Friday, June 7, 2013

Killing Literature: The Classics, Identity, and Creating a Collective Exegesis

So I've had a few radical ideas lately.

Chapter 1: Conveyance 

Last night I was speaking with fellow Bureaucrat and Punk Mom Erica Fox, on publishing and the general fear and anxiety one experiences when sending one of their literary babies off for judgement.

For a large sum of people the "goal" of writing is to be published, or at least, to have something "publishable" after the catharsis of the whole thing is satisfied. For others, this is not the case, and thats fine, but I'm going to ignore that group in lieu of my misunderstanding of that viewpoint. While I can understand that not everything one writes pleads to be read by others on a printed scale, I do think that having an audience when one writes is important, and if one is indeed present in the constructing of even a cathartic essay to oneself, there is still an inherent desire to be coherent if not pleasing to reread.

Thus, in the end if we feel compelled to write something down, should we not be aware that after our inexplicable deaths our notes and texts will be looked over by those more than likely wanting to hear a few more words from us?

But therein lies where my mind splits off the ends of the point.

Chapter 2: Finding your identity in literature

The notion of identity is obviously very important in the literary world. There are lessons upon lessons in advanced and beginning classes drilling in the idea that we must "find" our own voice and style as writers. This "voice" is found through our own experiences, and it is almost universally suggested that we read other authors voices and styles in order to develop our own - by picking and choosing dialect that we ourselves enjoy and thus emulate. A big problem with this idea is classical education, as in, the basic primary and secondary school system in place at least where I'm from.

I was lucky enough to have a few good english teachers in high school teach me for the most part that there was an alternative to what we were studying - that poetry could still be poetry without sounding like Whitman, Shakespeare, or any other basic "high school safe" poet coerced upon students. But for most of my peers, this was not the case. The literary world is a wonderfully large door to open, but the way the curriculum is in schools now does not provide that large of a opening through which to really explore what you like. Had I not been an english major and been given books both inside and outside of the class requirements, I would obviously not be as "well read" as I am today, I simply wouldn't have any indication on where to look - and how to find my favorite genre - lyrical prose (as there is not a handy sign near the Fiction, Non-fiction/Biography sections. Besides a few tricks - looking for the "other people also bought..." on Amazon books - there isn't a very open way for people that aren't already in the literary world to fully explore it.

Reading is given a tarnished taste to a lot of people because all the common person has to go on is high school education - which don't get me started on how analysis of literature is taught - and besides that and the arbitrary "Best Seller" or various Oprah reader's list suggestion, the system may still be as confusing to a newcomer as the dewey decimal system is to a child.

And I think this is where a lot of the namedropping comes in. We all recognize Fitzgerald, Shelley, Shakespeare, Whitman, King, and Poe. These are called "classics" there are heaping piles of editions both paperback and hardcover as well as collected works filling up usually several aisles of your basic bookstore - and it would appear that everyone has a copy and has "tried reading a bit of it" but seldom are they discussed really in today's culture except on the occasion that one is remade into a movie (most recently of course, The Great Gatsby).

Chapter 3: The problem with "The Classics"

So here's my first question, why are they classics, and why are they more respected  as say - On The Road by Kerouac or any of Vonnegut's works? Now I'm not arguing that the classics are useless - they were at some point extremely valuable to the literary world, and should remain to be seen as such - but much is the case of applying old entertainment masterpieces to today's (a good example would be comparing an early James Bond film to the newest one) they do not apply as well to today's society and interests as they did previously.

I suppose to simplify this, imagine the literary world as a staircase and today's society as one individual walking up those stairs. Now we know where we stand now, and there will be other steps in front of us, and we will of course get there by the assistance of the step we are on now. And in that same respect, if we look behind us, we can trace back the steps and see how we got the style and literary popularities today by looking at the influences of the past and the experiences depicted in such.

By this respect I am not suggesting we tear apart the stairs previous (we may still need to go back and reminisce) but I think it is absolutely vital that we begin appreciating the more recent steps in the literary world that actually have have a more profound impact on say - the last generation or so - comparative to the "classics".

I think it is about time we begin to grow up in the teaching of the literary world to students.

