In SmokeLong‘s “Why Flash Fiction?” series, writers and editors explore what draws them to the form. In this column, Ravi Mangla writes about flash’s role in interstitial spaces and why the form is a middle finger to capitalism. Submit your own “Why Flash Fiction?” article or other flash-related essays on our Submittable page!
By Ravi Mangla
For the past month I have been a writer-in-residence at an art museum in Western Massachusetts. Each day, at lunchtime, I walk across a tracery of gilded cracks in the pavement. The installation (Sidewalk Kintsukuroi by Rachel Sussman) is part of The Space Between, an exhibition that shines a light on those peripheral spaces that most of us—as the distracted, harried, and (let’s be honest) flawed individuals that we are—tend to overlook.
Flash serves a similar purpose. It gives voice to stories in the margins, the ones deemed too slight or elusive for more conventional narrative modes. And the deeper I get into the practice of writing, the more I am drawn to this interstitial space: between sense and scene, snapshot and story, silence and sound. By illuminating the underseen, we reveal a world more fully realized, in which small gestures resemble events, and a single moment can carry the weight of years.
It was nearly a decade ago that I encountered my first piece of compressed fiction and I still find the elasticity of the form enlivening. Novels surprise me less and less (especially those turned out by major publishing houses), but flash regularly upends my expectations, leaves me dazzled by its distillations and odd constructs. “Its littleness is the agency of its power,” writes Steven Millhauser in an essay on the short story. Though one could just as easily affix this quote to flash.
The market urges writers to think bigger, act bolder, be more ambitious. But flash doesn’t care a whit about the market. It’s a middle finger to our whole system of capitalism, its demands and imperatives. There is no such thing as a commercial flash fiction writer. No Thomas Kinkade or Michael Bay. We don’t do this work for remuneration. (Partly because there is none.) We do it to be accomplices to beauty, to produce pieces that aren’t mediated by the latest taste or trend. I’m talking art in the margins. In the recesses. In the tiniest of cracks.
Ravi Mangla is the author of the novel Understudies (Outpost19). His very short stories have appeared in Mid-American Review, The Collagist, American Short Fiction, Gigantic, and Tin House Online. Follow him @ravi_mangla.