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November 3, 2012
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It's something that comes up quite a bit as a subject of debate - I've seen it around here a few times, prowling around campus, the various other literary projects I'm involved in. Really, when it comes to anything artistic, the subject of experimentation can get quite heated. How far is too far? Is it still art if the creator is experimenting for the sake of experimentation, or should those exercises been classed as such? And I'm sure all of us have come across the excuse "Well, it's experimental," as justification for all manner of things. 

I have some pretty definite opinions on the matter (surprise, surprise), but that's not what this is about just now. I was reading "On Writing" (Fires: Essays, Poems, Stories, London: Picador, 1985) by Raymond Carver and came across a quote I found interesting. A few quotes, actually, but this one pertains specifically to experimental writing and I'm curious to see what others' thoughts are. 

Too often "experimentation" is a license to be careless, silly or imitative in the writing. Even worse, a license to try to brutalize or alienate the reader. Too often such writing gives us no news of the world, or else describes a desert landscape and that's all - a few dunes and lizards here and there, but no people; a place uninhabited by anything recognizably human, a place of interest only to a few scientific specialists.  [...] The real experimenters have to Make It New, as Pound urged, and in the process have to find things out for themselves. But if writers haven't taken leave leave of their senses, they also want to stay in touch with us, they want to carry news from their world to ours. (p 24)

Discuss.

The second quote is not entirely related, but offered as advice for everyone out there who says it, because just about everyone finds it pretty damn annoying when you do it, so think about this the next time you're presenting your work to someone (in any context):

"It would have been better if I'd taken the time." I was dumbfounded when I heard a novelist friend say this. I still am, if I think about it, which I don't. It's none of my business. But if the writing can't be made as good as it is within us to make it, then why do it? In the end, the satisfaction of having done our best, and the proof of that labor, is the one thing we can take into the grave. I wanted to say to my friend, for heaven's sake go do something else. There have to be easier and maybe more honest ways to try to earn a living. Or else just do it to the best of your abilities, your talents, and then don't justify or make excuses. Don't complain, don't explain. (p 25)
(Emphasis is mine.)

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:iconthreedayweekend:
threedayweekend Featured By Owner Nov 11, 2012   Writer
My impression, around deviantart at least, is that people typically use "experimental" poetry or prose the same way they generally use "free verse": as a vague free for all where anything goes and can be considered profound (god forbid you criticism free verse or experimental texts.)

But I think that the people who do seem to be on to something produce some pretty intense (in a good way) stuff with the whole experimental thing. But it's also a playground for rampantly cliched texts too.
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:iconliliwrites:
LiliWrites Featured By Owner Nov 5, 2012  Hobbyist Writer
I'm not altogether certain what constitutes "experimental" writing because most things I write are experiments. :dummy:

Okay, but seriously. On the one hand I agree with the first quote. Some stuff that gets put into the world is just utter garbage and still calls itself literature thanks to that damn experimental label. Like I work as a reviewer for a small publishing house and one of the queries that got sent to me was about some disassociated person who was mistaking everything for something else. And I'm like...we're supposed to be supplied a code book to read this story, right? :P There was zero probability that a sane person (and probably not even a crazy person, considering) would be able to follow the story at all. Yet the author compared himself to Voltaire in the query letter. Voltaire! :faint:

But, on the other hand, experimental literature is responsible for some of the most exquisite work available. ee cummings comes to mind first. His first few attempts at poetry followed "the rules" and were therefore incredibly bland. It isn't that he wasn't saying something. Just that his something to say had already been said. Breaking away from the confines of those rules, going experimenting with what poetry can do, he opened himself up like a book and left the translation up to the individual reader. THAT is the kind of experimenting that defines a generation.

And not everyone "gets" cummings. Not everyone gets Hemmingway or Dickinson or Voltaire either. For the life of me, I don't "get" what's so great about Shakespeare. That's the nature of all art, so I'm hesitant to agree entirely with the first quote because without experimentation in literature (of which Shakespeare can comfortably be called the father, I think) we would not have literature at all. And this bit: "Too often "experimentation" is a license to be careless, silly or imitative in the writing." Just sounds a bit condescending to me. But I imagine his target audience was writers more advanced than myself, so I try not to let my panties get too twisted. :giggle:
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:iconburntchurro:
burntchurro Featured By Owner Nov 4, 2012
I think it depends. If you're going to let others read it... you should see whether or not the experiment turned out well or not. If it's private writing just for you then go crazy and do whatever you want.
"Experimenting" isn't an excuse for being lazy or weird without purpose though. If you want to break the rules there should be a reason you did it.

For the second quote, it's annoying when people use that as an excuse for mistakes. But I can see why the person would do that... writers can be insecure since writing is so personal. So when they show it to the world it's like those notes they add at the end "oh it's not that good but here it is". (Sometimes compliment fishing, other times they just don't want to be judged harshly or something like that...) I don't see published authors complain like that though. It's mostly people who submit things online or show them to friends and not anyone who wants to pursue a career in writing (seriously, at least). Or they might just be saying it could've been better because artists always think their work could have been better.
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:iconazizriandaoxrak:
AzizrianDaoXrak Featured By Owner Nov 4, 2012  Hobbyist Writer
I guess the biggest thing for me is really: If you're going to try something, don't just half-ass it. Or perhaps I should say, don't just half-ass something and call it experimental. If you're going to experiment, commit to it. If you're going to mess around with grammar and punctuation, then I think you should at least demonstrate craft through your use of imagery.

