I like a piece of dumbassery as much as the next guy. But there’s a limit.
Virginia Quarterly Review editor Ted Genoways retreads a lot of dull, commonplace ideas into a baffling mixture in a Mother Jones article titled “The Death of Fiction?” Among his little points of light: readers are not being connected with; university lit mags are dying; MFA programs are spoiling literature. Etc. He winds his way through this well-trodden forest and concludes, a la Tom Wolfe, that writers need to stop looking inward and start taking on “big issues.”
And since he seems to be writing about university lit mags, I guess he means writers need to take on “big issues” in short stories.
Here’s a quotation: “But the less commercially viable fiction became, the less it seemed to concern itself with its audience, which in turn made it less commercial, until, like a dying star, it seems on the verge of implosion. Indeed, most American writers seem to have forgotten how to write about big issues—as if giving two shits about the world has gotten crushed under the boot sole of postmodernism.”
I used to give two shits about the world. Then I attended an MFA program, and the number of shits was reduced to one.
Some other thoughts:
Nobody gazed any longer or harder at a navel — or tackled fewer “big issues,” unless you count the essential depths of humanity — than Proust. And I don’t think he even went to grad school. Also, he’s a pre-post-modernist.
You know who’s really connected to the need for relevance, commercial-wise? Dan Brown. No po-mo bullshit there.
Plenty of writers look outward. Dave Eggers comes to mind. William Vollman does some crazy, long, detailed writing about the world. But maybe Genoways is not writing about those kind of writers. Maybe he’s writing about the slush pile at the VQR. Maybe he’s writing about the struggling, probably young, maybe less-than-excellent-but-trying-to-get-better writers (you and me, perhaps) he is rejecting at his magazine. Which seems shitty.
Finally: Literary audiences are shrinking. Universities are falling out of love with literary projects. (Farewell, EWU Press). Lots of people are writing now – way too many, for sure. Screw those people. Other places besides academic journals publish fiction. Fiction will eat stone and go on. Some modern writers are good. Some (Ted Genoways, I’m looking at you, buddy) are not.
I had a teacher in high school who introduced me to a lot of good literature. He also introduced me to found poetry, which I always thought was kind of stupid. But I’m going to try something similar, in which I do a cut-and-paste poem-like object, made out of something I’m writing about this week, kind of like a kidnapping note.
This is something I hope to do regularly. I did it fast. I make no claims for quality.
Literature Dies Screaming in the Lobby of Ted Genoways’ Virginia Manse
due partly to a shift in our culture
he found time to read manuscripts and review proofs
while performing his responsibilities as governor
a few execrable screeds,
sold on newsstands,
seized upon the eyewitness remembrances of
a few bold university presidents
for Christ’s sake,
(Disclaimer: Poem may not make a “lick” of sense. All lines copied, in little bits, from the article, “The Death of Fiction?”, except for the title. I apologize to poets for calling this a poem.)