December 22nd, 2011 / 2:27 pm
Craft Notes

A Debate!

In keeping with time-honored holiday tradition, Chris Higgs and I are going to spend it arguing. We’re currently conducting a debate (via Google Docs), which we’ll begin posting in several parts come January.

Our starting point: “What is experimental fiction?”
Add your own thoughts in the Comments Section…

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  1. Molly Gaudry

      I see the question “What is experimental fiction?” and my immediate answer is, “Someone find Chris Higgs.”

  2. A D Jameson

      Precisely. And now I’m gonna take that hill!

  3. Jimmy Chen

      when u think ur smarter than the reader

  4. Mason Johnson

      Experimental fiction! Yuck.

  5. blam

      Writing that, uh, experiments and tries new forms and styles. Not, as Higgs seems to think, writers who recycle the same forms and styles of decades past. 

  6. Darby Larson

      experimental fiction is a cookbook

  7. reynard

      when you confuse the time elvis met nixon with the time alice cooper met colonel sanders, then realize it really doesn’t matter because there’s going to be fried chicken involved

  8. A D Jameson


  9. A D Jameson

      Tender buttons certainly is. I aim to prove it.

  10. A D Jameson

      My feeling as well, Masonry Johnson.

  11. A D Jameson

      I think a lot of writing falls under that category.

  12. Ralph Walldough

      I love experimental frictionso long as it is not too bleak

  13. Rob

      The flowering hedge around the privy.

  14. Mason Johnson

      Don’t you go and agree with me, Jameson!

  15. Nate

      Stories that take place in a chemistry lab or the basement of the psychology department at the university.

  16. Michael Filippone

      Nice Amok Time pic up there.

  17. A D Jameson

      Is actual screen capture

  18. Molum Haggis

      Your ideas of new are very old.

  19. stephen

      just thought “tribbles”

  20. lorian long

      when two men queef

  21. M. Kitchell

      a pointed example of how meaning is differential

  22. Shawn Maddey

      I don’t understand all the hate. I write in I guess what would be deemed an “experimental” style because I prefer to actually have fun when I write rather than feel like I am doing homework.

  23. bartleby_taco

      “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take” – Wayne Gretzky on experimental literature

  24. A D Jameson

      That tends to be my experience as well.

  25. A D Jameson

      Wouldn’t that include a lot of writing, though? At least ideally, if not actually?

      I’m prolly less committed than Chris and others are to “claiming” experimental fiction—I haven’t called myself an experimental writer in years—but I’m still interested in defining it in some practical way. Which may not be a practical thing to do, but…

  26. 88888888888888888888888

      “”You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take” – Wayne Gretzky on experimental literature” – bartleby_taco on drugs

  27. Leapsloth14

      When someone starts writing narrator driven affected 19th century “Dear reader” realism stories we’ll be back to experimental.

  28. Cvan

      How about instead, when you think the reader is smart.

  29. Matthew Simmons

      Would you count Marias’s A Voyage Along the Horizon?

  30. Cvan

      Shawn, the hate is coming because this is the USA, the land of conservative-minded art.  The same topic in just about any other country would not inspire such vitriol against something that stylistically represents a minor percentage of published books.

  31. Anonymous

  32. blam

      Is this what passes for wit with the kids these days? 

  33. Michael

      I think a better way of phrasing your post is, “the heated debated itself is more likely to occur in a country that loves creating neat, tidy binaries and categories.”

      European literature also has the benefit of being much older and having had more time to sort itself out.

      Chris Higgs’ posts on “experimental” fiction bother some people not because those people are anti-experimental, but because he routinely denies the conversation honest complexity and instead likes to reduce everything to simple categories. Recently, Chris Higgs suggested that literature that is intentionally confusing or opaque is less conservative–and thus more experimental–than fiction that aims for “clarity.” First of all, this is simply wrong–fiction that fools readers into believing in its own transparency can certainly be “experimental” (such a concept of “clarity” is highly experimental). It should also be noted that Michael Martone said essentially the same thing to him during the “What is Experimental Fiction?” series this summer, and that in the Martone interview posted a month-or-so ago here, you and me both agreed in the comments section with Martone’s points about “lazy categorizations.” You listened and admired the same interview as me, the one where Martone said writers often use “experimental” as a term or category out of sheer laziness.

