Friday, September 10, 2010

The Totalitarians

For a totalitarian intellectual system to exist-- one which allows no dissent, anyplace-- there needs to be cooperation on all sides: a symbiotic relationship between purveyors and participants. There's typically a closing of ranks against any contrary voice, with an affirmation that the herd is right. The brainwashed themselves are at the forefront of defending a system within which they're the primary victims, by not being encouraged to think. They'll revel in their inability to question and think.

This is certainly the case with writing programs, where consensus, within and without the workshop, is the chief criterion. It's why you see no real creativity in the art itself, but instead, more and more, the generic literary poem or short story, so generic as to be interchangeable.

This is the inevitable end product-- nay, the goal-- of the bureaucratic mentality.

One can dismiss my so-called rantings, which are anything but. I worked with bureaucracies, saw how they operate, up close, before I became a literary activist. I understand well the workings of systems, their objectives and results. It's easy enough to show how system thought harms the literary art.

Is the writing game consumed by the bureaucratic mentality?

All one need to do is read Seth Abramson's post at his blog--

to see what it's about. Study his language, which is a reflection of the way he thinks. This is writing? It's a classic example of the institutionual mindset. Seth could have a successful career writing inscrutable government regulations. You could study recent 2,000-page bills in Congress, or even anything from the defunct Soviet Union, and not find a more classic example of bureaucracy. The system subsumes all. The System ultimately becomes the intelligence at play. The Seths of the Machine are parts of it, whose job is to oil it sufficiently, to defend it, and so elevate their place within the Machine's hierarchy.
It didn't take much to bring out the totalitarian in our System person-- the Ultimate Apparatchik. Note his comments at his blog responding to my two comments. Abramson declares, authoritatively, my points inaccurate, says "we're done here," and ends the debate, before there was a debate, in so doing confirming my statement that dissent isn't tolerated.

Am I being too harsh on the guy?

Not from my viewpoint. Abramson's intent is to get all writers into MFA programs. He fails to show the artistic benefits to the writer, or to the product.

Groupthink is the inevitable result of the workshop process, in that anything potentially disturbing to the literary community is eliminated.

To prove the System's failure, all one need do is compare the massive investment in the writing art currently being made by this society-- demonstrably more, by far, than by any society in history-- with the meager return on the investment. To say, "All cultures have produced mediocrity" isn't good enough. Many have also produced writers of great genius, such as in ancient Athens, Elizabethan England, Nineteenth-century Russia, and on occasion in our own country, such as in the 1920's, when our literature was at a kind of Golden Age from which it's since been in gradual but steady decline, a decline accelerated by the advent of writing programs. The art, from its relative glory days, has been marginalized in this society. It doesn't even try to reach the mass of the people. It's not competing. Competing isn't in today's literary vocabulary.
Note how Totalitarians rely on Orwellian language to make their points. Slavery within a system becomes Freedom. Status Quo is portrayed as Revolution. Language itself is abused, which should concern all writers.

What of the brainwashed? Do they exist?

In legions. Look at the golly-gosh comment at Seth's blog, by Alice, which appears after Seth's reaction to mine. All is wonderful. The System is terrific. The eyes are blank. This is a person who long ago stopped questioning and thinking. An MFA degree? Some education!


King said...

A Side Note:
I always find it interesting how people react to contrary statements which are outside their previous experience. There's a kind of cognitive dissonance at work. Their minds process what I say as "rants" or "hostility."
Though inside their brains it's interpreted more in warning "Danger! Danger!" letters. Such as, "HOSTILITY!!" Even when I'm giving a fairly objective assessment of something.
The truth is that people are pack animals. Ever study a dog pack? People dislike discomforting ideas inside their heads. The first impulse is to repel them, as quickly as possible.

Anonymous said...

I won't disagree with your opinion on Seth or, generally, about what you have to say about institutions, but I don't agree that the MFA argument is that black and white. I think it is too simplistic to drop writers into the binary of 'cattle' or 'not cattle' and doesn't give enough credit to writers (or anybody) as thinking humans who can make choices. You admit to having worked with bureaucracies, yet you have managed to break free from them, so I'm not sure it's fair to suggest that MFA programs can only be homogenizing forces - it assumes that nobody is capable of breaking away from them. And, too, it assumes that everybody's experience of the MFA is the same, and that every MFA results in an aesthetic brainwashing. Maybe this is the case for some, but I also know many writers who have attended MFA programs who do not fit what you describe. That's not to try to shut your argument down, only to suggest that it's more nuanced.

King said...

Nuanced is all it is, "Anonymous," in the sense that the distinctions between literary writing today are very slight. Nuances only. All one has to do is pick up a stack of standard lit journals of the university variety and study their fiction and poetry. In an upcoming post all be getting forther into this, examining why these apparent quality works DON'T work, don't connect with the reader. The reader is related to the overarching bureaucratic mentality fostered by the nature of writing workshops.
To points:
1.) When I was still quite young, breaking free of the bureaucracy I'd fallen into was for me a wrenching experience.
2.) That said, I don't at all exclude the possibility of writers releasing their self-imposed mental chains. It's why I'm still making blog posts. A relative handful will be all that's needed. When one studies the waves and cycles of history, it becomes apparent that phenomena reach an extreme one way before they shift in the opposite direction. This is easily found in commodity futures markets. When the consensus is 95% one way-- when there are no contrarians-- then a high or low is soon to be reached.
Who is found, other than myself, who'll publicly speak out against the literary status quo? I note you're posting here anonymously.

King said...

(Excuse all the typos. I meant "The reason" not "the reader," "two" points etc. It's saturday morning, I'm about to go into a shitty job, and I'm hurrying.)

NoisySilence said...


Enjoyng this exchange with Seth 'Do Not Question My Authority' Abramson.

How does the alpha dog control his pack when one of the subs gets out of line? With a snarl, a bark, flashing canines with his hair raised along the ridge of his back. And then there is order again and possibly the nursing of a wound.