Recent Posts

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Neo-Sentamentalism

Back in the fall of 2010 I did a spotlight and interview with a soon-to-be-fairly-well-known writer xTx. The interview was amazing and you should read it, but I call attention to it now because somewhere in the middle of it I launched into a long-winded theory about the dominant strain running through the current generation of writers.David Foster Wallace sort of predicted this when he wrote in his brilliant essay "E Unibus Pluram" that irony and sarcasm have become so ingrained in popular culture that the only way for the next generation to rebel against their elders would be to become neo-sentamentalists, to reject irony and instead dive headlong into pure and honest emotionalism. He then pointed out that these writers would probably be incredibly uncool because the dominant culture would still be attached to hip, ironic detachment.

I believed this in 2010 and nothing I've read from the most popular underground writers of my generation since then has deterred me from the belief that DFW got this entirely correct. I believe that the underground scene is thoroughly committed to a revamped Romanticism, a deep, abiding emotionalism that overrides any interest in formal or structural innovation, and instead focuses entirely on the emotional nature of stories. Just as Romanticism at the end of the 19th century sought to break boundaries of form and scale in order to depict the tempestuous nature of human emotions, these neo-sentamentalists incorporate genres into their literary works seemingly at random in order to better tell tales of the heart. That these stories include horror, sci-fi, fantasy, urban fantasy, and magical realism (sometimes all in the same story) does not mean that the authors are interested in the structural complications of mixing genres. These mash-ups are merely a product of the times, and if using elements of a specific genre fit the needs of the story, then anything goes.

The second point of DFW's, that these authors would probably be uncool, also seems to be somewhat correct. While there is enormous respect and support within the underground scene itself, with the exception of select few, almost none of them have found mainstream success on par with authors like Foer or Tao Lin or other decidedly hip and postmodern authors. The mainstream is still clinging to the ironic detachment of the postmodernists, while the underground spills their blood onto the servers of the world. I believe that one of the main reasons this movement has not gained significant mainstream traction is because for now the movement is almost exclusively short stories published in internet and some print journals. But many of the leading writers are beginning to write and publish novels, so we could be on the edge of a literary explosion once these things get out there.

Whether this movement turns into the literary equivalent of Grunge or Punk remains to be seen, but for now it is vibrant and productive, and producing art that is at once lively, engaging, and extraordinarily honest.

What follows is my question to xTx, which more or less lays out the details of my theory.