How Do You Like Your Literature?
we like ours
WHAT ARE LITERARY INVENTIONS?
Literary Inventions are the made-up people, situations, objects, and worlds that make a story fictional. "Invention" corresponds pretty well to the original meaning of the word "poetry," which is often rendered "making."
WHAT MAKES LITERARY INVENTIONS GOOD?
Literary Inventions are good when they are interesting. But what makes them interesting?
First, inventions are interesting when they are plausible; when they seem possible within the world of the story or poem where they appear.
At the same time, Inventions are also good when they are refreshing; when they give us a feeling of having a new experience.
Inventions are especially good when they are powerfully Imaginative.
WHAT IS IMAGINATION?
Imagination is both a power and an activity.
It's a power of the human mind. And it's the mind's activity when we hypothesize.
"What would I look like if all the plants were purple?" Hypothetically, I might have greenish skin, because the relationship between organisms and light in such a world might be different than in ours. If I've gotten that far, I've imagined a situation. Next, if I write a story about people who live in a world with purple plants and green skin, I've given the story imaginative inventions.
It is impossible to imagine anything that is logically impossible. Instead, when we imagine we abstract the qualities, parts, and characteristics of real things, and then recombine (or synthesize) them into new combinations. The fleetness of horses and the flight of birds, for instance - abstract those qualities, recombine them, and you now have a Pegasus.
When we think about it this way, we can see that the Imagination is a power that produces images (reflective ideas) of reality's possibilities.
Some people believe that our best images are "archetypes" - inborn echoes of the Ideas of God.
These "images" may or may not be pictures in our minds. They may simply be concepts. Whether pictures or concepts, however, they come with a certain mental "flavor." This is what the old writers called "qualitas," or the special quality of a thing.
With the imagination, we "taste" the qualities of ideas. The flavor of ideas grasped in this way becomes an experience of beauty; it becomes an "aesthetic" experience. We experience wonder, because even though the things which we imaginatively invent do not exist in reality (as far as we know) the imagination in itself is a reality - a real mental substance we have generated. Encountering one another's imaginative inventions is both a moving and marvelous experience, and the best evidence we have for the existence of minds outside our own. "I could never have thought of that!"
Desire for this experience is the very heart of the human longing for poetry and fictional stories.
HOW CAN YOU TELL IF INVENTIONS
RISE TO THE LEVEL OF IMAGINATION?
When Inventions are truly Imaginative, they seem both incredible and marvelous on one hand; and on the other hand so true the author might have seen them in a vision of some other, very real world.
Imaginative literary inventions are rooted in Being, but flower in Fantasy.
SHOULDN'T FICTION BE REALISTIC ?
This is a more complex question than many may realize.
In history, art of all kinds, including the literary kinds, tends to swing between a classical trend and a romantic trend. The classical trend wants to make art realistic, while the romantic trend wants to make art fantastical. Neither of these is wrong in itself; each is simply a particular corner of a broad, happy field we like to call "artistic distance."
Artistic distance is the gap between ordinary being, and that imitation of being we call art.
Modern realistic conversational poetry is at the extreme end of a classical trend. It nearly wiped out the "artistic distance" between poetry and the most mundane speech. Something similar can be said for what Michael Chabon calls "plotless, quotidian, moment-of-revelation stories." They strive to be indistinguishable from a well-written memoir in terms of the reader's experience.
Postmodern incomprehensible poetry (like abstract painting) was an extreme reaction to that sort of trend. This reaction widened the "artistic distance" so much that art and being completely lost relationship to one another, except in the most speculative theorizing.
When this happened, abstract poetry snuck up on reality from the backside, and became "pastiche poems" (like "found art") - an art form that is literally all selection and no imitation; which allows no observable distinction between art and reality.
Another way to say this is that found art is the abolishing of art by artists, and pastiche poems an abolishing of poetry by poets; an expression of utter despair if we have ever seen one. It is extremely hard to have fiction without inventions, and so experimental story-writers never abolished artistic distance so entirely. They tried hard, though.
With all these extremes going on, art and literature in the 20th century and beyond foundered on its own experimentalist frenzy. No one likes art or poetry or short fiction anymore. It isn't made to be liked anymore. It's made to be experimented on and tortured for the amusement of rich, clever, Hollow Men.
