[Zin Kenter] BASS 2010 Zoetrope discussion – Preface and Intro – WARNING: Too Much follows! I can not stop!
I got this book in October 2010. I had asked my Fiercely Independent local bookstore (everyone should have one of these – oh, Amazon is fine some of the time, we all need to save a buck, but, well, you know the rant about local bookstores) to put me on the notify list back in September when it was supposed to come out. I am that excited about the BASS series. I love the forewords and the afternotes as much as the stories.
I remember being very depressed by the Preface – but I was very depressed about my own writing at the time so that may factor in. Short fiction is dead. Fiction journals are closing. Writers are dying! The end is near, repent! And I looked at the TOC, and felt like everything was from The New Yorker or Tin House (that is not the case but that is how it felt). She says that early in the year they were worried they might not have enough outstanding stories for a volume, and I wondered how it must feel to a writer published in the New Yorker or Tin House or whatever in January, February, April, to know this. As I said, I was very depressed about my own writing at the time (and I still am but there are glimmers of hope).
I just re-read it, and it is not depressing to me now. It is the perennial Call to Doom and Gloom, how nothing now is like in The Old Days. No matter where you are, no matter when, you will find someone declaring this. Zoetrope is not as good as it was in the Days of the Giants. I read a lot of books about doctors going through medical school, and the term “Days of the Giants” is an actual idiom there, to denote when interns worked a week without sleep and were picking up laundry and rolling bandages (one of the reasons they were overworked as peons is because there was little for them to do, since any diagnosis serious enough to put someone in the hospital was going to kill them). I played an online game for the last three of its four years, and from the time I started someone was declaring “it isn’t like it was in the old days.” When I was a student, teachers said school wasn’t like it used to be. They are still saying that now, and I am old enough to be the parent of some of the teachers saying that. Maybe I have gained perspective.
But a preface is necessary, and what is she going to say, “Here is the book and I hope you enjoyed it, we worked hard to put it together, here is a fun anecdote about an interaction I had with this year’s editor”? Yes, that would be good. Consider that next year, please?
The foreword is a different matter. I always love these. I loved this one. But it reminded me of something. Brace yourself, I am going to venture into TV land. It is all right, it will not last long, you can skip it if you find this all that upsetting. An episode of The West Wing dealt with a poet who described the job of the artist, not to find truth, but to hold the attention of the audience for as long as possible. The TWoP message board (serious West Wing junkies there, a thread is still going strong four years after the series was cancelled, with almost daily comparisons of the Obama and Bartlet administrations, having already exhausted comparisons between the Obama and Santos campaigns) erupted. That is entertainment! Entertainment, not art! Art is about more lofty purpose, not to entertain! Art should disrupt, upset, scare, confuse! And I was thrown back into the whole thing, what is the difference between Art and entertainment? One is Capitalized, the other is capitalized? I have no idea. I do not know there is a difference but I am interested in the discussion. I like “to entertain and instruct” though the word “entertain” has a pejorative air for me. To entrance, entice, mesmerize, fascinate – to hold the attention? And what is the first thing they tell you in writing class? Do they tell you to find six layers of symbolism, to find words that evoke contrasting images, to have a permeating mood here and a bright note there? No, they tell you to tell a story, a good story, a story that makes someone want to know what happened next. And that is where I am struggling most, not with words, but with getting to that “what happened next I need to know” point. Is that entertainment? Of course, but accomplishing it is artistry, is it not? If it was easy, everyone would be able to do it. Writing a manual on oil changes is not art. Writing a story that makes you think of the complexities of love or fix something gone astray in your life every time you get an oil change, is.
As someone already said, I was entertained… and instructed.