Literature

On Non-Traditional Narrative

A Dialectic in Defense of Experimental Narratives through the Study of Slaughterhouse-Five and Paris Peasant

by
Daulton Dickey.

Some writers adore narrative convention. They stick to the algorithm without deviation. Others deviate only slightly. Other writers still incorporate radical deviation into conventional narrative algorithms. Then there are writers who eschew convention altogether in order to deconstruct or to dismantle narrative entirely. Each of these groups attempt to add their stamp to fiction or literature in one way or the other. And all have strong opinions on narrative. But which group, which tactic, is right?

The answer shouldn’t startle you: none. Declaring narrative can or should or must only4815205632_632ee48a71_b follow one path is like demanding that all athletes stand during the national anthem. It’s a form of authoritarianism predicated on inculcating and reinforcing conformity. Narratives are fluid, organic, the products of human perception of time. Think of it as water: it can assume the shape of liquid, steam, or ice while still containing water at its core. (more…)

The Role of Fantasy in Franz Kafka’s Amerika

by
Daulton Dickey.

amerikaIn Amerika by Franz Kafka, the character Karl Rossman is shipped away to America by his parents following a scandal with a servant girl. From hotel employee to bum to servant, young Karl experiences a panoply of adventures and emotions as he tries to find his way through life. Superficially, it’s a straightforward tale, a Huckleberry Finn-esque Bildungsroman. Since Kafka rarely wrote superficial tales, however, it is possible that Karl’s adventures mean something else–for Karl and for Kafka.

Interestingly, the title “Amerika” comes to us from Max Brod, who changed Kafka’s original title. Kafka’s title Der Verschollene, however, translates to “The Missing Person” or “The Man Who Disappeared.” Why would he give the novel a title that expresses the point of view of Karl’s family while the narration itself follows Karl, giving only passing mention to his family? (more…)

Life is a Stage, So Why Not Screw with People?

Notes on an Essay Concerning Writing, Performing, and the Nature of Reality
by
Daulton Dickey.

[Author’s Note: This is an unfinished essay I vaguely remember writing, the result, I suspect, of having taken too many meds, which I do by accident from time to time.]

I.

My mind reels. Sometimes I lock myself in my head, in my world, and everything around me—my wife, my kids, my friends and job—vanish. Not literally. Figuratively. Everything slips into the background, sometimes into the deep background. Sometimes the universe transforms into background noise, a sort of visuospatial white noise. Other times, it disappears altogether.

I get so locked into my world, the world mutating and transmutating and exploding in my head, that the world and everything in it almost vanishes.

zoar2A strange sensation: living in my head inside, then going outdoors and feeling as if the world itself is indoors, as if the world is a set constructed inside a planet-sized soundstage. Sometimes, when these sensations inundate me, I glance around—at the ground and the sky, cars and buildings and passersby—and marvel at the corporeality of it all. Of everything.

On occasions, when I’m experiencing these sensations, I ask myself two questions, sometimes in conjunction, sometimes in disjunction:

What is imagination?

What is “reality”?

II.

So I’m sitting in a wheelchair on the corner of an intersection, wearing a plaid shirt, overalls, and sunglasses. I’m hunched over in the chair, not moving. Concentrating on steadying my breath, minimizing the expansion and contraction of my rib cage, trying to render it imperceptible.

Try it. It’s a fascinating study, something akin to sociology. People ignore you when you play dead. They amble or scurry past you. Some glance while others act as though they don’t see you. Some joke while others furrow their eyebrows.

I’d probably sell the death routine if “Staying Alive” by the Bee Gees wasn’t blasting from a speaker attached to my phone in my right pocket. (more…)

Still Life with Chattering Teeth and People-Shaped Things (excerpt)

by
Daulton Dickey.

[This is an excerpt from the titular story in the new short story collection, Still Life with Chattering Teeth and People-Shaped Things & Other Stories, which is out now.]

1.

Humming fills the air, but it’s the humming of a brain filling gaps exposed by silence. The lights are out. Colors flicker in space–sometimes near the ceiling, sometimes near the floor.

The brain does the math, and this is another case of the brain creating something where something should be.

But listen: the silence. It’s unnerving somehow. Unnatural.

The ceiling throbs. Cracks spiderweb the walls. From these, insects emerge. They’re miniature heads, human heads, crawling on six scrotums. Sperm oozes in their wake. Sadie throws a shoe at the wall and the insects scream and scatter.

