Literary Cubism: An Unstructured Structure for 21st Century Narrative
The world moves faster these days. From political sound bites to the latest teen idol (who’s this week?) to non-stop music video scenes, things go, things go, other things take their place, and then they go too.
But literature, good literature, is made to be savored. endures. Keys. whispers. Long after written words have disappeared from sight, they play music in our minds. Herein lies the puzzle. How to fit the literature of the 21st century in a world that moves faster, in an audience that wants and expects a thunderous avalanche of continuous attractions?
One answer: literary cubism.
The 11th edition of the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary offers a definition of Cubism that describes an artistic style of abstract structure that simultaneously shows multiple aspects of the same object in fragmented form.
The “same object” in that working definition is my story. The “multifaceted” and fragmented forms I show include poems, emails, personal notes, and legal documents, to name a few. And yes, there is room and need for blocks of traditional prose in literary cubism.
Cubist writing is liberating. It adds to a writer’s toolbox to tell his story. We’ve always had descriptions and dialogue to set scenes, create moods, and create consistent and compelling characters. It feels good now to have the text of an email message to do any or all of those things. We can also take advantage of poems, personal notes, shopping lists and any other form of written media. All of these can be used to great effect to portray a lifestyle, to define a character’s motives and psyche, or to paint the tensions and emotional contours of a relationship.
As I said before, liberator.
Enough of theories of liberated lingual expression; How is literary cubism developed in the app? Very well. In a nutshell, “Resolution 786” tells the story of a philosophical and emotionally wounded American engineer who finds himself in combat operations in the Iraq War while simultaneously trying the Lord for crimes against humanity in court. Literary cubism made it possible to create the tapestry of a unified experience across these wildly disparate settings, an experience of spiritual self-realization in the context of a physical realization of human mortality. Cubism gave me license to develop this multi-pronged story and build my central themes using a variety of literary mediums presented from the perspectives of many different characters. In fact, a vignette consists primarily of a set of emails written by the mothers, wives, daughters, lovers, and girlfriends of soldiers fighting in Iraq. Writing that part of the novel, I was struck by the directness with which an author can develop characters and define relationships through emails.
But despite the license literary cubism bestows, there are still some “No Driving” lanes on this literary highway. Don’t use bad grammar, spelling, or punctuation (unless you’re “drawing” a Cummings poem on the page). Don’t use flat, uninteresting prose. And, whatever you do, don’t let your focus stray from telling a good story. The greatest literary art is in vain if a good story is not told.
Yes, with literary cubism, you run the risk of your argument becoming unintegrated bits of plot and story, but you run the same risk with traditional prose. Rewriting, revising and creating new images improve the integration of your multiple media. And as one of the characters in Resolution 786 explains while defending himself against criticism of realism in Kafka’s The Metamorphosis:
“I don’t think The Metamorphosis really happened. Samsa didn’t turn into an insect. If he had turned into an insect, he would have stopped considering his own consciousness. No, Samsa turned into a human being who was trapped inside an insect . , which is fundamentally different from becoming an insect. And as for being realistic, if a work of artistic expression does not have a traditional structure, that does not mean that, as a whole, it does not still have some form or substance that is valuable or valuable. otherwise instructive.”
So go ahead and wake up a bug. Go ahead, put the Lord to the test. And feel free to use a cubist structure throughout.
I find literary cubism to be a sharp, fresh, and consistently interesting method of constructing novels. Considering how fast our world moves today, how dazzling and multivariate our media and entertainment tastes are, I’m surprised more writers don’t use cubism. It is an ideal structure for storytelling in the 21st century.