|The Hybrid Narrative|
This multimedia talk is appropriate for writers in colleges and literary groups who want to explore a more advanced technique in nonfiction writing.
Among the most intriguing developments in nonfiction writing is the growth of the hybrid narrative. A hybrid (the verb: to hybridize) juxtaposes, usually without transitions, two or more unlike elements: think hybrid automobile that runs on—and switches smoothly between—gas and battery power sources. Hybrid narratives are a bit of a misnomer: we create a narrative and then hybridize it with something that counters or is unlike that narrative. The result is often a piece that fascinates us because of how the writer moves between conflicting elements.
Hybrid writers mix fact and fiction; poetry and prose; memoir and history; biography and memoir. The hybrid goes by a number of names: nonlinear narrative, composite, pastiche, montage, collage, mosaic, and bricolage; it is a form that blurs one genre with another; and it describes any narrative whose structure is fragmented, braided, threaded, broken, or segmented.
At times, writers mix much than two elements. Annie Dillard’s For the Time Being (2000) is a hybrid or mosaic narrative that juxtaposes a host of different subjects:
What’s the point? Dillard is trying to ascertain the dimensions of the natural world against the limits of her personal experience. She is pushing readers to meditate on the disparate encounters of unchanging fact and passionate observation.
The segmented essay is a popular essay form sometimes called the lyric essay: Dinty Moore’s “Son of Mr. Green Jeans: An Essay on Fatherhood, Alphabetically Arranged.”
Memoir mixed with imaginative writing: Bring Down the Little Birds by Carmen Giménez Smith.
A bricolage of memoir, meditation, optics, and philosophy is Maggie Nelson’s Bluets.
A composite book of literary criticism and personal ideology is David Shields' Reality Hunger: A Manifesto.
A nonfiction article is my own “To Fuse Wind and Its Motion: A Meditation on the Seagull in Fourteen Parts.”
Compare new instances of the literary hybrid with a range of work: the sampling in rap music, the assemblages of Picasso and Braque, the documentary film which mixes factual reporting with recreated scenes, the move from inner to outer consciousness in Virginia Woolf's novels, the fragmentary and self-effacing texts of Roland Barthes, the multimedia texture of a Web page, the musical collages of Charles Ives and Michael Daugherty, the broken narrative structures of movies like Pulp Fiction and Magnolia, the evanescent neon aphorisms of Jenny Holzer, the media commentaries of Marshall McLuhan, the six different actor-embodied Bob Dylans of I'm Not There, and the anyone-can-do-it video mashups on YouTube—all these artistic and commercial creations, each blending and fragmenting their content, prevail now in our culture as expressive models of the hybrid form.