More Blog Posts602

  • Friday
    "Shut Up" and my "psychic experience"

    28 comments · 404 views
  • 6d, 14h
    Hidden Figures: The real agenda is $$$

    Hidden Figures is a powerful story, and a surprising one.  I and the people I watched it with kept asking, "Why haven't I heard about this before?"

    But I remembered that Fargo began with the solemn text-over statement that

    This is a true story. The events depicted in this film took place in Minnesota in 1987. At the request of the survivors, the names have been changed. Out of respect for the dead, the rest has been told exactly as it occurred.

    … which turned out to mean…

    “There are actually two little elements in the story that were based on actual incidents,” Joel Coen told HuffPost. “One of them is the fact that there was a guy, I believe in the ‘60s or ‘70s, who was gumming up serial numbers for cars and defrauding the General Motors Finance Corporation. There was no kidnapping. There was no murder. It was a guy defrauding the GM Finance Corporation at some point.”

    He continued, “The other thing based on something real: There was a murder in Connecticut, where a man killed his wife and disposed of the body — put her into a wood chipper. But beyond that, the story is made up.”

    So I was googling "hidden figures true story" on my phone during the movie.  The first few hits were fluff pieces that basically said "OMG there's a book on this though I haven't, y'know, read it".  Then I found this website History vs. Hollywood that does nothing but compare historical movies to their true history, and it did an in-depth comparison of movie and book.  I also checked biographies of the 3 main characters: Dorothy Vaughan (Wikipedia, NASA), Katherine Johnson (Wikipedia, NASA), and Mary Jackson (NASA).

    Since it came out simultaneously with the non-fiction book, I expected the movie would stick pretty close to the account in the book, but choose events selectively, and film them in ways to make the movie a more or less politicized reconstruction.

    What I found instead was bizarre:  history rewritten with a combination of anti-white and anti-activist distortions.  The opening scene tells you what movie Ted Melfi wanted to make:  A racist cop approaches the three black women, whose car has broken down, and menaces them until he learns they work at NASA on the space program.  Then he turns friendly and escorts them to work.  This summarizes the movie's message: (A) White Americans were mostly racists, but (B) there was no need for resistance or protest; if black women did good white-collar white-nerd work, they would be recognized and accepted as equals.


    In Jesus Christ Superstar, there is a remarkable scene where they give Jesus 39 lashes.  The remarkable thing is that they show all 39 lashes.  It's either a brilliant violation or a brilliant fulfilment of the rule "always surprise."  They started giving the lashes, and I thought they would have to cut away--they surely couldn't just keep on and show all 39 lashes.  But they grind through all 39, showing the faces of Pilate, Herod, and the soldiers slowly change, from stern, eager, and vicious, to strained, nauseated, and exhausted.

    Jesus Christ Superstar was not intended as history, but even so, that is the right way to film something terrible from history.  The reality of 39 lashes is bad enough.

    When I saw Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, I counted the lashes they gave Christ.  I've forgotten now how many it was, but it was well over 100.  We know that in real life they would have been very careful to give him no more than 39, because a Roman soldier who gave more than 40 lashes would himself be lashed.  They exaggerated the pain and humiliation of the crucifixion in other ways as well.  This is when I formulated Bad Horse's Rule of Historical Fetishism:

    If you exaggerate a crucifixion, you're not making history; you're making some kind of porn.

    There are true stories worth telling about black and female scientists and engineers accomplishing great things while suffering or fighting discrimination, like the story of the black experimental heart surgeon Vivien Thomas, which was told in the better and entirely obscure movie Something the Lord Made.  Seriously, watch that movie instead of Hidden Figures.  It's not based on a true story; it is a true story, it doesn't have a completely extraneous romance subplot, and you can buy the DVD for about $7.

    [After I noticed all the web pages I read about Vivien Thomas used exactly the same wording, I discovered both they and the movie all rely entirely on Vivien Thomas' 1985 autobiography, which disagrees with Blalock's version of the story.  I therefore can't guarantee that the movie is a true story.]

