Monday, October 11, 2010

God Damn The MFA Programme

though this remark is particularly felicitous, the piece is an excellent exercise of mfa bashing:

To my mind, the real cause of shame here is the profession of writing, and it affects McGurl just as much as it does Carver and Oates. Literary writing is inherently elitist and impractical. It doesn’t directly cure disease, combat injustice, or make enough money, usually, to support philanthropic aims. Because writing is suspected to be narcissistic and wasteful, it must be ‘disciplined’ by the programme – as McGurl documents with a 1941 promotional photo of Paul Engle, then director of the Iowa workshop, seated at a desk with a typewriter and a large whip. (Engle’s only novel, McGurl observes, features a bedridden Iowan patriarch ‘surrounded by his collection of “whips of every kind”, including “racing whips”, “stiff buggy whips”, “cattle whips”, “riding crops” and one “endless bullwhip”’.) The workshop’s most famous mantras – ‘Murder your darlings,’ ‘Omit needless words,’ ‘Show, don’t tell’ – also betray a view of writing as self-indulgence, an excess to be painfully curbed in AA-type group sessions. Shame also explains the fetish of ‘craft’: an ostensibly legitimising technique, designed to recast writing as a workmanlike, perhaps even working-class skill, as opposed to something every no-good dilettante already knows how to do. Shame explains the cult of persecutedness, a strategy designed to legitimise literary production as social advocacy, and make White People feel better (Stuff White People Like #21: ‘Writers’ Workshops’).

Friday, August 20, 2010

This Guy Gets It.

"feelin it":

HIGHLIGHT (what's this?)
New York
August 18th, 2010
11:13 am
The problem is with the American Dream itself. It's dying. The idea of a great job that paves the way for a happy life is over. Corporations have become gigantic engines of homogenization that destroy creativity. The corporate culture of America is designed to treat workers as cogs in a machine, where they do one or a small series of repetitive motions over and over. That stifles innovation - the fundamental engine of growth for this country.

Most everyone is in a job that requires 9 hours a day which comes to a grand total of half of your adult life (if you sleep for 8 hours a night). And to spend that in a job doing a repetitive motion really belittles ones mind. These kids think, and dream and hope and aren't bound by the ideology of the baby boomer generation "if you can just get a job everything will be fine".

To these kids, a job is just a form of modern day slavery. At best, indentured servitude. You'll earn just enough to pay your debts and if you save every penny, cut corners, clip coupons, don't have children and pack a lunch for 30 years - you might just break even. But in the mean time we'll ask you to contribute a portion of your earnings to something you'll never get a payout from (Social security). We will set your tax rates to a level that just about lets you get by while racking up debt to maintain tax subsidized industries (Oil) and ask you to fight wars on their behalf. We'll have two sets of laws - one for you (middle class) and one for the super rich. But hey, you'll have a job. A job! A good ole job!

That's the current American dream. The kids are smarter than their parents in that they are rejecting the bogus ideology of the opportunity for a fair shot at success. That's not what it is anymore. It's about the have's versus the have nots. And more and more, the have nots are just choosing not to participate in a system where the deck is stacked against them.

Friday, August 13, 2010

I Promise you that this book will suck

Never heard of "Jonathan Frazen," and I never read Infinite Jest for the same reason I never read anything written by an American: because they SUCK.  Americans cannot write, and they cannot read.  I would compare the country to modern day Abdera (which was noted for the stupidity of its inhabitants.)

'i write quirky and yet profound books for people who dont really read literature and think that reading the new yorker and enrolling in an mfa program at brown/columbia means u r art forward.'

