplifting marked a big move away from irony in Lin’s writing; compare, for but one example, its ending with the ending of Eeeee Eee Eeee)
  2. Brief (it’s a novella and favors short episodes)
  3. Twee (Precious)
  4. Clean
  5. A-historic/Present (the disappearance of nostalgia is one of the reasons why this novella reads differently from Eeeee Eee Eeee)
  6. “Languagey” (Ornate) (some may dispute this, but I think the prose is very wrought)
  7. Conceptual (this one less so than the others, whereas Richard Yates is very conceptual) (and I may be wrong about this one; this is a place where the binary, when applied, breaks down)
  8. Parataxical (it’s extremely parataxical)
  9. Collage (the style is homogeneous, but the style includes radical elisions)
  10. Narrative/Anti-narrative
  11. Vulgar (Profane) (i.e., it’s realist)
  12. Mediated (of course, other work by Lin is extremely confessional—but in Shoplifting, despite its autobiographical elements, the narrative distance between Sam and Lin’s third-person narrator is crucial) (I think that the novella’s sincere + mediated + present qualities may be mistaken for irony)

…Although, again, a caveat: this is more an illustration of the concept than anything; I didn’t create the list suggesting that it could be applied willy-nilly to texts or writers. Rather, it’s meant to point out pressures that exist in the current indy lit landscape—qualities we’re drawn to by other works, our peers, commercial pressures, the infrastructure of publishing, more.

And this is a work in progress; I welcome your thoughts! And I plan to write more about all of these (and/or other) dominants…in the future!

Update: There’s a story by Roxane Gay in the same issue. Which was guest-curated by Jarred McGinnis. And which was edited by Melissa Mann.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. Awesome HTMLGiant article on the twelve dominants of the indie lit scene | Paul Jessup

      […] http://htmlgiant.com/craft-notes/a-dozen-dominants-the-current-state-of-us-indy-lit/ GA_googleAddAttr("AdOpt", "1"); GA_googleAddAttr("Origin", "other"); GA_googleAddAttr("theme_bg", "ffffff"); GA_googleAddAttr("theme_text", "333333"); GA_googleAddAttr("theme_link", "0066cc"); GA_googleAddAttr("theme_border", "f2f7fc"); GA_googleAddAttr("theme_url", "ff4b33"); GA_googleAddAttr("LangId", "1"); GA_googleAddAttr("Autotag", "education"); GA_googleAddAttr("Autotag", "books"); GA_googleAddAttr("Tag", "journal"); GA_googleFillSlot("wpcom_sharethrough"); Like this:LikeBe the first to like this post. […]

  2. Michael

      Modular vs. Linear could be added to this list.  See, Madison Smartt Bell’s craft text, “Narrative Design.”

  3. Tim Jones-Yelvington

      This is a fun diagnostic and analytical tool, regardless of how one feels about these binaries and whether they do in fact represent dominants. Yes, I want to play with your tool. I am thinking now about works that either consciously or unconsciously play along these binaries or in some way destabilize them, for instance, confessions that are mediated. I am perhaps thinking about this because I am in the middle of reading Anna Joy Springer’s excellent “fabulist memoir.”

  4. Daniel Bailey

      3. isn’t twee, by definition, ephemeral and disposable?

  5. L.

      Twee IS ephemeral and disposable (and awful… and definitely a huge shitty trend in indie lit)

  6. L.

      Also do not agree that the dominant trend is “collage” over homogeneous, ESPECIALLY when applied to Tao Lin and his many apers. He is trying for as much homogeneity as possible. To say SFAA isn’t homogenous is to basically say writing can never be homogenous.

  7. Darby Larson

      i don’t know if i see a complete distinction between 2. and 8., especially in the idea that minimalism is applied to “brief,” as opposed to simply a raw word-count. A novella is not necessarily “minimalist.” I’ve always thought of minimalism as needing length as a context in order to identify itself as minimalist (ie. beckett’s trilogy, ie. stein’s “making of americans”, ie. minimalist music by riley or riech or glass).

  8. L.

      Yes, that is almost as bizarre as opposing Twee to disposable. It seems like Jameson is conflating two different definitions of “precious” and then “minimal” here. 

