Sunday, March 7, 2010

How TV and Dan Chaon Taught Me About Good Writing

Listen, I don't pretend that there is a "right way" or a "wrong way" to write. I mean, yes here's my opinion to appear in short order, and which opinion does tend to reflect the highfalutin dint of all things belonging to the literati and that which is canonical or that which is loitering around nearby what's canonical's seven boring circles (the irony of joshingly insulting the canon with the use of a reference to one of its more noted works is not lost on me, either). Ironies abound, even if in the latter example -- as with any joke overly explained -- humor is lost.

But nevertheless there's my first point about writing well, ironies usually abound. Good, thought-stimulating ironies. There cannot be enough of them. The thing of it is, though, they can't just be the ironies for irony's sake which have ironically been normalized, co-opted if you will, by mainstream media. Try watching television commercials without running aground ironic-style: GEICO offending cavemen (and spawning a mercifully short-lived television show), Bud Light parodying eHarmony commercials and so forth, McDonald's being ironic in advertisement unintentionally (which might be the worst of all the "irony vis-a-vis commercialization" phenomena), etc.

How long can we continue to be subversive with the implementation of irony? Probably forever, because no matter how hard the so-called establishment tries, there will always be limits to what they are willing to say and do, because of how decorum will insist they behave for the "greater good" of moving merchandise (or whatever superficial coda may / will one day supplant said notion). People will always be looking to the past, in other words, for good or ill (I don't consider this to be a uniquely bad human inclination), looking for acceptable methods for conducting oneself in public and private life, thus a sort of "cultural coda" will always embody this effort.

The only way it will differ from your standard definition of "coda" is insofar as it will not signal a conclusion to anything, but merely the hope of conclusion by a reasonably large segment of the population (this is assuming we don't give into our baser urges and appoint a dictator to insure absolute finality of this concluding thought). But this definition of the term, which I've pulled from, essentially expresses my point apropos of coda and meaning derived from it:

a concluding section or part, esp. one of a conventional form and serving as a summation of preceding themes, motifs, etc. as in a work of literature of drama

So "cultural coda" is therefore, in my terms synthesized with a never-ending process of our free society to maintain status quo themes and thoughts and attitudes (of literary variety or otherwise, just normative values sweepingly), and every couple of decades this coda is updated but nevertheless continues to aspire to reversion, muddled only slightly by the progressive changes it has chosen to adopt and incorporate.

But I do not want to go all "Chuck Klosterman" on you, though, and let my presumed "big ideas" spiral away from the topic at hand (am I the only one who sort of sees this in Klosterman's work? No disrespect), so let's see if I can bring this full circle in a manner I find efficient and appropriate. So Dan Chaon (see title of this post) figures into what I'm talking about for a couple of reasons. The first is he is actually a good writer. The second is that before I knew he was a writer with credentials I knew he was a good writer. It came through in spades. It came through in a short story he wrote that appeared in SmokeLong Quarterly, which is called, "Raymond Carver." (Give it a quick read; it's only a smoke long, so they say.) I read this story and thought Chaon had writing chops -- which is not what I thought of a whole lot of others I read on the same Internet-lit site (no disrespect). I won't rehash the plot since the story is very short, so just read it yourself. And I hadn't heard of him at the time, though. He's famous, as I say. And for good reason, I say. Ask me to explain. Well, I don't know -- there's just something about the story. He does things that suggest talent. What things? How about this line:

"How much do you smoke?" he says conversationally, and since I know that he was supposed to have died of lung cancer, I feel apologetic.
First, it takes a little boldness to try and render a writer you admire in story form, which in this imagined conversation, Chaon does to good effect, I think. Second, cutting to the quick with an awkward moment involving cigarette smoking, and the acknowledged dramatic irony (which there's irony again, this time especially good for nuanced subtly)? I thought and think it's good. But you tell me. Is it? I love being self-aggrandizing / patting my self on back. Probably this is not the way to conduct oneself. Instead, I will encourage you to read a Chaon short story, because in that way at least, he does remind me stylistically of a writer whom he was clearly inspired by and a fan of in Carver. I've since read Chaon's "Among the Missing" and can avow its goodness as well, i.e. in my view.

But you won't see Chaon in cultural coda or on TV.

No comments:

Post a Comment