Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The porousness of certain borders

Literary labels are a strange thing. On the one hand they are a useful shorthand, a sign that a genre or style has found a place for itself in the popular imagination. A label can be a badge of honour. It can also be a cage, a way of controlling, codifying or commodifying that which was once beyond the bounds of crude categorisation. I suppose we will always have labels of one form or another. What is really rare, however, is to come across a label that can be applied to a wide breadth of cultural product without diminishing.


What sort of genre do you think Slipstream is? I bet you already have a hazy notion beginning to form at the outer edges of the spiral galaxy of your imagination - and I would guess that you are unerringly close to a definition. I know because it is the same feeling I had when I stumbled across an article about Christopher Priest's Top Ten Slipstream Novels just yesterday. I had never heard the word before but take it to mean a kind literature, storytelling, painting, filmmaking that might be either surrealistic or realistic but which evokes a peculiar sense of disconnect, a feeling of wandering alone through a hostile landscape surrounded by shadows - some threatening, some amusing - all unfamiliar. David Lynch (Blue Velvet) is Slipstream, David Yates (Harry Potter) is not; Philip K. Dick is Slipstream, Dick Francis is not; Psycho is Slipstream, Rear Window is not (Can you tell I am making up the rules as I go along?)

Then I did what any digital-connected knowledge seeker today would do, I typed 'Slipstream' into Google. Wikipedia tells me: "The term slipstream was coined by Cyberpunk author Bruce Sterling in an article originally published in SF Eye #5, July 1989. He wrote: '...this is a kind of writing which simply makes you feel very strange; the way that living in the twentieth century makes you feel, if you are a person of a certain sensibility.'" Ha! It had to be someone as smart as Bruce Sterling who created this potent one-word description for such a genre-defying form of expression.

I particularly like the way in which the label captures the porous nature of the genre, which is (in my mind) almost exclusively comprised of 'boundary cases'. Are Nineteen Eighty-Four and Brave New World science fiction or social satire? Is Being John Malkovich a comedy or a drama? How would you categorise the work of Franz Kafka, Kurt Vonnegut or William Burroughs? I would contend that they are all Slipstream.

Slipstream is Atlantis and Interzone, art about and for the people who slip through the cracks in the pavement. But, in another way, it is not really a genre at all, it is the dominant intellectual and social mood of our current era - confusion, estrangement, paranoia. Labels are always contingent but Slipstream seems to embody almost everything I like in fiction - a sense of strangeness, otherness and the peculiar possibility of possibility.lunarpark.blogspot.com - The porousness of certain borders - Keyword description


Post a Comment

<< Home