literary fiction

Sacred Gardens: A meditation on possession in Don DeLillo’s novella The Body Artist

by
Justin Burnett.

bodyartist_first_edPossession is a strange concept. Like many of the categorizations we use to piece together what roughly might be called our social existence, possession is marked more by its ambiguities than its certainties. What do we possess? We possess our possessions. But what are those? Merely material things that cost money, that stand at one end of a transaction like the period at the end of a sentence? A mere placeholder for exchange, a trophy for participation in capitalist society, a pause after a civic duty duly discharged?

Perhaps it entails something closer to an aura, a relation within a context of other objects, accumulated for aesthetic or practical use. “It was his coffee and his cup. They shared the newspaper but it was actually, unspokenly, hers” (4). The coffee is his only in contrast to the newspaper (which is hers). Is this possession, then, this magical game of comparison, animating the space between the mute objects of our houses with a thin web of relations? An imperceptible fabric strung between the piano in the corner, the hand-painted cerulean lamp table, the sofa patched with soft, gently outlined squares, the white, porcelain coffee cup on the glass surface of the card table, near the edge furthest away from the stack of unopened bills? (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…)

Nine Writers and Performers Who Influenced Bastard Virtues

by
Daulton Dickey.

In 2003, my cousin died in a car accident. I received the news while loafing around in New Mexico. I had traveled there earlier in the year, and, after a brief stint in Las Vegas, felt lost. But I had left Indiana—hopefully—for good, and I was determined to start a new life somewhere else. Jobless and low on money, I resisted giving in. I resisted going home.

Then news of his death arrived, and it hit me hard. I felt isolated. My determination to stay transformed into a desire to leave, to go back home, to spend time with my friends and family. To fill the hole my cousin had left.

Although he was a year younger than me, we grew up together—and we were close: we made the same mistakes together, tried alcohol and pot together, developed a similar sense of humor, and developed similar tastes in movies and music, in pop culture in general.

Rage filled me when he died, and I felt the urge to write about it. I tried and failed several times before I hit on the opening chapter of Bastard Virtues. My desire to honor my cousin gave way to my anger and rage, which consumed me whenever I thought about his death. Early on, I realized the novel wasn’t about him as much as it was about my anger, my rage, my sadness—emotions transformed into themes which dominated the novel.

On embracing the anger and rage, I decided to pick influences for the novel which reflected my relationship with my cousin. Some of the influences are mine alone, and reflect nothing more than my preoccupations at the time. Other influences, however, represent shared interests between my cousin and me.

Hunter S. Thompson

Thompson’s influence is apparent early on in the novel, the opening section of which was inspired by The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved. Although Thompson’s story meant nothing to my cousin, it was a starting off point for me. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas connected my cousin and me to Thompson, which is what inspired the setting early in the novel. Thompson’s cynicism and vitriol hit a nerve with us when we were teenagers; it was the language we had already used, and in Thompson we’d found a sort of spiritual guide. (more…)