The Story Behind the Story: “Move Fast and Break Things”

This short fiction takes its title from a slogan originating in Silicon Valley’s start-up culture, a creative principle that embraces the necessity of inspired demolition as part of a poetic ethos. The imperative suggests the peremptory nature of artistic liberty, and like the story itself questions the broader value we put on terms like stability, balance, and peace in defining not only social norms and ideological belief but, more importantly, an ideal inward disposition, the posture of the soul any given culture privileges as blessed. In positing restlessness and recklessness as possible modalities of a fruitful, negative state of being, perhaps a more honest condition as it grounds (even as it displaces) the subject in what is unknown and unknowable—i.e. most everything—it suggests a way of co-existing with absence where we’d prefer presence, and what appears like nihilism is actually akin to the mystical, apophatic strain of religious inquiry. Over the past year-and-half I’ve been writing flash-type stories like this, and for awhile even called them “theological fictions” because in them I was attempting to treat interiority, the workings of the psyche, with the same graphic realism that I was willing to treat sexuality or anything else, exploring ways in which the fact of our bodies, as fields of force in relation to others, confounds and cooperates in the struggle to shape spiritual identity. This particular story is fairly representative of its kind, in that within its light drama it functions by a kind of irritable reaching after a perceptual clarification, however provisional, often by way of critique and/or transgression, even as it’s usually-well-intentioned protagonist lurches toward a redefinition of moral integrity and freedom. Although I’ve spent 20 years turning myself into a poet, these fictions have allowed me to get at this obsession—once a priest of the invisible always a priest of the invisible—in ways verse, with its implicit formalities and enforced silences, cannot quite. As noble a creature as humans are and aspire to be, we still have no consistently satisfying method of reconciling the heights of our ambition to what in us is always (and often beautifully) fumbling, doubtful, crude, perverse, maladjusted, as wrong as right, and hopelessly bound to conscience and the intelligence of our flesh. The play of art, notwithstanding if not because of its imperfectability, might be the best technique we have. I want no part of a practice that asks me to eradicate the parts of me most akin to the brutal dust out of which I’m made, and I suspect you are no different.

About John Estes

John Estes is author of three books—Kingdom Come (C&R Press, 2011), Stop Motion Still Life (Wordfarm, forthcoming) and Sure Extinction (forthcoming), which won the 2015 Antivenom Award from Elixir Press—and two chapbooks: Breakfast with Blake at the Laocoön (Finishing Line Press, 2007) and Swerve, which won a National Chapbook Fellowship from the Poetry Society of America. Recent work has appeared in Tin House, Gettysburg Review, Southern Review, Crazyhorse, AGNI and other places. He directs the Undergraduate Creative Writing Program at The University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa.

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