Monday, August 09, 2010

Dear Mr. Shivani: Chill, Homie

Read this from the Huffington Post. Of course, critics are free to do as they please and trash some talented writers (Junot Diaz and Jhumpa Lahiri could've been spared), much the way Diane Keaton in Woody Allen's Manhattan created the "academy of the overrated." As Allen's character pointed out, it is exhilarating to trash people in this way, and, likewise, it is exhilarating to read some really good trash talking, especially when the trashed are literary types (those uppity fucks).

And yeah, fuck Amy Tan and Jorie Graham-- I really don't care about their work. But still... this seems a bit much. Okay, I get it-- bad writing is "characterized by obfuscation, showboating, narcissism, lack of a moral core, and style over substance." Maybe we can agree there, but still, laying into Billy Collins is like using a blowtorch to light a cigar. The problem with the list is that no one really takes the likes of Collins or Tan too seriously. Sure, they both sell books, but the literati of the day are not exactly clamoring to hoist either of them up to the level of Proust. And Vollmann? He has his fans, to be sure, and I can't say much, having not read a lot of his work, but I know enough about him to know that whatever it is he is up to is a lot more interesting than the schmaltz of Michael Cunningham.

Oh well, my opinions are my own, right? Right. Thanks to Mr. Shivani for entering the conversation. I like when people bash the MFA system as it is definitely rife with problems and, yes, does push trends and produce a cadre of similar, dull writing. It also, sometimes, produces some pretty good stuff. That's the thing: most writing is bad. The more people writing, the more shit we'll encounter. So sure, mathematically MFA programs are going to launch a lot of crap writers and crap writing. But I dare say that this has always been the case. God knows there was lousy writing-- the kind that was either pretentious and dull or schmaltzty and irritating or maybe even inept and sloppy, certainly egoistic and pompous-- long before there was a post-grad major promoting it. Anyway, MFA writing is as easy a target as Billy Collins.