Genre and Experimentation - Pushing Boundaries with Dave Migman

As a teen I read copious amounts of genre fiction, horror mainly: James Herbert, Stephen King, Robert R. McCammon, and I wasn’t averse to reading trashy westerns or war books. Secondhand novels were 20p, or something ridiculous like that, back in the 80s — even I could afford that. My reading appetites changed over the years. We all adapt, progress and regress. We’re a hundred different beings in one, a thousand different selves, we change with the weather, get hooked to new fads and themes. It’s just the way. 

I remember coming across Naked Lunch, by William Burroughs, in my late teens. Here I found a deeper sort of horror, something that fell outside the norm. I liked Burroughs, he felt like the type of pal you’d keep in a cupboard and chat to in the evenings over a pot of opium tea – he’d be content there, as long as you let him do the talking. I haven’t read any Burroughs for a long time. But The Western Lands series affected me mostly. In his broken, cut up style, he postulated that the afterlife exists as a series of disjointed dream-mazes, like vast cities, complete with ghettos and slums, populated by bizarre characters, and lemurs.

While I applaud genre writers for their skill in telling the tales and making them accessible, nowadays I’m drawn toward books that scrape the margins of genre. With horror especially, I really enjoy those books that get under the skin, bordering on literary without pretension. I’m thinking of titles such as Farrington’s, The Revenants, or Tender is the Flesh, by Agustina Bazterrica, whose dread dystopia is the stuff of pure horror. I feel, when choosing my next read, I want something more than just an assemblage of characters who are put through predictable rigours.  I want something deeper. Something that’ll push the  boundaries of genre? 

Margin walkers.

I got to wondering about Burroughs and the abstract nature of Naked Lunch, and some of his other texts. For a kid used to standard fiction writers, William’s books were edgy. He opened experimental writing up to a larger spectrum of readers. These were underground must-haves at one point. We can’t overlook the importance of the experimental method though. Writing nice flowing work is an art form and our minds seek such patterns. With reading, as with writing, our brains have been trained by habit to seek patterns that flow. Abstracts challenge the pattern, disrupting the flow and altering the neural framework. New pathways are sought, the branches fracture out like a river’s course hitting boggy ground, to become a delta of streams and gulches. 

Not that I think every book should be some experimental madness. I mean, who’s managed to read Ulysses all the way through? Come on, be honest, no you never! The concept is great, but there’s a limit to how long we can sustain. Ulysses, for all its genius, is just too damned long. Regardless, experimentation in writing can yield interesting results: setting pace, creating mood and messing with people’s heads. At the same time, it can be overused, yielding a lot of style over content, and form, with no reward for the reader. 

And at the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? Reading pleasure, reading leisure, what you take from a text: escapism, knowledge, a sensation, emotion, to be moved or horrified, or goaded into political action… it’s good to dip in and out of different fields, different worlds. Here at Black Tarn we hope to push the boundaries a little, giving readers’ minds a wee shove toward the misty margins where lunatic archetypes roam.

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