8/22/11

The revenge of style

There's something comforting, almost soothing, about realism, and it's nothing to do with shocks of recognition -- well it wouldn't, since shocks never console -- or even with the familiarity that breeds content, so as much as with the fact that the realistic world, in literature, at least, is one that, from a certain perspective, always makes sense, even in its bum deals and tragedies, inasmuch as it plays -- even showboats and grandstands -- to our passion for reason. The realistic tradition presumes to deal, I mean, with cause and effect, with some deep need in readers -- in all of us -- for justice, with the demand for the explicable reap/sow benefits (or punishments), with the law of just desserts -- with all God's and Nature's organic bookkeeping. And since form fits and follows function, style is instructed not to make waves but merely to tag along, easy as pie, taking in everything that can be seen along the way but not much more and nothing at all of what isn't immediately available to the naked eye.
...
A "higher" or more conscious -- if not conscientious -- style is not only less realistic than the sedate, almost passive linears of [Elkin's early story, "In the Alley"], but also much more aggressive and confrontational... In fiction and style not formed by the shared communal linkages between an author and the compacts, struck bargains, and done deals of a reasonable, recognizable morality -- my law of just desserts -- it's always the writer's service. Whatever spin, whatever "English" he puts on the ball is his. It's his call. He leads, you follow. He leads, you play catch-up. (It's that wallow in the ego again, the self's flashy mud wrassle.) Obviously this makes for difficulties that most readers -- don't kid yourself, me too -- don't much care to spend the time of day with, let alone hang out with long enough to pass any tests of time.
...
I'm trying to tell what turned me. Well, delight in language as language certainly (I'd swear to that part). But something less delightful, too. It was that nothing very bad had happened to me yet. (I was a graduate student up to my ass in the ivy.) My daddy's rich and my mama's good lookin'. Then my father died in 1958 and my mother couldn't take three steps without pain. Then a heart attack I could call my own when I was thirty-seven years old. Then this, then that. Most of it uncomfortable, all of it boring. I couldn't run, I couldn't hop, I couldn't jump. Because, as the old saying should go, as long as you've got your health you've got your naivete. I lost the one, I lost the other, and maybe that's what led me toward revenge -- a writer's revenge, anyway; the revenge, I mean, of style.

-Stanley Elkin, Preface to 1990 edition of Criers & Kibitzers, Kibitzers & Criers