Thursday, April 27, 2006

Why I Didn't Get an MFA in Literature

Camille Paglia, in an interview on Bookslut (a blog), nails the reason I became a technical writer and refused to pursue an MFA in Literature:
I feel that post-structuralism has deadened not only the students, but the professors themselves, to literature. There’s been over 30 years of it now. Over 30 years. Where is the great work of criticism by any of these people? Where is the great critic? What have they produced? Nothing.

It’s just a bunch of gobbledygook, all reflecting each other. There’s no single great work that’s come out of criticism in the last 30 years, in the way Cleanth Brooks’ Well Wrought Urn has that kind of relationship, a book you could recommend to let someone know what’s happening in literary criticism. It is such a dead end, a terrible dead end, and what has happened is that talented people have fled the graduate schools. People have to wake up to this. The people at the top now, people from my generation, who are in the Ivy League, from coast to coast, to Berkeley, their work is mediocre. They have not done what they claim to do, and what they’ve done is driven out talented people.

I meet them everywhere, people who started graduate school and left it, OK? They’re in publishing, they’re in media, they’re in all kinds of jobs, because they couldn’t stand it. They wanted to study literature and art, but had every obstruction put in their paths. They not only had to read Lacan, Derrida and Foucault, who had nothing to do with literature, but they had to read critics talking about Lacan, Derrida and Foucault, none of whom are philosophically trained, okay?

I had professors telling me that I should pursue a degree in Lit. They would often select my essays and recommend them for scholarships, awards, readings. Even my fellow students enjoyed my work. There was great promise. But I wouldn't be a part of the nightmare that was Lit studies at the time. I'd seen enough of that as an undergrad. Following that path would have been suicide for me. (And anyone who knows my intense personality would understand that comment.)

If I ever become a successful fiction writer — and I fully intend to — it will be due to my own self-study and hard work. Sure, I could wish that I had been born during some other time, but unfortunately that's not reality. Instead, I just put my head down and drive on, and I know that I'm much happier for it.

I do hope, though, that I will live long enough to see some kind of rebirth in Literature, a vibrant new class of scholars, writers, and students flooding our universities with new blood. As my partner likes to tell me, "You just might be a part of that rebirth." That's a nice thought.

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