AGAINST “BIZARRO” FICTION by Joseph Suglia
A “bizarro” is an unimportant writer of fiction who pays very little attention to language. S/he has no literary background, is generally undereducated and semiliterate, “reads” comic books, plays video games, and gawks at the cinema of David Lynch and Takashi Miike. (The bizarros are ignorant of the fact that Lynch created films not out of the hunger to be “weird”–at least before he succumbed to his internet fan base and produced the self-parodic Inland Empire (2006)–but on the basis of an original experience. His films were never intended to be “strange.” They were attempted exteriorizations of dreams.) You will never hear a bizarro intoning the names Jan Svankmajer or Fernando Arrabal (“Who?”). Nor will you listen to them twittering over the work of any serious literary artist. I doubt any one of them has ever penetrated the oeuvre of Jose Donoso, Horacio Quiroga, or Rafael Sanchez Ferlosio (“Who?”). Perhaps after reading this report, they will.
Bizarro cannot be accurately described as a literary movement, since it is neither literary nor a movement, precisely understood. The bizarros write for one another; the primary readers of bizarro fiction are other bizarro writers. This, among other things, makes bizarro more of a cult than a movement. The word “movement” is too grand, too historic in its connotations to be applied to the bizarros.
The bizarros are enjoined to write about things they consider, by mutual agreement, strange, curious, uncanny, eldritch, transmontane (though they do not use these words; they prefer the high-school casualisms “weird” and “bizarre”). Self-conscious strangeness is insipid, of course, not to mention banal, especially in a culture in which bizarreness is exploited for the sake of commercial effect. How bizarre is the bizarre when one can see dancing lizards and city-destroying carrier pigeons in Superbowl advertisements? Lady Gaga makes bizarro fiction superfluous. The bizarre is, these days, the most marketable of commodities.
Inherent to the structure of every addiction is the disavowal of that same addiction. Much in the same way that cigarette addicts claim not to be addicted to cigarettes, the bizarros habitually claim that they are not “trying to be weird,” that their fiction is not “weird for the sake of being weird.” But who believes them? Firstly, it is difficult to ignore that their cult has anointed itself “bizarro.” Secondly, they praise one another on the internet for conceiving “weird” imagery (even though this selfsame imagery inescapably turns out to be stale, boring, and derivative) and “weird” characters embroiled in “weird” situations. Thirdly, anyone who reads a word of their fiction can perceive a fetishization of the uncommon. There can simply be no other impulse behind so much abominably written inanity, an impetus which is a perversion of the vain desire not for innovation but for “difference.”
It would be imprecise to say that the bizarre obsesses the bizarros. (“To obsess,” etymologically, means “to impinge on,” “to attack,” “to besiege,” “to beleaguer”). Their interest in the bizarre is a purely formal rather than a visceral one. To them, bizarreness is a false bizarreness, an ungenuine bizarreness, a programmatic bizarreness. The bizarros stylize what they consider “weird.” But nothing is “weird” anymore. That which was once considered “weird” is, paradoxically, the ordinary and the average.
A diluted and unlettered absurdism, bizarro is a silly, infantile fetish. Much like sexual urination, it is a fetish that I do not share and that is therefore of purely sociological interest to me. An ornithologist is not a bird.
The bizarros ought to learn that language matters, that narrative matters, that literature is not a playground for the talentless, that writing should have to do not with the writer’s insecurities and vain desire for difference but with writing.
Dr. Joseph Suglia