Chaos and the Democratization of Literary Art, de Richard Weissman

foto credit Maria Draghici

foto credit Maria Draghici

In the late ’80s and early ’90s, I wrote a series of poems proclaiming the death of Postmodernism, Post Post Modernism (aka “Po PoMo”) and the birth of Chaos literature.

I.) What is Chaos Literature?

I coined the term, “Chaos Literature” back in 1988 when I wrote my first poem on the topic. That stated, of course it is firmly entrenched in Giambattista Vico’s (1668-1744), cyclic theory of history, which was adapted by James Joyce in, “Finnegans Wake” (1939). The theory is that there are 4 ages of history: 1.) Theocratic; 2.) Aristocratic; 3.) Democratic; 4.) Chaotic.

In, “Chaos: Headstone for Twenty-First Century Poets”, I wrote that writers are,

“…now chaotically free to write anything, everything, nothing
to and for
no one…”


Well hadn’t that been the case throughout history? Of course, but now due to the democratization of art it became possible for this “chaotic” (“anything goes”) world of artistic expression to gain a real audience.

II.) What is the Democratization of Literary Art?

Prior to the internet and social media, editors and publishers acted as, “gatekeepers” of literature, deciding who received an audience and who didn’t. They made these decisions based on simple tools such as spelling, grammar, syntax as well as complex theories such as the use of metaphors, showing vs. telling and most importantly, adherence to literary rules (even if those rules were the “post-classical” rules of modernism, postmodernism or Po PoMo).
The democratization of literature meant that everyone now had access to spellcheck (or other editing programs) as well as computer algorithms that could easily make novice authors unfamiliar with the literary canon sound (to greater or lesser degrees) somewhat similar to published professionals who had studied the canon for decades.
More importantly, anyone could now bypass the gatekeepers and self-publish on YouTube, Amazon or on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter or AllPoetry.
The response of the literary establishment (gatekeepers and artists alike) varied from denial to minimization to acceptance. As always, I tried to remain open-minded and adhere to Faulkner’s advice,

“Read, read, read. Read everything — trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it’s good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out of the window.”

III.) Therapeutic Journaling

Around the same time that I wrote about Chaos literature and others were writing about Po PoMo, therapists like Dr. Charles Whitfield author of, Healing the Child Within, (1987) were advocating therapeutic journaling (regardless of spelling, grammar or syntax) as a recovery tool for their patients. Nowadays, therapeutic journaling is widely accepted as one of the most commonly employed recovery tools.
What does this have to do with literary history? It means, due to the democratization of the art form and encouragement of the therapeutic community, we now have a large and ever-growing segment of the literary community that are writing for, “wellness” as opposed to communication to an audience or commercial success.
Further, since this community is being encouraged and validated by their emotional support system, literary gatekeepers can rail against their chaotic modes of expression ad infinitum… these writers are probably not going to “adapt” to any literary “rules”, since they’re writing for a different muse. And of course, I argue that they are writing for the muse of Chaos!

IV.) Chaos Reigns Victorious… So, Now Where Do We Stand?

In a world where gatekeepers have been vanquished, how do we uphold the quality and traditions of the canon? The quick and simple answer is, “we don’t.” Instead we practice understanding, compassion and kindness. We trust that those desiring an artistic audience and commercial success will find it, regardless of whether they are applauding the work of the self-proclaimed, “satisfied novice” or that of their peers.