There are still issues today with violence and sex in media - and the "outrage" parents have at exposing their children to the rest of the world. A common motif in this argument is the indication that whatever is popular nowadays comparative to the past is in some way worse in moral fiber or otherwise to works previous. Now this is usually aimed at the more recent popular forms of media - videogames and movies. This is hardly applied to books, and this is a problem.

The argument of something "corrupting the youth" will always exist as a social problem. Progression of morals and ideals inevitably change with each new generation's experiences to the previous, and the natural urge to rebel against such (as their roots are not as attached to the ideals as the previous generation and thus are more easily detached or malleable to the idea of change). The big problem right now is that literature is not held on the same platform as popular media, and why is that?

Literature can be (and is more often) more explicit, sexual, violent, and controversial than other forms of media out today. More often than not, when a book is adapted to a screenplay they have to cut out those parts of it in order to get an "R" rating or otherwise. But for the majority of people who only see the movie, that is the extent of the story they are given, and books are still harmless enough to the point where they are boring.

It would appear that right now due to the aversion we're given through educational standards, we do not hold books up to the entertainment standard that they should be considered. Now I am not suggesting we being censoring books like we do other forms of media, I am talking about considering them as just as exciting, immersing, and emotional as movies and videogames. And we can start this by instead of referring our youth only to the "safe" social commentaries and musings of old classics, we introduce much more modern literature that is more likely to strike a chord with the kind of audience we're actually teaching here.

What kind of interest do you expect onto kids when you're offering them work that is outdated compared to what else is available?

Chapter 4: Killing your Identity

Now clearly the Classics are for better or worse ingrained into our brains, and along with that, any favorite author or poet we pick up on the way is naturally held in high regard in our minds, and that's a big problem. When a writer wants to publish something, isn't it natural to then compare oneself to other published writers, to sit back and think: "How could I compare to (Blank)?" and ultimately feel discouraged, as it's very unlikely that one is going to feel superior to any other writer when they themselves haven't even been published yet.

This is rectified to an extent when you know somebody personally who has been published, where you meet them, see that they eat real human food and belch and have fuck-ups and realize that yes they are indeed human too. This then opens the door a little wider to allow a margin of hope that yes, I can get published too. With the monkey seeing and hoping that he invariably can do that as well, it gets a little easier, but here's the question:

Wouldn't it be easier if identity didn't exist?

Allow me to reexplain,

During a poetry class with fellow Bureaucrat Brent Holden, we partnered up for a final presentation that we would give to the class. The presentation could be one of two things:

1. Do a small presentation on a poet not studied in class and analyze their style in front of the class
2. Do your own poetry and analyze it in front of the class

Naturally not many people picked the 2nd choice, as presenting poetry for a lot of people is scary - because it's personal and more important fallible.

And this was something I wanted to test. During our time in the class we analyzed both each other's pieces as well as published poets work, having a workshop for both. There was a clear difference in the conversation between unpublished and published - mainly there was more "I don't like this part, and I would change it via (blank) on the unpublished as opposed to just "I don't like this" on the published.

It would appear that people feel that once somebody is published, their work is then set in stone comparatively to say, a peer's work.

Brent and I decided to test this further by combining the rubrics of the assignment and giving a presentation featuring our own work - only presented as a published author.

To do this we had to create a fake persona with a fake backstory, and then write "his" poems.
His name was Casey James McCall, and our class found his work enjoyable, and more importantly believed that he was indeed an accomplished poet simply because he was presented as one.

Now Brent and I did try to disguise our styles in Mr. McCall's work as our class had been reading our poems for a semester now and most of our quirks were more than obvious. So, in order to create Casey's work, we did a collaborative editing and writing process where we would send drafts of each other's poetry half finished in one way or another, and then create the rest of it, only to send it back to the original for a final look over. In this way there was really no "author" to these poems, as the central ideas of the pieces had been carried on by both of us, in other words, we killed our identities.

The loss of identity was not totally complete however, as Casey James McCall is Brent and I's creation, so we do indeed technically still own him and his words. Thus, the ideal is not yet reached.

Allow me to suggest another example.

Chapter 5: The beauty of anonymity

The advent of the internet and its own lack of identity between users is a new concept to us - one that is scary to most due to the full potential a human being now has when granted a lack of identity - a lack in some cases of responsibility or repercussions.

