Apr 14, 2008, 8:58 PM
Post #186 of 213
I feel bad about returning to this topic of the relative value of the MFA in general, since it's not actually the topic of the thread...but jvogtman's long post is so full of interesting things that I hope I'll be pardoned.
Re: [jvogtman] Need to be published to get an MFA?
[In reply to]
First of all a caveat: basically jvogtman is right about everything. But I am also right, and I'll continue the argument so as to make a house in which anti-MFA dreams can live, mine and those of others. I know that not everyone has these dreams, and if you want to go to another house -- again, I'm not trying to talk anyone out of it. I'm just trying to offer an alternate romance.
Secondly, in arguing that a non-MFA writing career can be hewn, I'd like to make it clear that I'm not coming from a position of hereditary wealth, parental support, spousal support, or what have you. I'm currently supporting myself -- barely. I'm living on lentils. They are extremely cheap and apparently with rice make a complete protein, or so I've been told. They're actually quite delicious. The reason that I've been living for weeks on these things (I also eat outmeal sometimes) is so that I can live where I need to live in the city in Europe in which my novel takes place, where I am still in the throes of the passions that gave rise to it, while I devote what feels like herculean energy to the final brawl with that novel, and what a brawl it has been, and how much my agent, who plucked me out of the slush pile, has poured into critique of that novel at this point, to the extent that I'm embarrassed. So just to get it out of the way: if "trail-blazing" is going to be read here as bohemian, international, holly-golightly, bizarre, then you can lead a trail-blazing life with a lower middle-class background. Actually you can do it with any kind of background. Finances are not the issue. Flexibility is the issue. If anyone wants to know how they can go to Tuscany for six months and work on their novel, all without a trust fund, just pm me. The idea that it is somehow ok to suspend a career (as a highschool teacher in your case, ejdfil) in order to go to an MFA program, but that it is not alright to suspend that career in order to put the exact same amount of time and energy into writing a book, is something that is simply an evil of our age.
Thirdly, the idea that you don't need to experience things in order to have enough to write about, that your imagination is enough -- is a position that holds sway at the moment, but it is not necessarily right, especially not for everyone (and incidentally I could go into a long argument to prove that most writers whose works have stayed with us over time have lived very intense and interesting lives, or sought out experience in the most intense manner, not Flaubertian at all. Speaking of whom, the famous bourgeois himself was actually pretty insane during his travels in Africa.) The point is that the argument of not needing experience is important to us right now because it counters that modernist fallacy of our parents' generation, that the only real school of fiction is the school of hard knocks. And yes, you're right that that is a position that needs to be countered. Of course writing can be taught in an academic setting, and should be taught there too. And yes, you can write for a lifetime only using what experience you have after having survived your childhood, and that's well and good if it works for you, if it _feels_ like it's enough to you personally.
But what if instead of that you want to write about things that no child could dream of, that you know you yourself could not have dreamt of only one year ago? And what if the crucible of the process of discovery-of-undreamt-of-life/acute-experience/transformation-of-experience-into-prose is more important to you than the prose itself, although you'll be damned if you don't learn every prose technique as well, by the way, in order to harness it to those stories of which you and others could not have dreamt if you yourself had not gone for them to the edge of the volcano? Jvogtman, could it be that you do not believe in the existence of the volcano? To be clear, I am by no means saying that you can only find it abroad, or in other odd locales. I'm saying you can only find it outside your comfort zone, and that may well mean leaving the loop of social identifications, groups, programs, etc. I have spent enough of my life applying for things and being a part of programs, within the politics of groups, that I know that they can easily become the central drama and concern of one's life; yes, maybe a dying relative or a love affair intrudes with something more true and violent now and then, but the lazy melodrama of prestige and social identification CAN take over the majority of thought energy, and often does -- and so I stand by what I said before.
But again, my arguments before and now are more passionate than I actually feel -- they are meant as an encouragement to those who have had the good fortune (?) to be rejected from programs!