microfficciones = microfictions = microstories. Get it? Same as flash fiction, Smokelongs (China), Palm-in-Hand (Japan), short-shorts, postcard fiction, sudden fiction, vignettes, nouvelles (France), pocket story, myth, fable, prose poem (or not?), quick fiction, nano-fiction, on and on. Why so many names? Because–as we are trying to prove over and over on this site–flash fiction has been and continues to be everywhere. Different parts of the world. Different times, past and present. So, different names.
Let’s discuss Argentina’s “Queen of Flash,” Ana Maria Shua. Let’s take a look at “Three Microstories” from the anthology, “Sudden Latino Fiction: Short-Short Stories from the United States and Latin America.”
Cannibals and Explorers
The cannibals dance around the explorers. The cannibals light the fire. The cannibals have their faces painted in three colors. The cannibals prefer the heart and brain, disdaining the tender flesh of the thighs and the leftover intestines. The cannibals consume those parts of the body they believe will instill in them the virtues they admire in their victims. The cannibals partake of their ritual banquet without pleasure or mercy. The cannibals don the explorers’ clothes. The cannibals, once in London, deliver scholarly lectures on cannibals.
Respect for Genres
A man wakes up next to a woman he doesn’t recognize. In a thriller, this could be the result of alcohol, drugs, or a blow to the head. In a science fiction story, the man would eventually understand that he exists in a parallel universe. In an existentialist novel, the lack of recognition could simply be due to a feeling of alienation, of absurdity. In an experimental text, the mystery would go unsolved and the situation would be handled with the turn of a phrase. The editors become more and more demanding, and the man knows, with a sense of desperation, that if he doesn’t manage to fit himself into a genre soon, he runs the risk of remaining painfully and forever unpublished.
In the seventh century A.D., a group of Bavarian theologians debate the sex of angels. Obviously, no one admits that women are capable of discussing theological matters; after all, back then it was doubtful they even had a soul. Nevertheless, one of them is a cleverly disguised woman. She asserts emphatically that angels must only be male. She knows, but doesn’t disclose, that among them there will be cleverly disguised women.
Segmented Structure, what does it provide? Well, for one thing, it provides white space. In flash, the work exists on and off the page. The reader has to see the area around the text as an integral aspect. Here we have white space between the actual microfictions, creating numberless possibilities. The white space might be a moment for thought, or Time itself, a movement back or forth (time often as extremely fluid in Latin American literature). The white space might be a change in place, in culture, in subject, yet that opens us up–bizarrely–to also seeing the sameness after the change. The white space divides and connects the text. The transformation runs both ways. So. White space enables us to read the work as three texts, but always simultaneously as one.
In the opening text, we get something common to Latin American literature: indigenous representations (the cannibals) and outsiders (explorers), New World versus ancient. Reason/logic/orderly belief versus another more imaginative view of existence. But then the turn, a two-part structure actually one definition of a flash, by some:
It’s its own self, and it’s intrinsically different from the short story and more like the sonnet or ghazal—two quick moves in opposite directions, dialectical moves, perhaps, and then a leap to a radical resolution that leaves the reader anxious in a particularly satisfying way.
In Shua’s work, the turn relies on the word, scholarly. The cannibals have become the explorers. They ate the system but it didn’t destroy the system–it actually changed them into the system, the way certain foods can change the body entire. Or were the cannibals always already explorers? Certainly explorers cannibalize. Is the transposing of expected roles the point? Or, and here is where I think Shua is directing us–is the entire flash a comment on scholarly work: cannibalizing the subject, pinning the butterfly below its Latin name, bringing it back to “London,” putting it in yet another box, a paper, a dry lecture, a set audience…into genre. The answers aren’t important, but a good flash–again with assistance from aspects off the page–should open us up to many possibilities. Already, this one does.
The second text seems obvious (and it is pleasurable to nod the head while reading), yet Shua takes it a bit further. Genre is a true realm of the cannibal (though much more rarely the explorer). Anyone in academia or publishing knows how to play the game. Something as mysterious as art, fate (a man wakes up next to…) can’t be understood, unless minimized, recognized, placed in a genre. A label. But again, the turn. The piece really became charged for me with the word painfully. Ah, the need to be published. The need to please someone (or many someones) in a very orderly way (forms anyone?), in academia, in the writing “world.” The abyss: forever unpublished. The turn exposes the “he” as a fraud, possibly another giver of “scholarly” papers, another cannibal transformed, shuffled back to please everyone in London…I also get a charge from another word in the sub-title, respect. Respect for Genres. Not only a great band name, but an idea that can make a person laugh, or shiver.
But there are ways out! Ways to retain the imaginative in our art and lives. Clever disguises.
The final text really seems to speak to the previous segments. It also speaks to method of defending and retaining an identity. Game the system. To subvert. In fact, to enjoy the process. The last text seems to speak for the artist. For methods of authenticity. For self.
Lastly, as a craft note, I encourage the use of the segmented form when struggling with a text. Sometimes I’ll write a flash fiction and spend hours moving it about, editing, shaping, and then I’ll just start chopping. Letting white space arrange and contain and actually allow the piece to settle into juxtaposition. This usually lets the writer remove a lot (a good thing) and add a little something more apt to the larger whole. The segmented form is one more technique to get us where we need to go as flash writer: fewer words, more meaning.