    But Hollywood wanted to make a movie about three black women being put down by segregation and rampant racism at NASA even while they were struggling to help put American astronauts into space.  The problem is it never happened that way.

    - Everything in the movie except the space flights took place during 1943-1958, not 1961-1962, and at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, not at NASA.  Dorothy was hired in 1943, Mary in 1951, Katherine in 1953.  The battles over racism within NACA peaked in the late 1940s, not the 1960s (Hidden Figures chapter 10), and the most-serious were not triggered directly by racism, but by anti-communism, which tried to root out progressives from government jobs.  NASA never had racially-segregated work groups or toilets; those were abolished in 1958 when NACA became NASA, in open defiance of Virginia state law.  So the movie misrepresents the race situation in NASA in the early 1960s using a misrepresentation of events at NACA from the 1940s and 1950s.

    - Many of the most-dramatic racist events were made up.  The racist cop in the opening scene was made up.  The scene where Katherine walks into her new office and is mistaken for a janitor never happened.  There was no "coloured coffee pot".

    -  These "coloured computers" ("computer" was a job description in those days--the people weren't named after electronic computers; electronic computers were named after the people) were working in the most-progressive division (the Stability Research Division; Hidden Figures chapters 10 & 11) of a generally progressive organization, and it should have been praised for being dangerously progressive for its time and place (according to the FBI, which investigated it as a potential communist hotbed because of its progressive views) rather than being slandered as it was by this film.

    - In an interview with WHRO-TV, Johnson stated that she "didn't feel the segregation at NASA, because everybody there was doing research. You had a mission and you worked on it, and it was important to you to do your job ... and play bridge at lunch." She added, "I didn't feel any segregation. I knew it was there, but I didn't feel it."

    - Mary Jackson really did have to petition the court for permission to attend night school to take the classes needed to become an engineer at NASA.  That was not exaggerated except by being moved to about 5 years later in time.

    What you find in the historical account is that there was discrimination, but it was usually exaggerated in the movie to make it more dramatic, often to make it conform to the rule of three, which says that a character shouldn't get anything she wants until the third time she tries:

    - The true story of the secret briefings: "I asked permission to go," says Katherine, "and they said, 'Well, the girls don't usually go,' and I said, 'Well, is there a law?' They said, 'No.' Then my boss said, 'Let her go.' And I began attending the briefings."

    - The true story of how Katherine got her name on her paper:

    In the early days of NASA women were not allowed to put their names on the reports—no woman in my division had had her name on a report. I was working with Ted Skopinski and he wanted to leave and go to Houston ... but Henry Pearson, our supervisor—he was not a fan of women—kept pushing him to finish the report we were working on. Finally, Ted told him, "Katherine should finish the report, she's done most of the work anyway." So Ted left Pearson with no choice; I finished the report and my name went on it, and that was the first time a woman in our division had her name on something.

    - In the movie, Dorothy Vaughn was doing the work of a supervisor, but was not made a supervisor until the end of the movie in 1962 because of her racist boss.  In reality she was made a supervisor in 1949, just 6 years after joining.

    - re. running across the NASA Langley campus to use the bathroom:

    In Margot Lee Shetterly's book, this is something that is experienced more by Mary Jackson (portrayed by Janelle Monáe) than Katherine Johnson. Mary went to work on a project on NASA [actually NACA] Langley's East Side alongside several white computers. She was not familiar with those buildings and when she asked a group of white women where the bathroom was, they giggled at her and offered no help. The closest bathroom was for whites. Humiliated and angry, Mary set off on a time-consuming search for a colored bathroom. Unlike in the movie, there were colored bathrooms on the East Side but not in every building. The sprint across the campus in the movie might be somewhat of an exaggeration, but finding a bathroom was indeed a point of frustration.

    Making all these changes is like giving Jesus 100 lashes instead of 39.  39 lashes is enough.  100 means you're enjoying it.

