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A Weird Thing

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So, I’m  not so much writing a blog post today as I’m waiting out a period of time while I see if students will come in and save their asses.  Probably not, but where there’s life, there’ s hope.  And  this is my last day with these students, so I’m feeling generous.

I’m also feeling more than a little aggravated, because this morning I encountered the closest thing I get to writer’s block.  It’s been years–since right after Matt was born, to be exact–since I’ve experienced full blown writer’s block.  That’s a good thing, but it’s horrible, and I wouldn’t want to go through it again.

What I get instead these days is a thing where I write a passage over and over and over and over again and it just never sounds right. 

This almost always occurs when I’m introducing a character.  The more important the character is, the more likely I am to hate everything I write from that point of view for at least a few days.

But it doesn’t have to be actually introducing a character for the first time ever.  I have this problem when I start new books in the Gregor Demarkian series, with Gregor himself.  I write it, I hate it, I write it again.  And it always sounds wrong in that strange inner ear where I hear the music of prose.

Okay, there isn’t a lot of music to my prose.

But there it is, and so today and yesterday I spent spinning my wheels, and I still don’t know what I’m supposed to do about it.

That said, I want to correct an impression from a post from a few days ago, and it’s sort of on the same kind of subject maybe.

Well, it’s about “popular” writers.

When I say that you’re as likely to find meaning and substance in “popular” writers as well as in “the high art tradition,” at least as it is found in contemporary work–I mean that some contemporary “popular” writers are in the high art tradition.

Stephen King certainly is.  I think he’s the only writer now working I’d expect to last a hundred years.

I also happen to think that almost none of the contemporary literary stuff is in “the high art tradition,” or anything else–what we have no is basically a very cleanly well-written genre with not a lot of interest to much of anybody outside the closed world of people who write it and teach it.

I’ll say it again–neither the canon nor the high art tradition is defined by, or determined by, universities or Departments of English. 

Teachers of English literature are largely hangers-on (and sometmes parasites) of a world that does not find school congenial, and never has.  Hemingway and Capote never saw the inside of a college classroom.  Fitzgerald and Faulkner spent most of their time drinking there. 

And, aside from Gatsby, I’m not sure Fitzgerald belongs in the high art tradition either.

It’s getting to the point where I’d be willing to abolish all the literature departments, if only so that the rest of us could go on reading and writing, which is the point of the thing to begin with.

Okay, I’m in a weird mood, and sitting in an uncomfortable chair.

I think I’ll go make tea.

Written by janeh

February 4th, 2011 at 11:06 am

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response to 'A Weird Thing'

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  1. Hear! Hear! Few things discourage reading and writing more than the relentless English Department insistance that their’s in the One True Way, and if you’re reading anything else, you should be ashamed of yourself.

    For all my quarrels with the literary establishment, though, I’d hate to lose literary scholarship. As examples: the patient work of establishing the text and textual variants, especially in heavily edited work; determining dates of composition; from these, serious literary biography–not who the author was sleeping with (unless that’s pertinent) but what had they read and done, what did they believe, and what were their personal lives like when they wrote this or that? What personal experience lies behind this or that story or character?

    There is also the necessary work of explication for older writers: explaining in annotated works and readers’ guides the difference between a coach and a phaeton, just when IS Michaelmas and whether a particular tip was extravagent or niggardly.

    And there is what I privately think of as “real” criticism: the books and essays which help you see something in a work which was always there, but which had escaped you. As a Tolkien enthusiast, I think of T. A. Shippey’s ROAD TO MIDDLE-EARTH and Marion Zimmer Bradley’s “Men, Halflings and Hero-Worship.” As an Austen reader, the essayist–and I can’t find the name–who first described her as a wartime writer, with money tight and most of the men out of the country. For Robert Howard, it would be Patrice Louinet’s “Hyborian Genesis.”

    Sadly, most of my beloved fiction has no such support, and much of what I do own was written by persons outside the literary establishment. You’d think the relentless push for publication would result in a bit more scholarship.

    Regardless,I refuse to bet on which authors on my shelves will still be read in 100 years, even though it would be hard to collect if I lost. I suspect chance as well as merit plays a part, and it seems certain that few contemporaries picked the 19th Century’s winners. Certainly few observers in the 1930’s would have expected hardcover critical editions of Robert Howard and HP Lovecraft 80 years later.

    (OK, I won’t bet against King, and I might place a small bet on Jennifer Crusie. Most of my others have stopped working–even though a few are still alive and publishing.)


    4 Feb 11 at 5:04 pm

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