Gawker just declared alt-lit “dead“. Until I came across Kat Stoeffel’s article about the rape scandal that has rocked the alt lit world, I had never heard of the new literary genre. (Please read Stoeffel’s piece, by the way. It’s a necessary reminder that rape involves more than a stranger / date sexually violating an individual.) According to Stoeffel, alt lit’s writers “are known for employing the vernacular and flat affect of Gchats and status updates to create autobiographical fiction and poetry that lands somewhere between introspective and mundanely personal.” In a piece called “Alt-Lit is for Boring, Infantile Narcissists“, writer Josh Baines describes its creators, and fans less charitably. Lest there be any confusion, the link to Baines’ story reads: http://www.vice.com/en_uk/read/alt-lit-is-the-worst-thing-to-happen-to-literature. I’ve read a few examples on Alt Lit Press, and for the most part the pieces read as the earnest musings of a group of people exploring how to express themselves in a fresh way, in a generation drenched with expression. Never before have human beings had so many outlets for documentation and soliloquizing, and for those of us who have the privilege of multiple outlets at our disposal thanks to constant access to wi-fi and electricity, and semi-disposable time on our hands, there can be a peer pressure to publicly emote. If the proverbial “everyone” is on Instagram/Snapchat/Vine/etc, there’s an implied responsibility to share droll observations, razor sharp witticisms, and enviable photos on yet another account for the NSA to troll. By contrast, deliberate anonymity can be both a luxury and a wise choice.
It’s exciting though to see this experimentation with storytelling, and to imagine how it could impact familiar mediums like the essay or book. Specifically with respect to the novel, Zadie Smith and Teju Cole have been vocal about their weariness with traditional forms. Whatever the genre, it comes down to the quality of the story. If it has that “Amen factor”, i.e. it makes you nod your head, close your eyes at a memory or feeling the writing conjures, and sigh, whether it is served up Gchat style or printed between the covers of a book that could double as a doorstop, it’s worth expressing.