I promise that the book itself will be as tepid and desperate as the beyond jejune article.  I really hate it when journalists, who are more than likely aspiring to be novelists, try to make some "quirky" observation or comparison, and I knew it was lurking around in the article after reading the opening:

A raft of sea otters are at play in a narrow estuary at Moss Landing, near Santa Cruz, Calif. There are 41 of them, says a guy in a baseball cap. He counted. They dive and surface and float around on their backs with their little paws poking up out of the water, munching sea urchins or thinking about munching sea urchins.
The humans admiring them from the shore don't make them self-conscious. Otters are congenitally happy beasts. They don't worry about their future, even though they're legally a threatened species and their little estuary is literally in the shadow of the massive 500-ft. stacks of a power plant.
One of the humans admiring them is Jonathan Franzen.

Fucking sea otters?  You have a world historical genius looking at fucking sea otters?  And therein lies the absurdity of the "modern" "american" "genius."  This poor journalist really wants Frazen to be unique, to have a radically unique take on "the way-we-live-now."  But the sad fact is that he isn't a genius (those occur mostly in Europe and are later translated into English so American Professors have something to talk about to their panting undergraduates [who will forget everything once they are harvested by corporate america for mundane tasks] for the next 40 years while Europeans are already wrestling with the real pressing issues of the epoch), and the "way-we-live-now" is not worth writing a book on, and even more, smacks of a churlish commitment to presentomania.

(can we even call this an article? just call it a hype piece to sell when the actual article comes out.  Tweet this, don't even bother to write more than 160 characters.)  There was more boring writing about a boring person who writes boring books, and then...
It's his instrument, in the musical and also the scientific sense: a delicate, finely calibrated recording device. 
And there it is.  I feel sick after reading such a horrible line, but luckily I had some La Rochefoucauld sitting close at hand, and after enjoying a few of his golden maxims was able to recover.  Frazen's new "literary" sensation will no doubt be filled with quirky "observations" of this kind.  But as with all artists, there is still the possibility that he or she might commit suicide before the "great work" is completed.

Disclaimer: Americans might be able to write Science Fiction and Fantasy, but even those genres seem to be the domain of the british.

Thursday, August 5, 2010


Over at the guaridan, there is a sprightly conversation regarding the defense of chic-lit.  Your hero impetuously dashed in to the fray, serving up a bodacious commentary:

Science fiction and "literary fiction" (actually Literature itself) has always been accused of not being actively engaged in confronting the current cultural problems, so this sort of objection isnt unique to chic(k)-lit.

Though I think you are rightly locating the ever present problem of art having to be "relevant" to culture, I think the deeper claim is that chic(k)-lit, and the "problems" it addresses are themselves de minimis--inherently nugatory. Moreover, the lightness that chic(k)-lit engages in is not the of the postmodern jouissance that Derrida enacted, but that of the vulgar bourgeois kind.

There is a large amount of ("dirty") humor in Shakespeare and Johnson was critical of his fondness for "quarrels" (ie, puns); but there is also a great amount of sincere human learning. If anything, I think perhaps one of the more substantial criticisms of chic(k)-lit is that it is one sided. Horace, after all, did goldenly write that poetry's purpose is to teach and delight (utile et dulce).

Chic(k)-lit writers basically made the choice to "sell out" which is just a pragmatic choice of living. Artistically, it is wrong, but from a careerist stand point, it is quite acceptable. You get to go to parties, hang out with boring bankers and lawyers (probably even marry one), tell bourgeois people that you are an "author," etc., but you don't get to be considered among the great writers of Literature. Take the money, but you should refrain from defending fad writing as literature.

In light of "bookgirl09"'s comment, I am inspired (perhaps dreadfully so) to take a certain set of Nietzsche's comments much more seriously.

I want to seriously say this, though I doubt it will be understood at all: can women be great artists? All the great philosophers have been male. All the great poets have been male. Almost all of the great philosophers have been poor, oppressed, sick, and weak. Almost all the great poets have been poor, oppressed, sick, and weak. Hardly any of them received PhDs or went to universities to become educated and THEN write great books: they all educated themselves, whenever and however they could.

Where are the women voices? *Do* women have a voice (yet)? Women have been equally shunted, and yet no secret MSS have been found, and no great woman writers have been published. Madam de Stael and Jane Austin, I do not believe, are accurate representations of what a real woman philosopher or literary woman could produce.

