(a manifesto of sorts)

Si la littérature est le silence des significations, c'est en vérité la prison dont tous les occupants veulent s'évader.
Georges Bataille

What are the forms of representing the world that today parade before us? The cynical or frivolous precipitation of the spectacular, the triviality of trash-TV or the obscene tautologies of TV docudrama into which the real subsides without a trace. Now, and without any doubt more than ever, the derealizing flux of media images runs away with our powers of discernment, our conscience, our lives, and of course our writing. It forces us to surrender to what can only be called, in a strict sense, the fabulous and seductive grasp of spectacle. It bars us from a simplified representation of the real. It educates us in the dazed distrust of what is there in front of our eyes -- those eyes that have been overfed with icons. But despite our embittered submission to the charm of these icons, despite our willing servitude to the spectacle, we know very well that it is all false, that it is nothing but a theater of shadows that exhausts our sense of the real in its emptiness, and teaches us nothing, nothing but a mythology custom-made for a new breed of savages.

But the world is far more complex, far more chaotic, far more confusing, far more inaccessible than the false images we are offered daily. And the experiences that create the world for us are far more complex, chaotic, confused and confusing than THEY think. By THEY, I mean those who falsify OUR WORLD for us. OUR WORLD -- the one we as writers deal with everyday -- is a static-filled screen, a fuzzy image agitated by emotions a hundred times more voluptuous, but also a hundred times more painful than those THEY are trying to make us feel. Even the quickest move on the remote control cannot relieve us of the vertiginous bombardment of information to which the world subjects us. Its space is infinitely more profound, more decentered, more polymorphous. And the time which we spend in its flow never aligns itself according to the monochrome scenarios that supposedly symbolizes its passage.

How to react? How to reply? How to write today the world in which we live and write? How are we to symbolize differently and more truly (I did not say, more realistically, but more truly) our experience of the world? It will most certainly not be in the mode of an easy, facile, positive literature written in an industrial high-tech prose, it will not be a literature which has sold out to the Spectacle whose rich territory it wants to enter by any means, by compromise or by prostitution, but especially through simplistic cynicism, or with an ostentatious kitsch. This pseudo-literature, which is becoming more and more drab, more and more banal and predictable, more and more insignificant, functions beyond the pale of our anguish and desire.

When literature ceases to understand the world and accepts the crisis of representation in which it functions, it becomes mere entertainment, it becomes part of the Spectacle.

What is the antidote to this unreflexive and lazy precipitation of what still pretends to be literature? It is the kind of writing that resists the recuperation of itself into distorted or false figures and images. The kind of literature we need now is the kind that will systematically erode and dissipate the setting of the Spectacle, frustrate the expectation of its positive beginning, middle, and end, and cheap resolution. This kind of writing will be at the same time frugal and denuded, but rhetorically complex, so that it can seize the world in a new way. This kind of writing must create a space of resistance to the alienated devotion to images -- to the refining and undermining of the world by images. This kind of writing should be like an ironic free tense within the opacity of the Spectacle.

Anyone who persists in doing literature without acceding to the fact that doing literature can only be an intra-worldly diversion, a career path, a subjective confession, anyone who does not assent to the idea that literature can have no possible social impact, is today urgently confronted with the lacerating questions? What end does it serve? What good is it? What meaning, in the world and for the world, can the pursuit of this activity have? An activity that society has definitely marginalized, an activity reduced to a sort of deliciously and pleasantly outmoded form of survival, an activity performed beyond the bounds of serious self-reflection.

When literature becomes a surplus of culture, a supplement of culture, it can no longer call itself literature. When fiction becomes a product which can be bought in supermarkets next to the tomatoes, then it no longer deserves to be called literature, or even to be created.

But now one must ask, is it possible for fiction, for the serious writers of fiction (I assume there are still a few writers among us who think of themselves as serious writers) -- is it possible for these writers to escape the generalized recuperation that is taking place in the marketplace of books? Is it possible for fiction to survive the kind of reduction, the kind of banalization that mass media imposes on contemporary culture? Is it possible for fiction to escape the way publicity and advertising ingest and digest culture? Is it possible for fiction to survive the hypnosis of marketing, the sweet boredom of consensus, the cellophane wrapping of thinking, the commercialization of desire? In other words, can fiction escape conformity and banality and yet play a role in our society, have a place in our society? And finally, are there still people out there willing to turn their backs on the SPECTACLE and find time to write and read works of fiction? These are urgent questions that demand immediate answers.

Copyright © 1996 Raymond Federman