Re: language: a plea for tolerance!

Steve Krause (krause@MIND.NET)
Mon, 14 Oct 1996 07:14:57 -0700

Tom Maddox wrote (among other things):

>I have my own troubles with Faulkner from time to time, but I would
>maintain that his writing differs from the stuff I alluded to. It has
>beauty, and even when I wish he would just untie that fucking *knot* for
>Christ's sake, I'm aware of the power of his language. Look back at my
>paragraph above, and you'll see that I'm referring to specific uses of
>language that I find "ugly, pretentious, and deluded," and I'll stay with
>that assertion. These are judgment calls, matters of esthetics perhaps.

Whoa! I would suggest that you keep in mind the issues of judgement and
esthetics (sp?) as you raise them here, and that you further remember my
mantra of mantras, context is everything. Faulkner can be "beautiful"
language (though it can also be "incomprehensible" and "racist"
occassionally). But Foucault is a "beautiful" writer too. So is Derrida.
So is Booth. So is S. Crowley. So is L. Faigley. So is J. Berlin. So is
Barthes. So is Cixsous. So is Kristava. So is-- well, you fill in the
blank here.
>If that works for you, fine, but a great many people with considerable
>influence would have us believe that these theories are more than useful to
>some folks some of the time--they are essential. I should also note, in
>fairness, that much of what I despise comes not from the Big Hitters
>(though I do believe Lacan was a bit of a charlatan, and Baudrillard is
>just silly much of the time) but from their acolytes, who manipulate the
>language borrowed from the B.H.s like novice magicians mimicking the
>master's incantations, complete with nasal whine, cigarette cough, and
>Kentucky accent.

Ha! You mean like all the fiction writers in the workshops I was in who
tried to imitate Hemingway and Carver? Seems like imitation is always a
kind of flattery, and it seems to me that every profession (academic or
otherwise) has its Big Hitters that are frequently imitated (usually
badly). So what? Does that mean that the subject of imitation is "bad,"
or even responsible for this? I'd agree that a lot of "BHers" (Foucault is
a really good example for me, personally) tend to be a lot clearer than the
imitators and analysts, but so what?

>And maybe not. Gustibus non est disputandum. But as *artists* I find the
>theorists a sad lot, for reasons mentioned above. Even when I grow
>severely impatient with Faulkner or, say, Joyce, I never feel that their
>efforts are bogus, which I quite often do with the theorists. I sometimes
>feel that all theory aspires to the condition of gibberish.

Well, first off, I like to think of myself as both an artist (I've written
and published a reasonable amount of fiction in very small journals and
magazines, I've given readings, I was in an MFA program, etc.) and as an
academic/theorist/ scholar. I guess for me, the two are not mutually
exclusive. And when I think about the way that creative writers put
together their art-- especially in the form of creative writing workshops--
a lot of critical theories and how they work come to my mind when I think
about those sessions of other writers telling me what to do with my story.
Second, I've re-read writers who I once thought of as "artists" and while I
wouldn't say I changed my mind to feel they were "bogus," I did wonder
about their "art." Salinger is one of those writers for me; Flannery
O'Connor is another.

And to simply dismiss "theory" as "gibberish," well, there's no real
response to that, now is there? I might as well say all poetry is
gibberish, or all tv is gibberish, or all politics is gibberish, etc., etc.

>I should also add that I will be teaching students who will not receive
>grades, who are free to walk out of my class and take another, who can
>develop pretty much any kind of individual or group project they wish, and
>who will write self-evaluations and be evaluated by me in the most
>straightforward prose I can manage. I am concerned that they set and
>pursue their own goals within the very flexible limits of this class--not
>that they fulfill any agenda of mine--and this certainly could include the
>intense study of pomo-ismus in whatever form.

Hmmm... me thinks that the student who writes about Derrida might be

All I'm saying Tom is that you seem to me to be awfully dismissive of this
stuff, which, imho, ain't gonna wash most of the time. You can't say that
most theory is just "butt ugly" writing without talking about specifics in
a setting like this.

Steve Krause * Department of English * Southern Oregon State College
1250 Siskiyou Blvd. * Ashland, OR 97520 * Office Phone: 541-552-6630
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