Meaner Little Pix
January 12, 2008 4:56 AM   Subscribe

Experimental lit recommendations please.
Also: Do you know of any female fiction experimentalists?

I like: Calvino Elizondo Vargas Llosa Cortazar a little Borges

This list and the Literature-Map are good starting points.

Any more?
posted by sushiwiththejury to Writing & Language (35 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
For quasi-modernists in the vein of the people you listed, I would take a look at Dalkey Archive. They publish a lot, I've liked books by Deborah Levy, Janice Galloway, Annie Ernaux, Marguerite Young. They're the American publisher of Harry Mathews and other Oulipoians. Rikki Ducornet can be good, but sometimes like reading a Borges knock-off, although a bit more fantastic.

Another nice option, although sometimes a bit more uneven, is Fiction Collective Two, run by Curtis White. Their author list is great. I've quite liked books by Marianne Hauser, Chris Mazza, and especially Ursule Molinaro. Other authors on their list are a bit more "experimental" than the ones you've listed, so I'm not sure if you'd like them or not. (The difference between Joyce of the Daybook and Joyce of the Nightbook.)

Sun & Moon Press, now defunct, but morphed into Green Integer, was great. The list is too long to really encompass. They published (and Green Integer publishes) books by Cortazar , as well as Gertrude Stein, Sorrentino, Celan, Arno Schmidt, etc. Sun and Moon published Marianne Hauser's Me & My Mom, which I liked a lot. (Dalkey also publishes Cortazar.) And then, finally, it's worth looking for books published by the old Black Sparrow press, they are also often quite good.

I've focused on the women that these presses publish, but there is a lot more there, too. All four are real presses, in the sense that their lists are curated and therefore if you've read a couple of the authors they publish, it's worth taking a risk on some of the others as they were chosen because of similarity.

You might also like Lydia Davis, Thomas Bernhard, Maurice Blanchot, books in the British Quartet Encounters series (which were dumped on the remainder market in the US in the early 90s). One of my favorite authors is Ivy Compton-Burnett, who makes of Edwardian life a very funny horror show almost entirely composed of dialog. She's certainly as experimental as several that you listed.

Finally, any response to this question would be incomplete without mentioning Gertrude Stein, who is so influential to almost all of the writers I've listed, and all of the men I didn't, that she's really the Urth-Mother. I think Geography and Plays is a great introduction, or A Novel of Thank You, but the truly amazing book is The Making of Americans. Published by Dalkey Archive.
posted by OmieWise at 5:44 AM on January 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Julian Barnes, especially "History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters." His books really run the gamut, though, from experimental metafiction to straight-up novels. There may be others of his you don't like at all.

As for female experimentalists, I may as well get the obvious out of the way and suggest Virginia Woolf. I wonder, too, if you might like Zadie Smith — "White Teeth" isn't as meta-fictional as Borges or Calvino, but it struck me as having a good dose of magic realist influence, and it's a really brilliant book.
posted by nebulawindphone at 5:55 AM on January 12, 2008

Some more female experimentalists: Ann Quin; Ingeborg Bachman; Nathalie Sarraute; Unica Zürn; Clarice Lispector; Djuna Barnes.
posted by misteraitch at 6:02 AM on January 12, 2008

Yes, Djuna Barnes. Her Nightwood is a vastly underrated classic. Her other works are worth checking out too.
posted by creasy boy at 6:30 AM on January 12, 2008

have you read keri hulme's "bone people"?
posted by thinkingwoman at 6:48 AM on January 12, 2008

Christine Brooke-Rose.
posted by verstegan at 7:02 AM on January 12, 2008

Current literary darling, Roberto Bolano's The Savage Detectives, is worthy of all the buzz. Featured on Metafilter, but I think you are better off reading the reviews afterwards because then you can figure out what he doing for yourself, rather than anticipate it.

I have not read it, but JM Coetzee's latest work, Diary of a Bad Year, has an experimental style.
posted by shothotbot at 7:03 AM on January 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Kathy Acker.

Also, check out the Russian experimentalists of the 1910-1930 period, for example the "Serapion Brothers" group and Daniil Kharms; they got pretty far out there (as did the poets and painters of the period).
posted by languagehat at 7:21 AM on January 12, 2008

Rebecca Brown.
posted by rtha at 7:27 AM on January 12, 2008

Oooooooh Ingeborg Bachmann. Speaking of vastly underrated! She died young and didn't get to write much, but a lot of what she did write was trenchant, simple & seriously powerful. Also see her poetry + short prose anthology (translated by Peter Filkins, a great sensitive translation).
posted by lorimer at 7:30 AM on January 12, 2008

Wow, revisiting my comment, that Joyce crack reads like pretentious twaddle. What I should have said is that even in "experimental fiction" there's a big difference between books like Ulysses and books like Finnegans Wake, and many of FC2s authors are close to the latter, while most of those you list are closer to the former.
posted by OmieWise at 8:01 AM on January 12, 2008

At the risk of sounding like an asshole, all innovative fiction is experimental.

I think you might find Jeanette Winterson interesting. She's an excellent craftsperson, but she's also a keen literary historian. She is one of the writers who has brought Djuna Barnes back into fashion. She emulates a lot of avant-garde Soviet writers, particularly Zamjatin and Kharms.