  9. stephen

      i think people dismiss allegedly twee works of art on the basis of their tweeness (it was ok, but guilty of tweeness), so in that sense, based on what critics/readers/viewers have often said in the past, yes. maybe the “successful” ~yet~ twee work of art is cute and immaculately set-designed/perfect-looking and so is the “not successful” twee work, except the latter is also, to the subjective viewer, cloying, annoyingly cute, “too cute.” if someone said wes anderson’s movies were twee, i would understand that. if someone liked his movies ~anyway~ (and critics often apologetically like things; they have to qualify and justify liking something that has committed the sin of seeming like something the vanilla or jealous or grumpy or hater-of-[said thing] person has deemed worthless or controversial or fucking annoying—a hot-button quality, such as twee or “hipstery”).

      but a twee work of art isn’t inherently ephemeral or disposable. i think the aesthetes at this site–and the makers of twee or twee-yet-somehow-grungy (yahoo!) art–would be wary of dismissing something on the basis of its tone or affect, or on the basis of its “depth.” 

      to me tweeness is a co-dominant in the current indy lit scene with its opposite, which i’ll make a stab at by calling “freakiness.” a lot of ppl like to call themselves freaks these days and use lots of gruesome-sounding words and doomy, apocalypse-ass torture villes for settings and kind of roll around in shit made out of language. or just like have every character be a sideshow. or just use a lot of unpleasant-sounding words a lot and be really negative about everything, especially celebrities. 

      i’m not sure what kind of work you’re thinking of when you say twee, adam. fiction with contemporary details–is that twee? or only if the characters are hipsters? i would say that’s not necessarily twee. to me the twee stuff is the poetry and otherwise that uses rabbits and [kewl noun] substitutes to create metaphors for commonplace feelings and experiences. i think some twee poets are now substituting in more gnarly things for what they’re actually talking about in response to the co-dominant as i’m calling it, “freakiness.”

  10. karltaro

      Led Zeppelin vs. Kiss?

  11. Abbot Xavier

      [posted under wrong identity!]

  12. stephen

      feeling confused about wtf twee is now… maybe poetry with lots of metaphors is sometimes twee and sometimes freaky and sometimes neither. the tone or affect is a separate thing. the constant in question is the technique: substituting metaphorical language for what you’re actually talking about, which is often autobiographical feelings and events and would be–that dreaded, to me dubious, word–“banal” if you weren’t using metaphorical language to get yer poem on. 

  13. Christoffer Molnar

      This is a sharp list. I’ve been pondering trends lately, but with nowhere near the acuity as expressed here. What I’m curious about is just which part of indie lit you assessed: is this lit mags, novels, poetry, or a general survey of all?

      One thing I’d possibly add, as redundant as it might sound: independent (as opposed to referential). To my limited perception, indie lit authors, apart from stylistic trends, seem to want to be separate from larger historical styles and allusions. It’s supposed to be all in the text. Again, I’m not a well-versed indie reader, so please tell me if and how I’m wrong here!

  14. L.

      Even if you wanted to argue that twee works are not inherently disposable, on what planet are they the “opposite” of disposable?

  15. L.

      The amount of metaphors has nothing to do with whether or not something is twee. You are definitely confused. Plenty of dark, brutal, deep, depressing, and whatever work is filled with metaphors.

      Twee: “affectedly or excessively dainty, delicate, cute, or quaint “

  16. stephen

      would kind of like to edit or delete my comments above. was thinking you could lump most indie lit into one of three camps: realist, experimental, or experimental realist. realist = recognizable characters/settings with an emphasis on craft and meaning. experimental = focus on style, tone, language, and/or form, does not feature recognizable characters/settings necessarily. experimental realist = recognizable characters/settings with emphasis on style, tone, language, and/or form. 

  17. John Minichillo

      I guess I see 2 and 6 differently. I see Minimalist as necessarily prosaic/plainspoken, and I see this as the primary characteristic of Minimalist writing. I agree that the trends now are “languagey” (but what a goopy term) and I’d suggest the extent of the ornateness is now Mandarin or Baroque, which seems to me the opposite of Minimalist. Maybe I’m missing something, but I don’t see Tao Lin as falling in line with dominant trends. He seems a Minimalist to me, which, except for those who write like him, at least as far as Indie Lit goes, has fallen out of favor. Even most flash isn’t really Minimalist in style but tends toward ornate. So I don’t think “brief” and Minimalist are at all the same thing.

  18. stephen

      yea, idk what i was thinking of. i think a metaphorical poem can be twee, so-called, but that would be because of the tone or affect, not because of the use of metaphors. 

  19. stephen

      another relevant, clarifying thing to daniel’s point, possibly…and i could be way off..but maybe some people think hipsters are twee regardless…just twee in their very existence, lol… so in that sense, any realist fiction or poetry by or about hipsters would be twee to a person with that POV, regardless of the work’s particular characteristics. this is what is known as blind hatred lol

  20. L.

      I think instead of claiming one large trend, I’d say there are three major trends:

      1) banal realism (a minimalism aimed at representing the most banal and boring parts of life. These authors may see their aim differently. Disagree with John and think a lot of flash fiction fits in here, also disagree that this is out of favor. A large amount of “confessional” or even over-confessional writing, whether fictional or not.)

