Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Offutt Guide to Literary Terms

By Chris Offutt, who wrote one of my favorite memoirs, The Same River Twice. One of the few books I will find the time to re-read.

From Harper's Magazine: 

NONFICTION: Prose that is factual, except for newspapers.
CREATIVE NONFICTION: Prose that is true, except in the case of memoir.
MEMOIR: From the Latin memoria, meaning "memory," a popular form in which the writer remembers entire passages of dialogue from the past, with the ultimate goal of blaming the writer's parents for his current psychological challenges.
NOVEL: A quaint, longer form that fell out of fashion with the advent of the memoir.
SHORT STORY: An essay written to conceal the truth and protect the writer's family.
NOVEL-IN-STORIES: A term invented solely to hoodwink the novel-reading public into inadvertently purchasing a collection of short fiction.
CLANDESTINE SCIENCE FICTION NOVEL: A work set in the future that receives a strong reception from the literary world as long as no one mentions that it is, in fact, science fiction; for example, The Road, winner of the Pulitzer Prize.
PLOT: A device, the lack of which denotes seriousness on the part of writers.
CHICK LIT: A patriarchal term of oppression for heterosexual female writing; also, a marketing means to phenomenal readership and prominent bookstore space.
PERSONAL ESSAY: Characterized by 51 percent or more of its sentences beginning with the personal pronoun "I"; traditional narrative strategy entails doing one thing while thinking about another.
LITERARY ESSAY: Akin to the personal essay, only with bigger words and more profound content intended to demonstrate that the essayist is smarter than all readers, writers, teachers, and Europeans.
LYRIC ESSAY: An essay with pretty language.
NATURE ESSAY: An essay written by a person claiming to have a closer relationship with the natural world than anyone else does; traditional subject matter is sex, death, and how everything was better in the past.
POP CULTURE ESSAY: An essay written by someone who prefers to shop or watch television.
ACADEMIC ESSAY: Alas, an unread form required for tenure.
COMPOSITION WRITING: An academic development in response to the economic needs of recently graduated MFA students.
EXPERIMENTAL WRITING: The result of supreme artistic courage when a writer is willing to sacrifice structure, character, plot, insight, wisdom, social commentary, context, precedent, and punctuation.
POEM: Prose scraps.
PROSE POEM: Either a poem with no line breaks or a lyric essay with no indentation. No one knows.
DECONSTRUCTIONISM: A moderately successful attempt by the French to avenge the loss of Paris as the global center of literature.
ANXIETY OF INFLUENCE: A term popularized by Harold Bloom to suppress poets and elevate the role of critics.
TEXT: A term used by critics to conceal ignorance of precise definitions.

1 comment:

JM said...

I saw this in Harper's and loved it. Thanks again for introducing me to Offutt's work.