Non-Fiction versus fiction in an apocalypse culture, Adam Parfrey, the essay, and the novel.

In the Introduction to the second edition of his anthology, Apocalypse Culture, Adam Parfrey muses as follows;

“..reality has taken on such a dire and phantasmagoric cast that fictionalizing has become superfluous. The essay form has superseded the novel as the vehicle that best suggests the prevailing apocalyptic gestalt, and as the talisman that is most able to repel the onset of paralyzing dread.””
-Adam Parfrey, 1990.

The form of written language best able to convey a sense of, and indeed help make sense of, this age along these lines, would be the non-fiction essay. Some may disagree, it’s a perspective worth considering however. Truly paradigm shattering novels along dystopic lines are rare; 1984, A Clockwork Orange, Brave New World, the crop of current dystopian narratives seem to simply deepen the mood and spit it back at us while we, un-reflexively, watch and scratch our heads over The Hunger Games.

What the essay has that the novel or fictionalized narrative lacks is it’s ability to not be completely reduced to entertainment, and thus to a soporific, inducing dreams, but not waking us. Film fiction narratives, like The Matrix, being partial and useful exceptions that sort of prove the rule.

Where to find the language to express ideas? Indeed what is language in all of this? “All language is at once the ‘sensualization of the idea’ and the ‘idealization of the sensuous’. Language is, therefore, the most distinguishing characteristic of man..” notes C. Nisbet and D. Lemon in their 1892 Everybody’s Writing-Desk Book. Noting further that man can be defined, in quotations, as the speaking animal. A pity they didn’t note the origin of that quote, being the Classical Arabic definition of al-Insan, The Human, as ‘al-Hayawan al-Natiq‘ or the speaking, articulating, animal.

The theme of the Book of Eli, another fictionalized narrative, is interesting here; what obsessed Garry Oldman’s character was obtaining the word. At all costs. The overly biblical cast of the movie might distract a more skeptical viewer from the vital urgency of its core message, which is that the word, language, is all important in either controlling humanity, or saving humanity, Oldman’s character, though a villain, was in a way a flawed and tragic hero, stuck in a particular paradigm that gave him an edge, but only the sliver of an edge, in a world gone mad. It was an edge that he grasped without justice. And hence his undoing.

Words, language, are vital. And though Parfrey wrote those words something like 25 years ago, I think with the increasing popularity of Creative Nonfiction he was onto something.

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