Saturday Waffling (March 7, 2015)


In case you missed it, Recursive Occlusion, aka the Logopolis book, is out. It's $15, and available exclusively through the Createspace store.

Over on Tumblr, I randomly banged up a thing and called it "The Golden Age of Adolescent Literature: A Manifesto for an Aesthetic Movement."

0. It is better to go too far than to be boring.

1. We must embrace the hubris that characterizes other great aesthetic movements. But as the great aesthetic movements of the last century have already laid claim to the future, we cannot. There are no further footholds to be found on that terrain. Instead, our hubris will have to be historicized. We will not be the future. When we lay claim to the phrase “golden age,” the purpose is not self-promotion, but a demand to ourselves that we live up to the promise of that title.

2. Just as the Golden Age of Children’s Literature is a specifically British movement (albeit one with American practitioners), the Golden Age of Adolescent Literature is ultimately American, embracing the grand cultural tradition of disaffected loners just as the Golden Age of Children’s Literature embraced the grand cultural tradition of portals to faerie.

3. Adolescence must necessarily be fetishized, but we must be clear on what we fetishize. The appeal is the certainty of one’s alienation, the complete rejection of aesthetic or moral compromise, a sense of identity largely untainted by the notion of “work,” and an incandescent focus on the present moment.

4. Adolescent is an adjective. We fetishize adolescence. We do not fetishize adolescents. (Indeed, there is no intrinsic reason why adolescent literature needs to feature adolescents as such.) We leave adolescents to their own devices, for they are better at being adolescents than we can possibly be.

5. Adolescent literature is not made by adolescents. Inherent to the movement is a sense of loss - a desire to recapture our own disaffection. This is the central appeal of adolescent literature to the present moment. Adolescence is defined by a propensity to take radicalism and extremism seriously, and thus adolescent literature gives us a license to contemplate the rejection of basic premises of the world.

6. A rejection of naturalism, whether subtle as with magical realism or emphatic as with outright sci-fi and fantasy, is a strong tool in adolescent literature. It is going too far to say that adolescent literature cannot be naturalist, but naturalism is not a default assumption.

7. Adolescent literature must be queer literature.

8. Adolescence is not about coming of age. If characters come of age, this must be understood as emergence from a chrysalis and as transformation, not as growing into a role that has already been prescribed. The only thing for which growing up is an acceptable metaphor is death.

9. The Hero’s Journey, with its embrace of the return home, is fundamentally a reactionary structure that must be emphatically rejected.

10. Nostalgia is not the enemy. But its purpose is to uncover what has been forgotten about the past. One is not nostalgic for the tombstone, but for what is buried beneath it. Our default cultural images of past moments are prisons from which we must liberate our fellow revolutionaries.

11. The 1960s, rock music, digital utopianism, quirkiness: however fertile the soil might have been, these grounds are now barren.

12. Offending your parents is a prerequisite, but it is not an end in itself.

13. The text itself is worthless. The only aura that matters in a work of art is that which is generated by the experience of consuming it. Value is generated by the act of getting off on something.

I am open to suggestions for further points.


Alex Antonijevic 5 years, 10 months ago

I like this.

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prandeamus 5 years, 10 months ago

I am no great fan of the Hero's Journey as a monomyth. But surely, in the Campbell theory, the hero returns with a boon. Yes, s/he returns home, but as a changed person. Implicitly the hero now has the means to improve home. That's not intrinsically reactionary.

(In children's literature, Digory Kirke brings back the apple from Narnia to heal his mother. Give me that to narcissistic teenage angst. any day)

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Sean Dillon 5 years, 10 months ago

The unspoken rule: It is acceptable to reject any of these rules if and only if you can tell a better story without them.

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nimonus 5 years, 10 months ago

My copy of Recursive Occlusion came today! It really is a gorgeous book and hugely nostalgic for me as I grew up on Choose Your Own Adventures. So exciting!!!

