I found these old notes I wrote while working on my undergraduate English thesis in 1992. I had forgotten that Milan Kundera talked about wanting to return the novel to its wilder and woollier days. At the time, I had no idea what Kundera was talking about, but after seeing all these online courses advertising about how to write novels, or short stories, or mysteries, etc., etc., I can relate. I tried writing short stories. Joined an online group. Felt like I was back at my old nine-to-five job.

I read one Writer’s Digest book, by Orson Scott Card, about characterization, and hated it. Then I read a sci-fi novel by Orson Scott Card, Memories of Earth, and hated that, too. I’m going to write pretty much whatever I want, and you can call it whatever you want. Maybe if I ever get something published, you can say, “I’m not buying that crap.” That’s fine with me. I’m like Johnny Ramone; I don’t care if it sells or not. (He said that in a documentary about working with Phil Spector; I just don’t have the cite for it now. He makes similar comments in this interview.)

The Ramones were nothing if not primitive, at least at first. They probably would have horrified Kundera, but they and he were reaching for the same thing—art that doesn’t let convention get in the way of feelings. I feel like I’ve been too caught up in trying to observe all the rules of story structure, and somewhere along the way I forgot how to express myself.

I’m still going through my old notebooks; I think that what I wrote before I checked the manuals reads better than what I’ve written since then.

In my conversations late last month with my thesis advisor, he suggested it might be prudent for me to reduce my scope from all fiction written in the last 400 years, beginning with Shakespeare, down to just the fiction written in, say, the last 10 to 20 years by just one author, Milan Kundera. He also suggested I change my subtopic from the almost limitless terrain of “confusion” to one or two that would be more germane to Kundera. He suggested postmodernism. Two of postmodernism’s attendant features, he said, are dislocation and fragmentation: if one feels oneself out of the mainstream in this century, it’s because there is no mainstream any longer. I’m going to try to find out what factors—be they cultural, technological, culinary, whatever—led to the extinction of the mainstream. Perhaps the mainstream itself caused its destruction. Thus, we are now living in pockets of reality, in varying degrees of isolation from and interaction with each other.

The way Kundera approaches it, post-modernism seems to be kind of a reactionary movement. He says he wants to return the novel to the more primitive, experimental state in which it existed before the rules of writing a novel became codified and formalized, in the time of Rabelais and Diderot, Don Quixote and Tristram Shandy.

Of course, then Kundera goes and writes something called The Art of the Novel. I guess we all feel like we have to explain ourselves.

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