Another MFA article

by on Nov.30, 2010

Can be found on slate:

This article is based on the distinction between “New York City” writers and “MFA” writers:

“The best young NYC novelists go to great lengths to write comprehensible prose and tie their plots neat as a bow. How one longs, in a way, for endings like that of DeLillo’s first novel, Americana, where everyone just pees on everyone else for no reason! The trend toward neatness and accessibility is often posited to be the consequence of the workshop’s relentless paring. But for NYC writers—despite their degrees—it might be better understood as the result of fierce market pressure toward the middlebrow, combined with a deep authorial desire to communicate to the uninterested.”

But my favorite discussion happens in the comment section. One commentator says he/she can’t imagine Bolano in an MFA situation, and another points out that a lot of the books are actually in some ways about workshops.

Also: A lot of discussions about the lack of what I (don’t know where I got it from) called “filters” in the post below: complaints about the inability to sift through all the novels. But of course does anyone ever complain about the inability to sift through all the movies, Internet sites, TV shows? This is why I like the corny phrase “filter” – you can just move through it and find different paths.

6 comments for this entry:
  1. Ryan Sanford Smith

    While I sort of see their problematic reasoning, my gut reaction to the billions of ‘witty’ remarks to the tune of ‘Can you imagine Pound sitting in an MFA workshop?’ is ‘Can you imagine Pound playing Farmville on Facebook?’

    Funny that there’s criticism here that MFAs lead to more ‘accessible’ writing, when there are so many rants that it’s doing the opposite (i.e., ‘flavor-of-the-week experimental writing’ etc.) (both are silly criticisms).

  2. Johannes

    I didn’t mention the specifics, but the contradictory feelings about MFA programs you mention come out in the comment field.


  3. Kyle Minor

    The impulse to generalize makes all of these articles difficult to reconcile with experience. There are probably as many answers to the MFA question as there are MFA teachers/classrooms/cohorts of recalcitrant students, and ditto NYC w/r/t the particular intersection of editor/agent/marketing people/philosophy of publishing house at that particular moment. I’m more interested in why HarperCollins’s head honcho is interested in championing the short story and semi-experimental young writers, and how long that good thing will last, or whether or not this or that particular promising writer will loose him or herself of the desire to please this or that powerful mentor in the service of something singular, or how this or that particular Barry Hannah story manages to bedevil this particular reader in these particular ways. These issues aren’t separable from those issues, but they get separated for ease of article-writing or Internet discourse, and then people talk about them as though they are the fixed paradigms in which we all must forever work. The fluidity of the situation on the ground suggests that it’s not terribly profitable to spend so much energy on these procedural questions as it is to make a decision about what kind of book or story you want to write and then make it as good as it can be on the terms you have chosen, and hope that maybe, with hard work and great luck, you’ll do the near-impossible and transcend those terms.

  4. Johannes

    Yes, I largely agree: this “filter” of MFA = this or that is too simplistic. And it allows a lot of people to just tune out (the MFA has ruined literature so now I don’t need to feel like an old fart for just reading stuff written in the 60s). But on the other hand I think it’s important to have discussions about the MFA as part of discussions of our literary culture. I mean it’s not neutral; there are rules and conventions and results etc. But, it’s true that when it gets all general it becomes fairly useless.


  5. Kyle Minor

    I agree. I just wish the discussions were more informed and intelligent.

  6. 43thegreat

    Not just this, but Emma Fay makes you sound like you’re a southern belle.