The Overrated writing of the Pretentious English Department

Do you ever wonder how some of the famous writers of the past would fare in a writer’s workshop? I know I do. Last semester I was in a World Post Modernism course and now I’m enrolled in a British Modernism course. I’m starting to wonder what the big deal is about some of these writers. During my Post Modern course I brought this question up to my classmates, most of whom were literature majors, so it was so of brushed off, you know the good ole  ” oh that crazy MFA.”

Well, when I brought it up we were reading Robbe-Grillet’s Jealousy. The back synopsis made me think it was going to be this wonderful thriller, of course since when do I read the synoposis on the back of a book thinking I’m not being deliberately deceived? So, Jealousy is heralded for its descriptions and genius, but you know what there are times in the book (and yes I’m aware it is deliberate, and why he did it) where he repeats paragraphs verbatim. It’s ridiculous. So I wondered, how would a workshop treat this? Would everyone be thrilled by the form matching the content or some bullshit like that? I imagine it going one of two ways, “OMG Robbe-Grillet, this is genius. Simply genius” or “Dude, what’s with the repetition, it’s annoying. Do something about it.” I image the second option more likely.

So for my class this week I had to read “England my England” by D.H. Lawrence. My question for my professor when I stroll in today will be, “what is the big deal?” I will refrain from using profanities as it is disrespectful, but it will be tempting. We are told constantly by writers to “show and not tell” or not to tell too much. I’m a big fan of exposition but in moderation of course. Good dialogue makes me so happy. Anyway, I know I’m rambling a bit. What is the big deal? There are maybe five scenes in the whole story, all which are boring and don’t really do much for the character development. The narrator seems to be reporting a lame ass story about a family and then it ends. Abruptly.

I imagine this being workshopped and people saying, “I think a scene is necessary here” or “your characters lack development” or “why not cut the first few pages and start here” but instead we as students attempting to be scholars are told, the work of D.H. Lawrence is brilliant.

Well, I’m not impressed. This is not to say I don’t think that a lot the literature that is in the cannon (whatever that cannon may be) isn’t brilliant. I do believe writer’s like Woolf, Marquez, Austen, Borges and Joyce and so many others were in fact geniuses. I’m pretty confident that the English departments of the world know what is worthwhile and not, but there are times when I have found some of it to be overrated. 

I will say, as someone who aspires to write for a career, I know I’m no where near as smart as the writers I think are overrated. It could just be that I don’t get it, I don’t have the depth. It call also be a matter of taste. Probably though, these writers aren’t overrated, in fact, it is I who am simply an idiot.

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6 comments

  1. Do you ever wonder how some of the famous writers of the past would fare in a writer’s workshop?

    You should check out Umberto Eco’s Misreadings, which contains among many hilarious bits, “Regretfully, We are Returning Your…: Reader’s Reports.” Excerpts.

    And while I’ve never experienced that “oh that crazy MFA” situation, I was in a slightly similar experience last semester. I chose a literary theory course as a cognate last semester: it was a Ph.D.-level course that was opened up to MA students, and the focus was on feminist theory.

    My classmates and my teacher were wonderful, and there was some good-natured ribbing about how I was the only guy and one of the two creative writing majors present (the other was a Ph.D. candidate). I never took it seriously, because they weren’t serious about it anyway, but I’m still glad I was able to do well in the course and showed them. (That final paper nearly killed me!).

    Which writers do you consider influential in your own work, by the way? And don’t be too hard on yourself!

    1. First off, thanks for the great comment. I have read exerpts of Eco’s Misreadings, but I can’t really remember it. I feel like I’ve read so much theory last semester it’s all starting to blur together. I’ll have to give it a reread or first read. Who remembers.

      As far as writers that have influenced me, that’s a question I’ve been trying to avoid until I have to write the “why do write essay” for my thesis commitee. Still I don’t think there is any harm in attempting an answer. I think a lot of the writer’s that have influcenced me were writers I read when I was young. The first that comes to mind is Salinger. I was and still kind of am obsessed with The Cather in the Rye. I also was greatly influcenced by Dostoevsky, Charles Baxter, Jonathon Foer Safron, Austen, Shelley, Byron, Wordsworth (I’m such a romantic), Bronte, OH! I almost forgot Faulker. There are so many others. I’m looking at my bookself trying not list all of the writers. It would take me forever. I think writers who use humor like Byron, Baxter, Dostoevsky OH! and Nabokov. I love to read humor, and think I write it pretty well.

      I know that wasn’t thorough enough but that’s just rough idea.

      Again thanks for the comment.

  2. i think the subjective nature of literature leads to just about every judgment being wrong. Who’s to say what is genius and what is repetitive drivel? Like it or not, mob mentality rules a lot of the time.

    1. Randy, thanks for the comment. I totally agree. The worst place to see where the mob mentality rules is at Barnes and Noble. They have tables filled with books (best selling books) that reading might stain your brain.

  3. It is understandable that at various stages of our personal development we perceive literature in different ways. I tried reading Crime and Punishment 10 years ago and gave up. I recently gave it another go and couldn’t put it down. Do not give up on the works that you currently dislike.

    I read your influences with interest. I think that in time you will get The Catcher in the Rye (which is a milestone for so many serious readers) out of your system. Have you tackled Martin Amis? Try Money A Suicide note and spot the homage to Lolita. Also what do you think about Brett Easton Ellis? Try American Psycho-an incredible novel.

    Best wishes,

    CY

    1. Thanks for the reading suggestions. I have heard great things about American Psycho. I think Catcher in the Rye is just one of those that I think of first as an influence. Recently though I’ve been really into Latino American works. I like a lot more than I let on. Thanks for the comment.

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