Sex and Brevity, Fracture and Complexity
Savannah Scholl Gruz questions if the elements of fiction are obsolete in a really interesting post on her blog. She asks, “But why, too, are stories so often about empty sex and blow jobs? Why are so many of them full of violence and figurative blind corners.” Her discussion expresses a real concern over the highly sexualized, fragmented short story and she also notes that, “Maybe we are the decade of fractured, sexual narratives in the same way that we have, in many ways, become a fractured and highly sexualized culture.”
As a writer who often writes sexual narratives, sometimes fractured in nature, but often times, linear and complex, I’m pretty intrigued by her commentary. Savannah asks if the proliferation of highly sexualized work is a deeper commentary on our culture, a reflection of this moment in time but I would say that literature has always been highly sexualized. It’s only the nature of highly sexualized work that continues to evolve. Similar concerns as the ones Savannah shares in her post were raised at the end of the 19th century, for example. Elaine Showalter’s Sexual Anarchy is a great book that looks at the evolving sexual culture of the fin de siecle and how those cultural changes manifested themselves in literature and popular culture.
The stories Savannah discusses are the kinds of stories I am often drawn to. There’s a lot to mine when writing (or reading) about sex and sex can serve as a narrative frame for just about anything. If there’s an increase in highly sexualized writing I think it may be more a reflection of narrative potential than zeitgeist. There are, of course, some writers who are using sex to create a spectacle, or to shock and titillate, certainly, but even those reasons for writing about sex interest me.
I am confused, however, because Savannah also discusses how short fiction seems to be getting shorter and shorter. There’s a real concern in her post about how we can build complexity in our stories if we are consistently held to short word limits. I don’t think there’s a connection between highly sexual work and brevity so I would have liked to see these two subjects addressed separately. That said, I too often wonder about how storytelling is affected by really low word limits but I don’t think that experiments with the short form (ie. hint fiction, nano fiction, micro fiction, flash fiction) are only a response to a culture with a decreased intention span, as she asserts in the opening of her post. That may be some part of it but to a larger extent, no matter how skeptical I might be, I think writers are really trying to push what it means to tell a story and how a story can be told. Brevity and fractured or fragmented narratives (which I would love to also discuss in more depth) are just two examples of how the short form continues to shift and grow. Those kinds of stories are not being written at the expensive of longer, more complex and linear narratives. I don’t believe that complexity cannot be incorporated into a very short story. What does it mean for a story to be complex, anyway?