April 20, 2009

Without Audience


Here's something that caught my eye from The Book of Laughter and Forgetting by Milan Kundera:

Graphomania (a mania for writing books) inevitably takes on epidemic proportions when a society develops to the point of creating three basic conditions:
(1) an elevated level of general well-being, which allows people to devote themselves to useless activities;
(2) a high degree of social atomization and, as a consequence, a general isolation of individuals;
(3) the absence of dramatic social changes in the nation's internal life. [...]
But by a backlash, the effect affects the cause. General isolation breeds graphomania, and generalize graphomania in turn intensifies and worsens isolation. The invention of printing formerly enabled people to understand one another. In the era of universal graphomania, the writing of books has an opposite meaning: everyone surrounded by his own words as by a wall of mirrors, which allows no voice to filter through from the outside.

And today, in the New York Times, I found this article called The Ponzi Workshop reviewing two books related to the fiction workshop idea (one tracking its rise, one being a collection of essays on the craft of writing from Tin House). The article takes a swipe at MFAs*, if not obvious from the title of the article, but also makes this assertion in the final paragraph:

What this means is that we are conceivably approaching a state in which there are more writers in America than there are readers and, even more alarming perhaps, in which writing detaches itself from the marketplace and becomes, as it was back in the 17th century, a profession practiced only by teachers and by those who can afford to do it for nothing.

So, have we in America reached those three criteria of Kundera's book, which in turn led to this rise in creative writing programs to where we are quickly approaching complete literary saturation?

viva el mustache

*The article makes a point about that teachers of creative writing think that creative writing can't be taught. Well, yeah, obviously. Creative writing is like singing. If you have a natural inclination to it, then yes, schooling helps improve those skills. But, people who can't sing won't belt out perfect arias after going to a few classes. Creative writing isn't like history or math where it just takes some interest in the area and a good memory...and even then, not everyone can be taught math and history or even become good at math and history. Everything in school like nursing, teacher-classes, culinary arts, everything is like that, though "not being able to teach it" is always brought up as an attack of creative writing programs. I just don't get that.

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