Fictocriticism and jazz writing By Dilshan Boange

Fictocriticism as a genre of writing has not as yet gained much ground in the mainstream discourses on literature here in Sri Lanka. As a mode of writing fictocriticism presents a transgression of ‘genre boundaries’ fusing pieces of academic, journalistic writing with creative writing, and thus constructs a highly hybridised text or work. The textual hybridisation of a work of prose could be done with the inclusion of non-prose elements (such as verses, song lyrics, interview transcripts, and even illustrations) as well as with prose elements of different styles and genre. The former of these methods can be seen in works of many notable fiction writers, for example Sri Lankan born Canadian novelist and poet Michael Ondaatje has devised narratives that present a hybridised form in his novels Coming Through Slaughter, the Booker prize winning novel The English Patient and also Divisadero. Hybridising a text by fusing pieces of prose which belong in their subject content (and even stylistics of writing) to different categories such a historical journals, memoirs, fictional narratives, and academic essays is a method that distinguishes fictocriticism from the more popular forms of writing today.

Fictocriticsm as an expression of writing One of the aims of the methods of fictocritical writing is to enable the reader to see a newer meaning of the elements of creative expression/writing when it is juxtaposed with excerpts from works of non-fiction which would relate to the theme, context or the overarching politics that shape the fictional element(s). Of course one may deduce in such an instance of gauging a fictocritical text that the elements of non-fiction are choices made by the author at his discretion since those parts of the text are adopted from existing works. At a glance the diversity found in a fictocritical text may render it rather far from being a work of fiction in the traditional sense of the word. It may seem very much a form of ‘pastiche’ where diverse elements have been assembled or pasted together in forming an altogether new creation. Objective of this article In this article I would like to discuss fictocriticism in relation to jazz writing by citing examples from the work of Stephen Muecke author of Joe in the Andamans (2008). Muecke is the professor of writing at University of New South Wales Australia. One of the leading figures in the stream of fictocritical writing he has pioneered the method through his research and writing. Other fictocritical works of Prof. Muecke include Gularabulu: Stories from the West Kimberley and No Road (bitumen all the way).

Jazz music As a genre of music jazz enjoys popularity amongst numerous segments in society. The diversification of jazz music into sub-streams through mixing with cross continental influences has made it without a doubt the most diverse and continually evolving genre of music today. What then is ‘jazz writing’? Jazz writing can be distinguished or identified primarily in two ways. In the academic essay ‘Four Choruses on the Tropes of Jazz writing’ (1994) by Michael Jarrett (published in journal American Literary History) the writer explains that ‘jazz writing’ could be firstly, literature that is about jazz, dealing with it as subject matter. The second being writing that reflects the qualities of jazz music on a level of ‘form’ as in narrative style and technique. Amongst the four types or tropes Jarrett discusses in his essay what would be relevant to the discussion in this article is the form called ‘collage’. Collage as the term may suggest from the art form of pasting together pieces of paper to create a picture assembled from different pieces indicates a method of ‘fusion’. Jarrett in his essay states that Michael Ondaatje’s maiden novel Coming Through Slaughter is one of the best jazz novels ever written and that the work ‘demonstrates’ how to write a novel in the ‘collage form’. One of the definitive qualifies of jazz music is how it becomes a form of fusion music blending together rhythms, beats from different cultures. Similarly jazz writing too plays on such an approach. And when the form of collage is taken into consideration we may see very clearly the connections between these two different art forms of music and literature. Joe in the Andamans What I would like to suggest through this article is that though not explicitly stated in academic objectives of fictocritical writing there may be a possibility of interpreting a work of fictocriticism in terms of having likenesses of a work of jazz writing. Certainly Joe in the Andamans does not come into the category of the novel, since it is a collection of stories, but what can be looked at in Prof. Muecke’s book is how it has formalistic features with the theoretical basis of collage. I would like to draw attention to some of the very obvious characteristic of Joe in the Andamans in regard to the different elements that form its narrative and textual composite. The work is a collection of nine stories and each in its prose composite has a diversity, merging prose from fiction, creative writing, journals and memoirs to historical accounts, as well as recollections from the author expressing his philosophical contemplations. I shall provide a brief insight about the diversity of the textual elements with reference to four different stories from the book.

Four selected fictocritical stories The fall –This story has three main types of prose as I have identified. The interspersed prose switches between narrators, and presents a flow of both fiction and non-fiction occupying the same fabric of the text. The opening passage narrates a man’s advances to a woman he is