    A Note on Sexism, Racism, and Intersectionalism

    NACA and NASA hired many black women as mathematicians and engineers, but very few black men.  This appears to be because women were cheaper.


    Shifting the conflict over race from the 1940s and the 1950s into the 1960s also shifts the credit for civil rights, away from blacks and towards the mostly-white activists of the 1960s.  Is this an intentional part of the film's message?

    I doubt it.  Moving the discrimination from NACA to NASA makes a stronger, more compelling story, with better visuals, and references to things and people Americans know and care about, rather than to the obscure aeronautical engineering done at NACA.

    But the movie showed the women, for the most part, silently and patiently suffering discrimination while performing their jobs superlatively.  Their resistance to oppression was shown by Katherine yelling at her boss (which never happened), and repeatedly adding her name to her papers (which never happened).  The most dramatic acts of resistance, however, are given to Kevin Costner: smashing the "Coloured" restroom sign with a sledgehammer, letting Katherine into the secret briefings, telling her boss to put her name on the paper, throwing out the "coloured coffee" pot, and letting Katherine into mission control (which did not happen IRL as she had no job to do there).

    The closest thing to those moments in real life were Katherine Johnson's refusal to use the coloured restrooms (in the 1950s), and Miriam Man's repeated removing of the "coloured computers" sign from the NACA cafeteria (in the 1940s).  Why were these powerful acts of resistance acted out by a white man in the movie?

    Melfi argued, reasonably, that NASA was desegregated by a white man, and in fact there were "white saviours" in the Stability Research Division.

    You might suspect this "whiting out" was an anti-activist message, telling blacks to behave, act responsibly, and wait for whites to recognize them.  I see here rather the hand of Costner.  I have it on good authority, the kind so good I can't name it, that Costner only plays strong figures, and if the lines make someone else look smarter or better, he changes them.  Costner was not going to look weaker than unknown women actors.  He wouldn't even have had to make the change himself; his reputation is such that the producer or writer would have made that change before sending him the script.


    There are a distressing number of blog posts out there calling Hidden Figures a true history of segregation at NASA (which, as mentioned, never happened).  There are a lot of other blog posts calling it out as being racist white propaganda for making Kevin Costner a white saviour.  I think the real lesson here is that Hollywood's agenda is not progressive or regressive, but financial.  At every point, they distorted the story whichever way they thought would help it make more money, whether that was telling a more-compelling story, making the persecution more dramatic, or getting Kevin Costner to put Butts In Seats ("BIS", as they write in Los Angeles).

    25 comments · 445 views
  • 1w, 3d
    Pittsburgh: 3 Rivers Screenwriters' Conference; "Making up a bedtime story"

    Just a heads-up to anyone near Pittsburgh that the yearly screenwriters' conference starts tomorrow.  It snuck up on me, but I'm going.  It's in a different location, which is hidden on the webpage, and not on the directions page: 201 Wood St., Pittsburgh, PA.  I think it's $120 for students.  A great deal.  I doubt they'll do it again next year; it appears on the website that very few people registered.

    Bronycon didn't accept my panel ideas, so I won't be on any panels at Bronycon.  I did 3 last year, so I'm not crying.  (One was a cooperative effort with Horse Voice, which Nyronus also put work into.)  I will be running a demo of "And That's How Equestria was Made!", an adaptation of Baron Munchausen to MLP, with horizon, Applejinx, GaPJaxie, Ferret, bookplayer, & Blagdaross doing the actual work.  More on that later.

    As long as we're all here, I meant to recommend "Making up a bedtime story" by lord_steak.  1800 words or so.  This story is very simple, very sweet, and very odd, in that it... isn't really a story?  I mean it doesn't fit any definition of a "story" that I know.  It's very much Realistic (in the 19th-century French way that's usually so boring), slice-of-life, meaning a non-climactic section of someone's life with no character arc or plot.  But unlike most true "slice-of-life" stories, I didn't regret reading it afterwards, because it (a) chose a slice of that life that was very emotionally rich, and (b) is short.  Your mileage may vary.  I'm tagging this post "Experience" so the people who favorited "Experience" will see it, because they are probably the audience for "Making up a bedtime story".

