- Reconfiguring the Textbook
In Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature (1946), Erich Auerbach charts the various representations of reality in the literature of writers from different historical periods, arguing that the representation of the real in literary texts is intimately tied up with social, economic, and intellectual conventions of the time in which they are written. In Of Grammatology (1967), Jacques Derrida argues that all of the revolutions in science, literature, and philosophy in the twentieth century were "shocks that are gradually destroying the linear model," opening up a space for difference without hierarchy, hybridity, and pluridimensionality. In an interview in Chiasmus, Lance Olsen argues that mimetic fiction (the linear model) as a genre has been naturalized and that innovative fiction, which has always existed marginally alongside conventional fiction, is the real realism today.
With some assistance from Saussure and the poststructuralist movement, Lance Olsen in Architectures of Possibility de-naturalizes mimetic fiction and offers innovative fiction as the way to represent life/existence in the twenty-first century, with innovation stemming from a writer allowing her presence to become a "desirous embrace" of her contemporary reality. Today, conventional textbooks on fiction guide the writer into producing "a narrative where language is transparent and focus fall[s] on [the] protagonist's psychology." In For A New Novel (1963), the French novelist Alain Robbe-Grillet calls this sort of writing of the Balzacian Mode because its impulse stems from the early nineteenth-century work of the realist writer Honoré Balzac. Rising with the middle class in England and on the Continent in the eighteenth century, this realistic fiction represents a way of perceiving existence/reality that was influenced by rationalist philosophers like Locke and Descartes that "embrace a pragmatic, empirical understanding of the universe that emphasizes individual consciousness."
This naturalized Balzacian Mode of writing, states Samuel Delany, is written today "for a certain imagined housewife living in a small-yet-comfortable house somewhere in Nebraska." Her male counterpart is a high school English teacher in Montana who "hikes for a hobby on weekends and has some military service behind him." This couple likes this kind of fiction because it reinforces their conception of the world, inaccurately teaching them that life is an interlocking, coherent, fathomable whole that concludes in neatly wrapped-up revelation. Being content with the narrow and orderly plot's harmonies, the couple, deprived of who they are, is satisfied with the "dominant culture's narrativization of reality." If this couple does not like or see themselves in this fiction, major commercial publishing houses in Manhattan will not publish it.
Of course, most writers of realist fiction are not aware that, to use Roland Barthes's terms in Writing Degree Zero (1963), narrative forms in general and the realistic form in particular are ethical, that they have a certain "value," a certain "morality." When a writer chooses a narrative form, he also chooses a certain definition of life/existence, which, according to Auerbach, continues to change. Olsen in Architectures of Possibility asks whether this nineteenth-century Balzacian Mode of writing that purports to accurately reflect reality/existence be useful in "the Heraclitean techno-global, multi-cultural, multi-gendered, multi-genred pluriverse our fluid selves navigate...in the midst of the twenty-first century?" If this sort of realistic narrative fiction is inadequate in making existence/reality meaningful today, should not the task of contemporary writers be "to explore approaches to creativity that accurately reflect [their] own sense of lived experience?"
Architectures of Possibility shows what these approaches look like. Each chapter is comprised of a theorizing statement by Olsen discussing innovations in genre, literary history, the literary marketplace, the workshop, the imagination, beginnings, narrativity, settings, characters, temporality, point of view, endings, materiality, revisions, publishing, and literary activism. These opening statements are followed by interviews with current, innovative editors, publishers, and writers who have mostly eschewed Manhattan, who publish on small and micropresses, and who also theorize about the chapter's literary subject. Each chapter ends with suggested further readings...