Wednesday, March 10, 2010

my spirit takes me through this avenue

One of the bigger transitions I'm making from "student of literature" to "writer" is the idea that my own methods have value. That's not something you hear too often over the course of literary scholarship - it comes with publishing and giving talks and writing books and devoting yourself to the Canon, as it were. It's earned, and there are clearances one must pass through to get there. Which is great, except that if your goals in life don't include academia (and they shouldn't), you come away from it feeling like everything you say or think about literature, about reading, is wrong. Not only wrong, but utterly meaningless unless it is a composite of older, deader, usually whiter opinions about literature and reading. This can be very damaging to one's early writing career, because the whole point of writing original work is to put your own ideas, methods, theories, etc. about the art form to work, and seeing what comes of it.

Having to do that is daunting enough without blast shadow memories of Survey of Romantic Literature and being told that those guys were GREAT and CLASSIC and GENIUS and their work explored the fullness of the human condition and nothing has or will ever come close. This could also take place in a Victorian Lit. class, or maybe something on the Lost Generation, or the Beats, or Shakespeare (which is absurd, considering how corny and overwritten most of his comedies are). The professor's enthusiasm can, if left unchecked, go beyond encouraging students to invest in the work and back their responses with legit critical analysis, and end up telling them that "it's [author], it's great, you're not," and that anything you have to contribute to the discussion is moot unless you can trace it back to a zillion other people. It's no wonder academics are such egomanical backstabbers, if they're trying to make a name for themselves amid a sea of out-of-hand dismissal.

Anyway, I keep returning to that thought as my work develops: if my own observations about what I've read don't really matter, does anything I write really matter? Obviously those observations are going to bleed into my work, but if Dostoyevsky and Joyce and Poe and Pynchon and Eliot already scaled that mountain well before I was born, what am I doing but scraping mud off the base? This is especially troubling because, even though I write in "genre" a lot, my ambitions are higher than YA vampire/zombie fiction, which is where that all seems to be going. It's a lot to think about, and it's completely stonewalled my creative urges on more than one occasion. Saying "fuck 'em" and soldiering on is harder than it seems, even for someone like me who is used to saying and doing those exact things.

Maybe tonight's faculty reading will help put things in better perspective.

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