INTERVIEW: STEVEN SHAVIRO
How would you define "alternative" fiction?
I think this can have only a negative definition: anything that is not part of the mainstream. The publishing industry, like other industries, is undergoing a process of economic "rationalization" (standardization, downsizing). As a result, the only books that get easily published and heavily promoted tend to be located within very narrow parameters as regards both form (short sentences, realist narrative, characters the reader can 'identify' with, etc.) and content (happy endings, affirmation of family values, etc.). Anything that doesn't fit these parameters, anything that attempts to be innovative, is "alternative."
What do you expect alternative fiction to look like at the launch of the new millennium? What would you like it to look like?
One should never make predictions when it comes to art. What I hope for is something that surprises me.
Why? What forces will help shape it?
I think the Internet and other new electronic media will certainly be important in terms of distribution, as a cheap alternative to the current stranglehold that a few multinational corporations currently have on the publishing industry. Independent publishers have been having a hard time recently, but the Internet should help cut distribution costs, and maybe production costs as well. As for the influence of electronic media (hypertext, CD-ROMs, etc.) on the form and content of new works of fiction themselves, I am hopeful this will happen but I would not venture to predict how.
How will it function and what will it do?
Marshall McLuhan said that when a new medium comes into existence, it starts out by using content taken from an older medium. It takes a while for the new medium's own potential languages and usages to be discovered. Just as film started out mimicking theater, so the new electronic media are still in the stage of mimicking print. Nobody has really discovered yet what new forms of language it might produce.
What advice would you have for an alternative writer sitting down to pen her or his first piece of fiction?
I can't give any advice about the writing process itself. But once you have finished something, look into the possibilities of online publishing. It is a relatively cheap way of getting your work out into the world.
Given the economic realities you describe, why would someone want to write alternative fiction, or, in your case, critifiction?
I have always liked Marguerite Duras's response to the question: Why write? She said, "I write because I do not have the strength of character to do nothing."
STEVEN SHAVIRO is the author of Doom Patrols, Stranded in the Jungle, Connected, Without Criteria, and Post-Cinematic Affect and is currently DeRoy Professor of English at Wayne State University. This interview originally appeared in Rebel Yell (1998).