Vicarious MFA: Post-Vacation Malaise
The only obligation to which in advance we may hold a novel, without incurring the accusation of being arbitrary, is that it be interesting. -Henry James (see to do # 3 for more on this)
If you’re following along with the V-MFA this is the part of the semester where all your assignments and deadlines converge and you get dangerously close to caffeine-induced combustion.
1. Though Lethem’s 4-week master class is over, the essay has been due for a week and, so get to work.
2. Workshop Submission # 3 is due on Tuesday: Aiming for revising about 40-50 pages of new stuff.
3. The essay for the First Book seminar is due in 2 weeks but an outline was due yesterday. It needs to be about 2000 words on which character from one of the books so far has been the most interesting.
“Each of those books is organized around a figure who is the book’s central intelligence, some compound of narrator, protagonist, and author. In the seminar, I’ve set out my view that the literary power of the book – as a first book — very often depends on the author’s ability to create and introduce this figure in such a way as to organize and illuminate his or her material and to catch, hold, and reward the reader’s interest. Which figure, then, is most interesting, and why? Binx Bolling? Richard Rodriguez? The Antiguan surrogate who develops from girl to woman in Jamaica Kincaid’s first book? Bruce Chatwin? Kathleen Norris? Nick Hornby?…
“What is it that makes such a figure interesting? It is story or material? voice and point of view? great intelligence, or strong emotion? literary effects – recollection, aside, engagement with current affairs, invocation of other books, direct appeal to the reader, and so on? Is it especially vital that a first book introduce such a figure? Is a book made interesting through the presence of such a figure, or is this figure only as interesting as the material — is the story the thing?…”
4. The Spring Panel for Columbia: A Journal of Literature and Fine Art is 3 weeks away. (Full disclosure: I am the panels editor.) More details to come.
5. The essay for The Non/Fiction seminar and the paper for the Psychology class on inheritance are both due by the end of April… Also 2 more presentations for the latter class will happen during April… In short, it’s going to be a tough month.
The First Book:
We discussed Luc Sante’s book “Low Life: Lures and Snares of Old New York”
Words & phrases used in class discussion:
Crowded, Chaotic, Abundant, Interesting!, Fascinating!, Energy, Plethora, Lists, Tangential, Unwieldy, Blind References, and How Did His Editor Let Him Get Away With…
Guest Lecture: James Wood
All I am going to say is that he’s a smart guy, extremely nice and he talked for almost an hour straight and the whole room of about 80 people (and some in the hallway) was riveted. Also he said that there is “a lot of interesting things” going on out here in the internet. So that’s one anti-internet vote from Joyce Carol Oates and one pro-internet vote from James Wood. Things are looking up, people!