    12 comments · 131 views
  • 2w, 14h
    Is this a warning sign?

    40 comments · 398 views
  • 2w, 5d
    Timeless pop art and ephemeral classics

    16 comments · 349 views
  • 3w, 10h
    HITALTCAASHR part 3.2: Teaching English: 1987-1990

    This post is an attempt to fill in a bit of the gap in the history of the Literary Left between 1970 and now, by summarizing trends in (Lloyd-Jones & Lunsford 1989, Davis & Mirabella 1990, Elbow 1990, Leitch 2010, Harbach 2014).  It's the last in its "series" of grumpy-old-man rants.  It doesn't conclude anything; it summarizes trends.

    Paranoid Hegemony

    The Literary Left had by 1989 settled into a siege mentality, believing they were still trying to infiltrate the English departments they had already conquered.  This attitude recurs throughout (Davis 1990).  Quoting again from the introduction:

    In a mere 20 years [since 1970] America, among other countries, has gone from a time of involvement and commitment in which the very fabric of state power was unraveling to an era in which the state has consolidated its strength, manufactured consensus, defused dissent, and raised high the ability of ideology to neutralize action and opposition. [p. 1]

    Although things may appear grim, there is hope. This anthology... addresses the concrete achievements of the radical left in academia. There has been a substantial body of political scholarship assembled over the past 20 years.… It is now possible to teach courses on gender, race, class, and ideology that would have been unthinkable 20 years ago…. These are some positive accomplishments, but there is obviously a long way to go. [p. 5]

    The American left felt like it was under siege in 1990 because the US had had radical right-wing Republican presidents since 1980.  The Secretary of Education under Reagan was William Bennett.  He was a caricature of the Reaganite conservative, interested in restoring the classics and religion to education, fighting drugs, crime, and terrorism, and writing sappy patriochristian books like The Book of Virtues.  The Republican administration no doubt seemed at the time like a threat.

    If, however, you look at the publications in (Leitch 2010), you'll see that 74 of the 80 entries written after 1959 are leftist, phenomenologist, post-modernist, about race or gender oppression, or multi-culturalist / post-colonialist.  The book spans the time from 500 B.C. to 2004 A.D., but 52 of its 178 entries are from 1970-1989.  There are twice as many entries from the 1970s as from the 1960s, and more than twice as many from the 1980s as from the 1990s.  By the 1990s, post-modernism and the basic paradigms of oppression were pretty well played out, and people had to start looking for new variations like intersectionalism and information-technology metaphors for oppression.  So far from being a time of conservative domination of literary theory, the years 1970-1989 were the high water mark of the Literary Left's productivity.   Either 1960 until the present was a period of a total hegemony of the left, or whatever other views there were have now been erased from history.

    The book's final chapter is an autobiographical story of despair by prominent Marxist English professor Louis Kampf, recounting a case in which he claims a professor was denied tenure for being a feminist.  "My colleagues could not officially say that a feminist doing women's studies was not to be taken seriously, but reasons would be found." (p. 306)  I suppose it's possible that there was pressure against feminists doing women's studies in the English department at MIT in 1989, but it couldn't have been very strong, as they had offered a degree in Women's Studies since 1984.

    Kampf's interior monologue is in the voice of a paranoid schizophrenic:  "The features of one colleague, a woman, are masked by a permanent smile which threatens to crack her jaw; I'm sure it will be there the moment Bush presses the atomic button. We are the guardian of the eternal verities, yet never speak our private truths…. Students scramble by me in the halls. One who has the maddened eyes of Alexander Haig tries to stare me down. I wonder how many will comply with the planning of nuclear holocaust or the economic strangulation of millions."  Had it been a white male Republican seeking tenure so that he could fight to preserve the traditional canon, would Kampf have evaluated him on his merits?