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Pen Name Pending 5 years, 10 months ago

There's a lot I want to say about this but most of them involve comparing it to current lit for that age genre and based on that what I would like to see improved, but that seems to not be the purpose of this. So, I would suggest:

*Adolescents are smart, capable, and aware of the world, but there are always ways in which they can improve and reflect. But this is a phase they may not have reached yet, and so the present is all-consuming and dramatic.
*Cynicism and pessimism are necessary consequences as adolescents begin to realize that not everything works out in life.
*Anything is possible. Labels are unnecessary. Genres can be blurred, structures broken, and a variety of stories of a variety of individuals can be told. There are no rules.

An Aside: the Hero's Journey works the best (aka is realistic) if there is nothing found at the end of it and no satisfying conclusion, IMO.

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Pen Name Pending 5 years, 10 months ago

Perhaps also: It is a story written about adolescents, not for them.

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Daru 5 years, 10 months ago

I like this too.

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Richard Pugree 5 years, 10 months ago

I also like this, and it chimes very well with something I've been working on recently, on textual immaturity and adolescent temporalities. I should have more productive thoughts to offer once I've thought them...

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Tom 5 years, 10 months ago

Oddly, despite the "fundamentally American" suggestion, the thing this made me immediately think of was Attack On Titan. (Though it's the first manga in several years to really catch on with a US audience, so it's speaking a similar language.)

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encyclops 5 years, 10 months ago

My first thought was of Ghost World.

Doesn't quite match on #7 (which, though it is strongly my preference, seems a little arbitrary) or #11 (rock <> punk?) but what's going on with Enid, what she's so urgently yearning for, reminds me a lot of what you're describing. Then there's that ending.

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Jeff Heikkinen 5 years, 10 months ago

Not totally sure I agree with 7, or at least I'd like to hear the reasoning behind it. I would say about queer-ness something more like you say about non-naturalism in the immediately previous point: can be a powerful tool, non-queerness shouldn't be viewed as the default stance, but I don't see why it *must* involve queer issues.

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TheSmilingStallionInn 5 years, 10 months ago

I think I see where you are going with this. I thought for a moment that it was mostly about young adult literature, but looking at #3, I think that sums up a key component of the idea here. It does not necessarily have to be young adult literature, but it can take a stylistic approach towards rejecting past staid, normative structures and embrace a more idiosyncratic structure.

There is also the growing/developing possibility that, in future, more individuals might be involved in less heavy manual labor and have more free time. The notion that they might not be tied to any job or career indefinitely or that it is the sum of their identity. In such a manner, then perhaps it is necessary to develop a greater understanding or appreciation for the self as separate from a career, of life in general, which adolescence might embody.

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Katherine Sas 5 years, 10 months ago

Taking these rules at face value, the prototypical text of The Golden Age of Adolescent Lit [i.e. it exemplifies all of these rules and is hugely popular, to boot] seems to be The Hunger Games. Fair?

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encyclops 5 years, 10 months ago

#7? #12?

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Katherine Sas 5 years, 10 months ago

This comment has been removed by the author.

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Katherine Sas 5 years, 10 months ago

Oops - posted on the wrong place first. Let's try this again.

#12 is easy. The parents are an extension of authority, and Katniss is all about offending authority. There is also a strained relationship with her mother.

Not so sure about #7 - that is the one outlier. I know a lot of fans read at least Cinna as queer, but I'm not sure there's hard evidence for it one way or the other. But it seems to me that either way, the stories are consistent with a queer-inclusive outlook. Surely "queer literature" means more than just including queer characters (although admittedly that's the most important part of it). I don't know, though. I'd be interested to hear other people's thoughts on that.

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encyclops 5 years, 10 months ago

I assumed #12 was about offending the reader's parents, not the protagonist's parents. :) But maybe I misread it. I wonder what parents think of The Hunger Games? Probably some object to the revolutionary themes, and others to the violence. But at least there are no witches!

I can't speak to what Philip intended for #7. If it's "queer" then it could theoretically encompass quite a lot of things, including (I suppose) a heterosexual but polyamorous situation (which is not the same as a love triangle, which is almost de rigeur in adolescent lit these days). Finnick is implied to be at least behaviorally bisexual, perhaps also Johanna? But having queer characters isn't the same as being queer lit. It's an interesting question.

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