“Such are the perfections of fiction...Everything it teaches is useless insofar as structuring your life: you can’t prop up anything with fiction. It, in fact, teaches you just that. That in order to attempt to employ its specific wisdom is a sign of madness...There is more profit in an hour’s talk with Billy Graham than in a reading of Joyce. Graham might conceivably make you sick, so that you might move, go somewhere to get well. But Joyce just sends you out into the street, where the world goes on, solid as a bus. If you met Joyce and said 'Help me,' he’d hand you a copy of Finnegans Wake. You could both cry.” – Gilbert Sorrentino, Imaginative Qualities of Actual Things

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Literary Links: How Creative Writing Programs Are Ruining Everything...

This week, my number one link will come--in a gesture completely lacking in any humility whatsoever--from me. Recently I published an essay on Creative Writing programs and 'political' fiction entitled 'Engaging Fiction: Literature, Life and How Creative Writing Programs are Ruining Everything, Apparently', which is in the most recent issue of Kill Your Darlings. Although I wrote it back in August, it's part of an ongoing discussion with the good folks at Overland about the role of fiction in relation to the social (or, more specifically, if literature should have any such role at all). OK, enough about me; here are this week's other links:

  • Daniel Wood reviews Tom McCarthy's C for Kill Your Darlings. He ended up liking the book much more than I did, but it's a thoughtful and interesting review, and comes from a position I'm very sympathetic to: 'Maybe it’s true that fiction is now on death’s door. If there’s life left in it yet, however, it lies in fiction that upsets popular notions of what fiction should be and instead illustrates what else it is capable of...'

  • Yet another negative review of Franzen's Freedom has appeared. It's interesting that the reviews seem to run so hot and cold on this book (probably due to the fact that Franzen is such a jackass. . . er . . . a divisive figure). My ultimate suspicion is that, with the passage of time and the waning of his particular celebrity, Franzen will be remembered as he should be: a very good--but not great--novelist (see also Norman Mailer and John Updike).

    • The Guardian has run an article pointing out that characters in novels don't have to be nice to be interesting. That this is newsworthy in and of itself says something very sad about the contemporary novel. In particular, I liked this line: ' Literature, after all, is not some cosy textual coffee morning populated solely with friends we haven't met yet.' But despite a few good one-liners and a solid basic point, this article predictably ends with the banal: 'Great art is challenging and sometimes uncomfortable: we might not like Patty in Franzen's Freedom or Gilbert Osmond in The Portrait of a Lady and we certainly don't like Nabokov's Humbert Humbert, despite his seductive, "fancy prose style", but these are characters through whom we may learn something of the human soul.' Oh, God. Do people still really believe that literature works like this? Apparently so...

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