A dynamic collection of essays addressing the question of accessibility in experimental writing
Writers on Accessibility & the Avant-Garde
Is there any avant-garde? What’s at stake when 100 writers think through issues of accessibility and audience? This is a book comprised of answers—to these questions and their offspring—as various and contradictory as its contributors, ranging from Eileen Myles, Lyn Hejinian, and Joyelle McSweeney to Blake Butler, Jenny Boully, and Rikki Ducornet, among dozens of others. The results here provide discrepant engagements on the most pressing questions of the literary, the political, and the force of what’s possible for writers in the 21st Century.
The Force of What’s Possible: Writers on Accessibility & the Avant-Garde dwells in this essential intertwinement by asking about the possibilities of the literary avant-garde. The book, edited by Lily Hoang and Joshua Marie Wilkinson, collects more than 90 short pieces from living experimental writers. The editors aim to re-awaken the avant-garde by interrogating it. “I am interested in expanding the discourse,” writes Wilkinson in the introduction, “finding new modes of thinking through what writers do, and trying to interrogate the assumptions about the practices of writing.”
And the book demands further reading, for it answers its questions mostly with more questions. If, as I’ve suggested, we can understand the avant-garde’s vitality as coincident with deep, original, and productive inquiry, then The Force of What’s Possible suggests that the 21st century avant-garde is alive and rich with possibility.
It seems to me that, taken as a whole, The Force of What’s Possible answers its own question. This answer arrives particularly via the juxtaposition of experimental essays with the more plainspoken ones, and it looks something like this:
If the goals of experimental writing are themselves intelligible, they’re not being met by writing that is not intelligible; championing the avant-garde on the basis of claims that can be articulated might be a losing battle. But if there is something more at stake for experimental writers—something beyond the scope of our normal language, of “Empire”-taught and -sanctioned thinking—they’re doing it, whatever it is.
As Melanie Rae Thon writes, “through the fusion of meaning and music I can travel beyond my own limits of language…I can begin to sense, to know, to render the mysterious diversity of experience through the poetry of other beings.” If the essays in The Force of What’s Possible are to be believed, that “mysterious diversity” is mysterious precisely because it is not immediately accessible. These 400 pages of writing on the subject, however complex and mottled and at times downright abstruse they are, epitomize the difficulty in diversity—and remind us that embracing it anyway, no matter how frustrating the process, is the purpose and the mystery.