The Radical Cool, The Brown Supremacy
and the Post-narrative Culture 

                                           by Paul Doru Mugur



“Le roi est mort, vive le roi!”. Historically, in a culture’s metabolism, manifestos were like an infusion of oxygen, exploring with youthful energy & enthusiasm uncharted territories and, sometimes, even jumpstarting a new cycle. Ironically, today, when novelty is the only and supreme God and the global hyperkinetic amnesia is becoming our daily bread, any revolution has the paradoxical effect of consolidating the same power it is opposing. Manifestos today are more commonly marketing strategies than natural changes of paradigm. Here are two examples: 

In July 1996, five Mexican novelist published “The Crack Manifesto” deciding to break the tradition of Magical Realism and return to, what they called an “aesthetic of dislocation”, multiplicity and more or less deterministic chaos. One of the authors of the “Crack Manifesto” writes explicitly in terms of cultural inquisition: “Crack points out and throws away the books to which it owes a debt, and also the books which Crack excommunicates, being their inquisitor—since there are many books that would be burned without mercy or hope of recovery.“ 

In September 1998, two Romanian poets wrote “The Fracturist Manifesto” declaring that “the fracturism is the first model of a radical brake with the postmodernism” and that “fracturism is a current of those writers that live as they write eliminating the social lies from they poetry (…) of those writers without career expectations, of those who do not perceive art as a social transaction and life as a business that you can gain some profit whatsoever” . They also produced a list of names of Romanian poets that they considered to belong to fracturism (together with themselves, of course), they stated that the poets of the eighties are “pitiful and ridicule” and they explicitly mentioned two names, (a critic and a poet) from the camp opposite to their beliefs.  

The logic of the two Manifestos is simple and dichotomistic. Either/or. Black and white. What they are doing is bad, what we are doing is good. If you want to be cool, read our stuff and thrash theirs. In fact, what they are doing is simply advertisement. 

Nevertheless, I don’t think that the fact that both Manifestos came up under the same name is a coincidence. Cracks and fractures. Video clips, hip-hop re-mixing, sampling, collage. Brave new fragmented world. The scholars may argue long time from now over the hidden nuances of Derrida`s writings, but, at least, on one thing he was right on the money. Deconstruction is the perfect logo for any manifesto. 

And yet, far from the furious statements of these Manifestos there is a silent revolution going on in the literary style. I call it radical cool. Haruki Murakami, Frederic Beigbeder, Pedro Juan Gutierrez, Martin Amis, Chuck Palahniuk, Michel Houllebecq, Victor Pelevin, Hanif Kureishi, Yoko Tawada, Virginie Despentes, Brett Easton Ellis, Fernando Vallejo, Adrian Buz, Ionuţ Chiva, Claudia Golea, Ioana Baetica, Alexandru Vakulovski,...and the list could go on and on and on. What do they have in common all these writers? Their characters are often rebels, outsiders, disenchanted observers of the contemporary society. Not cynical but simply bored like Raymond Chandler`s detectives. They drink, they take drugs, they have sex, they travel but they are never happy, never satisfied. They are extremely lucid and frustrated. They suffer from insomnia and misanthropy. Sometimes they kill without any reason like the two teenagers from „Baise moi”. Sometimes they use sexuality as an indirect form of protesting against a totalitarian regime like the cuban writer Pedro Juan Gutierrez or they go searching a fabulous sheep like Murakami`s hero. They are too tired to believe in anything. Radical cool is the neo-noir of our times. 

Manifestos and the radical cool style are not the most efficient strategy on the book market.  The books of Sandra and Dan Brown didn’t have any hidden manifestos behind them and they are definitively not radical cool. The Brownian market supremacy is based on century old recipes. What do most of the readers expect from a book? Romance and mystery. Give them what they want. Tell them the story. Don’t be embarrassed if Alexandre Dumas or Emily Bronte did it way before you hundred times better. Throw in the pot a conspiracy theory or a cheesy love affair. Keep the tension raw.  

The history of literature has four periods delimited by technological innovations: the oral age, the manuscript writing age, the print age and the digital age. Arguably, the birth of the novel is a consequence of Gutenberg`s invention. If a few decades ago the questions were revolving around the crisis of the novel, now, after all the postmodernist experiments with non-linearity and the development of the plot to an unprecedented level of complexity, the narrative model of meaning itself and its relevance to us are at stake.  Any story is a more or less beautiful lie and an artificial construction. We can argue that the real nature of the world & our human soul is not story-like and, if we are interested in pursuing the truth, we should drop the narrative model altogether. Is this possible? Is there any meaning beyond narrative?  

Of, course. There are several possible avenues to investigate down the road of non-narrative meaning. The real questions are, I think: if the narrative model is becoming obsolete which model will be the dominant paradigm in the digital age? And, more importantly, giving the fact that children today would rather see a movie or play a computer game than read, will any of the cultural products of the future have anything to do with literature? At this point, I deliberately choose not to enter the maze of the debates about hypertextual novels, variable plot, and interactive literature that stir the multimedia theorists circles nowadays. Instead, I will use a shortcut. The most elegant demonstration for the existence of a non-narrative meaning is poetry itself. Here is a millennium old sample: 

“If the intellect is unstable
It is overwhelmed by the world,
A weak man embraced by a whore.
If the mind becomes disciplined,
The world is a distinguished woman
Who rejects her lover`s advances.”

 Abu Al al Ma`arri, Syrian poet 973-1057

I am certain that in our digital future poetry will still be there, whatever form it may take.