Experimental Fiction: Pushing Textual Boundaries



Experimental fiction is a word that can either inspire or incite readers everywhere and it seems relevant now, in the digital age, more than ever. In recent weeks, I have finished reading Albert Angelo by B.S Johnson. Published in 1964 this text flirts with the notion of realism whilst at the same time having an extra-textual affair with experiment. It follows the journey of supply teacher Albert and his day-to-day meanderings through London. The narrative itself is broken up into several parts with a hole cut into numerous pages, allowing readers a glimpse of the future story. However, there is a tension that disrupts the very heart of the narrative. Towards the end of the novel, the author himself interjects and directly confronts the reader and the act of reading. It is this rupture that I feel undermines Johnson’s otherwise interesting and thought-provoking text.

Marc Saporta with his interesting text Composition No 1 draws the reader’s attention to the materiality of the novel, without employing Johnson’s aggression. This text is quite literally a book in a box. Single sheets of paper loosely sit, waiting for the reader to shuffle them and choose any starting point. Ok the story may not have the same character driven plot line as the start of Johnson’s text, however it does alert you to the essence of its materiality. It is your responsibility to move through the pages and to pick the story. There is no loud, tyrannical interruption from the author; instead the author appears to disappear from the text by placing the emphasis on the reader’s choice. Interestingly as well, Saporta’s text was also available on an iPad format and pleached together experiment with contemporary technology.

In a recent Sky News tech report, designers at the MIT media lab have created the first wearable narrative. Branded ‘Sensory Fiction’ this huge prototype consists of 150 LED’s that act as a mood lighting during your reading experience. A vest is also harnessed around the reader that mimics the actions of the tale, almost like a literary emotional rollercoaster. This idea pushes the boundaries Johnson and Saporta toyed with by mapping the textual body onto the physical human body. Here, text and reader synthesise into an almost visceral bodily experience. This poses exciting questions about the limits of experimental fiction and its ability to address the very art form it is contained within. Perhaps the next generation of experimental authors will dramatically shift towards realism in narrative and experiment in reading experience.

Nicola Borasinski

For more info on ‘Sensory Fiction’ check out this link  – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jFiLYno_9e4

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