MIL: It seems many avant-garde works rely on a single conceit. “Tristam Shandy” used lies, “Motherless Brooklyn” used a tourettic narrator. Must avant-garde literature have a single mechanism to be intelligible to its readers?
TM: What’s the conceit of “Finnegans Wake” then? I’m not sure “Tristram Shandy” has a single conceit. I suppose there’s an inversion of the ‘Life and Adventures of’ tradition into ‘The Life and Opinions of—plus an obvious refusal of certain narrative conventions, for example in Tristram’s inability to get himself born for the first third of his own book. But Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” is equally full of such refusals: it subverts just about every dramatic convention that it purports to buy into. I’m suspicious of the term ‘avant-garde’. I think it should be restricted to its strict historical designation: Futurists, Dadaists, Surrealists etc. “Tristram Shandy” and “Motherless Brooklyn” aren’t avant-garde novels; they’re novels. And very good ones too!