The New Puritans are not, one of their founder members assures us, 'a religious movement'. Phew. It is unwise for novelists to become too involved in formulating creeds, and very few of them are good at evangelism, mass worship or group suicides. We don't look to writers to tell us how to behave or what to believe. New Puritanism is not a religion, then, but it might, according to Nicholas Blincoe, be 'the beginning of a new wave' and present its adherents with 'a chance to blow the dinosaurs out of the water'. This tongue-in-cheekiness, which from time to time comes across as a swaggering disrespect for all other contemporary writers, infects and distorts the editors' 'Pledge', or manifesto, which opens the book and frames its 15 specially commissioned stories. The Pledge consists of 10 rules and is loosely modelled on the manifesto of Dogme 95, the collective of film-makers headed by Lars von Trier who took on the excesses of Hollywood with a 'vow of chastity' that included the use of hand-held cameras and the rejection of elaborate costumes, lighting and music. The rules contain nothing especially outlandish; nor do they seem likely to act as a blue touchpaper that will light the firework of new, radical fiction. Essentially a guide to writing blank, uninflected prose, they urge writers to 'shun poetry and poetic licence in all its forms', argue for 'textual simplicity' - this encompasses the strict avoidance of flashbacks and tricksy time schemes, 'elaborate punctuation' and 'unknowable speculation about the past or future' - and demand that stories be located in a 'recognisable ethical reality'. This anthology, one quickly realises, will not boast the jokey, fantastical contortions of the Oulipo collective, with its lipograms and combinatorics, nor the politicised austerity of Dogme: rather it aims to dismantle the scaffolding of literary fiction in order to see what the building underneath looks like.
LRB 2 November 2000 | PDF Download