      2) Debased Brautigan (Magical tweeness, but in its current incarnation it tends to be all affectation, fluff and coating–there is not bloody, scary beating heart in the middle.)

      3) Freaky experimentialism (to borrow a word from Stephen. Writers who look towards the “experimental” writers, but normally with an eye towards style and dark/shocking/or at least dirty tone and mood. Normally ornate, often collage-like)

      I think you could fit most writers talked about on this site into one of those three.

  21. stephen

      by or about “the-hipsters-we-don’t-like,” to clarify again.. the zooey deschanels and idk, anyone who doesn’t exhibit lots of “soulfulness” or who wears their jeans too tight or w/e…if there’s no mitigating bad-assery, then you might just be a hipster-we-don’t-like lol

  22. stephen

      i’m mocking this attitude, to clarify. i love everyone, sidenote.

  23. Tim Jones-Yelvington

      A D has a lengthy series of posts on his definition of “twee” over at Big Other.

  24. L.

      I wouldn’t say hipsters are automatically twee, but there are probably some similarities. A focus on affectation and outer appearance, a love of the whimsical over the real and dark, non-biting and happy irony (bad 80s t-shirts! Fun magical realism!), etc.

  25. stephen

      although… you can always find someone to hate anyone, really.. i mean everyone has a hater…it’s more just a matter of quantity and intensity… there’s hate all around… #worried..

  26. Tim Jones-Yelvington

      …it does seem like there is a freak or gloom or grotesquerie trend that is not expressed in this model, although I am not sure I would dichotomize it w/ twee. At first I was thinking this is a trend assigned to “content,” but I don’t think that is accurate… the entropy in SCORCH ATLAS, for instance, cannot be fully distinguished from its sentences.

  27. Michael

      I also disagree with John that flash is mostly “ornate” these days. A lot of contemporary flash channels 80s, Ronald Regan minimalism about middle and upper-class people and their “small,” daily conflicts. Author names could be swapped with Ann Beattie and you wouldn’t know the difference. 

      I’m w/ you on 2) as well.

      And 3).

      But I think there are more categories than this and I disagree that most of the writers who visit this site fit into one of the three. I think there is a fourth category that blends 1) and 2) and that the best realism is in fact “experimental” (or, as I often say, “the best realism isn’t ‘real'”).

  28. stephen

      i think these trends are also social phenomena, in that supposed twee lit is seen as inextricably tied to twee-ass people and their twee lifestyles or whatever, and freaky lit is seen as evidence of the freaky badass that lurks inside of the nerds or academics or divas or whoever that produce it.

  29. stephen

      “debased Brautigan” hehe

  30. stephen

      other terms you could use: “poor man’s Beckett” and “poor man’s Barthelme” #meanweek

  31. Lilzed

      To me “precious” mean valuing something more than it should be valued … an excessive cherishing if you will. That binary makes sense to me but perhaps a different word would be better than “disposable” which is too stark.

  32. L.

      Well, I didn’t say most writers who visit this site. Most writers who are talked about here. Or at least a lot of them could be.

      I’d probably rather avoid the debate about “experimental”, an always ill-defined term, but I just mean that #3 people tend to look towards writers normally deemed “experimental” as inspiration.

  33. L.

      Agree there is a fourth category that blends 1 and 2. Miranda July maybe?

  34. Michael

      Your list seems more cynical than mine:)

      I would put a writer like Edward P. Jones in the fourth category (“Lost in The City”).

  35. Lilzed

      I think collage or pastiche refers to something more structural than style. But I agree with you that the writing style of Lin in SFAA ( & others in that group) exhibits a voice with the quality of “seeming like something anyone could write.”

  36. John Minichillo

      I like the idea here of identifying multiple trends, but I don’t see the Minimalist flash as in any way dominant. If you look at the Wigleaf lists or what gets into Best of the Web, much of the work that gets most of the attention from the Indie scene isn’t realist or minimalist but tends toward prose poetry and and/or the surreal.

  37. L.

      I think this is conflating two definitions of precious. Precious as something really valuable is not the same as precious as “affectedly dainty”, to quote the dictionary. The latter is the twee meaning. 

      Perhaps I’m just not seeing what disposable fiction would be as an opposite of twee.

  38. L.

      I have to admit I did a worse job being neutral on #2. Still, I do think there is a large trend of… Twee Realism (magical realism of a fluffy, emo, twee sort?)

  39. Michael


  40. L.

      Would you consider Edward P. Jones part of the current indie world though?

  41. L.

      Hmm, we must have different conceptions of this. I just read the top few wigleaf pieces and would consider all of them minimalist, and most of the realist variety.

  42. Michael

      Obviously, no, but I also don’t put much stock in the term, “indie.” Joy Williams–another non-“indie” writer–belongs in the “fourth” category too.

