1.04.2004

scratching at my intersticies

I admit, I have to be a little bit wishy-washy this time around, because some of what I have to say will seem to contradict things I've already written about in this humble blog. Note the emphasis on seem; truth is, there's nothing contradictory at all, and I'll explain why in a moment.

If you've been drunk for a long time, you might not be aware of the creation of the Interstitial Arts Foundation, which seems to have grown as a sort of bastard offspring between slipstream and the Endicott Studio. The mission of the IAF, in their own words:

"As interstitial artists from a variety of disciplines, we are increasing our visibility, claiming a place in a wider artistic and academic community. The mission of the Interstitial Arts Foundation is to give all border-crossing artists and art scholars a forum and a focus for their efforts. Rather than creating a new genre with new borders, we support the free movement of artists across the borders of their choice. We support an ongoing conversation among artists, academics, critics, and the general public in which art can be spoken of as a continuum rather than as a series of hermetically sealed genres. We support the development of a new vocabulary with which to view and critique border-crossing works."


Oh. Well. OK.

The truth is, while I respect and admire many of the members and supporters of the Interstitial Arts Foundation, the whole thing sets my own intersticies to itching, and not in a good way. In fact, I have in mind a case of genre hemmorhroids that need a nice soothing cream.

This is exactly the sort of in-genre nonsense that crisps my asshairs. Same deal with "New Weird", and even "Next Wave" (which, might I point out, was the phrase that I coined along with Matthew Woodring Stover quite a while ago, even before Norman Spinrad defined it); they all make my asshairs burn. It isn't pleasant.

What does this nonsense accomplish? What's the point? The bald, ugly truth is that it all boils down to a bunch of people talking to each other and to themselves. Is the Interstitial Arts Foundation any different from the fogies that sit around complaining about the horrendous lack of good core science fiction stories in places like the Tangent Online newsgroup? NO.

Movements and secret-handshake societies and mission statements aren't going to do a damn thing to change the perception of genre literature, no matter what fancy (or silly) catch-phrases are used. So, what? Now the members of the IAF receive fancy business cards and go around to coffee shops announcing that they're Writers of Interstitial Fiction or Artists of Interstitial Art because they sculpt swordswomen out of Puppy Chow instead of clay?

I said before that I was looking at genre fiction within the context of literature as a whole. That doesn't mean there's some war between genre and mainstream literature that needs to be fought. I don't want to get rid of genre fiction, and I don't want to get rid of mainstream fiction, and I don't want to get rid of interstitial fiction either. Literature is an impressive, broad swath, and there's room in there for everything.

But what really tweaks me regarding the Interstitial Arts Foundation is its pretense, its vague bullshit description and its vague bullshit agenda.

What is Interstitial Art? It is art made in the interstices between genres and categories. It is art that flourishes in the borderlands between different disciplines, mediums, and cultures. It is art that crosses borders, made by artists who refuse to be constrained by category labels.


So, we've decided to make a category (Interstitial Arts) for art that refuses to be constrained by category labels? Puh-leeze!

Exactly what world are we living in? Because out here, I see art that crosses borders and cultures every single day. It's in the magazines that I read. It's in the commercials that I watch. Advertising, one of the most influential 'arts' in the world, is absolutely CHOCK FULL of interstitiality. Think of the "1984" commercial created for Macintosh. Think of the most recent car commercials you've seen. Take a look at HOW magazine, or I.D. magazine, or look at a single issue of Flaunt or Elemental or any other magazine on the racks... everywhere you look, there's a border being crossed. Hell, we even have metrosexuals now! And the shelves of the bookstores are full of interstitial art, from all over the world and all over the spectrum of genre. When I can look through the Literature section and find everyone from Jasper Fforde to Glen David Gold to John Barth to Salman Rushdie, I think we can safely admit that literature is in the throes of a healthy interstitial movement all its own.

Even The New Yorker is publishing fabulist stories, for god's sakes!

Yet, a lot of genre folks seem to think they need to divorce themselves from the roots of speculative fiction, to fence off their own portion to hide within like some Montana militia group. Over here we have the New Weirdists; ten miles away is the Interstitial Arts Foundation's compound. And don't forget the Radical Hard Space Opera fortress, and the Big Fat Fantasy Land! It's ridiculous.

The only way to change the public's perception of speculative fiction is to grow up. And growing up doesn't involve slapping new labels on works to make them sound more acceptable (do you read "comic books" or "graphic novels", anyway?), and growing up doesn't involve divorcing yourselves from your parents, and growing up doesn't involve dressing up in a fancy suit so you can fit in with the Big Kids.

The way to affect the public perception boils down to two things: create mature, well-written product, and market it accordingly.

The sad thing is, there's so much more I could say on this topic right now, but I'm already worn out writing about it. Suffice to say that damn foolish nonsense only hurts speculative fiction by making us ALL look like idiots.



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