Ours is a mongrel species consigned to wandering hybrid worlds — worlds that are never enough for us and yet always too much. To craft a tool, to plant a garden, to build a city, to launch a spacecraft is to infuse raw matter with meaning and purpose. To craft a weapon, to burn down a forest, to build an empire, to launch a war… Power and subjection, wealth and abjection, fame and rejection: the imaginary becomes real, fiction becomes fact. We are, separately and together, thrown into a world already made, and so it seems inevitable to us, inescapable, the imaginary inseparable from the material. Is it possible to pull them apart, putting them back together again some other way?
Fictional narratives are works of the imagination embedded in real-world pipelines and platforms, in cash flows and organizational flowcharts, in economic systems and status hierarchies and cultural milieus established long ago. For many the fictional tradition is no longer sustainable, trapping writers in economic precarity and readers in literary predictability. Fiction is a canary in the capitalist coalmine, a forerunner of a seemingly inevitable future collapse of the gig economy where workers’ wages approach zero while return on investment approaches infinity and where, amid the incessant churn of the marketplace, novelty and popularity stand in for excellence. We deserve better than what we’re getting, however unlikely or implausible. Can’t something else be envisioned? Can’t something else actually happen?
There are worlds that occupy neither place nor time or, better, that occupy no place and time in particular. Any place, any time; actual, possible, impossible — such are the parameters. They are extensible, these worlds, appearing in countless times and places, overlapping and morphing into each other in such pluripotency it’s as if they don’t exist at all, collapsing into void and chaos under the weight of their own multiplicities. Perhaps after all these worlds are imaginary, but from whose imagination do they arise? Is it conceivable that such worlds are the source of their own imaginings, incorporating denizens and strangers, forces and structures, compulsions and outrages, into their deliria?
Some wander intermittently through the fictional worlds, the FictiCities, arriving through force of intent or in unwitting response to strange allures, unaware of having joined themselves, however tangentially, to the ambient throngs. Others take up more permanent residency as bon vivants and recluses, as characters and chroniclers. Not everyone who occupies the FictiCities is real in the ordinary sense; they are, each and all, extraordinarily real.
Those who chronicle the FictiCities lead double lives, simultaneously imagining and being imagined, observing and being observed, creating and being created. Triple lives actually, for they find themselves enmeshed also in the actually existing world. One by one they’re looped into institutions and organizations, marketplaces and networks, schools and publishers and platforms, all purporting to span the abyss separating fict from fact, imaginary from real. These bridges too are largely imaginary, their reality dependent on the complicity of their participants. And the bridges are so narrow, the tolls so high and the queues so long, offering passage to desperate and teeming realms stripped of sustenance.
Instead of scrambling and competing for purchase on a barren and shrinking land, can the chroniclers recognize their joint tenancy in the limitless realms of the FictCities? Can they author not only their narratives but also the conduits through which those narratives are transmitted? Can those who receive the chronicles realize that they too occupy these selfsame FictiCities, along with all the other real and imaginary characters they encounter there?
I’m a virtual flâneur. In my wanderings I read online short fictions. I select them by sortilege: an online random number generator selects a page of literary magazines from the Poets & Writers website; a second random number selects a specific magazine on that page; a third number selects the piece of fiction from the most current open-access issue of that magazine.
From some short fictions I excerpt a textual fragment that refers to some salient aspect of its fictional world. A single day’s excerpts are compiled into a single post, with original sources cited and linked, as if I’d witnessed each of these scenes or events in sequence while strolling through a fictional city. Together, all of these virtual strolls comprise a kind of grand tour of the fictional FictiCities — a complement of sorts to Calvino’s Invisible Cities, in which descriptions of various fictional cities all refer to the same actual city of Venice — or at least the actual 13th century city as remembered by a fictionalized Marco Polo.
With other short fictions I interact more intensively. Having a manuscript accepted for publication is an accomplishment, like getting top marks on an exam, an achievement to sweeten the transcript or the résumé. The judgment can become more important than the meaning; the judge, more powerful than the writer or the text. Redressing that imbalance is one motivator for me to start engaging publicly with new stories and their authors. Getting published needn’t be an end in itself; what’s important is the open invitation extended to readers to explore and question the text, extending the boundaries of the FictiCities.
Each fictional narrative takes place somewhere in particular, but from the standpoint of Ficticities’ City the particulars aren’t of central concern; it’s the relationship between the fictional and the actual that comes into focus. Can textual indicators of fictional versus actual be discerned? I don’t mean actual versus fictional places and times in which the stories unfold, nor am I concerned particularly with the author’s use of “realism effects” to make the fictional setting seem actual. I’m wondering about the extent to which the actuality of the story, the place and time in which it unfolds, drifts into realms of the imaginary, the speculative, the abstract, the unreal — the fictional. This sort of imaginary drifting out of the actual here-and-now, incorporating fiction into reality, is something all of us do in real life.
Every now and then I identify one sort of Counteractual — an element of fictional fiction, an instance in which the reality depicted in the fictional narrative is disrupted by an alternate reality. Phrases from this website’s randomly selected short fictions are selected to illustrate the Counteractual.
Surveys and Results
- Could writers and readers of fiction jointly run an open access e-book publishing house of distinction?
- Would they want to?
I have my own opinions, but I don’t know how far out of step I am with consensus, or even with the radical fringe. Surveying fiction writers — who of course are also readers of fiction — seemed like a good first step in finding out. Others might want to know too, so I intended to post the results of each survey on the website. Anyone who’s interested in the survey topics is invited to fill out a survey. However, as a proactive recruiting tactic I focused initially on writers whose short fictions have been published in online open-access publications, since they’re more likely to have informed opinions about the publication format. It’s not always easy to find email addresses of writers, and besides, unsolicited requests to participate in surveys might be met with skepticism and spam filtering. Instead I expected that authors excerpted or explored more intensively here would google themselves, leading them here, where they would be invited to complete a survey. Alas, that didn’t work: evidently very few authors of recently published short fictions google themselves, perhaps because they expect to come up empty. So the survey aspect of FictiCities is presently on pause.
My name is John Doyle. I grew up in Des Plaines IL, the “City of Destiny,” home of Ray Kroc’s first McDonald’s franchise and John Wayne Gacy’s last victim. I left there long ago; Durham NC is our latest stopover. You can download my long fictions for free at salonpostisme.com. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.