      Let’s call this fourth category, “Flannery O’Connor.”

  43. L.

      Let me be clear that isn’t a criticism of wigleaf. I have no problem with minimalism. I just think it is pretty prevalent amongst flash fiction magazines as opposed to ornate prose.

  44. L.

      I see a lot of similarities between O’Connor and Joy Williams, but I don’t see either as having anything to do with category 2 and very little if anything to do with #1. I guess they both have stories that could be called realism but are somewhat off, so in that sense they share one bit of 1, to the extent that anything realist would, but their offnees is very very very very different from #2.

      I think there are very few people writing work in the current indie world that springs from O’Connor or Williams, sadly.

  45. Michael

      Facepalm typo on my end: I meant 1) and 3). Sorry about that.

      I honestly don’t read much work–in book form–that’s considered “indie,” so perhaps you’re right.

      I do think the association between “indie” and “innovative” is way overblown and that much of this country’s most innovative work is published in journals that are considered by many here to be “traditional” and “uptight.”

  46. John Minichillo

      I meant the Wigleaf top 50 list that comes out each summer. There’s a lot less Minimal Realism there, though there’s room for it in the mag, which publishes every few days. I don’t intend this as a criticism either, I just see flashier / work getting more attention.

  47. L.

      Ah! Glad we got to the root of that confusion. Guess you can see why I said Miranda July? I love this 1 + 3 category, but yeah, dont’ see it as popular in contemp indie lit… or even lit in general (EPJ wrote that book like two decades ago, right?)

      With you there 100% on last paragraph.

  48. Michael

      Well, I don’t know…Donald Ray Pollock and Dan Chaon seem to fall into this fourth category as well. William Gay too. And Ron Rash. Working-class Midwestern and Southern writers are still writing in this category, IMO. Bonnie Jo Campbell, Kellie Wells, Jaimy Gordon, etc.

  49. Michael

      “With you there 100% on last paragraph.”


      Now, I’ll commence ducking for the inevitable onslaught…

  50. L.

      Ah. Well as someone who reads slush, I’d say most of the flash I see from indie authors is pretty minimalist. However, I guess I can’t be sure what gets published the most or recognized the most in general.

  51. A D Jameson

      That’s essentially what I meant. Twee seeks a world in which all things are precious, collectible, beautiful, as opposed to disposable, ephemeral. The terms might not be the best; I welcome suggestions for replacement!

      I also want to add that I don’t consider any of these things inherently bad. I am not listing these binaries in order to personally privilege one side over the other (although I do feel as though, at large, one side is valued over the other).

      Hope that clarifies things some… A

  52. Michael

      “Minimalism” seems to suggest more than “short sentences”…it’s possible for someone to write a surreal story with short sentences. I had a story in Wigleaf earlier this month and I don’t think anyone would confuse me with Raymond Carver or Amy Hempel.

      So, I think people are talking about more than sentence length when they use the term; there is so much baggage with the term that’s tied-up in debates about the workshop, the academy, the 80s and the influence of Carver and Hempel, etc.

  53. A D Jameson

      I think zines show one distinction. Or comics. Think of how zines have gone underground these days, replaced by a tendency toward beautifully crafted books etc. And even when you do see zines now, there’s often a shift away from trashy aesthetics toward cleaner, more collectible things. I feel as though I’ve seen this evolution very clearly over the past 15 years. (I “started out” in zines in the mid-90s.)

  54. L.

      Ah, yes I see what you mean. I think perhaps the issue is the terms are from Twee’s perspective, in some sense. Twee may see things that are dirty, violent, dark, bloody as ephemeral and disposable, but authors who write in that mode probably don’t see their subjects as disposable or ephemeral (and they probably see twee’s precious, dainty collectables as easily smashed and disposable). Hmm.

  55. A D Jameson

      What that ignores, though, is how radically based that text is on elision. Despite the text’s pretense to show mundane, daily life, moment by moment, it contains extreme juxtapositions within itself. Which is one of the sources of its artistry, I’d argue. (I think it’s a great book.)

  56. A D Jameson

      I hope my comment above clarifies what I mean by Twee. I hope. Twee might not be the best word for it, although I think it’s a good word.

      In Chicago, in Logan Square, the Twee/disposable tension can be clearly seen in the contrast between Cafe Mustache  and New Wave Coffee. Mustache is very Twee. New Wave is very trashy, very punk.

  57. A D Jameson

      Thanks for all these comments, everyone! I’m heading to class now (MARXISM), but will try to respond more thoroughly later! Cheers, A

  58. L.

      That is a really interesting argument! Def. a movement from a more trashy, punk aesthetic to a more clean, collectible one. Although that may be regardless of content.

