Reading Daniyal Mueenuddin’s In Other Rooms, Other Wonders and John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction side-by-side makes for a fun, challenging experience: figuring out how Mueenuddin’s prose violates stylistic conventions and gets away with it. In fact, Gardner’s (and other grammarians’) prescribed sentence constructions often lead to clumsy iterations.
by Nathan Go
Crafting good endings, like good openings, is among the most difficult feats to attain in a short story. So much pressure lies in its mastery – where a solid or tepid opening could mean the difference between having a work read or not read beyond the first page, a satisfying or lackluster ending often decides whether the piece gets published or not. The final paragraph of a story is usually what readers take away from the entire experience, as it is the last thing they get to process, and thus, the last thing they’re likely to remember.
Apart from the exhortations that a story needs to tie up all loose ends and bring closure to the readers, discussing what constitutes a good ending frequently devolves into the famous pronouncement in the concurring opinion of Jacobellis v. Ohio: “I know it when I see it.” As is the case with establishing aesthetic rules in writing, generalizations usually don’t work. In fact, what may sound like an effective closing to one reader might just be totally underwhelming to another. With those caveats in mind, the next best thing is to present case studies of endings that I think work (at least for me) within the context of those particular stories.
by Greg Schutz
Thomas Jefferson, remix artist? Well, yes. Fragmentation and recombination are natural features—and unavoidable consequences—of language use, and the Declaration of Independence is a remarkable remix of ideas, a crosshatch of interconnected and often competing influences. What might an investigation of the Declaration tell us about the internet, Reality Hunger, and collage as a literary form?
by Marshall Walker Lee
As opposed to wit, which is often just pedantic cruelty, more ingenious than funny, rarely instructive or heartening, Aphorism is, historically, a manly form, laconic, from the Spartan polis of Laconia. Spartan men were said to hold the rhetoricians and the poets in disdain; the Laconians valued bravery, austerity, and, as anyone who’s seen 300 knows, a direct and very un-pedantic sort of cruelty. The first “Laconisms” come from accounts of the Battle of Thermopylae, the bloody contest that pitted a small band Greeks and Spartans against a superior Persian force. Grotesque, frightening, often hilarious, these early Laconisms make the battle out to be a bloody lark. My favorite: when a Persian envoy sent to Sparta asks for a tribute of “some soil and water,” the Spartans throw him down a well; “Dig it out yourself,” they say.
by Marshall Walker Lee
When Cage began experimenting with chance operations in the 40s, he was looking for a means of stripping intention and taste from the process of creating art. In the Western world, our notion of “genius,” at least as it relates to artists and performers, is generally shaped by a psycho-historical method of decoding biography to discover the seed of ability. In the pre-modern world, it was taken for granted than an artist in full possession of his facilities, having taken care to hone his craft, could be compelled by divine will or religious mania to make a work of lasting value. After Freud and Nietzsche, we began to see our manias and urges as beginning and ending in the self. If the artist used to be Jacob wrestling with angel, now he is at best a lesser Hercules, laboring to exorcise the demons of his parentage, or at worst a nebbish with one foot in the analyst’s door.