Saturday, January 16, 2016

What is a novel?

As an undergrad, when I heard the novel was a European export--in other words, a form of colonization--it gave me a new context to look at my own reading experiences. I was never taught the longevity of reading a novel, nor the joy of what a good story can bring, so I hated stories. I never understood narrative, how it worked, what a story was really "about," when others could critically look at a story as a whole and not its parts. My love was for comic books, just as many other poets I know.

So as I am sitting down with my outline for a novel about Bleeding Kansas, it hit me--the parts I have enjoyed writing are the small moments, not in trying to mimic what a novel "is," how it is "written."

Why am I trying to employ the same colonizing methods in telling a story about the violence and horror of colonization?

Then I pick up the book I am in love with: Family Resemblance: An Anthology and Exploration of Eight Hybrid Literary Genres, edited by Marcela Sulak and Jacqueline Kolosov. It is basically the things I have loved reading this past decade, all in one, never putting together why I love flash fiction, prose poetry, etc. Well, the hybridity of these things--I am in love with how hybrid writing becomes metaphor, becomes meta-, and why did I not think of this sooner?

In the novel, I wanted the works of literature of 1856 to be a part of the story. I wanted the protagonist to think of his story, with him as a narrator as he is narrating.

Now I have my method of how I will finish. I was too busy concerned with what "chapters" would be, and trying to force the story in these compartments: that something should begin and end in a chapter that propels the story forward.

That's not my style. That is the box those teachers tried to show me, but couldn't, as they hadn't discovered the value of comic books, and I hadn't discovered the real poetry being written--not the interpretations.

It comes down to what I love about Deb Olin Unferth's Vacation. I loved that "novel." When I show parts of it to students, they hate it.

We've been trained to box up our genres. We've been trapped in a continuing colonizing culture. Post-colonization is the myth that colonization has ended. It is White privilege.

The main reason I wanted this novel is to provide my voice in the Black Lives Matter Movement. I do not want to re-enact the power of novels, like those White settlers saying, "Look at this high literature."

Maybe that is why Moby-Dick, circa 1856, is powerful. His hybrid writing not only challenges the model of the novel, but his subversion includes abolitionist viewpoints. Yes!

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