  59. L.

      I don’t think minimalism implies short sentences, necessarily, I think it implies, to quote John, “prosaic/plainspoken” prose. Often short, but not necessarily so. Simple words, simple constructions.

      I don’t think minimalism has to be realist. The Carver/Hempel “dirty realism”/K-Mart realism is just one type of minimalism.

  60. L.

      Twee makes a lot of sense, I think the opposition words are the odd part. Maybe your own terms right there–trashy, punk–would be good opposites to twee/precious.

  61. Michael

      I agree, but people usually use it to describe the latter category of minimalism, often indirectly, because those writers you mention above were considered a loosely-formed “school” to oppose, if you will, “maxmialists” like Gass, Elkins, and Coover.

      The term is heavily associated with this era and its opposition to maximalism and the debates between Gass and John Gardner about the moral purpose of art and art’s responsibility to society.

  62. Michael

      Elkin, sorry.

  63. Darby Larson


  64. Neil Griffin

      Could somebody explain the collage/homogeneous dichotomy? Is this comparable to the use collage-style editing in film or am I off?

  65. Ken Baumann

      Thanks for this. Filing under: WHAT TO AVOID OR OSCILLATE RAPIDLY BETWEEN

  66. marshall

      metallica vs megadeth

  67. marshall

      by “lit”/”literature” we mean “fiction”?

  68. Lilzed

      Seems like this deserves its own post at this point :)

  69. Lilzed


  70. Lilzed

      I feel like a lot of anime is twee

  71. Leapsloth14

      Well done. Made me thunk.

  72. Guestagain

      sex pistols vs. everybody
      apocalyptic vs. temporal

  73. deadgod

      A “world in which all things are precious” is a world in which the value of any particular thing is diminished–‘value’ would be, in that world, flattened or smeared into an equally valent characteristic of all its things.

      –a world, in other words, in which particular preciousness is disposable because everything else is precious.

      (Perhaps, rather than “all things”, ‘unjustified/unjustifiable things are precious’ is meant by “twee”??)

      It sounds from this comment like (ultimate) tweeness is the ‘making of each facet into an ornament’, a universalization of decoration that obliterates ‘value’ by making every thing undifferentiatedly valuable.

      Would ’emotional rococo’ be usefully antonymous to “[declaredly] ephemeral/disposable”?


  74. deadgod

      essentially a Minimalist/Maximalist distinction

      I understand ‘minimalism’ to be, not just clipped sentences and plain vocabulary, but, in addition and more effectively, the withholding of information in a way that makes the reader complicit in the narration.  –that is, more complicit than a reader is in a ‘normal’ information-dissemination situation – let’s say, the informativeness of journalism.

      –where ‘maximalism’ consists of providing so much information that the reader now participates by extricating pattern and relevance from the narrative, as opposed to inferring it.

      If this contrast, inference vs. extrication, characterizes the “Minimalist/Maximalist distinction”, is “Brief vs. Long” the most effective way to name dominant/recessive #2?

  75. Evan Hatch


  76. William VanDenBerg

      The lack of judgement is what I like about the article, and is what makes the term “twee” feel so out of place.  Twee has become negative shorthand for superficially optimistic, or, at best, overly precious.

      But I love Tullycraft, so what the fuck do I know.

  77. William VanDenBerg

      I think 2. refers to the general tendency towards short pieces, while 8. refers to grammatical minimalism’s effect on how the story is read.  Essentially they refer to different types of minimalism.  

  78. deadgod



  79. deadgod

      –in other, briefer, words:  if #2 doesn’t refer to ‘mere number of words’, perhaps it could be expressed as “Rare vs. Dense”.

  80. Anonymous

      The word “twee” is traditionally used to refer to something completely unhip.  It would be used to refer to cross-stitching on pillows, grandma’s curtains and other things that are generally overly cozy and old ladyish.  It came from a baby-talk version of the word “sweet” and was pretty much unused outside the UK.

      The meaning of the word changed in the late 80s/early 90s when the twee pop movement in music started up in the UK.  It was used to describe a subset of bands (centered around the label Sarah Records) within the larger indiepop scene (indiepop being originally inspired by the NME C86 compilation).  Talulah Gosh, The Field Mice, Brighter, Another Sunny Day, 14 Iced Bears, etc.  These bands were rooted in diy punk culture and basically were alienated by all the macho bullshit that had taken over punk rock (and maaaybe was there from the beginning).  They were often very sloppy in their musical approach and the whole scene centered around tiny labels and fanzines and such.  The term “twee” (baby talk for ‘sweet’) was first applied to them as an insult, but was adopted by the movement as a way to own it.  “Twee as fuck” pins were worn.  Sweetness was used in offense.  It was awesome.