But I think the first quote really gets something else, too: what you're writing shouldn't just be pretty words, it should also somehow be grounded temporally or spatially. We as readers should feel something beyond, "oh, wow, that was a really big word that they used really well." Writing should only ever alienate us from ourselves or from the world, but never both at the same time.

In my humble opinion ;)
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:iconangeljunkie:
angeljunkie Featured By Owner Nov 4, 2012   Photographer
If you're going to experiment, commit to it.

I like that.

Personally, I think if you're going to experiment, you need to know why. What you're aiming for. What purpose is behind messing around with grammar, punctuation, etc. I tend to veer towards experimentalism most of the time (thank god my dissertation supervisor is into it 'cause my piece breaks all the rules), but I always know where I'm trying to get there. It doesn't always work, and sometimes it goes in a completely different direction than I intended, but there is some sort of expectation there. A creative hypothesis. I don't just mess with these things for the hell of it, and I think that's when creative experimenting goes very wrong. It tends, at that point, to go hand-in-hand with the creativity-is-wholly-self-expression-so-you-can't-criticise-it way of thinking, which I think is just so... egotistical?

That's probably a different rant, though ;)

Writing should only ever alienate us from ourselves or from the world, but never both at the same time.

I like that bit, too. :)
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:iconazizriandaoxrak:
AzizrianDaoXrak Featured By Owner Nov 4, 2012  Hobbyist Writer
:)

Yes, I pretty much agree. I haven't really done much experimentation myself (except those couple of times when I tried to write phonetically and WOW that was hard), but I think that what you describe is basically what I mean: committing to "experimentation" means you're not just going to rush something off and call it experimental. Experimenting should be a thoughtful process, a meditation upon a normative theme or rule that you want to break, but deliberately.

Best of luck with your dissertation! :D
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:iconangeljunkie:
angeljunkie Featured By Owner Nov 4, 2012   Photographer
I've gotten the approval for the creative bit... Which may find itself here in parts (8000 words total and I know how people shy away from reading that much at once) to get some fine tuning. Now I've got to focus on researching and analysing myself, and why I do what I do the way I do it, which is a strange experience.

It's something I say quite often to new recruits who complain about having to write within certain parameters.
Why does it have to be a sonnet?
Why does it have to have a word limit?
Why can't I just write whatever I want to write?
I can't be creative with all these
rules.

You have to know what the rules are before you break them, and if you're going to break them, you need to know why you're breaking them. Otherwise it's just ego masturbation, really. I think if you really want to do well at anything - whatever it is - you have to be open to change, and growing, and people telling you - and admitting to yourself - that what you've just done is absolute shit, and examining what makes it shit, so you can know not to do that thing again.

(And omg writing phonetically is hard... I tried to write in my actual accent (which I have, incidentally, forgotten how to actually speak in, which is sort of odd and sad and curious) and wandering that line between how it sounds and people being able to understand. Quite difficult, indeed.)
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:iconazizriandaoxrak:
AzizrianDaoXrak Featured By Owner Nov 4, 2012  Hobbyist Writer
I'll be very interested to read some of it! :)

I am probably bad for suggesting to people that they learn to write free verse first. I found that free verse was the better way to go as a beginner - the rhyming and meter restricted my diction so much I just hated it. And it turns out I'm really bad at rhyming and could play with word sounds and meaning so much more without it.

To each their own, I suppose.
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:iconangeljunkie:
angeljunkie Featured By Owner Nov 4, 2012   Photographer
Our course teachers banned us from trying to rhyme in the beginning, which I was grateful for (not a fan of rhyming poetry anyway; it takes massive talents to pull it off), but I think learning how the traditional forms are structured and where they came from is very useful for the beginner. One of our tutors - the only poetry tutor I enjoyed - had us start off on a fixed form - sonnets, villanelles, etc. - but also allowed us to wander away from it if we found what we were working on just didn't fit with it. So it was very much start writing a sonnet, but who says it has to be a sonnet when you're finished? It could even be prose, if that's what suits it.

The problem I have with beginners starting out with free verse is that they don't actually learn what free verse is, or where it came from, and tend to think "free verse" means no meter structure, or poetic form whatsoever, which isn't necessarily the case.
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:iconazizriandaoxrak:
AzizrianDaoXrak Featured By Owner Nov 4, 2012  Hobbyist Writer
Ah, gotcha.

I'll never forget the embarrassment I experienced the first time I ever tried to write poetry. It was in eighth grade. A poet came to our class. I read what I had written for the homework. She said, "Oh, you wrote prose?" I blushed HORRIBLY and said, "Oh....yeah," and looked down at the prose I had written with line breaks where I thought pauses should be.

It was this woman who suggested I play with a style that used longer lines, and take the time to read my pieces aloud and see where I paused to breathe. I will carry that memory with me forever, even though my style yoyos between long and short lines ;)

I will always remember my first "poem" was actually prose with line breaks, hahaha.
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