    Equality, Not Excellence

    When the NCTE convened for 3 weeks in the summer of 1987 to discuss what K-12 and college English should be teaching, Chester Finn, a Department of Education Reagan lackey, urged them to endorse E.D. Hirsch's Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know, allegedly a call to return to the classical canon (I haven't read it).  Finn's politically-oily overselling only united the teachers against his point of view (Elbow p. 16, Lloyd-Jones & Lunsford p. viii).  Unless, of course, they were united already.

    The conference summary and commentary, published in (Lloyd-Jones & Lunsford 1989, Elbow 1990), show that while the left had not yet turned K-12 consciously Marxist, it was leftist.  Both books view the classroom using an unspoken class-struggle model in which students who perform well are treated as the privileged bourgeoisie of the schoolroom.  All students are assumed to have equal ability; separating students by ability merely "denies 'low-track' students the 'types of instruction most highly associated with achievement'" (LJ & L p. 40).  Underperforming students are seen as underprivileged, ethnically discriminated against (LJ & L p. 40), or as members of a different learning culture.  The books emphasize repeatedly the necessity of "making literacy a possibility for all students" (LJ & L p. xx), and the importance of focusing education on the needs of the students performing the most poorly.

    High-performing students, by contrast, were viewed with suspicion.  Authors dismiss them as advantaged, as benefitting from culturally-biased tests, as poorly socialized, and as not actually being gifted at all.  They are assumed not to have any needs of their own.  Testing students and giving them single numeric scores on assignments, or especially on IQ tests, and sorting them into groups by performance level, are seen as a form of oppression or class warfare, and are strongly condemned in both books.  The pre-1960s view of education, as an investment by society in its own future, was gone completely, replaced by the left's view of education as being concerned only with bringing the performance of low-achievers up to equal that of high-achievers.  Equality had replaced excellence as the goal.

    The teachers were not unconscious of this; using the word "excellence" had become a sign of being an elitist bourgeois, and it is used almost exclusively in the pejorative:  "Tracking seems to promote a narrowly defined norm of excellence in American culture" (Elbow p. 46), "Normative assessment, in other words, automatically constrains how much "excellence" you can have" (Elbow p. 159). "Highland Park Elementary School, 1977, is neither a metaphor for educational excellence nor a symbol for a golden age" (Elbow p. 174; Highland Park is being held up as an exemplary school), "We see the same principle in literary evaluation when we try to decide which literary figures or works are better than others along some single continuum of excellence" (Elbow p. 248, in an argument against numeric grades).  The word "gifted" is used to challenge the notion that some students are gifted as a myth (Elbow, "Democracy Through Language", p. 36), to condemn gifted and talented programs for isolating gifted students from the virtuous proletariat their peers, who will socialize them (Elbow, "The Story of David & His Experience With Tracking", p. 44-46), to argue that placing the learning disabled in regular classrooms makes everyone learn faster (Elbow, "Scott's Gift", p. 141-147), and to challenge standardized tests as inaccurate ("Goals and Testing", p. 157). [4]

    The report in (LJ & L) came out strongly against "tracking", the separating of students into different classes by ability, claiming that

    Tracking systems in many schools have the effect of segregating learners along lines that are primarily racial or ethnic. In this way, and because such segregation prevents a richness of experience for high- and low-track students which mixed classes provide, the hidden curriculum demonstrated by tracking promotes elitism of certain learning styles, modes of expression, and cultural and ethnic views.  [Lloyd-Jones & Lunsford 1989, p. 40]

    Nancy McHugh, president of the National Council of Teachers of English at the time of the conference and formerly president of the California Association of Teachers of English, made the interpretation of gifted students as uppity bourgeoisie more bluntly:

    "Higher-ability" students need to appreciate and interact with "lower-ability" students to be reminded that their differences are relatively little and to be better conditioned to live in a democratic society. [Elbow, p. 36]

    Multiple Readings

    A theme that went along with the badness of grading and testing was the importance of making students search for multiple readings of stories.  Both are post-modern attacks on the notion of truth.