      The word has since then become an insult again as it was co-opted by people who kind of knew about the indiepop scene and then by people who only kind of knew what those people were talking about and so on.  It seems like these days the people who use it as a negative are only slightly more obnoxious than the people who are still wearing “twee as fuck” pins.  Applying it to literature seems completely stupid to me.  I don’t think there is anything to be gained from looking at whether any particular literature is “twee” or not.

  81. Anonymous

      Adam.  I don’t have anything against you.  But I have no fucking clue where you’re getting this definition of “twee” from.

  82. Anonymous

      Please stop using the word “twee” forever.  It’s embarrassing.  I am cringing.

  83. Anonymous

      Tullycraft is punk as fuck.  Which is what “twee” originally meant.  Diy punk without the macho bullshit.  Disposable, sloppy, fun.

  84. Anonymous

      Well, what it meant when it came to music.  It did have a definition before that.

  85. Dj

      I think I encountered what is now the dominant style and tone in the form of Aimee Bender. Dear god I fucking hated Aimeee Bender! Nothing personal. Aimeeism?

  86. Tatertots23

      No offense, but I don’t think you know what “punk” means or meant. 

  87. Jd

      “I first encountered” whoops!

  88. deadgod

      “Twee” comes from ‘sweet’?  I thought it came from “tweedle”, ‘to chirp or peep’.  –the idea being that a “twee” thing or action is one that would create a bass boom, but actually comes out a thin cheep.

      The OED Supplement indeed does offer “[for tweet, infantile or affected substitute for SWEET]  ‘Sweet’, dainty, chic.”  Always difficult to go against the OED, but this etymology is accurate?

      Anyway, whether the usage among the dominants/recessives above is inaccurate or historically underinformed, surely there’s such a thing – a generally Bad Thing – as ‘inappropriately or excessively precious’, no?

  89. Tatertots23

      The Twee bands have very little to do with punk culture beyond a general DIY spirit. To pretend that they were simply some feminist anti-macho version of punk is silly. They also lost the anger, the politics, the philosophy, and sense of rebellion that really defined punk. 

      Twee makes perfect sense to describe a certain type of indie literature. 

  90. Anonymous

      I’m pretty sure you are not referring to the same type of twee bands I am referring to.  Have you ever heard Heavenly?  Their songs can be completely political and angry.  Speaking of angry, there’s this, too: http://www.songmeanings.net/songs/view/3530822107858645564/

      You need to do a lot more research about twee pop.

  91. Anonymous

      Tullycraft started as a very diy band who came out of the northwest punk and zine culture in the 90s.  I actually like Sean’s first band, Crayon, a lot better than Tullycraft, though.

      You’re talking to someone who toured the DIY circuit for over six years.   I know my shit, duder.

  92. William VanDenBerg

      An argument about the meaning of punk ensconced in an discussion about the meaning of twee taking place on the internet = punk as fuck.

  93. A D Jameson

      This is a very interesting comment; I’m going to write a post in response to it. Thanks!

  94. A D Jameson

      This is exactly right, although I’ll disagree with your last paragraph. It seems to me that a good deal of twee’s aesthetic has been codified and mainstreamed (at the cost of twee’s initial underground rebelliousness—but the same thing happened to punk). I see that aesthetic everywhere these days. E.g., how many music videos have been made that pretend to be high school plays? I saw a Living Social commercial using that trope just the other day. It’s cleaned-up and slick, to be sure, but it has its roots in Twee Proper of the ’80s. Meanwhile, Zooey Deschanel owes her entire career to coopting twee maneuvers….

      More on this anon.

  95. A D Jameson

      Twee comes from sweet. And it was initially an insult applied against indie pop, later recuperated as a badge of pride (although it remained an insult to those outside the subculture).

  96. A D Jameson

      Piggybacking on what you said, februarry: Twee can (and has) addressed any and all subject matters. It’s a style. The Television Personalities wrote songs about parental abuse. Belle & Sebastian wrote a song about not knowing how to deal with a good friend’s bulimia. They still sounded like big kids playing little kids playing grown-ups when they did so. (I’m not knocking them; the first two TP albums are ridiculously awesome, and that B&S song, “String-Bean Jean,” is my favorite of theirs.)

  97. A D Jameson

       Yes, regardless of content. I don’t think content has anything to do with it, really. It’s a style.

      Twee Proper of the 80s was perhaps more disposable, IDK. it seems to me that it always fetishized things in a way punk didn’t, but I’ve also always been much more punk than twee. But I think it’s definitely true that, as twee has become codified, and progressed from being a subculture to a mainstream phenomenon, it’s become not only slicker, but also very much about Treasuring Dainty Objects.

