Friday

What is the avant-garde? (part two)


On your website, the publishing house is described as subversive, innovative, avant-garde, experimental. Do you think postmodern is a useful adjective when applied to fiction? Do you publish postmodern books?

The most honest answer, which will seem quite self-indulgent, is that I publish what’s interesting to me and leave it to others to supply the adjectives. Many years ago, together with an editor at the press, we hit upon the word "subversive" because we were frequently asked to describe the fiction we publish and both of us felt that it was in fact "traditional," if one considers the history of fiction. We might appear to be "avant-garde" only in comparison to what is popular or taken seriously in the last several decades, but we are not avant-garde if you think of such writers as Cervantes or Laurence Sterne. If Sterne were writing today, he would be labeled a postmodernist, but what sense would that make, given when he was actually writing? As far as I am concerned, the history of fiction is one of invention, oftentimes playful and conscious of itself, but always pushing limits in terms of what it is and what else it can be. But I absolutely do not think of a Sterne or a Joyce as "experimenters": they didn't experiment, they made these remarkable books whose ingenuity and art are rarely seen in other writers or matched. Their works are finished and complete achievements, not experiments. At the same time, I am very aware that there are writers who are "experimenters," who are trying out different forms and styles, and who are primarily interested in such experimentation. We, however, do not publish them.

interview with John O'Brien of Dalkey Archive Press
Los Angeles Times

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