What Is Post-Experimentalism? (Part Four)

by Nathaniel Tower

Today we bring you one of our favorite (and one of the longest) definitions submitted to us during our call for stories.

Experimental fiction is very often an examination of glacial ice, at the expense of the landscape that has been transformed. This relationship was necessary as readers became more hip to the literary process, more knowledgeable about the aesthetics behind the stories. Authors themselves began to question the mechanics of the work they did, and they simultaneously wrote about the act and effect of writing until their works became the literary equivalent of a hall of mirrors.

There was a time and a place for this type of writing, and perhaps that movement has run its course: with reality becoming a disorienting experience of constant cultural and technological change, it is now time for writers to return their attention to the landscapes the world has left in its wake. It’s time for literature to reclaim that which cannot be captured or conjured by machines—the lived human experience.

It’s no surprise that much of the writing in the post-apocalyptic genre features a return of individuals or society to a more primal way of life. There are many impetuses for such fantasies, but in terms of how experimental fiction relates to the aggressive growth of technology and a remove from the natural world, we are now in a period where we want to return to a simpler time, a natural and understandable time. Like the economy, the literary movements go through periods of growth and retraction—while it does not truly regress, post-experimentalism might express a need to retreat toward straightforward plots, accessible language and the elements of human experience that create a feel of universality instead of isolation.

To this end, my short story “Last Night on the Mountain” is purposefully set in a remote camping spot in the woods of Pennsylvania. Removed from the present-day world filled with and saturated by technology, it features a small group of friends on the cusp of making the leap from youth to adulthood. The changes within their group reflect the millennial generation gap at large: they want to feel insulated, protected and untouchable, but they are as beholden to the natural world and the unintended negative consequences of life as any generation before them. Away from the comforts of their normal suburban existences, they cannot run from real conflict and struggle with ways to express their shifting emotions.

Although it is hard to say what exactly post-experimentalism might be, my guess is that we ought to be looking toward the regenerative quality of literature, to the constructive and creative elements of fiction, rather than continuing to travel down the paths of the Deconstructionists and believing that meaning cannot be found through language. Even if they are right that no meaning is completely infallible or universal, the pursuit of perfection—and the falling short of it—is what makes us human and not human-like machines. I’ve tried to write from this point of view all along, and that is why I’m happy I’ve found your loosely defined special edition.

–Mike Dell’Aquila

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