I for one, think it is time for a woman poet and woman philosopher on the scale of Plato and Shakespeare, and I think that until such a woman appears, there will be no more philosophical or literary advances. (I am aware, of course, of the “phallusy” of trying to envision a female artistic genius on the grounds of the received male notions.)

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

At Once: A Wanderer’s Ruminations on the New Space for Storied Travelers (Or, An Essai)

In response to the ever provocative Dan Green, who was himself responding to the "critic" Lee Siegel, I was given an opportunity to do one of my favorite things: scoff at the novel.

Now, I would like to proffer a brief articulation of a "genre" that I think is thriving, and that will constitute the bedrock of postmodern "fiction."

“A new species of philosopher is coming up: I venture to baptize them with a name that is not free of danger. As I unriddle them, insofar as they allow themselves to be unriddled—for it belongs to their nature to want to remain riddles at some point—these philosophers of the future may have a right—it might also be a wrong—to be called attempters.”
Nietzsche, Beyond Good & Evil

“A new writing must weave and interlace these two motifs of deconstruction. Which amounts to saying that one must speak several languages and produce several texts at once.”
Derrida, Margins of Philosophy

I should apologize to any reader of this essay, for it may sound in the dismellifluous tones of poorly written love poetry; a bit of verse from one who for some time has not been in love, and then on a sunny spring morning, stumbled into the love of his dreams in a bookstore. Until recently I had read little fantasy and less science fiction (though the reader may forgive this, perhaps the author can never forgive himself), spending the plurality of my intellectual journeys in the realms of philosophy and literature—two disciplines which to the minds of many have reached their ends.

Or so it was thought.

To my mind, science fiction and fantasy represent the ideal space in which to pose, examine, and grapple with the dominant philosophical, literary, and cultural issues of our epoch (and a fortiori of those to come), and the ideal place to mix the rich, heterogeneous literary and philosophical materials bequeathed to us postmoderns from our opulent history, something other inherited literary forms are too ossified and hidebound to tolerate within their rigorously delimited boundaries and perhaps tacit, but no less rigid set of tastes. I might add, parenthetically, that while at first glance describing any genre as “hidebound,” “ossified,” and “rigid” might seem abusive, I use such terms to accent an historical inevitability: that in time, all things become sedimented—that rigidity and sedimentation are inevitable historical effects. Finally, throughout the essay I perhaps sacrifice some precision, since I do not distinguish between science fiction and fantasy, but use the term singularly. Below I hope to elaborate, in the space provided, on what I see as the virtues of science fiction and fantasy; ultimately, the five virtues of science fiction and fantasy are what make it so dear to me as a “philosopher” after (temporally and stylistically) Plato and Nietzsche: as a dreamer, as one who has awoken in a dream and yet must go on dreaming.

I would like to dwell, if only momentarily, on the formal aspects of the heading “science fiction,” and to explain why I am enamored of the name itself (indeed, it constitutes the first reason why science fiction and fantasy is important to me) and why it is so palpably postmodern. The term “science fiction” would appear as an untenable notion in any age but our own, since such a pronounced contradiction would be labeled shameful and logically silly, rather than exciting and liberating. (No doubt, the name has clearly been in existence for some time, but it is only in our current age that we are best positioned to fully appreciate it.) But it is precisely this ludic contradiction that makes the genre exciting, makes it a literary advance. The way it presents its name is inextricably linked with the way it uniquely opens up its space within which its ideas can be considered. One hears echoes of the ancient quarrel between philosophy (science) and poetry (fiction), which used to be mutually exclusive, but now the two are allowed to thoughtfully and bountifully dwell in each others presence. What does this dwelling of opposites mean, artistically? that science fiction and fantasy is a new space for intellectuals to dwell in; one particularly hospitable to “homeless” thinkers with heterogeneous histories—all of us who live in postmodernity. Departing from these formal ruminations, I would next like to consider the genre’s second virtue: its implications for style.

