Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Situating Self

The other day, I had a really interesting conversation with my friend Frances about where we situate ourselves as writers. She's a traditional short story writer. I, obviously, am not.

Well, first, I should mention that this conversation was spawned by a conversation I had with an artist friend of mine (Sheilah) about conceptual art v. pretty things. So I mentioned this "need" to categorize what I write--I use quotation marks because I often feel a need to use a modifying word when describing my writing, lest others find it too "confusing" or "difficult" without fair warning & dismiss it out of hand. The conversation then moved into insufficient words like "experimental" or "avant garde." I explained that, like her, I like the term "conceptual." I'd gladly say that my writing is "concept-based" rather than finding its rooting in "tradition."

Flash forward a few days to this other conversation with Frances, where I'm relaying the previous conversation, and as I was talking, I wondered where traditional writers situate themselves, or if they do. (I also had a conversation with Gene Morgan in Houston where he called this/my generation of writers a part of the "internet school," which is fascinating. I'm still mulling & processing this.) But not to stray off topic... So I asked Frances how she would label herself & her other writer friends. (Obviously, I'd have no difficulty "labeling" my writer-friends as "conceptual" or "innovative" writers.) But the thing is--or at least the decision we came to was--that if you're not challenging the genre, why would you need to situate yourself into any aesthetic politic? If you're not challenging the status quo, you don't need any modifying word to accompany "writer." I find this vastly unfair. And yet, I fall for it. I am the one who labels myself. Why?

Of course, this whole notion of situating myself within a "movement" is really pretentious, so I'm not even going to pretend that it isn't, but then again, there's a lot going on right now. Writing is exciting now. Books are exciting now. Why wouldn't one want to be involved in a dialogue, a movement? Or is it just self-importance?

Then again, I think the necessity--for me, at least--for this modifying word makes me LESS writer rather than MORE writer. I mean, if Frances calls herself a writer with no qualms (& really she shouldn't because she's an amazing writer), and I call myself a conceptual writer, which person is more secure & established as a writer? It's almost as if I need that modifying word as a buffer to separate me from my writerliness, as a disconnect, as a safety net... just in case someone criticizes what I write as "non-writing" or some shit like that. I'm not entirely sure I'm even making sense anymore. So yeah. I guess I'm done here.


  1. i would, shane, if only i could get a copy of your book, except you've banned me.

    but sure, i'll label you: cool writer. you can use that as a blurb for your next book. lily hoang says shane jones is a "cool writer." Ha! that's hilarious.

  2. i will lift the ban lily. i'm sorry i ever did that. now you can buy dozens of copies.