    What I described in the democracy chapter as the most concrete outcome of the conference—a classroom that seeks multiple readings and investigates where they came from and what interests they serve rather than seeking a correct or best reading—is clearly an empowering effect of [post-modern] theory. Student perceptions and readings are heard and taken seriously. Students won't so often have that characteristic experience in English classrooms of just listening to the teacher's interpretation in lectures or of just looking for the teacher's interpretation as they engage in discussion or write papers or of feeling that their own perceptions are wrong or irrelevant.

            --Elbow p. 79

    This is actually asking students to do cultural critique rather than literary analysis.  In practice, the Literary Left has introduced into classrooms only fiction with blunt and obvious messages about oppression, which have only one possible interpretation (browse the Open Syllabus Explorer for proof of this).  So all that has changed is that students are now made to listen to and look for the teacher's interpretation, and then do a cultural critique rather than a literary evaluation.


    The NCTE meeting had some recommendations to extend the teaching of English, or to create some new department, to also teach literature from other cultures (LJ & L p. 31).

    This would have been an excellent idea, but it never happened.  I find it singularly odd--I think I'll even say revealing--that despite decades of English teachers saying they valued the literature of other cultures, what we got instead were not the authentic stories honored and retold within those cultures, but either stories manufactured for Western culture about other cultures being oppressed by whites (Things Fall Apart, Beloved, Ceremony, House Made of Dawn), or stories about other cultures told by members of our culture (The Good Earth) and sanitized to satisfy our morals.  According to the Open Syllabus Explorer, 233 American English or Literature classes have assigned readings of Amy Tan, and 163 have assigned Edward Said's Orientalism; but only 14 have assigned one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature, 21 have assigned The Tale of Genji, and 15 have assigned any novel by Yasunari Kawabata.

    Adoption of Post-modernism as a Tool

    The work of people like Jacques Derrida, Jacques Lacan, Luce Irigaray, Gilles Deleuze, Helene Cixous, and Michel Foucault has been used to break down hierarchical notions of truth and meaning, to attack conceptions of a unified self that is outside of culture, and to combat the rigidity of disciplines and discourses. The insights of these thinkers have largely been gained by applying to various spheres of knowledge the revelations of post-Saussurian linguistics [2], or opposing those revelations… All of these writers claim that their work can help to destabilize categories of knowledge and overthrow hierarchies of knowledge, and so destabilize the power relations of hierarchical societies.  But the question remains, for leftist literary criticism, how to bring the insights of that work into the hands of larger numbers of people.  [Davis & Mirabella 1990, p. 5]

    Deconstructionist philosophy was adopted because it was politically useful, (1) to "break down hierarchical notions of truth and meaning" (to destroy students' ability to reason and make it easy to indoctrinate them), (2) to attack the Western notion of the individual, with its attendant rights and liberties, and (3) to attack the notion that the English department should be studying English.

    Hatred of Literature

    The leftist literature professor's indifference to literature which I have noted in the autobiography of Vincent Leitch is in many cases outright hostility.  The post-1960 essays in Leitch's Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism are almost entirely articles on what's bad about literature, with only a handful of mentions, in over a thousand pages, of any appreciation of literature.  Louis Kampf, the professor I mentioned in my last post, allegedly wrote in a 1970 article (which I can't find a citation to) that literature is a "weapon in the hands of imperialism."  Lennard Davis, the first editor of (Davis & Mirabella 1990), wrote Resisting Novels in 1987, a book devoted to demonstrating that the novel is an inherently bourgeois and deceptive literary form, and that reading novels inhibits the formation of revolutionary consciousness.

    As I hope to show, we can no longer smugly think of the novel as the culmination of the human spirit or the height of magnetic accomplishment. It is after all a cultural phenomenon with certain overt aims and a hidden agenda. While few would praise the current state of our culture to the hilt, it is all too common to find warm, unreflective praise for the novel as a form — even among leftists who are quite critical of other aspects of society. A colder review might see the novel as part of the process that got us to the world of the 'minimal self' in the first place.