Science fiction and fantasy constitute a hair-raising stylistic step forward, one perhaps as difficult as first treading Zelazny’s Pattern. Whereas fiction, poetry, and philosophy can only consider, for example, gender, race, and sexuality in a stylistically mundane manner (in a fashion that is literally human, all-too-human), science fiction and fantasy neatly ornament these postmodern topoi. One encounters uncanny combinations of the real and the fantastic: lesbian elven priestesses, racist, atheist gully dwarves, drug abusing wizards, and self-loathing computers. Additionally, while genres like philosophy, poetry, and the novel all have diverse voices, each voice nevertheless has identifiable traits that are singularly philosophic, poetic, or fictive. The space of science fiction and fantasy however, is pliant enough to comfortably accommodate heterogeneous voices. Science fiction and fantasy can blend all of these voices (philosophic, poetic, scholastic, etc.) simultaneously in one space, and in fact invites the use of a plurality of voices, which makes it the postmodern genre par excellence, and a wonderful, free, and new space to be writing (and reading) in. We postmoderns, existing late in history, have seen a great deal; but we have not seen (or heard) things sited in the context of science fiction and fantasy, and that is something to be excited about.

Related to science fiction and fantasy’s stylistic virtue is its potent allegorical virtue. Dante, in a halcyon passage of the Convivio defined the allegorical sense of literature as “a truth hidden beneath a beautiful fiction.” Science fiction and fantasy, creates a space for a new kind of “beautiful fiction” with fantastic elements equal in strength to the fables of the poets of antiquity, which while fabulous, nevertheless can be simultaneously understood as provocative critiques by the poets of the ages they inhabited. In a similar fashion, science fiction and fantasy is able to question the current epoch and maintain its fictive charm, avoiding simple argumentation, or excoriating polemic. Thus, though one need not read science fiction and fantasy with any social critique in mind, the genre nevertheless offers an exceptional place for mercurial penseurs to conduct a veiled critique of an immediate epoch. The genre is capacious enough to ponder the present through the fantastic but by no means is its sole focus “the present.”

Current fiction bends its discourse largely towards the representation of reality, and one is reminded of Plato’s rebuke of such art—that one might simply carry a mirror around and thus perfectly represent reality. Science fiction and fantasy however, seem to be philosophoteron, that is, more philosophical, in its focus on the fantastic—on wonder; Plato, in fact, says that “Philosophy begins in wonder.” I would think such a motto is written over the door of every science fiction and fantasy author. Science fiction and fantasy richly contemplate time travel, alternate histories, parallel universes, unique species and unique worlds, the role and impact of government, technology, philosophy, and art in the future—both near and far, far away. Science fiction and fantasy thus seem to be closer in spirit with philosophic thought experiments than with representations that seek solely to capture the essence of the present “reality.”

The final reason why science fiction and fantasy is so dear to me is perhaps one that scholars often take for granted: science fiction and fantasy tells good stories. The adventures of Drizzt Do’Urden, Ender’s Game, the Wheel of Time series, Snow Crash, The Diamond Age, The Black Company, the Revelation Space series, The Amber Chronicles, and more recently, the First Law Trilogy and Cyberabad Days, are all, au fond, good stories—much the same way that Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Voltaire’s Candide, Boccaccio’s Decameron, Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, Tasso’s Orlando Furioso, Lucian’s True Story, and Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene, and any one of Plato’s myths are. These are stories with indelible, robust characters and thick, vivid plots; stories that, in often lambent language, nimbly contemplate the human condition, and rather than serve merely as “an amulet against the ennui” (to borrow a phrase from Keats), these stories leave the reader rewardingly perplexed.

