Wednesday, 7 March 2012


I read something last week that really captured my imagination: 
The narratives of the traditional "life-story" are breaking down into unrelated pieces. We work 40 jobs over a lifetime...we move location and we start again and again in the deregulated, privatised world of self-selling. We inhabit virtual places as much as we do real ones. Facts become blurred and we live out fictions. For works of writing to reflect this world, they also have to enter into the language and forms of our time, otherwise we end up with confused, over-stuffed, compromised books that use an old form to try to talk about a new time.
For better or for worse, I reckon this is what now feels like.

This paragraph comes from a piece about fiction's future in the Guardian. The writer, Ewen Morrison, is about to publish a new sort of novel: 'a mixture of facts and fictions, images and videos'.

As a former inhabitant of a 'department of factual verification', I agree that facts are pretty nauseatingly dull on their own. Mixing fact and fiction is where the good stuff comes from.  

Always with us. 
Morrison argues that novels should be novel. Unsurprisingly, he doesn't think Jonathan Franzen is God's gift to fiction.

Like some, I still love the smell and feel of old books. A dream of mine is to reanimate old, forgotten literature in novel ways. 

I know a local librarian who is very wise. He can, for instance, produce batmobile sketches on short notice, and he generally gives the impression of one who could have joined the space program but just couldn't be bothered with anti-gravity. 

This afternoon I got into a long conversation with my wise librarian over a common interest of ours: 'London Labour and the London Poor'. This book was written as a series of newspaper articles by Henry Mayhew in the 1840's. It is a journey into Victorian ethnography, economics, and grimmer than Dickens stuff. Have you ever considered the pay and working conditions of rat catchers, for instance? 

Mayhew's work is woven together from oral life histories. As with America's Federal Writers' Project, this makes the line between fact and fiction a blurry, complicated one. When telling your life history, what would you leave in? Take out? Change? 

Mayhew's work still resonates - perhaps in part because his subjects lived in a broken, deregulated world of self-selling. My wise librarian has photocopies of Mayhew illustrations up in the library billboard. 

I will follow the progress of Ewen Morrison's book with interest. And I will read Mayhew's 'Criminal Prisons of London and Scenes of London Life' as suggested by my wise librarian. My interest lies not only the ghost of literature future, but also the ghost of literature past.  

No comments:

Post a Comment