Monday, August 15, 2011

Topic: "Violence In Literature; when is enough, enough?" My guest today, Author, Tantra Bensko

My guest today is Tantra Bensko, please join in the discussion...your thoughts and comments are most welcome.

Extreme Conflict in Literature – or Lucid Fiction?

by Tantra Bensko

When people see violence in the screen, they have been measured, in studies, to show more riled-up hormones, and more preponderance of irrationally aggressive behavior afterward. Reading it would do the same thing, and so the question is --- why do people seek out something that makes their adrenalin pump in such an unhealthy way? It's damaging, and aging for their bodies, and for the folks, even animals, around them. Having the adrenals artificially stimulated regularly doesn't do anyone any good, when it's frightening stuff constantly bombarding a reader. Once in awhile, in a way that shows it in an artistically beautiful way that perhaps help delve deeply into psychology, the nature of society, and reality itself, seems useful. But violence has become such a default accessory for entertainment, the more mundane, ubiquitous forms of it seem to me to affect our health, and society negatively.

The more we artificially stimulate our adrenals, throw off our blood sugar, the more our glands crash and need more stimulation so we can function. Then, we are hooked. We need violence like a drug. We need to buy more, devote more time to it, get more violent with it, act out the violence in real life. It's just biology.

What does that do to our culture? We need to express the violence that has taken place in our subconscious, which feel the vividly drawn scenes are real. We grow numb to real violent acts, and don't run to help the victims, don't even recognize when we are victims ourselves. We become consumers, even more, needing more coffee, tobacco, sugar, cocaine. We don't produce as much, being weakened, and need to go to the doctor more. We become tired, and need something to stay up at night, but then can't get to sleep. Our dreams become more violent, but we don't remember them as well. Something uneasy happened, is all we know.

I believe most likely many people eschew violence, but really, the traditional plot arc that nearly everyone agrees is a requirement for fiction, is made out of violence. It MUST be created out of conflict. Drama drives the plot, and without dualism, people at odds, something at stake, people assume there is no reason to read it. It's not even considered a story at all. It doesn't exist, if it's peaceful. No one cares, if it isn't something at stake, something to be tense about, at least for the characters, themselves. Because tension is entertainment. Dull and boring, otherwise.

But why does “something happening” have to mean conflict? There are sooooo many other things that create interest in anecdotes people tell us, events that occur to us, imaginations we delight in. Yet, these don't get written about as the core of a novel, screenplay, short story, play. These things can be fascinating, and the way they are told can become a core part of the narrative. The changes in the reader as he navigates the new method of story telling, and is transformed by it.

This topic leads directly into the genre I call Lucid Fiction. While there are many factors to it, one major one is questioning the role of conflict in literature. I promote this genre not just for fun, but because I feel it has the potential to make a little change to our society. Of course, obscure literary movements rarely have a big impact, but person by person, it does allow us to be mindful, rather than just reading, and thinking routinely. If we can continue spreading the idea, publishers and editors can open up more to different kinds of plots, and readers can realize they actually enjoy stories that entertain them in other ways other than by conflict.

Though I don't myself watch TV, in the house I lived in recently, my housemate watched movies on a big screen TV, loudly, every night, on the other side of the wall. I suppose the sounds I heard are normal, found in most houses. As I'm not used to it, and don't want to be, it was bizarre to hear screams constantly. I had to relax hard to keep it from upsetting me, and I'm sure it did, on some level of my psyche. It seemed not one movie went the full length without several screams, and often, an hour or so consisting of the darn things.

That apparently is normal to people, maybe men, especially, with adventure, action films, and literature. It raises the testosterone, yes, which can be a good thing sometimes, for men and women both. Maybe the lowered testosterone levels from our unhealthy practices on this planet mean we want more violence. But if we can raise the levels in other ways, can we move on to more varied entertainment, then, please?

I've been writing about Lucid Fiction for a long time, and recently guest edited the Lucid Fiction in Medulla Review. I was amazed at how many writers resonated with that genre, and were so glad to move away from the plot arc, exploring other things, sometimes spiritual, expansive, going into the parasympathetic dominance, to balance out the over-dominance in our culture of the sympathetic, flight or flight ready nervous system.

I don't avoid conflict like the plague in my fiction. I just don't go there by default, without thinking about it. In my entire life, almost no one has ever gotten killed off in my writing. I open up to other possibilities, naturally. I like a lot of literature that does have conflict. I'm not a prude, per se. I just so enjoy reading literature that explores beyond that, that leaves me expansive, fulfilled, rather than stunned by violence created just to entertain me.

Tantra Bensko, MFA, writes articles, and teaches fiction writing. She is the author of books, including Lucid Membrane, put out by Night Publishing. In addition, she has over 170 creative publications in magazines, and runs her own, Exclusive Magazine. She also maintains the resource site, Experimental Writing, the FlameFlower experimental short story contest, and LucidPlay Press. She is also an artist. She lives in Berkeley, CA, near her wonderful son.


  1. While I appreciate the arguments posed here, I am not 100% on board. However, it was well thought out and well written, with a valid viewpoint and concerns. Well done, Ms. Bensko.

  2. Love the idea, Tantra, think you're ahead of your time. This culture - including me- is so drilled into falling for the conflict arc in storytelling (life?) that we almost breathe it. Do believe we can - and perhaps should- move away from it. Very much enjoyed this contribution as it is courageous, fresh, stimulating.

  3. Thanks, folks! There are a lot who do move away from it, and have for a long time. They do fascinating things that get a lot of readers, critics, and publishers very excited. It's just natural to some of us, and for example, the writers who submitted to the Lucid Fiction issue of Medulla Review were so glad to see this niche labeled. Really though, Modernism, not to mention Post-Modernism, has expected a detour from the plot arc all all along.

    I don't think all books should steer clear of it. I think it's great a lot of books have it. But I think it should be questioned, picked as a choice, rather than a default. Just like questioning the 2 party system in the U.S..


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