Someone asked me, “What is experimental writing?” Whoa, that answer takes hours if you want examples. There is so much to read online if you ask the question on a search engine, and most of the explanations are excellent. So, ask me, “Why not just do what has been done already and make it better, rather than, as Ezra Pound’s three most famous words, ‘make it new’?” That is a question I can answer more precisely.
When an artist, creative dreamer, investigator, explorer or such grows tired of staring at the sign that says, “Dead End” or “Stop” or “No trespassing,” there is only one thing to do if one does not despair and drown in a “slough of despond”: Push on. Sail through the doldrums and see what country is left to be discovered. Right? Obvious?
Then, why are so many otherwise smart people against progress in the arts, especially the same people who are wide awake to it and all its trappings up to the stopping point?
This negativity toward a new way of looking/going is what has steered civilization to where we are now. Not always a pretty thing, is it? Think about this question: “Whose world is it anyway?” Artists, believe me, have awakened to this question.
We were born into a world full of violence, hatred, fear and rage, a world of people ignoring reality, people dying for approval, acceptance, people-pleasers with unhealthy values, viewpoints, or just plain under-educated in every way. It takes guts to try to do something about this. At least a voice.
When people really see this reality, this echo and narcissus biome we all live in, the only thing to do is to rev up the engine and look for a way through, out, beyond, somewhere other than stasis. Ah, The Truman Show! Reality necessitates breaking down the barrier, either throwing a chair out the window, or setting sail for a new land.
We are more than phantoms moving between life and death, are we not? We are not robots managed by the media to connect and disconnect like changing from dinner clothes into pajamas. Who gives anyone the right to say, “You no longer merit my love”? Why does anyone want to make a coupling “legal” except for legal reasons in a legal world? (“They” are legalizing nature.) Who is not legal? Are you legal? Think pre-programmed stereotypes. You see human beings unwilling to change everywhere from farmlands to crowded city sidewalks, walking somewhere nearer to that sign at the end of the street. Thank God there are exceptions. As Ursula LeGuin says so brightly in her beautiful short story,”Those who Walk Away from Omelas” there are artists, explorers among us.
So experimental literature is just this push, this exploration, this need to refuse the stagnant situation. Dylan Thomas with his admonition to his father to rage against the dying of the light, the voices of Kurt Vonnegut, Virginia Woolf, Gertrude Stein, David Foster Wallace, a growing number of voices continue to write experimental work, a fancy phrase for “new.” Cassandra and Pollyanna and Sybil and John the Baptist and Magellan and you can see this is not new or experimental, this loud voyage.
The experimental artist goes beyond Heidegger’s saying about Aristotle, (He was born, he thought and he died), the experimental artist leaves a map, a trail, breadcrumbs or Stonehenge, that says loud and clear, I did my best to inhabit my life with this. What I am showing you here, a voice in the wilderness, a sailor discovering the Indies. Yes, above all, a voice.
Rabindranath Tagore, the Bengali poet, Nobel Laureate, a navigator in the Land of Nod, says it best, “Between the shores of Me and Thee there is the loud ocean, my own surging self which I long to cross.”