This is really more of a casual riff on something I’ve noticed emerging among small press books than an actual premeditated essay, so expect the circuity and half-reasoned out ideas that will hopefully coalesce into something more formal down the road. However, it is a genuine response to a type of writing that seems particularly resonant with younger writers (and by young, I mean really young, cresting at just a digit or two past 30).
A kind of offhand definition of this new minimalism (and yes I recognize the absurd insufficiency of this term) is fiction that uses tonal repetition and non-descriptive language to capture a neutrality of sentiment ostensibly resulting from an overexposure to media and perhaps information in general. It seems to be a kind of carapacing of any articulated emotional experience, a very self-conscious decision to become a sort of artistic Bartleby. Although this is a growing approach to writing fiction, my limited exposure to this writing is people like Tao Lin, Zachary German and to a somewhat lesser extent, Scott McClanahan.
What puzzles me most about these writers is that their books seem to gain nearly universal acclaim from their contemporaries (with the notable exception of the brilliant, acerbate Joshua Cohen). And yet, I feel utterly unmoved, disconnected, and not in any plausibly desirable way. But I can live with this. I even included one of McClanahan’s stories in the anthology of Appalachian writers I co-edited because I believed his voice needed to be represented as part of the region, and his voice is a striking departure from most stories of the area.
What I don’t understand is the weird mimicry this type of fiction inspires in many of its apologists. Consistently, whenever this aesthetic is challenged in open forum, the defenders of this aesthetic faith ventriloquize this style, playing pastiche instead of honestly engaging the very real concern of reductionism of form and character in the contemporary novel. Tone is lauded above all, is either something you “get” or something you don’t, and be damned any kind of fecundating discourse. I worry about fanboy behavior when it begins to tread on serious literary discussions.