If you are interested in metafiction (fiction about fiction) I'd suggest Milan Kundera, particularly Immortality and the Unbearable Lightness of Being. Sometimes I feel like he's trying to teach us all to read, but then again, I learned a lot from him about fiction.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 8:13 AM on January 12, 2008

Anne Carson.
posted by dobbs at 8:37 AM on January 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Maybe Gary Lutz? I posted links to sveral of his (very) short stories here.
posted by dersins at 9:26 AM on January 12, 2008

David Markson
posted by wittgenstein at 9:34 AM on January 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

I would throw Nabokov on the list. Try Pale Fire.
posted by hue at 10:14 AM on January 12, 2008

And of course Elfriede Jelinek (Wikipedia), a woman who won the Nobel Prize a few years ago, leading to the resignation of a Nobel committee member who thought her novels were too experimental.
posted by jayder at 10:26 AM on January 12, 2008

italo calvino
posted by bruce at 10:38 AM on January 12, 2008

Seconding Jeannette Winterson.

Also, very Calvino-esque I think and a lady: Clarice Lispector

More recently, I love The Activist, by Renee Gladman. It's, I guess, a novel, but published by a press that is more known for its poetry selections.

Marguerite Duras, especially The War and Hiroshima, Mon Amour (she wrote the screenplay).

Some male writers I think you would like: Denis Johnson (I particularly liked Already Dead), Steve Erickson (one of the most underrated novelists that I can think of), Mark Danielewski (especially House of Leaves which manages to be both experimental, bewildering, AND a page-turner at the same time--plus, the typography is insane).

I could recommend a shit-ton of experimental female poets, but I got the impression you're more looking for novelists? In any case, be sure to check out Kelsey Street Press and, more DIY-ish, Hex Presse, both of which publish innovative writing by women.
posted by apostrophe at 10:45 AM on January 12, 2008

hey apostrophe, please do recommend some experimental poetry too, female or otherwise.
and thank you all, sweet list.
posted by sushiwiththejury at 11:24 AM on January 12, 2008

Female poets: I wrote a Metafilter post about Leslie Scalapino (Wikipedia).
posted by jayder at 11:30 AM on January 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Check out The Pink Institution by Selah Saterstrom.
posted by shakespeherian at 12:08 PM on January 12, 2008

ALong with Jeanette Winterson and Virginia Woolf, I liked Katherine Dunn.

I found Zadie Smith overrated. Perhaps it was just there was so much hype, but it felt kinda silly & two dimensional to me.

ALso, Henry Miller, James Joyce, Jean Toomer, Victor Pelevin, Salman Rushdie, Milan Kundera, Vladmir Nabakov, Franz Kafka, Gabriel Garcia-Marquez...

not sure if all of those are experimental in exactly the sense you're thinking, but I think they merit the description anyway. Some of them I haven't read in a very long time, so may be counting on old opinions.
posted by mdn at 1:21 PM on January 12, 2008

Dictee by Theresa Hak Kyung Cha would probably also fit the bill.
posted by Hypocrite_Lecteur at 1:44 PM on January 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Great list! You may also want to check out Adrienne Rich.
posted by ethel at 3:29 PM on January 12, 2008

May not be experimental enough for you but:

Sarah Shu-lein Bynum, whose "Madeleine is Sleeping" was shortlisted for the National Book Award a few years back.

The most recent Jennifer Egan, "The Keep" is pretty good. Heidi Julavits' "The Uses of Enchantment" is a great piece of psychological trickery if you're into that kind of thing.

I just finished "Darkmans" by Nicola Barker. Lots of weirdness and wordplay, and quite funny.

Nthing Kathy Acker (Try "Empire of the Senseless") and Djuna Barnes.
posted by thivaia at 3:56 PM on January 12, 2008

Three words for you: Ou Li Po.
posted by Hogshead at 3:59 PM on January 12, 2008

Angela Carter
posted by Morrigan at 4:14 PM on January 12, 2008

(to be clear, I meant "also" as in, also recommended, not as in also overrated, if that wasn't clear above... !sorry.)
posted by mdn at 5:16 PM on January 12, 2008

I would actually consider Adrienne Rich pretty un-weird as far as poetry goes, though you could say that there's no real such thing as mainstream poetry and most folks would consider all poetry experimental. But here are some of my favorites.

Hardcore experimental L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets: Rae Armantrout, Lyn Hejinian (one of the most 'readable' poets in this group--I recommend in particular My Life). Also as mentioned previously Leslie Scalapino, but I find her kind of boring to tell the truth.

Pre-language poetry New York School: Barbara Guest and Alice Notley (for Notley I'd pick Mysteries of Small Houses).

Modern 'post-avant-garde' female poets I really like: Lisa Jarnot (start with Some Other Kind of Mission), Jennifer Moxley (Imagination Verses), Elizabeth Willis.

Ooh, I also recommend Joan Retallack's The Poethical Wager, which is sorta critical essays, sorta poetry, sorta quantum physics.

Also, Juliana Spahr and Claudia Rankine edited a book of critical writing focusing on the very subject of experimental women poets.

Yay, my MFA came in useful.
posted by apostrophe at 7:15 PM on January 12, 2008

A million ups for Nathalie Sarraute, one of my favorite writers ever.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 7:24 PM on January 12, 2008

Yeah, Sun & Moon and Green Integer are completely and utterly your friends. Pick up Sun & Moon's collected early work of David Antin, for starters.

Also, why has no one mentioned Ubu?
posted by roll truck roll at 10:00 AM on January 13, 2008

I've liked everything I've read by Lynne Tillman.
posted by otio at 12:30 PM on January 13, 2008

a few more to add to the list: Carole Maso, Fanny Howe, Susan Howe.
posted by dizziest at 12:49 PM on January 14, 2008

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