Saturday, March 22, 2008

Flash in Human Scale

Flash fiction: extreme brevity?

I have a few close friends who have ADD. They are good readers, perceptive of their world, and fairly intelligent. They simply cannot pay attention to any specific focus for very long. What strikes me most about conversations with them is that though they literally cannot stay on any one topic, and their attention span seems to vary in duration for no discernible reason, my impression of their reality, if seen from my sloggy connected perspective, is a stroboscopic display of unrelated flashes of consciousness.

It is possible to have an extended conversation with them as long as one is willing and able to jump to a multiple number of unrelated topics then return to the background thread. Seems to me this provides a jump point for thoughts about a novel of aggregate flash. Many short segments, like postage stamps all intimate in their own contained frame of reference. Like with pudding stone, many pebbles conglomerate to make one stone.

Sometimes it is possible to capture the attention of flitters and they stay with the flow longer. Sometimes it is like you hit a wall where the conversation abruptly will not go any farther on that topic. This can be a sudden stop. The stop can be disconcerting, and often it looks as if the ADD participant is in actual pain if you do not jump with them swiftly. Quite often, for them in their reading experience an extended 'plot' is extraneous as they won't last that long to follow it. Or, the plot is well integrated to the writing and sustains the focus. How?

Though the disconnect between one topic of conversation and another seems just that, a disconnect, if one is inclined to try to see patterns in chaos then it comes to a constant wonder as to what relationships there are to the disparate topics. The refreshment is that in the conversation new constructions occur over and over. For the ADD afflicted individual their pleasure is to have someone that is willing to try to have a conversation with them on their terms. I also have friends who are functional schizophrenic. I like to talk with them too.

As what I bring up in conversation here applies to flash fiction, and the idea of flash as an end in itself, or as an extension to other modes of text, or as a direction of literature in general I think along the following lines:

For any individual, with ADD or not, as the volume of information increases that an individual is confronted with, as media pushes for the attention, there tends to be a survival mechanism that kicks in that even for the most fluent of any of us we begin to either reject information (we stop listening), or we push to absorb more information, and in many respects we take on behavior to process reception of information in a manner that is not ADD (rather than a neuro-biological issue it is one of defense against environment overload), but very much mimics ADD. This information afflicted individual, I presume, is the hard core audience for flash fiction.

I combine this with the number of people who complain to me that they do not want to get two page e-mails. Or that blog entries are best kept to extreme brevity. Flash is possibly connected with the restrictions of keeping an e-mail to a length that fits on one screen without need to scroll?

I am reading About Writing, Samuel R. Delany, and at one point he states that the functionally literate population is more than 50 times the size it was in 1814. That is really not all that long ago particularly if one reflects on the exploding star that was reported in the news yesterday... the furthest away visible object to the human eye. I told my wife I would jump up and go look before I fade out. I digress. An exploding star is a flash, no? If we can see it unaided then that distance of measure must be within human scale.

Regardless, if we consider the number of humans who are able to read English (not even to venture into the multiplicity of wonderful languages available to us or to discern the American sect from UK variants) it seems clear that the psychological make-up of readers would become more and more diverse. In this it seems to me that regardless of means of publication or media of distribution that there will be a dedicated readership for flash fiction.

As to if anyone can sustain a living wage out of that as a writer, or not, is yet to be seen.