Saturday, August 29, 2009

Notes on Skidmore: Louise Glück and Jim Shepard

I had trouble listening to Louise Glück. Her voice seemed to be purposefully depleted of emotion; it seemed to wash over me. I suspect that the emotion was there at a pitch imperceptible to my ears. Emotion might have also been there in her language, in the words that I did not hear or understand. At the end, when I became more closely attuned with her rhythm, I wrote down two thoughts. 1) Judging contests: "if you don't love doing it, it's like giving up a kidney to a stranger." I found the similie interesting, because I've always thought of doing bulk reading at my magazine volunteer gigs more in terms of taking in too much information -- like getting a kidney that you don't need. The idea of giving up something in the process of reading is interesting. What is it that one does give up? Probably not a kidney. 2) "you thank a teacher by bestowing an equal attention on another being." That's sweet.

More about Jim Shepard. During his third session with us, he reviewed some of the themes from our second workshop -- and then went on to add more depth to all of it. Great teaching practice: review and uncover new depths.

He said, "Literature opeartes by mobilizing opposing but complimentary forces and brings them into a collision with each other." (Exact wording?)

Another way to quiz your narrators is to ask yourself: "What is the source of discomfort the central consciouness of the story has with itself?" (The source of disgust, disquiet, disappointment?)

"Be aware that as a writer your first impulse is laziness." Ha! "You always hope that what you've delivered to the page is enough. What's most difficult to explore is at the heart of your fiction. It is what you want to neglect as a writer -- because it's the hardest to explore."

"When you're writing, you're not declaiming, you're exploring." I see the truth of this statement, and yet I'm tempted to rebel. I think this mode of thinking about literature really works best for thinking about realist prose. I wonder if Jim would agree: he made a specific distinction between realistic and figurative modes, and it's too bad that we didn't get a chance to explore the differences further in our class. In general, I feel that his method is best applied to realist prose. Absurdist stuff (to take one mode of writing that's not realist) requires a different process. Language-based work requires a different process.

"We write to establish & recouperate our losses. Turning awful experiences into something lasting. People are reading for pleasure -- so much fiction is performance. Literature is also showing people how they live."

A writer's career is a path of "gathering power & gaining authority." I am fascinated by this notion; the ways of creating authority in language. A lot of this has to do with technique, but some of it actually relies on the contextual aspects of the author's identity. Jim refers to this in passing in his Identity Theory interview with Robert Birnbaum, when he talks about the authority required to write a WWII story vs. a Holocaust story. I'm thinking about this since the days of studying feminist narrative theory, Susan Lanser's text "Fictions of Authority: Women Writers and Narrative Voice."

One completely genius thing that Jim did in class was to start the discussion of each of our stories with reading a poem outloud. He read Dean Young's "The Business of Love is Cruelty," Henry Hudgins' "Ashes." He also read Carl Dennis' "The God Who Loves You." The poet himself was on campus a few days later and also read this poem. It's a very good poem. After my Skidmore blogs, I'll start blogging about narrative theory and poetry.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for putting this down, Olga. I also loved the way the poetry readings informed our workshops. "The God Who Loves You" blew me away.