She climbs out of bed and peeks outside: a planet-sized eyeball drifts toward a planet-sized eyelid. Twilight. She throws on her robe and taps her skin. It’s still skin. Thank Cruelty. She hasn’t transformed, not like the others.

She opens her front door.

The hallway is empty.

She tiptoes across the hall and puts her ear below “3F” on Martin’s door. Silence. But that doesn’t mean anything. Those creatures are probably in there. Right now. Fucking each other with those tentacles–or whatever the hell you call them.

More humming.

Is it a lightbulb, or is it her brain doing the math, plugging holes?stilllifedaultondickey

She ties her robe and rubs her stomach and tiptoes down the hall, listening in on apartments 3D, 3C, 3B.

She puts her teeth together and hisses, just to make sure she hasn’t gone deaf.

Hiss.

She hasn’t gone deaf.

Door 3B flings open. A human-sized caterpillar pops its head into the hallway. Snot and cum drips from its mouth.

–Everything okay? it says.

–Fine.

–Why you in your robe? Locked out?

–Stop talking to me. Monster. (more…)

Is Literature Dying?

by
Daulton Dickey.

The Failing Health of Fiction

Here’s a thought experiment: close your eyes and create a mental image of a novel, any novel, and by that, we mean a physical book. Then create a mental image of the novel transmogrifying into a person. Now imagine this person’s health. Imagine he or she’s lying on a bed in a hospital, attached to machinery seemingly plucked from a Terry Gilliam film. One glitch, one unplugged cord, one kink in a tube or a wire and the person dies.

images (1)Now imagine transforming that person back into a book, and imagine the book is a work of fiction, specifically genre or literary fiction. The health of fiction depends on innovation and new ideas. Argue to the contrary, and you’ll make an argument based solely on commerce.

“Books x, y, and z are successful; therefore fiction isn’t dead,” which is true: fiction isn’t dead. But it’s dying. Like the imagine patient above, fiction is on life support. We can attribute many causes to this state of affair, such as the rise of home entertainment and video games, the internet and smartphones and augmented reality, which certainly plays a part. However, to argue on those terms alone is, at least to a degree, to argue beside the point. (more…)

Three Short Parables

by
Daulton Dickey.

I.

For a brief moment, no longer than ten years, which wasn’t much, all things considered, the city seemed on the verge of greatness. Nestled at the mouth of Lake Michigan, it had served as a portal for steel manufacturers to transport their goods to and from Gary and Chicago, both voracious consumers of raw and processed steel. Houses bloomed in fields until no fields remained. Streets and sidewalks, buildings and stores and factories filled the city. The leaders of industry diversified, and soon a Pullman boxcar manufacturer popped up. By the lake, a cough lozenge manufacturer erected a simple, box-shaped building. The city boomed, as people would say. Incomes increased, and along with it the accoutrements concomitant to disposable income: pools and swings and cars, some excessively luxurious, and general stores packed with disposable goods, all of which Evstafiev-bosnia-cellopeople devoured, people looking to fill their lives with evidence of their squandered time. Then voodoo economics and global trade deals crushed the steel industry, and the port withered and died. Chasing jobs, people fled. Poverty replaced prosperity. Drugs and alcoholism, crime and violence, anxiety and depression and suicide scarred the faces and fattened the bodies of everyone left to rot in the city. Paint on buildings and signs and fences chipped and faded, and concrete cracked and broke. Gray replaced color. The world seemed to dim. Every once in a while, sometimes twice a month, the sky over the city cracked: blood and sulfuric effluvia drenched the city. The poor bastards buried in the bottom-most levels of the social strata, left to rot when the wealth of the middle class fled, watched as the faces of their friends and loved ones drooped. No one understood the affliction. Doctors hypothesized neurological disorders possibly caused by an ecosystem poisoned by decades of industry, but they nixed the neurological argument when faces melted and slid off and merged with the flesh on chests or necks or stomachs or arms. Something else was clearly at work. That no one seemed to notice or care, that doctors only treated it with anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication didn’t evoke questions from anyone passing through the city. Most people, those with money who passed through town, dismissed the affliction as a problem relegated to the impoverished. In some way, people argued, it was probably their fault–maybe not directly; perhaps it was the product of poor upbringing, or genetics. At any rate, people said, there wasn’t much use in worrying. ‘My life’s good,’ one traveler said, ‘my face’s intact; why should I worry?’ The old woman, who lived in the abandoned post office, known to everyone in town as a ‘crazy witch,’ laughed when she overheard the traveler’s apathy. ‘The way things are going,’ she said, ‘the sky over every city will crack, and every face will soon droop and melt.’ The traveler ignored her. Everyone ignored her. And when the sky over cities around the country–around the world, even–cracked and bled, and faces drooped and melted, entire populations ignored the problem, pretended it didn’t exist, by focusing on alcohol, drugs, sports, and pop culture. ‘I mean, really, there’s nothing to worry about,’ a local community organizer said. He was a prominent billionaire, face intact, who lived in a neighborhood enclosed in a dome and often acted as the voice of the people. ‘This is something that happens,’ he said. ‘It’s important now, it’s absolutely critical, that we carry on with our lives. We as citizens must continue shopping, go on vacation, go to college, accumulate as much debt as is needed to help our struggling economy. Faces change. Yes, some even melt. But it must not prevent us from living our lives, from raising our children, from playing our part in maintaining the economy.’ Footage of his speech played on repeat on news broadcasts around the country. Few people expressed alarm when his cheek twitched and his eyelid sagged mid-way through the speech. Sometime later, he retired from public view. (more…)

