Ketut Subiyanto

This Is What It Means To Be A Writer During The ‘End Times’

Here we stand at the end of an era. The “End Times” is what we’ve come to call it. Before Covid. Before scarcity. Before the “Great Resignation.” We sometimes call it the end of the future. Modern Western civilization stands on the edge between social decay and social reckoning. An economist would interpret this better. Or perhaps a sociologist. Or historian. As luck would have it, my degree is in history, but my focus is in fiction. I am nothing but a lowly writer trying to make it in a world that is aware of the fact that bleak optimism won’t save us.

It is my job to help us look forward to a world that moves ever-faster and beyond the lofty hopes that we fantasized about in the 1950s. A time when “American Exceptionalism” ran amok and the media created a myth that the United States was a shining light on a hill. Some even called this country the last best hope of the world. Such enduring tropes made their way into films, songs, and books. It lasted even until this last decade with writers like Jonathan Franzen and Joan Didion—people who should’ve put their ink-filled pens away decades ago before web 2.0 began. As we slowly enter the metaverse, their words will leave little legacy. Their books failed to develop a true canon or consensus of what their time on this planet meant.

So, what is ours? The writers above called their literary movement “The New Sincerity” and the art world has accepted it. So what is ours? We began as a loose literary movement that online was known as “alt-lit,” but as time went on, it became apparent that the “boy princes” that carried the lit world to new horizons were exposed as sexual predators who many times assaulted women and acted as gatekeepers against their work. Of course, many of these people were kicked out of the literary community, but several remained. They remained silent for years, but then a new name popped up: “Cyber writers.” A name both grotesque and simplistic. One could only imagine how someone could be an expert in something like semantics and come with something that sounds so dismissive.

It is also no shock that the vast majority of these writers who fall behind this style create prose and poetry that is indicative of childish weirdness. Other times they enjoy taking the “shock and “awe” aesthetic for the sake of humor. It should come as no surprise that these writers are the strays from the “alt-lit” world who never were discovered or just weren’t large enough to be canceled. Yet now they grow and their literature spreads in a way that causes the masses on Twitter to think that our generation’s writing is abusive and revere presses that condescend people for the sake of being edgy. These people and presses know who they are and disappeared for years until people forgot what they did. They returned and managed to scrub the internet of their wrongdoings—an action I’m sure we wish we all could take.

Genre number option number three? Autofiction. Who can’t see that they didn’t love when Joyce Carol Oates dared to hop on Twitter and say, “strange to have come of age reading great novels of ambition, substance, & imagination (Dostoyevsky, Woolf, Joyce, Faulkner) & now find yourself praised & acclaimed for wan little husks of “autofiction” with space between paragraphs to make the book seem longer…” Wan little husks, indeed. To this day the entire social media world is trying to decipher what that old world writer meant when trying to talk down to those of us who have embraced the new way of writing. The way where people don’t go to the top publishing houses or get advances or agents. Let us not forget, we are in the “End Times,” we hardly can afford the effort one needs to acquire all of that. But what is the genre she was trying to talk down about? She was attempting to say that Millennials and Gen Z only know how to write truth mixed with fiction. Something that draws from real life. As if hers doesn’t or any of the other “classic” writers’ we have come to revere. But there is at least one saving grace to this genre. Although it was coined in the ‘70s, it has been able to traverse time and for the most part, keep predators from being the gatekeepers. Yet it still doesn’t truly define our current writing.

I suggest “metafiction.” It’s a term that is already lightly used but for some reason has been avoided for the main part. Metafiction happens in novels when the story references the idea of writing itself. Consider the usage of pop culture, current authors, and the issues of the lit world today all being within a single novel. Sounds familiar, right? An example: writing that deciphers other stories or commenting on character types that are within the very novel itself. One might find a writer exploring how plots are formed and writing a story about themselves within a novel about that very writer. If the movie Scream were a novel, it would be metafictional. Why does this idea matter so much when it comes to the metaverse? The idea of being “meta” is being cleverly self-referential. It reviews the reviewer who reviews the body of work. This is what Twitter and TikTok are made of. Their platforms are about being “metafictional.” A few short characters where someone comments about a comment in a Tweet. A quick video where someone reacts to a reaction within a reaction with clever music meant to also react to a statement for the sake of creating clever content.

This is where we are as creators. This is where we are as writers. If people think these forms are only left to small social media platforms then they haven’t learned anything from the past and should embrace the end of the future. As a generation, what was first unknown then is now known in record quantities. We wish for fulfillment. We once again have lofty hopes that our actions and words can help the world in tiny ways. But to do that, we need to push aside old styles of creation. Old-world writing is no longer relevant. There isn’t room for sexual abuse or gatekeepers. A genre that was made for chauvinists who have a thing for simplistic writing with an apocalyptic name has no space here. Metafiction is the only way forward. It is deeply human and examines us in a way that only our messed-up thinking could. We are not childish. We know our worth. We won’t be held back. The internet stands behind us with infinite power and reach. Our intellect and understanding of ourselves know no bounds. Welcome to a literary genre that is decentralized and open to all. Prepare for the odd content but thanks to algorithms it will be the kind of odd that you love. Hell, you may even write about it.