Against flash

I read the word “flash”, in the context of “flash fiction”, in one of two ways: that the work was written quickly, dashed-off; or that it is meant to be, or is at least capable of being, read quickly. In the first sense, it conjures the notion of a writing exercise, something perhaps meant to limber up the author for the real work ahead, the quick bout of calisthenics before the grueling race, and so an artifact of the sidelines. While I’m certain the formal constraint is alluring to some subset of writers, I would argue that the vast majority of well-known works that fall into this category are, to their authors, exactly as long as they need to be. The form of the short prosaic text is then, in this way, very different than the haiku. The second, while true in one sense, does a disservice to the work and to the author, putting the emphasis on the minimal time investment required. To be immersed is not a function of the length and breadth of a body of water, but the depth, which, in all but the shallowest cases, cannot be discerned from the most readily apparent dimensions. It is also hard to spot an analog across artistic media, even limiting the search to other forms of writing. If Howl is a poem proper, then surely Rilke’s Der Panther is a flash poem. The term then reads like permission, to read quickly, assuming the writer has written quickly, as one takes in a caricaturist’s sketch. Categories of text like this—see also the proem, the novelita, sudden fiction, the longread—are much the same as the new neighborhoods that are always appearing in established cities, which is to say, the product of marketing, and should likewise be avoided for the sake of their constituents.

— Joshua Rothes