infatuated with and the thoughts of this lovelorn man in pursuit of his romantic interest is one of the elements of the story. The next is a very significant line of narrative prose that reveal the conception of fictocritical writing which are rooted in a discussion between Jacques Derrida the French philosopher and several other eruditions. The third type that can be distinguished are the extracts from existing works, namely an extract from writings of philosopher Jean-Francoise Lyotard on explaining the meaning of texts, and from the writings of one Kim Mahood. Joe in the Andamans –The title story of the book, it recounts a trip to the Andaman Islands between a father and a son, narrated in the first person by the former. The textual fabric is made up primarily of the narrative prose of the protagonist, which may be viewed as a master narrative line which intersects with writings adopted from existing works. An extract from a 1930s children’s book titled Tom in the Andamans is presented at the outset to the story. An excerpt from an account written by Marco Polo about the Andaman Islands is also found along the narrative which marks three different types of prose elements being within the story. Being centred –Delving into the notion of centrality and centralism in the eyes of western thinking which is governed by European colonial ideology, this story carries much philosophical depth with a range of ideas cited from different sources. Story opens with a passage by William Connolly about the collapse of majoritarian cultural hegemony. Following the excerpt from Connolly is an authorial narrative about a Dutch documentary titled A Kind of Grace about the writer John Berger, which goes into include what seems a transcription of excerpts of what Berger says in the film. Another textual element which plays a crucial role in the theoretical formations the story projects is an excerpt from the writings of philosopher Slavoj Zizek on the identity of ‘woman’ from a point of anti-essentialism. An excerpt from the writings of an ethnographer named Diane Bell about the ‘Ngarrindjeri’, the aboriginal people of South Australia, is produced in the narrative, as well as the writings of a Ngarrindjeri named David Unaipon about a folk story of the aboriginal people. An extract from the writings of Heidegger, and excerpts from a novel titled White Noise by Don DeLillo are also set into the narrative of the authorial narrative stream which marks a very rich texture to the story which ends with quoting from the poem ‘Being and Existing’ by Alison Clark. Momentum –A story running a strong political discussion on the phenomena of ‘trust’ as a social tool playing a central role between the people and the State. The numerous extracts found in this story’s narrative include from such sources as internet websites, and essays. And it is interesting to note how this story has included a certain distinct feature of the 21 st century in terms of how writing may take form as online writings.

Collage as fragment fusion By the above descriptions the brief dissections I have made of four selected stories from Prof. Muecke’s book indicate that the textual composites of each have a notable diversity. By combining fiction with non-fiction that range from academic writings to journal writings to poetry, a medley can be seen in the narrative’s flow. This medley can very well be interpreted as having a collage form to it. The word collage has been defined in the 10 th edition of the Merriam Webster’s Collegiate dictionary as –‘an assemblage of diverse fragments’. Certainly the prose elements presented in the stories from other written sources are not complete pieces but extracts which are in effect ‘fragments’. And the fact that the authorial prose refer to these ‘textual fragments’ shows a dependency being devised in the narrative between these two different types of writing. The difference of source, subject matter/focus, and stylistics all demonstrate that the text of these stories have prose elements which are held together in the likeness of a collage which creates its expression through the diverse assemblage of text fragments.

Tones and texture The very stark likeness of the fictocritical stories of Prof. Muecke discussed in this article to ‘textual collages’ leads one to deduce that there is perhaps qualities in the very structure of these writings in respect of their narrative form, as jazz writings. While on the textual level of ‘appearance’ the text shows its diversity and hybrid form and reflects a collage work is that the only aspect we may see of them in terms of its possible ‘jazziness’? What about on the level of its ‘tone(s)’? By tone(s) I mean a deeper comprehension of the text in terms of its texture(s). The texture of a text depends on several aspects (to which belong textual composite/structure and other elements like literary devices such as metaphors and similes.) and one is ‘tone’. When we read a piece of writing the stylistics used by the writer will give it a certain identity. The choice of sentencing for example has a bearing on the ‘tonal’ quality of a text. The reader may feel longwinded sentences project a certain kind of expression while the more succinct and brief sentences may give a different type of expression. These expressions carry in them a subtle element of rhythm in the manner they flow which is shaped by the style adopted by the writer as well as required at times by certain genres. For example consider how different the opening passage of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice would ‘sound’ compared to the first paragraph of a volume of the Central Bank’s Annual Report. Quite apart from the matter of subject and theme, there is also that unmistakable distinction in ‘tone’.

The broad distinction between fiction and non-fiction in terms of genre in writing can set apart what tones need to be adopted by the writer to make his work fit into a given genre. It is in this regard that I wish to draw the reader’s attention to the fact that the mixing of genres in a work of fictocritical writing offers a mixture of tone(s). And the tonality of a text of this nature shows

once again a ‘medley’. One of the key definitive of jazz music as stated before is that it is a ‘fusion’, a mix of different beats and rhythms. Therefore on the level of tone and rhythm the variations that may be found in the diverse prose elements being laid out in a single narrative may be seen as containing a certain sense of jazz writing in the fictocritical writings we have discussed in this article.

Fictocritical writing may be a form of jazz writing One may suggest that the concept of fictocriticsm in its textual form shows how fusion of prose from different sources contains a theoretical basis of the collage form of writing, which has been viewed as one type of jazz writing according to Jarrett. And looking at the concept of diversity of tones one may suggest further how the idea of jazz is reflected through the writing style as used for fictocritical stories. The ideas expressed in this article are by no means exhaustive in the dwelling it does into the genres of fictocritcal writing or jazz writing, nor does it draw a final conclusion of establishing fictocriticsm as another form of jazz writing. Nevertheless I do believe there is scope for academic study on fictocriticsm and jazz writing as styles of writing that may reflect common ground in the sphere of writing and literary theory.

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