      Here is the link to Martone’s interview if anyone is interested:

      We also see the attitude described above reflected all the time on HTMLGiant. For instance, any journal named after a state or college that ends in “Review” must only publish minimalist stories about marital discord in the suburbs, because, well, just because. Nevermind the fact that if one were to actually read journals like The Iowa Review and The Georgia Review, one would find some of the most “experimental” fiction published today. Nevermind the fact that despite all of the “edgy” window-dressing of some “indie” publications, the prose and poetry inside is often boring, derivative, not very experimental, and far less interesting than the posturing window dressing.

  34. Michael
  35. deadgod

      Is there a new idea of “new”?

  36. deadgod

      [Disclaimer:  almost all distinctions, antitheses, and/or dichotomies in thought and language are simpler than the difference(s) between actually different things.  The line discovered, invented, and/or imposed between ‘this’ and ‘that’ can almost always be deconstructed, either on the epistemic grounds that the two things can’t be told apart completely in every way or case, or on the metaphysical grounds that the two things in reality mutually implicate each other or are dialectically entwined or are equipimordial.  Winning a conversation by pouncing on the generality of imperfections of discernment is like crossing the starting line first.]

      I think the term “experimental” – what characterizes an ‘experiment’ – is useful in the sense that it indicates difference from what is not “experimental”.  Considered historically, that would be what is traditional, ‘the pre-given content of dutifully learned political-economic and cultural competence’.  For me, though, in the domain of “literature”, “traditional” connotes too narrow a range of what ‘experimenters’ are not doing (whether consciously or not).  (Something like a ‘S-V-O language’, while a matter of historical transmission and coherence, is not what I’d call a “tradition”.)

      The best one-word way to grasp what’s not an ‘experiment’ is convention.  “Experimental literature” is ‘language artistry by way of non-“conventional” means’.  What is “conventional” – other than ‘what’s not “experimental”‘ – ?  “Convention” in literature is ‘the manifold of assumed and explicitly conformed-to patterns that constitute competence in some particular language’–the dispositif or apparatus of a specific language.  “Experimental literature” is artistic contrariety of some sort to the apparatus of the language(s) that that literature is in.

      It’s important to recognize that ‘experiment’ and ‘convention’ co-exist in every literary object in a context.  “Experimental” and “conventional” are not matters of either/or, but rather of the dominance and recession of equiprimordialities.

  37. A D Jameson

      Ha ha

  38. A D Jameson

      I thought the “university fiction” trend was over?

  39. A D Jameson

      Michael, I think you and I will have a lot to talk about.

  40. A D Jameson

      Deadgod, I think you and I are actually in agreement for once!

  41. Frank Tas, the Raptor

      Here’s a joke about experimental fiction:

      Two writers who consider themselves at the forefront of literary innovation walk into a bar. Writer one says, “Hey, did you read that book?” Writer two says, “Yeah, what did you think?” Writer one gives a shit-eating smile, nods and says “It was good!” Writer two nods, shit-eating smiles back, and says, “Yeah, I thought it was good, too.”

      The End.

  42. Michael

      What would you like to discuss? As I’ve gotten older, I’ve grown tired of pitting categories against each other–especially as I’ve read further into the past and realized that most of these categories are more alike than different. “Realism,” for instance, is in fact not “traditional.” What’s “traditional” about a genre that post-dates most of literature’s history? I guess it’s traditional relative to the lives of most,or all, living writers, but you’d think by the way some folks talk that it was ushered into the world when dinosaurs roamed the earth. Half of the writers held up as “experimental” on literary blogs are very much “realists” when you actually look closely at their work. 

  43. Michael

      I also take issue with what I feel is a disingenuous rhetorical move in these discussions by people who, for whatever reasons, have anointed themselves as arbiters of what is and isn’t “experimental.” Often, then, “experimental” just becomes code for “non-realist.” The problem here is that “experimental” is simply too vague to work as a category and, also, its use in this context implies (in a smug, passive-aggressive, backhanded sort of way) that “realism” can’t be “experimental.” 

      Why not just say, “realism vs. surrealism”? “Realism vs. fabulism”? “Linear vs. modular”? I know why–because that would actually take some work. 