Well, away with that. We don't agree that just because a trend has been made to happen by some other, silly people, we are obligated to go along with that trend in order to be up-to-date and avoid accusations of naivety. It seems to us that the truly naïve fall into pits because other people are winning prizes for digging them; while the wise walk warily around.
SO HOW REALISTIC SHOULD GOOD INVENTIONS BE?
Let's use sculpture to illustrate this point. Let's suppose a sculptor wants to create and display an imitation of a spoon. He might make a 2-foot high wooden spoon that can stand on its end, punctured all over like lace and bearing a stylized shape like a swan's neck. That's an imitation with plenty of artistic distance.
But our sculptor is too much a realist to do something so beautiful and imaginative. He labors over his imitation, neither selecting nor stylizing nor emphasizing. He simply creates a flawless replica of the original spoon he is modeling.
And a perfect replica of a spoon is just a spoon.
So now our artist has laboriously created a perfect replica of a factory-made spoon, and is displaying it at an art show. In other words, he's got a spoon on a pedestal and is charging folks $50 to view it reverently and comment on it in hushed tones.
How is he going to get people to enjoy this?
He can't. He'll be forced to say that he made it as social commentary on factory conditions or the banality of industrialized craft or first-world privilege or something.
Don't be like a sculptor who makes a perfect replica of a spoon. Keep some artistic distance between your characters and real people; between the world and your story's world; between your situations and objects, and those you see around you. (And hopefully you have something more interesting to show us in the first place than a kitchen utensil.)
Somewhere between "bizarrely incoherent" and "replica of a spoon that is actually just a spoon," there's a whole range of possibility that is the artist's playground of Invention.
At Acad Lit, we like to see very robust inventions. Think of some imaginative giant right in the center of the field of artistic distance, holding realism and imagination, classicism and romanticism, in perfect tension. Now that's drama.
WHAT IS THE POINT OF LITERARY INVENTIONS?
The point of Literary Inventions is delight.
Inventions are the language-based version of "imitations." Like a statue of a man is an artistic imitation of a man, so a poem about a man is also an literary imitation of a man.
When people look at an imitation, recognize what it portrays, notice the cunning and skill of the artist, and see the qualities and style and emphases he's added to the imitation, they feel delight.
Delight is a beautiful thing; but like many beautiful things, it is delicate. It arises spontaneously in the heart. It cannot be forced. It cannot be pressed into servitude to causes, and survive.
Art must be made for delight's sake, or become something harsher and darker.
WHO INVENTED LITERARY INVENTIONS?
We know that for the ancient Greeks, Literary Invention made poetry what it was.
The word "poet" actually means maker or inventor; and this word was originally applied to dramatists - storytellers who composed in verse.
Because of these origins, we still seek poetry full of invention, and fiction full of poetic writing and imagining. We also seek subject matter, structure, technique, and themes worthy of this ancient tradition.
WHAT MAKES INVENTIONS LITERARY?
Literary Inventions (in the special sense we mean) occur within "literary" fiction and verse. Literary fiction traditionally restricts its themes, inventions, diction, techniques, and subject matter to those considered fine and noble.
As Professor Aristotle tells us, "The noble man is the one who loves fine things for their own sake." Such people need stories and poems, too; perhaps they starve for them more than any other group of people in this democratic age.
That said, inventions found within genre fiction might be just as exciting and interesting and even beautiful as those found in literary fiction. In a general sense, literary inventions are just inventions found in poems and stories.
BY THE WAY, DOES ACAD LIT LOOK DOWN ON GENRE FICTION?
No. Vulgaris Media, the publishing company which supports The Academy of Inventive Literature, places a high value on artistic "vulgarity" - expressing a common humanity and its enthusiasms.
Acad Lit focuses on the furthest heights of this commonality - the urge to "look up" to things higher than ourselves. We consider this urge to be universal, and therefore common; though some persons may be more attuned to it than others.
Vulgaris Media's upcoming publications, by contrast, will focus on nearer and more comfortable regions, the artistic space where humanity "looks around." This is so-called genre fiction.
Both approaches to fiction share a conviction that no story is interesting unless it shows us something extraordinary as well as something we recognize. The tension created by these two values - nobility and commonality - is the intersection where we find our best stories and poems, whether genre or literary.