Finally, In an epoch where we are seemingly endlessly ensnared in “the now,” in a sort of presentomania, where celebrity infatuation, 24-hour cable news cycles, and “reality” TV dominate the media landscape, I find that it is science fiction and fantasy that serves as a space which is distant and philosophical enough to critically examine the “now,” the present which has become hyperpresent; said another way, it is science fiction and fantasy that places the “now” and the “real” in question, and is the space which is distant and philosophical enough to look beyond the “now,” to look to tomorrow and the day after tomorrow.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Science of Pop Culture Dictionary

for Flaubert

New York Times Best Seller:  Complete fucking garbage.  See also, "the novel."

New York Times Best Selling Author:  One who cannot write, read by people who cannot read.

American Reader: a contradiction in terms.

America: highly advanced technological society that exists without art, philosophy, and any general sense of meaning; failed experiment in government to 'flee old europe and its problems.'  All that it left behind was everything that made Europe great: namely, philosophy and art.  Managed to successfully slide down Maslow's pyramid into the cultural swamp.

Blogosphere: populated by would be New York Times Best Selling Authors and American "Readers."

George Bush:  Incompetent.  Widely mocked and widely loved.  What modern, progressive Americans like to call a tyrant, fascist, or Hitler, because they have never seen or felt the true misery and annihilatory powers that a true tyrant or Hitler possesses or can cause.

Barry Obama: A New York Times Best Selling Author.

Teleprompter:  Greatest asset (second only to Ignorance) to would be dictators (though it could never help George Bush).  What Napoleon, Caesar, Cataline, Cicero, Plato, Socrates, Shakespeare, Sulla, Pompey, Hannibal, Wellington, and Nietzsche never needed.

The Rap Game:  More important than the novel.

Attractive women:  the one thing Bill Clinton hasn't done.

Katy Perry:  The greatest singer alive.

Ke$ha:  The greatest singer alive.

Too Big To Fail:  Mentality of Hollywood Advertising Executives, that no matter how shitty the movie, if enough money is poured into the adverts, stupid american teenagers will go see it.  Was later co-opted by Wall Street's investment "The Government of the United States of America" in a demand for more money so that it could make even more absurd gambles and not have to pay for them if they go wrong.

Twitter:  The literary capital of the Internet; one only finds the best of literature here.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

oh nose teh monograff/finally a genre worth reading

Davidson has a keenly interesting article in which I highlight some passages of interest below in a cursory fashion:

"Dig out the syllabi for your next English courses and add one or (if you want to get really wild) two scholarly monographs. Ditch the course pack youve planned and go for actual, real, whole books produced by the scholar or scholars whose work you respect most. The clearest evidence of the existing structural misalignment in our field is the hyperbolic, ambivalent, and almost schizophrenic role into which we have cast the scholarly monograph. We require the writing of monographs for advancement in our field. We do not require that our students read them and we dont read them very much ourselves."

Scholarship is really the worst kind of writing (well ok that is not true, that would be journalism) but it is certainly very far away from the kind of writing I would imagine most English or Philosophy (under)graduate students hoped to write upon first viewing some lines from Homer, Shakespeare, Plato, or Nietzsche (to name a few.)

Further below, Davidson writes the most interesting paragraph of the piece:

"By not teaching the monograph as a genre, we are depriving ourselves of the opportunity to teach and therefore to study what this genre can do, what it cannot do, what it does well, and what might be done better in other forms."

Most interesting here is the idea of the monograph "as genre" which, ideally, would lead to a sort of parody of scholarly writing (of course, to my mind, this already occurred significantly in Derrida: copious, overflowing footnotes, endless sentences, tepid word play (at least he was trying) etc;).  Implying that scholarship is yet another genre seems to remove epistemic significance that scholarship critically (that is, philosophically) handles the other genres below it, such as Romanticism, Victorian Studies, Early Modernism etc; however in regrafting scholarship as a genre Davidson performs a double move whereby scholarship becomes literature just like Romanticism and Early Modernism, just like Ode to a Grecian Urn, or King Lear, or Pride and Prejudice.  --That makes scholarship worth reading.

The looming and significant question this article poses is, can scholars become literary, can they become artists, can they enjoy play along with seriousness?