Modern writers. The term “modern” gives some people the hives…yet all it is is a sophistication (although perhaps an over-serious one) of the moment when the vaudeville actor leans into the audience and winks. While “modern” poetry seems to be all clever renditions of the song “doom, despair, agony, and woe…WOOOOOE”* (i.e., T.S. Eliot), “modern” fiction seems to be all about the in-joke and the (I can’t think of a better way to describe it) structural pun.
I used to have ambitions of writing nothing but “modern” fiction. “Contemporary” fiction bored me, for the most part, and “genre” fiction seemed like a pigeonhole. Then I started reading Stephen Brust, and I got better. But my love for modern–and postmodern–fiction remains.
“The Modern Word” is a beautiful website all about modern writers, including very good quotes (Borges, in particular, claiming that he would love to pseudonymously trash his own work*), excerpts, bibliographies, and links. Only a few writers as yet have major entries: Beckett, Borges, Eco, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Joyce, and Pynchon. Others forthcome.
P.S. Why should anybody care? Because you love stupid jokes (What did they call Postman Bob after he got fired? Bob) and bad puns, and thus may find modern fiction esthetically pleasing. Because it give the brain a good workout after that Grisham tripe you just finished. Because you’ve already read Shakespeare, Milton, Dante, and so on from the old guys, can’t stand realistic, socally conscious novels, and want some “good literature” to impress people with on your webpage. Because you liked Don Quixote. Because change has been geometrically increasing since the turn of the century, and this is how some people have responded: if science fiction is the genre fiction about the progress of technology, modern fiction is the genre fiction about the progress of our brains.
P.P.S. Ultimately, however, one needs an actual story. Just as Jazz should never be the only kind of music, modern fiction should not be the only kind of literature.
*”Any time something is written against me, I not only share the sentiment but feel I could do the job far better myself. Perhaps I should advise would-be enemies to send me their grievances beforehand, with full assurance that they will receive my every aid and support. I have even secretly longed to write, under a pen name, a merciless tirade against myself.”
— J.L.Borges, Autobiographical essay, 1970.