Is there a "now" distinct from a clearly recognizable "then"?
Ask a silly question.
Of course there’s a "now," many of my submitters said. "I wrote
this yesterday. Is that ‘now’ enough for you?"
Or: Of course there’s a "now" and it’s all about wars,
terrorists, and natural disasters.
Or: Of course there’s a "now" but it looks exactly like "back
then." Deal with it.
There seemed to be a bit of anxiety about the question, spasms of
defensiveness, and not a little barely-suppressed hostility (I was
charged with being a formalist, a hater of the conventional,
and—gasp!—anti-Edwardian. For the record: I am none of those). But
there was also a great deal of interest, some real excitement about
the possibilities the question raised and, above all, many
fascinating, challenging submissions.
I can’t say that I got a definitive answer to my question. I am,
regrettably, not able to set forth a list of characteristics for the
new "now." I acknowledge that my sample was limited (300 or so
submissions for one issue of one magazine), but I think it was a
good sample. I’d guest-edited for Blip Magazine Archivebefore and knew
its authors and aspiring authors to be fairly representative of the
best that’s out there.
So, I offer here seventeen pieces which may or may not convey the
now-ness of a literary moment which may or may not exist, which
could not have existed at any other time in history because their
authors did not exist at any other time in history, and which, in
most cases, render present moments that are inextricably linked with
the past. Some deal with current technologies. Others twist fresh
juice out of "current events." A few impose some pressure on form.
All of them urge our full attention, our total immersion into rich,
inhabitable worlds of words, voices and images--the infinitely
engaging and ever-present "now."
Jane Armstrong’s work has appeared in Newsweek, The
North American Review, Beloit Fiction Journal, New
Orleans Review, Brevity and on National Public Radio’s All
Things Considered. She teaches at Northern Arizona University.