  98. A D Jameson

      Yes, I’m drafting one now. I think the subject/content angle is the wrong one. I don’t care a lick about content; I only ever write about style. :)

  99. A D Jameson

      Same place as you. Your comments in this thread have been the closest to my own view of the subject, in fact. (And I love Tullycraft!)

      But twee has become something mainstream these days, just like punk has. I mean, look at etsy, Renegade Craft Fair, etc.! Those are commercialized forms of twee, just as Lollapalooza is a commercialized form of punk. (Please understand also that I’m saying this as objectively and historically as possible.)

      Well, I’ll write more about this.

  100. A D Jameson

      Nothing to do with film, actually. I mean the terms in their literal sense.

      collage: “a technique of composing a work of art by pasting on a single surface various materials not normally associated with one another, as newspaper clippings, parts of photographs, theater tickets, and fragments of an envelope.”

      homogeneous: “composed of parts or elements that are all of the same kind”


  101. A D Jameson

      How so? I mean, whether you and I like it or not, it’s no longer the 80s, and twee now refers to something more than Sarah Records.

      I mean, just do a google image search on the word:

      Not a single K Rec shield to be seen!

      I know what the word twee means, and has meant, and I’m using it very deliberately to refer to an aesthetic that;s very, very common these days, and which has its roots in 80s and 90s indie pop. But that is not the same thing as that indie pop. Like it or not, twee has gone mainstream, and become something different in the process (just like what happened with punk, which now refers mostly to a commercialized aesthetic, and not, say, DIY—you can buy the shit at Hot Topic!).

  102. A D Jameson

      A general survey of as much of the North American English-language indie lit scene as I can see. Which may turn out to be a very small portion of it; I feel as though I will find that out only by sharing my impressions of it.

      Thanks for the comment!

  103. A D Jameson

      Parataxis is often a fellow traveler of minimalism, but the two don’t need to go hand in hand. You can have maximalist works that are parataxical, and minimalist works that are a singly hypotactic sentence.

  104. A D Jameson

      Certainly there are other ways of analyzing the scene. I think there are more than just three camps, though. And for my own purposes, I prefer to approach things this way, by means of the dominant, and not in terms of “schools” or “camps.” One, because I think a lot of artists exist between or over many schools and camps. Two, because there are lots of sub-groups and sub-camps. Three, because I’m ultimately less interested in groups/camps than I am in the aesthetic pressures that exist in the landscape—which groups and camps play a role in defining, but are not, from this view, the be-all and end-all.

      I’m glad to see you include experimental realist on your list, though. That’s a movement that too often gets left out in most taxonomies.

  105. A D Jameson

      Minimalist, stylistically, can apply to a great many things: sentences, paragraph length, book length, hell, word length, more. And in any case, I’m using the word “brief,” because I think the current dominant is “brevity,” not “minimal.”

      Donald Judd sculptures are infinitely repeatable. A Philip Glass composition can be very long. Minimalism was about repreated series of discreet units, ultimately—a kind of modular art. That’s not what I see people doing these days, at least not in literature. Rather, I see an emphasis on actual brevity—in making things that are as short as possible:

      1. shortness of time or duration; briefness: the brevity of human life.
      2. the quality of expressing much in few words; terseness: Brevity is the soul of wit.

      Hope that clarifies,

  106. A D Jameson

      I’m not only describing fiction, but poetry as well. Where would the Language and post-Language writers fit in terms of these three categories? And returning to fiction: how about Joshua Cohen or Jeremy M. Davies? There isn’t room for them; Or consider the differences between Blake Butler and Ben Marcus. Are they both 3? That seems uber-simplistic. There’s a lot more out there than this.

      I really do think that categories or groups is the wrong approach; there’s infinite variety out there, once you really start surveying the field. Even within groups, artists don’t always line up very well. Look at the Language Poets; there’s a ton of difference between, say, Lyn Hejinian and Charles Bernstein.

      So how are they both Language Poets? Well, for one thing, they both call themselves that. But why do they do that? Because they share a common aesthetic: they are both committed to writing that foregrounds language as language, and that is as parataxical as possible. They share two of the above twelve dominants, in other words. Now, what they do from there is their business, but every decision that they make, and that they have ever made, stems from that shared aesthetic commitment.

      Meanwhile, someone like Jeremy M. Davies has little interest in parataxis, but he is very committed to foregrounded, ornate language. Man can’t write a plain sentence if he tried. But he isn’t a Language Poet, not in the slightest.

      And so on.

      I hope this clarifies my approach!

  107. A D Jameson

      Miranda July is very Twee.

  108. A D Jameson

      Exactly. Minimalism has nothing to do with sentence length! Donald Barthelme wrote a short story that is a single long sentence, “Sentence,” and that’s in many ways a minimalist work: he was trying to reduce one of his tools (the sentence) to as small a number as possible. In that case, he was using La Monte Young’s notion of minimalism: “art made with as few components as possible.”

