Thoughts for Thursday - Robert Frost

Here's an excerpt from The Notebooks of Robert Frost (ran across this on a web site -- sounds like a great book, but dig the price tag! Ouch.):

Adventurous is not experimental. Experiment belongs to the laboratory. Adventure to life. Much of recent art has been merely experimental. It tries poetry with first one element then another omitted. It leaves out the head. Then it is too emotional. It leaves out the heart. Then it is too intellectual. It leaves out the feet. Then it is free verse. Adventure ends in the poorhouse. Experiment in the madhouse.

Surely, this could apply to prose as well as poetry.

But what is Frost getting at here? I agree that "experimental" prose and poetry that I've read strikes me as contrived, overly conscious and overanalytical. Head games.

However, maybe a little experimentation is in order to pave the way to a true adventure.

I am not a huge fan of experimental fiction; I like a little story with my reading, thank you very much. But I also feel I need to be more open to it, to take what it gives in terms of pushing the boundaries so the heart can follow the head into the next enlightenment.

What do you think about so-called "experimental" work? What types of experimental fiction have you read, that you would recommend to one who does not prefer to be working in the laboratory?


Literary B. said...

The only thing that comes to mind is Kathy Acker and her book Portrait of an Eye. It's the strangest book I've ever read. Her tense jumps around as do her scenes and characters, so much so that it's virtually impossible not to get lost.

I had the feeling that there was a story in there somewhere, but it took a real effort to figure out what the hell the author wanted the reader to get out of it.

I suggest reading the reviews on the book's Amazon page to learn more about what one reader called her "collage" style of writing. Personally, I like collages, but I think its best they remain in the art world as opposed to the literary.

zia said...

And isn't it interesting that they call it experimental fiction--not experimental literature?

Amos Johannes Hunt said...

I've never seen that Frost quote before, but it's just what I've thought for years about most of the celebrated poetry of our time. Why should I indulge authors' egomaniacal projects?

As for fiction, I like a few novels that are called experimental, but I think they are only so called out of ignorance of the history of the novel.

Dark Orpheus said...

My personal experience with "experimental" fiction isn't positive.

I guess it's what kind of a reader am I, and I always prefer the story, and technique is just the process of getting there. Experimental fiction only really works for me if they achieve a story.

Wonderful narrative form, very avant-garde, but what are you trying to say? Or do you not have anything to say at all?

Guess I'm not v. into experimental novels.

iliana said...

I wouldn't mind taking a peek at that book. I would love to see these random musings but I'm just curious about stuff like that in general. Experimental fiction though? Not really a fan of it.

Stefanie said...

I think the best experimental fiction has a sense of adventure to it, maybe not in the story itself but in a pact between the reader and the writer, a sort of "I'm not sure how this will all turn out but come along with me and we might discover some interesting or exciting things together" Does that make sense?

Courtney said...

I wish I could be more outside the cliched box with this but I'm not - I particularly don't like Flash Fiction, which is ridiculous becaue it must be so, so hard to write - you would think I could at least appreciate it from a writer's perspective but I can't.

Kate S. said...

Very interesting questions LK!

I struggle to make sense of the way the term "experimental" is used in a literary context. It seems to me rather ironic that it is now linked to an established literary tradition which doesn't seem very, well, experimental. I wrote a post ruminating on this point a while ago which you can find here.

That said, I am a fan of a number of works to which the label "experimental" has been attached, and to a few others to which it hasn't but perhaps ought to be. I am fascinated by works that play around with the idea of story and authorship. But like you and a number of those who have commented above, I also like the satisfaction of being told a story. So the metafictions that appeal most to me are the ones that manage to play around with the idea of story in an interesting way but nevertheless tell a story in the process. Some of my favourites include:

Ali Smith's The Whole Story and Other Stories;
Thomas Wharton's The Logogryph;
Paul Auster's The New York Trilogy; and,
Muriel Spark's The Comforters.

The excerpt from The Notebooks of Robert Frost is tantalizing. I must track down a copy of the book!

LK said...

Literary B., thanks for the recommendation. I've heard of Acker, never read her.

Zia, interesting point. Perhaps, if the experimental conventions become mainstream, it then becomes literature.

Amos JH, welcome, and you make a valid point about the history of the novel.

Dark Orpheus, I agree. I don't like when form overrides content. (As of now, I lump Jonathan S. Doer in that category, but you never know -- I could change my mind.)

Iliana, the Frost book just looks fantastic. Maybe it will go on sale at some point.

Stefanie, it makes sense (are you TRYING to be experimental? :))

Courtney, I'm with you. Flash Fiction is the Kleenex of literature.

Kate, wow, thanks for the list. I have been following your Adventures with Auster, and I intend to give him a try for sure.

Orange Blossom Goddess (aka Heather) said...

"Adventure is life." So true.