Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Speaking of Academic Hierarchies

"Oh, creative writers. They don't want to hear anything except how great they are."
-New Professor

On the way out of class tonight, I was talking with Rebecca about the writers group. Our professor overheard part of the conversation when I was talking about how we'd had a few crazies come through the group. She made a blanket remark. I was offended. The implication is that creative writers are a bunch of self-obsessed whiny babies. Granted, some are. It's the blanket part that miffed me. I almost replied, "Right, 'cause literature students are totally different."

I was instantly back in Katherine's class last spring when we talked about the stigma writing has in a university setting. She was speaking in terms of composition classes, which fall at the very bottom of the prestige hierarchy. Nobody wants to teach comp. 101. It's not at all cool. No, to be cool, you've gotta be teaching a literature course. Creative writing is just half a notch above comp. 101, and tonight that was brought brilliantly home to me. Yeesh.

This stigma gets on my nerves like you wouldn't believe. Oh let us bow down and worship the canon and write critical essays in praise of the literary gods! They overlook the fact that without creative writers, there'd be no canon. Without the self obsessed, ego maniacal poets there would be no poetry to write critical analyses of.

More than anything, the whole back-asswardness of it appalls me. How can one profess to be a literature expert when they don't know how to make the stuff? It's like only knowing half of your trade. Imagine a NASCAR driver who doesn't know how to repair an engine. A professional painter who can't prepare their own canvas. A realtor who knows nothing about architecture. I could go on, but I think you get the idea. What gives?

How can certain academics look at creative writing and write it off as easy or just fooling around? These academics, who only know how to take a work of literature apart, sit there and act like it's so easy to put one together. Alright, I'm getting overly rant-y here, so I'll finish it up.

I hereby issue a challenge to any critic/academic who looks down on creative writers: try being one for a semester. Workshop some of your creative writing, let strangers take it apart and tell you how to make it better. Try to make these readers happy on your first, or even tenth, try. Then tell me it's easy. I dare you.


Jenny said...

I do not feel that you are being overly ranty. I think you make a valid point.

Sometimes I do think literaty need it pointed out to them that Shakespeare was a 'whiner' and Wordsworth, Byron, etc. were monster 'whiners'. And egotistical. And cocky. And that's why they're loved now.

I also don't understand, even without the studying of creative writing, why some cannot make the leap between what the creative writing students are doing and what the great geniuses of literature did. It's writing. Sometimes it's crap (look at the juvenelia of any 'great' artist, and that stuff gets revered because it shows 'growth' not 'crap'). Yeesh.

Sorry, I'm goning all ranty and will stop now.

Jenny said...

Sorry, 'going' all ranty.

-John said...

I can't stop thinking the phrase, "Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach." This should be a lesson; learn just what you need, then get the hell out of academia before you get sucked into that solipsistic, mind-fuck parallel universe where they claim to be close to reality when in fact they are the furthest place from it.

Just a thought.

Whittaker Luckless said...

Something I heard once from a completely not famous contemporary composer of music--at my Aunt's house warming party; her house needed warming, because it'd had a bad week, and felt rather blue. This guy said: "To make it big in the composing world these days, what you write has to sound like crap. Everyone thinks the good stuff got written hundreds of years ago, and so you can't write good stuff any more."

I think there's a possibility some people think the same thing about literature. Good writing stopped with, what, John London? Probably a great deal earlier. In the Twainish era.

Twainish is a word...*shifty eyes*...now.

Ali said...

I keep coming back to this thought that academics prefer their writers dead. It's New Criticism all the way!

Whittaker Luckless said...

Plus, us writer's being such imagination filled types, who think to ourselves on a daily basis, "I wonder what would be a really painful way to kill someone and not get caught, with just a box of matches, five toothpicks, and a five gallon tub of carpenter's glue?" academics prolly feel safer criticizing the dead ones.

-John said...

With you on that one, Whitty, I was more thinking of breaking the door down and demanding to speak with Dr. I'm-Full-of-Myself, and show them a use for my size thirteen boot they might not like.

Ali said...

Now, now guys. Let's not get violent. After all, that'd only prove the whole over-sensitive emotionally chaotic writer stereotype.

Mishell said...

As someone who loves to study literature as much as I love trying to write it, I just don't understand how anyone could read something that just bonks them on the head *kapow!* with the brilliance of it and wish they could write something if not as good, striving to be that good.

My professional opinion is that those who study only literature (and put down creative writing studies) have tried to write it and discovered how difficult it really is. For this reason they must try to make themselves feel better about their failure by pretending that their contemporaries must also be failures. Dead writer worship becomes their only option after this.

So you see, it all comes down to jealousy. The new professor is jealous that her creative emanations are but paltry chicken scratchs compared to your own brilliant literary accomplishments!
(That's not over-the-top, is it? I don't think so. I think it's spot on, right?)

(Damn! When will there ever be spell check for the comments!)