I’m a newcomer to the writers’ world as it exists on the internet, and I’ve only dipped my little finger in, and not very far. But this word keeps coming up, that much I’ve noticed: “hybrid.”
The first time I encountered what felt like an authentic example of this rising fascination with mixing modes, and genres, and medias was only a couple of years ago when I binge-read lots of Lydia Davis.
But you see, that just shows how much of a mole I am. Because I teach at MIT. And if there’s anywhere in the world that’s more geekily into hybrid than MIT, I don’t know of it. I do admire some of this geeky front-end of hybridness at MIT, and don’t generally mind travelling in it as a peripheral element up above my head. But I’m not part of it, I travel below, along the basement corridors of the Infinite Corridor, or so it sometimes feels.
Still, that said, in my own ungeeky way, I guess I’m also into hybrid. Speak Wood, as it turns out, is hybrid—at least as far as I understand the basic meaning: It has more than one kind of material, or genre, in it. There’s “found language”—the ancient myths and poetry, and Genesis; there are photos of found artifacts and art, maps I drew, and even a kind of architectural blue print of an old palace from 4,000 years ago (the sacred quarters of Shechem, where Dinah’s story culminates) which I created using the archaeological ruins as my template. So all that qualifies, I guess, to make it “hybrid.”
But most important of all there is poetry and fiction, the true hybrid core of the novel. The language morphs in and out of poetry—in something like the way the Bible does. What inspired it, probably the most? Being steeped in the cadences of ancient oral verse from that period when written language was just being invented alongside the stark story-telling of Genesis. The languages of oral tradition as they first were written down. The cadence, even in the prose, that’s often so close to song.
But one thing that’s interesting about this particular example of “hybrid” is that I wasn’t particularly motivated to write it that way. It’s what happened while I was writing. Hybridness evolved from what I was looking at, what fed the project, what I did to make it clear for myself. To put it more formally, hybrid (as a form) arose organically. I didn’t even think to use the word “hybrid” to describe the novel until very recently.
So, what’s wrong with the current fascination with “hybrid”? Not really anything. Genres are fluid; we should all have permission to go ahead and cross their boundaries. But I’d add only as long as the impulse stems from a core conviction, a thought, a motivating impulse, an authentically creative core; as long as it truly originates from what we’re trying to do or say; as long as our intent is to enrich and clarify. As long as it’s not just faddish.
Because when things become fads, when people set out prematurely to write something “hybrid,” before they know what they have to say or what they’ll find to help them say it, form gets disconnected from meaning, overrides content; meaning loses precedence; motivation gets disconnected from true intent. In short, stuff gets gimmicky.