March 24, 2012
Cultural links of interest from around the web:
Author (and frequent TNB contributor) Steve Almond reflects on the wane of talk therapy and the rise of the writing workshop in the New York Times.
It is at this point that I can hear the phantom convulsions of my literary comrades. “Damn it, Almond,” they’re saying. “You really are making workshops sound like therapy.” Fair enough. The official job of a workshop is to help a writer improve her prose, not her psyche. But this task almost always involves a direct engagement with her inner life, as well as a demand for greater empathy and disclosure. These goals are fundamentally therapeutic.
What irritates me about Lifespan (and what is maybe meant to irritate me — and thus to get me to think about the bigger question at hand) is not what D’Agata says he does, but how he defends it. The position he takes is not one I’m comfortable with as a writer or reader because it asserts (or at least enacts) the unassailability of the authorial ego, made more dramatic here by John’s deep engagement with the genre of the essay, the most ego-dependent genre we have.
Ian McEwan, writing for The Guardian, ponders originality and collaboration and the unfolding of great creative achievements in science and the arts.
In literature, everyone is first. We do not need to ask who was first to write Don Quixote. Better, in fact, to consider the possibility of being the second – Pierre Menard, who in Borges’s famous story independently reconceives, centuries after Cervantes, the entire novel, down to the last word. The worst novelist in the world can at least be assured that he will be the first to write his terrible novel. And mercifully, the last. And yet, to be first, to originate, to be original is key to the quality of a work of literature. However minimally, it must advance – in subject matter, in means of expression – our understanding of ourselves, of ourselves in the world.
Bret Easton Ellis tweets about Jeff Ragsdale’s new book Jeff, One Lonely Guy, co-authored by David Shields and Michael Logan. He calls it “the first example of successful post-empire reportage.” (Note: Ragsdale is interviewed in Episode 54 of Other People with Brad Listi.)