The literary story today is a model of conformity. After decades of writing workshops, system writers have synthesized all the many instructions and subliminal cues to give the academic system of writing perfect examples of consistency, as seen in poem after poem, story after story—by the thousands. They’re all adeptly crafted, as from a factory.
This is the nature of bureaucracy—and the question is whether art can and should be the product of bureaucracy. In place is an unstated “book” of how to write, so that writers who want to get ahead create by the book, and only by the book. Which also means that those writers approved and promoted are those best able to conform to the system way of writing. They’re the students raising their hands at the front of the class, giving, quickly and efficiently, the teacher exactly what she wants.
It’s a machine way of writing art and results in machine art, with no room for difference, much less the creativity of new ideas. Is this process good for American literature? Writers are giving the system and its priests and acolytes—the nomenklatura-- what it wants but they’re not producing what the public wants. The public lives outside the literary machine, and doesn’t know the values and codes of the particular bureaucracy that’s been put in place.
More thoughts on this upcoming: “Dropping Chandeliers.”