EXPERIMENTAL FICTION HAS BEEN IN CRISIS EVER SINCE THE FIRST PORTMANTEAU OF FINNEGAN’S WAKE THREW ITS MUTANT HAT INTO THE RING. For those who thrill at the bold experiments of modernism, it can often feel like the heyday of experimentation is in the past. The idea of language itself breaking down, of form and function breaking their strained marriage, reached its dizzying peak with works like Finnegan’s Wake and other Joyce
books. Woolf’s To the Lighthouse and others continue to exhilarate readers because eighty years later, they’re still dazzlingly transgressive, defying all convention, even the conventions they seem to have established.
But almost immediately following such heady experiments in fiction, experimental fiction itself seemed endangered. Where could writers possibly go from here? What new frontiers were left to explore? The work of defying convention seemed exhausted. The duty of pushing literature forward was left to post-modernists, whose writing still seems disturbingly clinical and sterile to me, divorced from emotion. Consider Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49, with its dark conspiracies, its twisted phantasmagoric cityscapes, and its utterly flat, two-dimensional characters. Pynchon’s world seems utterly worn out to me, without the joyous unraveling of language that experimental modernists offered.