Friday, May 04, 2012

Morning reading--

A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage
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By mid-morning, I had helped one teenage boy with homework, done a phone interview on the new novel, attacked the laundry, and rambled about the internet for a few minutes. As I must go down into the household mine and chip some rock, I leave you with a few quotes from my internet walkabout.

Catie Disabato at Full Stop, on genre and "literary" fictionCaroline Leavitt is even quoted as saying “I’ve decided genre is strictly a marketing tool.”  She’s wrong, but she means well. Leavitt seems to actually mean that genre fiction isn’t that far off from literary fiction and the border between them is hazy if not artificial and at least partially created in a marketing meeting – if I’m right about Leavitt’s intention, then I agree with her point wholeheartedly. Genre isn’t just a marketing tool – it’s a literary tradition that has thrived longer than the modern construct of “literary” fiction – and when genre is treated as a marketing tool, that tradition is wrongly disregarded. 

D. G. Myers on the novel at Commentary: The tradition of the novel includes mysteries, fantasies, science fiction, romances, horror, even Westerns. The question is not to what subgenre a book belongs. The question is whether it is any good. And if it is good only according to the conventions of a subgenre, and not in the larger tradition of the novel, then it is not any good at all.
Literary fiction — or what the British novelist Linda Grant has taken to calling LitFic — ought to be a haughty way of saying “good fiction.” But that’s not how the term is used. What, then, is it? Easy. Literary fiction (like 98.5% of poetry these days) is written by and for the entrenched bureaucracy of the creative writing faculty in the universities. There is good fiction, there is bad fiction, and there is fiction written in creative writing workshops.

Marjorie Perloff at Boston Review, making me suspicious that my world is a changeling world:  If “creative writing” has become as formulaic as I have been suggesting, then perhaps it is time to turn to what Kenneth Goldsmith calls “uncreative writing.” Tongue-in-cheek as that term is, increasingly poets of the digital age have chosen to avoid those slender wrists and wisps of hair, the light that is always “blinding” and the hands that are “fidgety” and “damp,” those “fingers interlocked under my cheekbones” or “my huge breasts oozing mucus,” by turning to a practice adopted in the visual arts and in music as long ago as the 1960s—appropriation. Composition as transcription, citation, “writing-through,” recycling, reframing, grafting, mistranslating, and mashing—such forms of what is now called Conceptualism, on the model of Conceptual art, are now raising hard questions about what role, if any, poetry can play in the new world of instantaneous and excessive information.
The main charge against Conceptual writing is that the reliance on other people’s words negates the essence of lyric poetry. Appropriation, its detractors insist, produces at best a bloodless poetry that, however interesting at the intellectual level, allows for no unique emotional input. If the words used are not my own, how can I convey the true voice of feeling unique to lyric?


  1. Re "conceptualism": there are so many kinds of appropriation. I deeply dislike pastiche and collage, always have, but I love conversation; e.g. the way Houseman appropriates Stevenson's Requiem:

    Home is the hunter from the hill:
    Fast in the boundless snare
    All flesh lies taken at his will
    And every fowl of air.

    He's shameless in taking Stevenson's words, but he's using them with respect, to say something a little more complicated -- taking the conversation a little further. I love this sort of appropriation, and try to practice it, sometimes.

  2. I'm in sympathy with that! I don't think I've quoted in "conversation" in that way, but I've often written a phrase or so "in the vein" of another writer as part of an internal conversation.

  3. Keeping busy with your many roles in life as usual, Marly!

    I had to chuckle re "There is good fiction, there is bad fiction, and there is fiction written in creative writing workshops." Sounds like some of the snooty art criticism I usually ignore :-)

  4. Yes, today is a dervish day!

  5. Still, even if this comment smacks of elitism, there is something to it. Yet would I eliminate creative writing programs, as some people lately modishly recommend? No. People have to work and eat.
    And I personally gained quite a bit in the way of apprenticeship from my first M.A. at least. And teaching experience from my second!

  6. Dear Marjorie Perloff, I still don't grasp how techniques that begin with Duchamp can be anything but rear guard. The avant garde wishes to have its notoriety cake and collage the ancient icing too.

    Also, some of us aspire to the condition of song in poetry.


Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.