Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Notes on Skidmore, Rick Moody, Andrea Barrett and Nicholas Delbanco

My friends are sending in more fun and useful links. Rob has shared information about Sirenland, an expensive (but possibly worth it) writers conference that will take place at the end of March in Positano, Italy. Best part: Jim Shepard is one of the instructors. Rob also has shared a link to a blog by Seth Abramson, who accumulates lots of useful information about MFA applications, including more of school rankings and the time it takes for schools to respond to applications.

Evelyn is reminding me that I haven't blogged about Rick Moody yet. Rick was one of the most charismatic people on campus, always friendly and ready to engage in a conversation. I don't think I have any notes on his reading in my notebook, and the reason is simple: I was listening. His essay fascinated me on several different levels, the way it was very personal and yet at the same time very analytical. Rick's subject was Antonin Artaud, French writer and drama theorist, whose work I've come across during my year of researching Russian and German modernist theatre. Rick's essay is available online on The Believer's website. It's worth reading again and reading closely. Scrolling through it briefly just now I was already able to pick out a sentence I love to ponder ("My hypothesis: Artaud is part of a European and specifically French intellectual lineage obsessed with the rigors of truth-telling." Are Europeans obsessed with the rigors of truth-telling? Maybe if the accent is on the rigors.). Harder to summarize is the personal story Rick tells in this essay. It simply demands closer reading.

I'll do the long post about the Jim Miller & Lawrence Weschler conversation tomorrow (it's long!), and today I will go to the Q&A with the student/teacher pair Andrea Barrett and Nicholas Delbanco. Andrea was Nicholas' student at the Breadloaf Writers' Conference one year, and then followed him to another program, I think. Nicholas joked how, as a teacher, he had "nothing to say [about Andrea's fiction] at some length." And also that the two of them weren't afraid to "pay each other the compliment of an insult." Andrea confirmed: "[it's] a longer lasting gift that a teacher can say something firm to a student." (I suppose "firm" in this sentence also means "insulting"?)

Andrea or Nicholas (my notes are muddled) brought up a paradox about writing instruction: "Writing can't be taught, it has to be learned." I think she has talked about an MFA program being only as good as providing an environment for apprenticeship -- when a student can apprentice herself to the craft, to a mentor. "It's important to have writers' groups, just to have readers who read."

Most of Andrea's work, apparently, has been based in a single novelistic world. She was asked about how that happened, if she had planned for it to happen. She said, "Many writers like being confined a little (like writing a sonnet); it must relieve some tension. ... At a certain point in your career, there is a certain kind of comfort of not having to create a new world every time you set out." She brought up examples of James Wood and Jose Saramago.

I think I asked them about how they approach revision, and Andrea answered with several suggestions:

-- Read work outloud
-- Change type fonts (She alternates between handwritten drafts & computer written ones). Maybe even change the color of the text. Do everything possible to make the text less familiar.
-- Recognize when you got something right the first time

Nicholas reminded us that "The idea of revision is a relatively recent one in the history of art." Which is absolutely true. He wasn't saying that revision was unnecessary (or that he didn't revise), I think his point was to relate the idea of revision to the process of writing in general (technology; what we expect of the finished draft; etc).

1 comment:

  1. So many great ideas here. The idea that revision is relatively new in history of art.....thinking this over. What strikes me is that although technology may make it "easier" (more efficient) to revise, working online can really undermine the way you understand your own work. When I used a typewriter as an undergraduate I was far more engaged with the material-- especially the way I understood how it all hung together. I still print out paper to make revisions by hand. I hoard my outtakesand alternate versions online and on paper. Probably too much: I am a compulsive hoarder in all kinds of ways. But think the computer speeds up writing and editing decisions in ways that can be counter-productive. I remember that John Hawkes wanted nothing to do with the computer....Rick told us he also prints everything out for revision. Faster is not always better.