Friday was a big one and it kicked off with another excellent session – this time on the short-short story.
All three panelists were such an inspiration, giving me lots of excellent examples of writers, who are playing in the playground I have naturally found myself in, that I need to follow up. My reading list for when I get home is expansive, to say the least.
Farhat Iftekharuddin kicked off with a tidy outline of the elusiveness of the short story form in general, and how short-short fiction can still fit within Poe’s criteria. He also asked the rather lovely question – “what is the limit of the cognitive threshold of liminal stories before meaning becomes indecipherable?” In other words, how much can we leave out before all sense of the story is gone.
Richard Lee gave a fabulous overview of ‘hint fiction’ or ‘potential literature’, looking at the ideas such as enjambment. He was the one who mentioned that Lydia Davis likes to write silently and have her readers read silently – to me, heartening words indeed. He also had a brilliant take on the position of this form within the bigger literary picture.
And Tania Hershman again gave an insightful presentation. Focussing on space, time and storyness, she gave freeing oration on the threat and thrill of sudden prose. How the short-short is a marginal form within the short story world as well as the poetry world, and how we don’t need to really worry about that. We don’t need to worry about line breaks, or what other people think, we just have to get on with it and the world will catch up eventually.
Personally, my own short-short fiction is not short because I am trying to do something different – it is just short because that’s how it comes out. My stories are as long as they need to be, and for me there is no point forcing them to be longer if they don’t need or want to be. Stories are weird like that.
It was a great session too. Louise started with a fascinating look at some of the re-editing choices Alice Munro’s made when she re-published some of her older stories in her collection, Dear Life. Pat presented an elegantly woven account of closure and the short story; and how we create the ending we need to in order to resolve the very problems we created in the story.
My presentation was between these two ladies, to a packed room (slightly nerve-racking). So, thank you to those who rocked up. The paper was well received, with lots of questions and discussion and some lovely feedback afterwards. A few people even said that it gave them ideas for stories and writing exercise – a lovely compliment.
You can find a copy of the presentation here.
After lunch – again at the same pretty beer garden – with the slightly scary super-efficient waitress, who was all over it today, so we were fed and watered in no time – was the big session on cognition and the short story. This session was right up my alley, some great stuff, with Carmen Birkle on the medical gaze in 19th Century American fiction, highlighting that knowledge is a form of belief, it is a relationship with experience.
Renate Brosch concentrated on visualising short stories, examining how the cognitive and neuro-sciences can offer many insights into how the mind processes this type of information. What was so good about this presentation for me was that she is the first person I had heard of to take a cognitive approach to the short story genre specifically. She has already published stuff in this area, but unfortunately it is only in German at the moment, and I don’t think google translate is up for the job.
Micheal Basseler reexamined the short story as thought experiments, drawing on literary cognitivism – another new term for me – which is different from cognitive literary theory. As I understand it, literary cognitivism looks at literature as a way of producing meaning and knowledge, in the same way that philosophy and science can. Simply: it is a particular way of cognitive information processing, that leads to us having a better understanding of the world.
Lastly, Margarete Rubik presented the findings of an empirical study on reading a short story – two session, done 7 years apart, gathered data from students at different points in their reading of the story. She outlined how the reading had changed over time, likely related to political events and social perceptions. It was fascinating to hear how many ways these student could interpret this one story, and how their opinions changed as the story went along, as well as over time.
And after this, was the Aussie Lit session, with Andy Kissane looking at the threshold spaces in David Malouf’s Dream Stuff. Christa Knellwolf-King also on Malouf, looked at the Australian mindset in his shorts (I am aware that sentence reads funny, but I like it anyway). And Joanna Atherfold Finn talked about stories of the coast – as a liminal spaces of potential. All three of these papers bought up the potential role of the short story in the Australian psyche – with ideas of glimpses, thresholds, and becoming – as the short story form is also in the process of becoming, just like the country. An interesting new take on short fiction for me, and another reason to love it.
This packed day, continued with a trip to the pub, where I met some more lovely folk and my note taking continued. I really feel like the new kid on the block and there is so much to learn. So thank you Evelyn Conlon, Andy Kissane, Cameron Raynes and Donal McLaughlin.
One more day to go….