      Which is only one definition of minimalism. And Minimalism in 70s/80s fiction means something different; I have nothing to say about that movement here. If I use the word minimalist, I use it in its broader sense, which cuts across numerous art forms, and has been doing so for well over a hundred years now.

      And, in any case, the dominant I mentioned is “brevity,” not “minimalist.” Because I think that brevity is more of an aesthetic compulsion these days than minimalism is. Of course I may be wrong about that, but…

  109. A D Jameson

      The thing is, dominants are not necessarily to be avoided. They are inevitable. In making an artwork, say a piece of writing, there will be Something You Want To Do, and Things You Don’t Want To Do. The things you want to do are dominants. It’s impossible to have style without this.

      There’s nothing wrong with using any of the above things as dominants; I would never want to suggest otherwise. And there are millions of other things that can become dominants.

      My concern here is only to describe those elements that I see most of the people around me—a majority, not a totality—valuing as non-sacrificial in their work. In other words, these are the things I see a lot of people Wanting To Do.

  110. A Dozen Dominants, part 2 (aka, “You used to know what these words mean”) | HTMLGIANT

      […] was really thrilled to read all the responses my last post generated; thanks to everyone who chimed in! And I wanted to post something that clarifies some of […]

  111. Michael

      I understand–you’re using it more broadly. I still find, however, that people (not necessarily you) use the term as shorthand to describe “a certain kind of writing” that’s influenced from that particular era. 

      I also find it funny that people rarely use “maximalist” in a broader sense, even though plenty of contemporary fiction could be described as such. 

  112. M. Kitchell

      i think this is where we have to objectively admit that binaries fail us.  heterogeneous seems like a better binary paired with homogeneous, but we could still, perhaps, place monsieur tao lin as homogeneous in [virtually everything except internal juxtapositions that are seemingly used to the same effect whenever they arise thereby self-rendering as homogeneous] when looking at a text like compact by maurice roche or [anything that actually displays a verisimilitude of forms/content/whatever]

  113. M. Kitchell

      will somebody read my writingz and tell me what i am

  114. deadgod

      –perhaps best then to detach the parenthetical minimalist/maximalist “distinction” from #2! 

      –I mean, if what you mean by it is the dichotomy “brevity”/expansiveness.

      As to “repeated series of discrete units”:  perhaps “modular” vs. barnacular.

      Sealed vs. porous?  (Meaning ‘rearrangement within’ vs. ‘accretion from without’.)

  115. deadgod

      It’s important to check Adam’s key caveat (as it was when Higgs was referring to / employing dichotomies):  the pairs are neither exclusive of each other nor to be found alone in ‘nature’.  Each ‘side’ is a tendency, perhaps a primacy, or preference–but not a prescription.

      What do you want your writingz to be or to feel like?  –I mean, other than elusive of all “binaries”, ha ha –

  116. A D Jameson

      Binaries will always fail us, sure, but that doesn’t mean they’re also not useful.

  117. Tatertots23

      Such a cheesy response. The general aesthetics of a style or movement are not defined by its outliers. Try again. 

  118. Tatertots23

      I “toured” it as well for a long time. Twee took some cues from DIY punk, but so did a million other genres of music. That doesn’t make it DIY punk. It was a different thing with a different aesthetic. It took more cues from power pop and pop music in general, musically and aesthetically, even though it had something of a DIY sense to it sometimes. 

  119. The best HTMLGIANT posts as chosen by you the readers of HTMLGIANT or at least some of you | HTMLGIANT

      […] A Dozen Dominants: The Current State of US Indy Lit […]

  120. What we talk about when we talk about the New Sincerity, part 2 | HTMLGIANT

      […] over what in writing counts as “ironic,” and what counts as “sincere.” (See this post and this post for more on my thoughts on those dominants.) Mind me well: this is not a debate over […]

  121. Franzen’s Status | HTMLGIANT

      […] It entailed its own artistic logic that trumped everything else. (The missing E was his dominant, that which could not be sacrificed lest the text lose its […]

  122. How I wrote my latest novel, part 2 | HTMLGIANT

      […] Whenever I run into formal problems like this, my preference is to tackle them head-on, because ignoring them only creates bigger problems later. Also, solving problems early on helps me clarify what’s important. My method is simple: I ask, “What should my priority be?” or, “What do I most want to do?” Answering that tells me what’s negotiable and what isn’t. (This is one way that I’ve applied to my writing the Russian Formalists’ notion of “the dominant”). […]

  123. A D Jameson & the Avant-Garde | Suspended Reason,

      […] “A Dozen Dominants of Indy Lit,”though not exactly particular to Alt Lit, hosts a much more complete and well-informed discussion of […]