            --Davis 1987, p. 5-6

    Davis' critique of the novel is another proof of a general framework I've developed over the past years for understanding literature and art throughout history.  It's such a perfect fit to my predictions that I hope to go over it in detail in a separate post.

    DIGRESSION: My framework (me, Bad Horse, not Davis) says that Western culture repeatedly develop idealist, collectivist, totalitarian ideologies which claim that:

    - There is no need to view the world empirically as a complex system.

    - There is one single grand, simplified theory of reality which is the only path to Truth, such as Plato's idealism, the Bible, or Marxist theory.

    - This theory always takes the form of having a single "logos", an origin of truth which all knowledge proceeds from: the world of Forms, God, the monarchy, or the economic base of society.

    - Because they have this single logos, purity is a central concept in their philosophy and aesthetics.  Ethnic cleansing, the purely virtuous heroes and purely evil villains demanded by Plato, medieval allegory, and the neo-classicists, the vacant eyes of Byzantine Madonnas, honor killings, Puritan witch-hunts, the neo-classical reinterpretation of Aristotle's theory of drama as being based on a "tragic flaw", Marxist purges, and the clean lines and colors of most modern art all stem from the same underlying ontology.

    - Using this single origin of truth enables the theory to use the simple Aristotelian model of causation, and of the world as a state-space, in which actions cause deterministic transitions from one state to another.

    - This simplistic deterministic physics and logic, which does not involve real-valued measurements or probabilities, lets the theory claim to draw conclusions and to make predictions about the future with complete confidence.

    - A special class of people (philosophers, priests, the Party) has exclusive access to or understanding of this logos.

    - Using this single origin of truth also necessarily means all power and authority must be given to those people.

    - The implementation of the theory is thus too centrally-controlled to allow individual deviation from the prescribed social behavior.

    - These people develop a non-empirical epistemology which makes it impossible to disprove their theory.

    - These ideologies therefore always suppress art and replace it with propaganda, to prevent individual deviation from the prescribed social behavior, and to teach their insular epistemology.

    - The "art" they endorse is designed to deny and suppress the life of the individual, and destroy their ability to think critically or empirically.

    The great examples of these ideologies are Platonism, medieval Christianity, Marxism, Puritanism, the Restoration and neo-classical era [5], Nazism, Stalinism, and Post-modernism [1].  Great art and literature was made mostly in the gaps between societies ruled by these ideologies [6].

    What Davis does, only half-knowingly, is recycle the arguments of Plato [3], the Catholic Church, and the Puritans against fiction, to say it is inherently bad because it tells lies--where by "lies" he means that it depicts the world in ways that don't conform to Marxist theory, just as Plato disapproved of poetry that depicted heroes and Gods in ways he did not approve of, as the Church disapproved of art that depicted saints showing human emotions, and as all of them disapproved of stories in which the heroes were not entirely virtuous or in which virtue was not rewarded.  It was deliciously ironic to me to hear Davis assume the reader will be surprised to find him agreeing with the Puritans, when, as I think I've already pointed out on this blog, the American coastal culture that created our elite universities and fostered the culture of the Literary Left is directly descended from the Puritans.

    I find Davis' concluding recommendation chilling: "reform" the novel by reprogramming the reader (p. 238-9).

    Knowing the function of our collective defenses, we can take strength in setting them up and then wiping them out. Further, there is a sense that reception theory gives us that since the text is only part of the transaction, changing the reader can change the text. Resisting the novel may be thought of as moving from a kind of implied reader to another variety of informed reader — one who is not just competent in literary skills but in the range of affective, political, defensive skills as well.

    The bottom line to this section is that it isn't coincidence that modernist and post-modern literature combines so many styles and rules and guidelines that make bad fiction (shatter the narrative, shatter the timeline, don't have a plot, don't have a dramatic structure, don't have a resolution, make everything dismal, make everything ambiguous, be obscure and unclear, and so on).  The literature of the New Left is bad not because of Marxism or SJWs, but because of its modernist inheritance.

