Jeremy has an interesting post up on short stories v novels in the no-holes-barred cage match that is the 21st Century, which is cute, because we all know that LOLCATS are the literature of the future and that our grandchildren will be unintelligible cyborg-drones who work for the Apple hive-mind and view us as we view chimps.
OMG! Gmpa ws txtng! Luvs bnanas!*
My favorite part of the post is that he links his usage of 'whatevs' to its urban dictionary definition, wherein we learn that this shortening of 'whatever' is used by cool people-- in case we doubted his coolness, or just to rub it in our faces.
But back to the meat of the post. He ruminates on how difficult it is to write short stories and gives a couple solid strategies for applying 'pressure' to the a story. The underlying notion being that the possibilities of 'success' for a short story are much fewer than for novels... Thus making the genre super-hard, but therefore also specially rewarding, like a 'punch in the face.' The reason short stories lose out to novels in this pre-borgian era is due to this excess of pressure, when want we want is mindless escapism that reinforces our most destructive and least examined cultural assumptions.
But why so serious, Short Story? Jeremy suggests that novels can do more, be more, have larger digressions, like Vic Hugo stopping the narrative of Les Mis to tell us about Parisian criminal argot or retell the Battle of Waterloo, therefore making it a broader and freer medium.
But I like to think of literature in more physical terms, of the generating force of chaos crystallizing into forms according to outside pressures. Think, for instance, of the dizzying variety of life in the insect world vs mammals. Mammals are more complex systems, and therefore, in order to function, must share very basic and unavoidable solutions to the problems of complexity. All the variations average out closer to the mean.
Clearly mammals are novels. We've got one mammal that can fly, a few that can swim, a couple on two legs, and the rest are basically fuzzy with four legs. And hooray! I am certainly on Team Mammal.
But insects, being less complex (but sufficiently complex-- there are only a few solutions to very basic uni-cellular problems), are able to do and be so much more. Therefore, it would seem to me that the short story, having the freedom of prose and the brevity of poetry, could and should and has combined those forces into dazzling variety. But why don't we understand and reinforce this natural creative force? Why do most thinkers of the short story instead make it out to be the most strictly ordered of all media?
I have many theories for this, for instance, that an ordered society fears autonomous forms and therefore applies the most artificial pressure to that which contains the most potential for variety-- like love, for instance. One man and one woman for life, eh?
The literary extension of State Control is Realism and this is the particular fetter of the (literary) short story in the past hundred-so years. If a short story is only comment on a narrow idea of the real, then it's grand, efficacious potential is severely limited and must be very hard indeed to pull off. And thus we are trained to see the narrowness of our vision as an appreciation for the teleology of 'what works.'
Defenestrate Realism like the Old Tyrant it is, and suddenly there is an explosion of Forms. You'll realize that most of our native story-telling is within the realm of the short story-- the rant, the love letter, a joke, the rituals and habits that anchor your days, flights of fancy, your relationship to your father. These all live within us according to the native diversity that the short story is perfect to contain while reinforcing the singularity its material. Death's Head Moth to Fire Ant to the Giant Isopod .
And as this form betrays most naturally the illusion of the Grand Narrative that we all live by, it must be the most misunderstood, ignored, and restrained of all literary gestures.
Which is why no one reads Saroyan anymore.
*Sent Via My Blackberry Neural-Cortex Implant