Do tell

Okorafor is a graduate of the Clarion workshop, but that doesn’t seem to stop her from flouting the old workshop maxim “show, don’t tell.” Okorafor tells all the time. Within pages of introducing Adaora we learn that she has a Phd in marine biology and a dead father. The book’s full of this kind of direct exposition. What’s at stake in the maxim “show, don’t tell”, and can we think about how the other writers we’ve read thus far have succeeded or failed at following it? The maxim itself is often taken to be an imperative towards reservation, subtraction, minimalism: A restrained style that has currency within a narrow but influential site of literary production.
To my mind the novel’s cinematic origins (which DFarin pointed us to in their post) speak to the nature of its exposition. The novel moves forward almost in episodes; I think it would have worked well as a TV series. There are moments that would strike me as a contrivance in fiction that was attempting to align itself with a narrow literary tradition. We learn Agu’s rapist superior is Lance Corporal Benson and suddenly the man is on TV. For a television show this would be something to roll with, for a “literary” novel this would be grounds for pause.
Never Let Me Go is concerned with aesthetic experience. The Dispossessed and Parable of the Sower are concerned with the potentials enabled by text in their own ways. I think it would be interesting to think about the influence of the visual media format vis-a-vis the themes that get taken up in this book. I think catskills is right to point us to the post-chapter as a moment where the novel thinks through its effects.
I don’t mean to caricature Lagoon here. The novel is certainly also full of moments which are uniquely textual. But I do think that considering the way this novel is not compelled to hang its hat on its textuality is a useful avenue for understanding what the book is up to, and that it furthermore casts a light on a lot of the other books we’ve read this semester. I think it is along these lines that we might begin to answer question of why this book gets to have a happy ending.

One thought on “Do tell”

  1. Could be useful to read the Bar Beach (and ocean) scenes in conversation with the style you point out here. Definitely at the start of the novel (weirdly), but also later on with Agu, I have been thinking of those scenes as almost visual interludes. The ocean sparkles with life, and that life is really see-able, even when it is not shown (i.e. under water). Maybe we can think of this style in conversation with the thematics of loss and change (baptism?) that always come up when characters are near the beach or brought into the ocean.

Leave a Reply