Tuesday, September 14, 2010

I agree with a lot of what Elif Batuman has to say here in the LRB. And this as I prepare to go teach my fiction workshop...
The ideal of self-expression also explains the programme’s privileging of ‘fiction’: where ‘non-fiction’ is burdened by factual content, and ‘literature’ is burdened by a canon of classics, ‘fiction’ is taken to be a pure vessel for inner content. As if the self were a ready-made content, and as if the wish to become a writer – a complicated, strange wish, never fully explored in The Programme Era – were simply a desire to learn the skills with which to express it. McGurl cites a manual called The Story Workshop, by the founder of the Iowa programme, Wilbur Schramm, according to whom great stories ‘are written not because someone says, “Go to! I shall write a short story. Now – ho hum – let me see. What shall I write about?” They are written because someone has a story aching to be told.’ The anxieties generated by this misguided piece of pedagogy are illustrated in Flannery O’Connor’s ‘The Crop’, a story about the laughable efforts of an ‘amateur “penwoman”’ to find a subject for a story: ‘There were so many subjects to write stories about that Miss Willerton never could think of one. That was always the hardest part of writing a story she always said...
Here's a curious bit, have to think on it more, about shame
As long as it views writing as shameful, the programme will not generate good books, except by accident. Pretending that literary production is a non-elite activity is both pointless and disingenuous.
Interesting...

3 comments:

Chris said...

Why is Batuman so obsessed with "literary value"? As if the point of literary criticism (or the joy of reading, even!) is to accurately and defensibly put a price tag on literature.

Lemon Hound said...

Have you read her book?
Here's her blog.
http://www.elifbatuman.net/

Shannon M said...

woah-- what really interested me in the LRB review is Ms. Batmuan's riff several paragraphs down about the literature from "developing world". Not only were those comments made in a condescending tone of voice but flattened a vast and complex geopolitical terrain (not to mention linguistic one) while oddly forgetting that all of these places have their own long traditions out of which literature emerges even if they happened to be in another language and/or oral form...


nevertheless, being a poet in a programme (which sounds both sinister and geeky, like being broken-code caught between an AA meeting and Action Script 3.0 flash ad) I am interested by many of her points. i overall, i enjoy being around a/the/the/an/a program because of the chance to meet, read, argue and write with others. while at the same time hoping that my mind will neither be programmable nor entirely reconfigurable.

hey, one more thought before i turn out an essay on here: the 'subject' is a position whose gift is fiction. to write about objects might be tough but objects in themselves already exist. but to write about subjects demands fiction (not a particular form, but rather language as high artifice).