The short story? It’s happening live on Twitter…

by DRM

The post on this blog that gets the most traffic day in and day out is my rumination on the last paragraph of Joyce’s The Dead.  It’s an amateur’s impressionistic take.  That last paragraph has captivated me ever since the first time I read it, and I go back to it as a reminder of how magical great writing, wherever you find it, can be.

Given the traffic that Google sends me, there are a lot of us out there who are trying plumb the mystery of that paragraph, most likely for an English assignment.

(If you’re working on a paper, good luck, and try to answer a question that you find interesting, rather than prove a thesis that you find workable.  English teachers need to lighten up on the structure of the essay and help you explore the interests of your mind!)

the short story

One writer believes that the factory of writing teachers and aspiring writers — and it’s taken me my adult life to realize that the best thing to do is drop the “aspiring” and just write — is being ill-served by our fascination with Joyce’s great story and last paragraph.  We’re all missing the point.  What made Joyce’s story great was how utterly of the moment it was, and how his work captured the mystery of people trying to put who they were into words, through conversation, learning through interaction.

And throughout “The Dead,” these people are trying to come to terms with who they are and how they’re supposed to talk. An hour or so later, Gabriel Conroy finds himself in an awkward little spat with Miss Molly Ivors, another professor, about the Gaelic revival. Ivors calls Conroy a “West Briton,” a code name for an English sympathizer, because he published a book review in an English journal. Conroy thinks she’s an idiot for jumping on the Gaelic bandwagon. Their friendly discussion of politics turns ugly and, although we don’t know why, Ivors leaves early.

Let me offer a few disclaimers. I don’t write short stories. I read a lot of them, but I don’t read enough of them to make serious generalizations that can’t be shot down. But after my last non-scientific survey, I can say that there’s definitely something wrong with the American short story: People don’t read it for pleasure, and they don’t read it to figure out where we are or who we’ve become. When newspaper writers need to come up with something literary that says it all-let’s say after an act of terrorism, or after a pissy political summer-they head to Yeats (you know, the part about the center not holding), not the contemporary American short story.

Write about what we’re trying to become in the here and now, with passion.  This writer doesn’t think it’s happening.

I actually do find it, but not always in fiction.  It’s out there among all the bloggers that I encounter, working to tell their story in the moment, a little filtered, a little raw.  They capture the language and adjust.  Someone on Twitter like @avflox is telling a modern story of sensuality and identity in a new way, with a new lexicon, that is as compelling and uncertain as any good story.  Or @jessicagottlieb, or thousands of others who are writing about what means a lot to them.

It’s a different kind of short story, a different kind of literature, with a prism of identity that’s more poetics than narrative.

What do you think?

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