Monday, June 20, 2011

after a detailed presentation

Wow. I got kinda political in that last post. I guess I had some things to get off my chest. And like any good hypocrite, I shall descend from my soapbox to point derisively at someone who just ascended to theirs - Ruth Fowler just fucking unhinges on the fact that a young MFA graduate's boring novel won the Orange Prize. It's a pretty brutal write-up. Tea Obreht might want to change her locks or something.

The basic gist of Fowler's rage is that Obreht is too young and mediocre and academic to win contests, and that this state of affairs is almost an insult to "writers like Nabokov: those who hadn't spent five years learning how to put a fucking sentence together, but instead wrote with their guts." Uh.

First of all, Nabokov's writing was boring and overly technical and all about engaging the brain, which puts him in direct conflict with the point Fowler is trying to make. Steinbeck is a better example of the gut, if she's looking for writers who probably died before she was born and are therefore permissible appeals to the Canon.

Second of all, how does she know Nabokov didn't spend five years learning how to put sentences together? I've said before that MFA programs have become a popular, if controversial, way for writers to blossom because all the other ways of learning it - advertising, journalism, publishing, etc. - aren't hiring nearly as much as they used to, and in some cases are actively declining. Blame them before you shit on an entire generation of kids who just want to get better at what they love to do. Is Fowler's own MA in English Lit. more valuable or earned because she had to strip for a while in Manhattan?

Not that everything Fowler says is invalid. "Astonishingly pretentious bullshit" and "fawning idiocy" both abound in the literary sphere, and first novels by young authors who've been in school for their entire adult lives thus far are always rocky efforts. Mine probably is too, despite all my efforts in revision to not come off like a know-it-all, and I at least spent a couple of years freelancing in the real world between college and grad school. But that's not even where the focus should be. The Great Novelists of Yesteryear didn't pluck ideas out of the aether - they had to learn through seeking out guidance just like the rest of us, and they often had better ways of doing so available to them. Fowler's either ignoring that or she's too high on her own bitterness to see it.

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