Jessica McHugh Interview

by
Daulton Dickey.

If you haven’t encountered Jessica McHugh online, then you’re missing out on a singular personality. Witty and offensive—to some—and brutally honest, she chronicles her daily life and her life as a writer constantly in search of inspirado.

She’s more than a horror writer: she’s written science fiction and YA series. A prolific short story writer, she spends her days and nights toiling away. Sometimes she writes at home, sometimes she writes in bars, she’s always producing something well worth reading. 

Can you remember the first time a book gripped you?

One of my favorite books since I was ten or so, “The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle” by Avi. It’s a historical fiction novel about thirteen-year-old Charlotte Doyle voyaging from England to America in the early 1800s. There are storms, mutinies, and some pretty harrowing incidents that require Charlotte to abandon her upper-class sensibilities and woman-up big time. I’d never read anything quite like it at the time. (more…)

The “Reality” of Literature and the Death of the Avant-Garde

by
Daulton Dickey.

(Note: This is a revision of a previously published edition.)

If literature were a person, it’d be in a vegetative state. Nothing new is said, nothing new is to be learned, nothing new is offered—the appearances might change but the forms remain the same.

A cliche persists in our culture that if you want to change the system you must first become part of the system. This is an illusion meant to persuade people to embrace the system; it’s designed to inculcate conformity.

Like our culture, literature itself is homogenized while taking on the appearance ofinarticulate_by_dustyantiques heterogeny.

In an image-obsessed culture, appearances are everything.

Another cliche with which we’re familiar warns us to refrain from judging a book by its cover. In reality, we should judge a book by its form. Form should supersede appearances. But in accordance with our species, a peculiar mammal with the cognitive ability to process and model information linearly, the form remains the same while the appearances change.

In an age of movies and television, video games and the internet, things must change. Literature cannot excel at telling linear stories the way visual media can; instead, literature should transcend the simulacrum and represent new and alternate ways to experience simulated or emulated realities.

And that is what literature does: it emulates or simulates realities. Contrary to early Wittgenstein, language does not picture reality; instead, it provides instructions for your brain to construct models. (more…)

Does Reading Really Make You More Empathetic?

by
Daulton Dickey.

Most of us have seen it: in 2013, a famous study reported that reading fiction makes people more empathetic. Many of us have even shared the article. Those of us who areimg_3598 readers or writers may even have felt a sense of satisfaction in learning that our hobbies and passions help us become better people.

If you search online for “reading makes people more empathetic” you’ll find countless articles based on that 2013 study, including articles only a few months old. A wealth of articles reiterating this study’s findings might even strengthen our beliefs that reading does, in fact, makes us empathetic. Although they draw on a single source, multiple articles create the impression of multiple attestations.

But there’s a problem: a subsequent experiment has failed to reproduce the results of that original experiment, which could indicate flawed methodology. Assuming the methodology isn’t flawed, we’ve also got to consider the distinction between correlation and causation. As we know, correlation doesn’t necessarily equal causation.  (more…)