Slipstream: Making the Familiar Strange (Part 2 of 2)

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by Dana Schultz

A few weeks ago I posted Part 1 of the Slipstream blog. In it I discussed the concept and fundamental problem of Slipstream, namely that it is a shorthand term for “slipping genre fiction into the mainstream” and that it lacks a concrete definition. Currently Slipstream is not a genre, rather a feeling of strangeness – i.e. cognitive dissonance – that some argue resembles the feelings one experiences from “living in the 21st century.” My research question over the past few weeks was whether Slipstream as a writing style is relevant enough to become accepted as a genre. Or, to put in less grandiose terms, if I could at least make an argument that it should be.

And now I would like to make a few disclaimers. The first is that I study Creative Writing and I have enormous respect for the Slipstream style and even attempt to model it in my own work. The second is that my two primary sources for this article are Lesley Wheeler and Chris Gavaler, two Washington and Lee professors that are well researched in speculative fiction and also happen to be married to each other. I am very thankful for their contribution of time and ideas towards this blog post. The worlds of speculative fiction and Slipstream are big seas to navigate, and they lent me a much needed oar.
Onward to my argument. The first topic to cover is whether Slipstream as a writing style is especially relevant to the 21st century. Some may argue, due to the political climate and information age, yes. The Oxford Dictionary named “post-truth” the word of the year. Today big data blurs the boundaries of truth because there is no longer a consensus on the facts. Confidence in the general existence of facts – i.e. absolute truths – is falling away… doesn’t that make you feel strange? This stretching of boundaries in the political world does seem to parallel the current challenging of boundaries in literary culture. For me to link cause to causation at the moment would be taking it too far, but I do believe that both represent a cultural trend of rethinking our assumptions. Bob Dylan’s award for the Nobel Prize in Literature is one example of a large trend of award organizations, the Pushcart Prize included, broadening the scope of literature they recognize.bob-dylan
lady-churchills-rosebud-wristletTherefore Slipstream is a timely development because the current literary judges are receptive to boundary crossing. There is also a large domain of literary magazines – online and in print – where Slipstream style writers can take flight. This domain includes, among many others, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, Phantom Drift, and Structo. However we are still faced with a fundamental problem. What does Slipstream do that speculative fiction does not? If Slipstream is simply a euphemism for “good speculative fiction,” that is not enough. However in my search to find a common thread in all the Slipstream works I’ve read, the euphemism seems to be it.

structo16Which takes us to our second topic, should Slipstream be accepted as a genre? My answer, in spite of my appreciation for writers that fall – voluntarily or not – under the Slipstream umbrella, is currently no. These writers already have their own umbrellas, and to shove them under a second, bigger umbrella is simply redundant. There need to be stylistic elements of Slipstream that sets it clearly apart from speculative fiction before the term can gain traction. For example, do the majority of Slipstream works play with reader expectations by consciously presenting and then subverting genre tropes? Some do, but not all of them. With all of the journals and websites noticing Slipstream, the Writer’s Chronicle and Wall Street Journal among them, it is difficult to argue that Slipstream is not a movement. However it is undetermined whether this movement has a direction. For Slipstream to become a credible genre, the judges simply have to get more specific about what they claim to be Slipstream. Until then we can only speculate whether Slipstream is “real or unreal,” and we already have speculative fiction for that.

Sources

http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2016/07/politics-in-a-post-truth-age/

http://www.hoodedutilitarian.com/2014/12/is-and-isnt-literary-upheavals-in-the-post-real-landscape/

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/oct/13/bob-dylan-wins-2016-nobel-prize-in-literature

http://thereviewreview.net/publishing-tips/seeking-slipstream-list-resources

http://www.wsj.com/articles/slipstream-fiction-goes-mainstream-1423072888

Wheeler, Lesley. “Verse and the Multiverse.” Poet Lore 110.1-2 (Spring/ Summer 2015): 113-124.

 

About R.T. Smith

recent-meR. T. Smith has edited Shenandoah since 1995 and serves as Writer-in-Residence at Washington & Lee. His forthcoming books are Doves in Flight: 13 Fictions and Summoning Shades: New Poems, both due in 2017.

 

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