Saturday, September 18, 2010

London Review of Books tells MFA candidates to "Get a real degree"

This week's London Review of Books features of a review by Elif Batuman of The Program Era: Postwar Fiction and the Rise of Creative Writing by Mark McGurl. Her thoughts on the dominance of writers churned out by the conveyor belt of American MFA programs are both scathing and deeply resonant. Sez Batuman:
"I had high hopes that McGurl ... might explain to me the value of contemporary American fiction in a way I could understand, but was disappointed to find in The Program Era traces of the quality I find most exasperating about program writing itself: oversophistication combined with an air of autodidacticism, creating the impression of some hyperliterate author who has been tragically and systematically deprived of access to the masterpieces of Western literature, or any other sustained literary tradition."
Ouch. Also, yeah!

On her blog, Batuman posted a missive saying she hadn't written the mean-spirited (but hilarious) title of the review, and seemed apologetic. And she also posted a picture of her hugging a koala, so I guess no harm, no foul.

1 comment:

Alicia said...

"Hasn’t ‘the tremendous expansion of the literary talent pool’ and its systematic training in the ‘self-conscious attention to craft’ resulted in ‘a system-wide rise in the excellence of American literature in the postwar period’? It has. If you take ‘good writing’ as a matter of lucidity, striking word combinations, evocative descriptions, inventive metaphors, smooth transitions and avoidance of word repetition, the level of American writing has skyrocketed in the postwar years. In technical terms, pretty much any MFA graduate leaves Stendhal in the dust. On the other hand, The Red and the Black is a book I actually want to read. This reflects, I believe, the counterintuitive but real disjuncture between good writing and good books."