The Seduction of the “New Weird” in the Marketplace

In attempting to delineate the place of “The New Weird” in the “real world,” Jeff VanderMeer illuminates the commercial reality associated with the genre; that it seduces the publishers and the readers by establishing itself as a nebulously charming category.  That is, VanderMeer actually suggests that the “confusion about the specifics of the term created a larger protective umbrella for writers from a publishing standpoint” (xiv).  So what is this “original umbilical cord” that VanderMeer talks about that sparked the beginnings of many strange writers’ careers?  What specifically about the ambiguousness about the terminology of “The New Weird” manifests the genre to be inherently enticing?

We briefly discussed the emergence of the reiterated version of the original “Weird” in this specific contemporary literary landscape and attempted to make a connection between the “New Weird” being a successful marketing category and its prosperity in general.  It was fascinating to me that the ambiguity in its terminology was a foundational force in the “New Weird” legitimizing itself, but I couldn’t quite fathom the scope of the enigma of the genre.

Certainly, the “New Weird”‘s complex relationship with the original “Weird” contributes to the attractive air of mystery that it carries.  The “New Weird” adopts various elements such as horror, visceral triggers, bodily functions from the original “Weird” in an overt manner that loads it immediately with a sense of familiarity but obviously does work on its own that contextualizes it to be more relevant to the contemporary audience… but now we are back to the question of how the “New Weird” “feels” so attractive to us.

VanderMeer suggests that the “New Weird” has “become a shorthand for readers.” Although he doesn’t describe the process through which it has taken on that particular identity, he does illuminate the popular phenomenon of the genre being received intuitively, perhaps phenomenologically (“I know it when I read it” (xv)), and how the viscerally intimate relationship the readership has with the genre manifests it as an immediately accessible one.  The notion of accessibility here is a problematic and perhaps ironic one, as the opaqueness of the genre delineation, by definition, creates a sense of availability. 

In order to further gauge the span of how the “New Weird” is defined, I searched for other perspectives on how to define the genre.  Interestingly, my search results support my conviction that the “New Weird”‘s charm in part roots in its limitation of only being able to be defined relatively. That is, most definitions that I have found describe the “New Weird” using the rhetoric of what it is not, as opposed to what it is.  For example, sources repeatedly reported that the “New Weird” is not slipstream fiction or interstitial fiction (http://www.sfra.org/sf101newweird).  VanderMeer’s report that the newer works by the authors he anthologized in his volume are already transforming into something that is decidedly not the “New Weird” is also a potent example of the relative dimension of defining the “New Weird.”  However, to merely deem the “New Weird” to be an abstracted gesture of “subversion” or “transgression” or “revolution” would be undermining the subtlety of it.  While it is at large nebulously contextualized, the “New Weird” definitely has its specific particularities and idiosyncrasies (see my discussion of the genre in relation to the original “Weird” above, as well as what a lot of people have already mentioned on the blog about the recurring motifs in “New Weird” work).

Stylistically, a lot of the lingo used to delineate the properties of the “New Weird” seemed to parallel the various attempts at grappling with the essence of Postmodernism. For instance, a recurring avenue through which Postmodernism is approached seems to be understanding it literally, as something that is after modernism, or simply not modernism.  On a semantic level, Postmodernism presents itself in a relative manner, much like how the “New Weird” does.

To see a whole slew of individual authors’ perception of what the “New Weird” is – which seems to me to be the best if not only way lens through which to understand the genre – visit the Science Fiction Research Association’s page at: http://www.sfra.org/sf101newweird.  For me, I felt that I came the closest to grasping the essence (for the lack of a better word) of the genre was when I rejected the idea of VanderMeer’s “working definition” for it, but rather created a pastiche for myself drawing from the various individual author’s perspectives on it.

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