— Veronica, a novel by Mary Gaitskill
— from “An Interview with Sina Queyras” on Canadian Women in the Literary Arts.
Is there a crisis in literature?
TIM MAYERS: Those of us with even a cursory knowledge of literary criticism know that literature as a concept, as a canon, or as a term has been contested throughout its existence. To assert that a stable notion of literature has persisted throughout the history of writing is a spectacularly ignorant claim. Alexander Pope, for example, penned broadsides against the so-called hacks populating Grub Street. Not only does literature change in meaning over time, but it also is—and has been—the subject of deep disagreement among contemporaries. Yes, of course, literature is in crisis. That’s its very nature. And that has little to do with the rise of creative writing in the academy.
ANNA LEAHY: Literature suggests a host of assumptions, including genius, isolation, and inspiration that only partially capture the writing life—then or now. Charles Darwin claimed that his idea of natural selection came to him in a flash, but Steven Johnson points out that Darwin’s notebooks indicate he’d worked it out over almost three decades.
In a New Yorker article a few years ago, Malcolm Gladwell highlighted that the experimental innovator is at least as important as the precocious genius when we look at artistic talent and production. Creative writing is about doing the work of writing, and the experimental innovator benefits from time, support, and guidance. That’s what creative writing classes and programs provide. That’s what novelist John Irving said to John Stewart on The Daily Show, namely that a creative writing program and his mentor Kurt Vonnegut showed him, “You do these things better than those things. Why don’t you do more of these things and fewer of those?” Irving remains grateful for the time this saved him in his development as a novelist.
STEPHANIE VANDERSLICE: Conflating creative writing and literature doesn’t serve a useful purpose, especially if the main issue is teaching. Thousands of creative writers—some publishing during their time, some not (Emily Dickinson)—aspire to write work of literary merit that will transcend their own era, or perhaps they merely aspire to a writing life because they are compelled to do so, just as a painter is compelled to paint. Most of these artists have evolved past the desire to simply express themselves. In fact, as studies like Greg Light’s “How Students Understand and Learn Creative Writing in Higher Education” in Writing in Education show, realizing that making literary art transcends self-expression is the first step in the writer’s development. Like most artists, they struggle to define their own aesthetic and to find their place within any number of literary traditions.
(Source: The Huffington Post)