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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Tuesday, June 09, 2015

entry arrow7:25 AM | To Maximalism in Fiction

What a relief to read something like Nigerian writer Chigozie Obioma's "The Audacity of Prose" in The Millions, where he states his thesis about a predominant non-minimalist style of non-Western writings in English this way: "Writers should realize that the novels that are remembered, that become monuments, would in fact be those which err on the part of audacious prose, which occasionally allow excess rather than those which package a story -- no matter how affecting -- in inadequate prose."

Because I can be quite the maximalist -- although I admit that when I do write in a minimalist mode, the restraint feels rewarding. (Perhaps because we have been taught so well to strive for it?) And yet when I do, I also get the sense that it is a mode of writing that's not really me, especially when the subject of my writing -- the ornate, oriental gothic lives of people in Sugarlandia -- demands purple prose, albeit one that's carefully constructed.

Obioma writes:

But as Hallberg pointed out, context, not tradition, is what should decide or generate the style of any work of fiction. Paul West noted in his essay, "In Praise of Purple Prose," written around the heyday of minimalism in 1985, that the "minimalist vogue depends on the premise that only an almost invisible style can be sincere, honest, moving, sensitive and so forth, whereas prose that draws attention to itself by being revved up, ample, intense, incandescent or flamboyant turns its back on something almost holy — the human bond with ordinariness." This rationale, I dare say, misunderstands what art is and what art is meant to do. The essential work of art is to magnify the ordinary, to make that which is banal glorious through artistic exploration. Thus, fiction must be different from reportage; painting from photography. And this difference should be reflected in the language of the work — in its deliberate constructiveness, its measured adornment of thought, and in the arrangement of representative images, so that the fiction about a known world becomes an elevated vision of that world. That is, the language acts to give the "ordinary" the kind of artistic clarity that is the equivalence of special effects in film. While the special effect can be achieved by manipulating various aspects of the novel such as the structure, voice, setting, and others, the language is the most malleable of all of them. All these can hardly be achieved with sparse, strewn-down prose that mimics silence.


Read the rest of the essay here.

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