  44. A D Jameson

      I, too, lack interest in pitting categories against one another, but I remain interested in the categories—inasmuch as they exist. Which is to say, I am interested in what qualities a text might be said to have. Realism, for instance, I find to be a mixture of different devices arranged according to particular priorities, while more fantastical texts contain some of the same devices, and perhaps other ones as well, but arranged (presumably) according to other priorities. So it makes no sense to me to pit “realism” against “the fabulous,” except perhaps as a difference in priorities or goals—and there can be a lot of overlap between those different genres.

      When it comes to “experimental fiction,” I suppose I believe that such a thing exists, but that it is rarely seen. Or, rather, that it’s more a matter of priority—the author of such texts label them as such because they want to emphasize their creations’ points of discontinuity, rather than those of continuity (which still exist).

      Does that make sense? I also see no conflict per se between “realism” and “the experimental”; one can have experimental realism. Which, if I’m remembering correctly (from another conversation at another site) is one of the points of disagreement between Chris and I—he regards experimental writing as inherently anti-mimetic, whereas I don’t see that. I believe one can experiment with any genre, and with any formal device; genre has nothing to do with it.

  45. sigh

      I thought jokes were supposed to be clever and/or humorous? 

  46. Michael

      Obviously, categories overlap, inform, and grow out of each other (e.g. realism and fabulism) and any comparison begins with this understanding–which is precisely my point. For instance, you write: 

      “Chris regards experimental writing as inherently anti-mimetic.” 

      Well, realism is not mimetic and no one has ever pretended that it was, other than bad writers who lack imagination and style or people who strip “realism” from its historical and literary context in order to cheapen the debate. Chris Higgs’s approach is to forward experimental writing by essentially denigrating realism, which is why I’m only interested in discussing his rhetorical tactics here than the forthcoming “debate” that will be handicapped before it even begin. 

  47. Frank Tas, the Raptor

      Shit. Sounds like you don’t have an appreciation for experimental fiction.

  48. sigh

      Sounds like you aren’t witty :(

  49. Frank Tas, the Raptor

      But what about clever and/or humorous

  50. Frank Tas, the Raptor

      But what about clever and/or humorous

  51. Frank Tas, the Raptor

      But what about clever and/or humorous

  52. EC

      “Experimental fiction” is a ghetto.

  53. Brooks Sterritt

      i hope this isn’t the last time i hear talk of “equiprimordialities” 

  54. Anonymous

  55. 88888888888888888888888
  56. Brooks Sterritt

      Yeah, a googling turned up Heidegger, but thanks for the link. I was just excited to see the term on this site.

  57. bartleby_taco

      hehehe just coffee and my insatiable(-ly stupid) need to be a class clown

  58. James Yeh

      A cookbook or an experimental text? (Or both?)

  59. Frank Tas, the Yuletide Raptor

      btw bartleby did you ever start the Tin Drum? I’m halfway through. Not that nuts about it so far. Also won’t be able to respond to whatever you say here till Monday I think, so throw me an email if you have.

  60. Guestagain

      hep, smarter than a neurosurgeon? a physicist? strictly a vocational distinction

  61. Nate

      I mean stories that only deal with professions that run experiments. It doesn’t have to be strictly university-based. My bad.

  62. A D Jameson

      Oh, no, I understood you. I was being snark.

  63. deadgod

      Have a look here: .  From what I can quickly find, gleichurspruenglich (and die Gleichurspruenglichkeit) are coins of Heidegger’s, and ‘equiprimordial’/’equiprimordiality’ were made by Macquarrie.  ‘Cooriginal’, I’ve never seen ’til now; it’s equifaithful to Heidegghead’s word, but, to me, less indicative of his ingenuity concerning (what I understand to be) dialectical thought.

      It’s a useful way of grasping, oh, ‘form/content’–namely, that, though we speak easily, usefully, and, in a way, accurately about each term separately, neither term happens behind or without the other, and neither happens without their relationship also partaking of their equiprimordiality.

  64. Anonymous

  65. Ken Baumann

      Dig the picture. 

      I enjoy seeing two good minds try to figure out something aesthetic and slippery, so fuck yes to this/why not?

  66. Anonymous

  67. Anonymous

  68. Jason L

      I seem to recall that someone once put together a cookbook based on the descriptions of food in novels written by Beat writers. The experimental part would be trying to eat anything made from the recipes.

  69. Brandon O'Connor

      It’s like art but with words in it.