This is probably best seen in anonymous message boards where by default users are not given a username, they are not given an identity, and if they are it is in the form of a random set of letters and numbers - there is little to no memory or significance given to them unless they expressively divulge it themselves. One of the biggest concerns in fact, in this "lawless" kind of wild west of anonymity is having one's identity discovered, then leading to the bullying fiascos that occasionally show up on the news.

It is in this world of anonymity there can be one of the most open and honest forums of discussion, only really capable due to the lack of repercussions for expression of opinion, which is beneficial to the nth degree as opinion will always and forever be corrupted by expression (fear of sounding wrong, stupid, or misinformed/ fear of impression).

Now I am not usually one to partake in the discussion, as I've found my point is usually represented in due time by another individual, and there isn't really a point in getting involved unless I felt particularly compelled to make point, and it was not until recently until I did so.

My first anonymous comment consisted of making a joke.
And lucky for me, it got a reaction, that being one of laughter.
I was, for a brief moment, successful.

I then realized within less than a minute my small quip was covered up by messages coming in after that, and that very quickly it was forgotten beneath another page of expended comments. I would not receive recognition for my joke any further than that small moment where only seconds after being spoken the seldom few not typing a message in the reply box would read it and react, further covering it up. And more importantly I didn't even have a name, I would not be remembered for my name, only for my joke and the timing.

I feel this perhaps reflects the literary community, or it should.

Good writing is a translation of perspective one has while looking at the world, and for as long as we're all alive at the same time, we're going to be looking at mostly the same thing. By this right, if we are all writing we are all probably writing about the same ideas, if not the exact same thing, depending of course on location and age. But for the most part, I imagine many other Midwestern writers my age are feeling and thinking just about the same thing as me, and are having the same difficulties I am having with growing up/becoming an adult/making a new home.

Is it then not a race of timing and what is said to be identified and cherished for our "joke" laid out in the form of literary narrative of what we're all seeing?

Chapter 6: The Collective Exegesis

A major concern that came up during our early Bureau meetings was the idea of presence, and how we presented ourselves as a group to a venue, and how the relation of selective individual's work could alter that perception. It was decided that inevitably the Bureau would work as a collective cultivator for the writers in it, and as an entity itself would refuse to own any affiliations.

This idea intrigued me as I considered the points previously discussed.

There is a clear indication of intimidation and corruption of true, honest expression especially in the literary world where name dropping is such a heavily prevalent signifier of success even in reading.

However, if a degree of anonymity was established in a collective, then wouldn't the pressures of conveyance drop to the point where we could publish work that is indeed expressively honest in every right, beyond such that the identity of an individual could afford?

Our words, regardless if published or not will go beyond our own identities in time. Human communication is a long game of telephone, and whether or not the words are remembered as an identity or not is largely irrelevant to the significance of properly conveying that idea that truly moves and shapes people. There is a good degree of doubt to whether or not Homer or Shakespeare were indeed authors themselves, or just collections of stories. In the early times of literature the idea of an author was not something that existed - plainly there was no real value in it, as books and works were not sold, and stories were told on the honor and excitement of the characters within them.

I suggest a return to such an ideal of character and story conveyance in lieu of an actual identity or name that can be subjected to scrutiny and delving into in a search for information that is largely irrelevant to the text presented.

Thus, my next large project (hopefully with the support of several Bureaucrats) will be creating a collective that publishes work of all the members, all conveyed under the identity of anonymity. Through this members can be expressively honest in their own individualities, or new individual voices can be created through the collaboration of two separate, effectively creating a new persona within the collective.

An exegesis is the analysis of a text in studying the audience of a text, the history, origins, and the background of the author. Creating a collective variety of "author" will impart the necessity of close reading, a drastic turn from the celebrity nature that often corrupts the meanings of the text itself through the audience's own subjectivity.

There will not be a clear indicator of history, style, or persona, for in a collective exegesis the most important conveyance will be that of the words themselves - the resonance in it's rawest form - to affect the audience and for them to resonante in their own ways - the exact point of writing - a translation of perspective, a viewpoint without arms or legs to distract the experience.

If you've made it this far, I thank you for your time and readership.

If you'd be interested in joining this collective, please refer to this forum:


  1. I disagree with one of the premises of this post, but before I reply, I'd like a clarification.

    In your opinion, why are "the classics" taught?

    1. The Classics are taught because of their importance to the literary world and society, they are referenced or referred to enough to the point where it is beneficial to know them.