Thursday, January 05, 2006

Words, Words, Words

Took the kid to the library yesterday (have I mentioned that we live three blocks from the local branch library, so that we can walk to it whenever we like? This was a dream of mine when I was a child, to be within walking distance of a library) in search of more reading material. I found two books, one of them The Writing Life, by Ellen Gilchrist, which is really just making me nuts.

The other was useless, a novel about some shrink who had a twin brother who slept with all the women in his life, and his son had drowned, and he was having this sexual fantasies about the women who were seeing him, I read about half of it last night, with growing astonishment, the writing was nice enough, mind you, but great leaping Christ on a skateboard, who thinks this is what life is about?

And Gilchrist, she just gets on my nerves. Smug ain't begin to describe that bint. She got bored with watching tennis, Ellen did, so she skipped on over to UA and asked them to let her to teach the fiction workshop, because she thought she would be good at it -- of course they let her -- and now she's telling young writers who have the nerve to write about icky things like werewolves that they haven't got any business mucking up her workshops. "I have to preserve the integrity of my workshop," she recites to herself, and calls this student up and tells her she has to drop the class. I thought it was understood that a class in fiction in an English department would be writing literature, she explains to the student.

She also doesn't like the student's language. It's too harsh for our Ellen.

This might be a class issue, she muses.

No. You think?

Gilchrist would have kicked Octavia Butler out of her workshop, too, I point out to mr. delagar, who took Ellen's workshop last semester and scored an A from the bint, not to mention a glowing letter of recommendation. Ellen loved mr. delagar and his writing.

Of course, mr. delagar comes from the same class Ellen does. His family, too, owned the means of production.

See, when Ellen says it's a class issue, she doesn't mean, by that, it's a class issue, and so I should take into account that I have some blind spots and I should work to overcome them. She means, It's a class issue, and my class is superior, and it's too bad, isn't it, that this poor unfortunate child has been so crippled by her class that she can't recognize superior literature when I lay it before it. Let's send her down the hall to work with those of her (lower) class, where she really belongs, after all.

Then, two pages later, she's all bemused when the poor unfortunate child seems, well, angry, at how she has been treated. What's her problem? Doesn't she know Ellen just has her best interests in mind? Not like she really would have fit in, would she? Up there at the country club? Much happier down in the kitchen, where she belonged.

8 comments:

The Other Lib Prof said...

The ex often made the same comments about writing workshops at UA--he referred to the type of writing they demanded as "ladies' needlepoint society conformity" or something along those lines. Only "appropriate" types of literature are acceptable in a fiction workshop, you know.

He was always bitching about the criticism one woman received on her romance-novel type stuff--despite, as he put it, that she was the only person in the class writing anything that might actually sell enough to MAKE MONEY. The werewolves are in the same catagory.

Can't help people learn to write stuff they'd be able to make a living selling. You know, that's just crass.

zelda1 said...

I've noticed that class is a big issue for other professors up here on the hill. What a fucking shame.

Diane said...

I guess I'm coming at it from another angle, but it is my understanding--unless it is stated otherwise--that all fiction writing workshops are intended for writers of literary fiction. There are genre fiction writing workshops, of course, but those are generally labelled as such.

delagar said...

I'm a bit touchy, as a writer of genre fiction, not to mention a member of that lower class, but it's less common, these days, to separate SF and Romance fiction and gay fiction and so on, out from "real" literature -- since the days of deconstructionism (which Gilchrist also holds in contempt, no shock there) it's more or less accepted in the Departments of English that all literature is real literature and that all texts are text. I taught a SF story by Octavia Butler in my English class last semester which, while it wasn't about werewolves, was about large insectoid-like aliens ripping their mates apart in order to reproduce -- the sort of thing Ellen Gilchrist would not have found literary -- and one of my colleagues taught a graphic novel in her class. So, well. Is this literature?

Yes, I think so.

Diane said...

This is always been a tough subject. More and more genre stories and novels are also literary fiction--the line is becoming harder to draw, I agree. I have read genre novels that I thought were more literary in nature than some literary novels I have read.

I think the scope of a workshop should be well-defined, and that it should not bar writers who write genre fiction, provided that genre fiction uses literary devices and not just plot devices.

Just one writer's opinion.

Diane said...

And lest you think I have no right at all to be a writer, those first words compromise a typo, not a grammatical error.

delagar said...

Heh. As you likely already know, I'm a bit free with the typos and the grammatical errors both, myself.

delagar said...

Standard grammar being, after all, nothing but another instrument of hegemonic oppression (I keed, I keed!).