March 01, 2010

Then, for discussion with student, rereading parts of Mark McGurl's The Program Era. Super loving the expanse here. It really is a huge, masterful book. And I am thinking it is mainly right. It is also somewhat nutty and this is part of its greatness. I can make no sense of the various charts. Which makes me really love them and I get all happy when I get to them.

Yet still feeling slightly cranky at moments. Wondering how it fits or doesn't to poetry. I find myself listing all the poets that I know that never went to higher education, have not yet taught. It isn't a small list really. But not sure what that list means. Because they could still be under the influence.

Or maybe I am wondering what it means if it is mainly true that US literature is program literature. Because I think it means something probably not so great for US literature. (Even as this book is premised on how this Program Era might not be such a bad thing. How this literature might be interesting. Or more.)

Although it seems slightly absurd to request more encyclopedic knowledge from an already encyclopedic book, wondering this...

Once US literature becomes something shaped through and through by the academy, it becomes isolated from cultural and resistance movements. I think I can say this. It might be possible to think otherwise (to think that the academy could train in the leftist novel of resistance; thinking here of how Hawaiian Studies at UHM kept wanting to teach creative writing as part of their program and how the English Department kept getting upset), but this book does not argue this. McGurl tends to look at various writers sometimes associated with cultural resistance/preservation movements (I've removed the "and" there deliberately) in isolation so as to show how they are more a product of the academy than of the cultural resistance/preservation movement. So Cisneros=Iowa. Momaday=Stanford. Etc. Thus somewhat disqualifying the way that these writers are often read as part of a larger and long tradition of cultural preservation or uplift or... (instead they = "self-commodificaton"). But I'm wondering if one sits down and instead of pulling out various individual writers associated with various cultural preservation literatures and looks instead at some of these sub-categories of literature as a whole and how many have ties to the academy (so instead of looking at someone like Momaday in isolation looks at the field of Native American literature say) if the academy becomes as determining as the frame here suggests. I don't have the answer. Just wondering how it might look.

I feel caught in one of those look one way and you see fuzzy kittens and then look another way and you see scary rats cards.

My guess is that the program ties might be more for some sub-categories of literature than others. (I'm guessing... very high for language writing? and New York school? But I'm back in poetry land again. But poetry land is where the questions feel harder to me.)

Other question: Do faculty--of literary criticism and creative writing--have a tendency to give more attention to the literatures that come out of the "programs" in their classes?

Is there any way to be outside of the program era here? Or is it just that to be a writer is to be of the programs? (I should probably confess to being a Program Writer also.)

Minor point... While it claims to go up to 2008, the study feels like it has yet to catch up to the contemporary post-1980s (so examples of the contemporary feel as if they are those that fit the category of "postmodern" fiction as it was defined in the 1980s-1990s academy). But some of the things that feel not yet discussed--such as the "international" novel in English and the sorts of "experimental" fiction that seem to be showing up in/out of MFA programs like Brown and Denver and the McSweeney's sorts--probably still fit easily as being of the Programs.

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