    At their roots, the philosophies of modernism and especially post-modernism are hostile to art itself.  They are, as Marcel Duchamp, Annie Dillard, and Jean Baudrillard (1986) noted, anti-art.  They prescribe anti-art in different ways than the medieval church did, but we see in both cases an exact inversion of many of the common-sense guidelines for good art and literature that we find in Aristotle, in Shakespeare's works, and among today's "bourgeois, middlebrow" authors.

    Splintering into English and Creative Writing

    The rise of creative writing workshops and the MFA in Creative Writing spoken about in McGurl's book happened during this time.  According to Chad Harbach, in "MFA vs NYC", chapter 2 of (Harbach 2014), the creative writing programs--which are now often taught by the English department, but are sometimes a separate department--have created their own culture of literature and their own canon, based on short stories rather than novels.  Chad writes (p. 23-24),

    To be an NYC writer means to submit to an unconscious yet powerful pressure toward readability.... In recent years it has achieved a fearsome intensity.... a weakened market for literary fiction makes publishing houses less likely than ever to devote resources to work that doesn't, like a pop song, "hook" the reader right away.


    What one notices first about NYC-orbiting contemporary fiction is how much sense everyone makes. The best young NYC novelists go to great lengths to write comprehensible prose and tie their plots need as a bow. How one longs, in a way, for endings like that of DeLillo's first novel, Americana, where everyone just pees on everyone else for no reason! The trend toward neatness and accessibility... might be better understood as the result of fierce market pressure toward the middlebrow [that's a derogatory term meaning "readers who think they're sophisticated but aren't"], combined with a deep authorial desire to communicate to the uninterested.... Who has both the money to buy a hardcover book and the time to stick with something tricky?

    So the reason short stories in literary magazines are so much worse than literary novels is that literary novels are still published with the hope of selling more than 10,000 copies.  Stories in literary magazines are directed only at the literary-magazine creative-writing-workshop subculture.  As I showed in "Literary fiction vs. fim-fiction: Popularity", all of the major literary short-story markets--probably all of them combined--have fewer readers than fimfiction.  This allows the literary magazines to cling to the early modernist view that anything that's popular or easily understandable must not be good.

    [1] Post-modernism is a special case, which says there is only one path to knowing that there is no Truth.  Primitive art, which I didn't list, is another special case, possibly associated with animism as an alternative doctrine of essences, but there are too many different kinds and too much uncertainty for it to be a clear example.

    [2] The phrase "post-Saussurian linguistics" in literary theory is code for "post-modern interpretations of Saussurian linguistics".  Literary theorists remain in stubborn denial of all linguistics after Saussure, who taught his untested theories in Switzerland in 1907-1911.

    [3] Davis never mentions that he's recycling Plato's arguments, yet elsewhere cites Plato's Republic, in which he makes those arguments--revealing both that he hasn't read Plato's literary theory, and that he cites works he hasn't read.

    [4] The one positive use of "excellence" is in a passage which turns out to be a little scary on close analysis: an argument that, as some standards of excellence are needed, teachers must be able to flunk students out of class sometimes, and this judgement should be made "holistically" [meaning at their will] by the teacher, rather than objectively, as a linear sum of individual right and wrong answers (Elbow p. 254).  The one positive use of "gifted" is in teaching of the importance of having gifted teachers (LJ & L p. 43).

    [5] 1650-1800 is difficult for this theory.  It encompasses the Enlightenment, baroque music and architecture, and Beethoven, and also absolute monarchies and (IMHO) the worst literature and least-important painting between the Middle Ages and 1950.

    [6] This doesn't apply to music, architecture, and non-representational art.  I'm not sure why, though I have some ideas.


    Jean Baudrillard & Catherine Franchlin (1986). Interview, reprinted in Giancarlo Politi, ed., 1991, Art and Philosophy, Novastampa, Parma.

    Lennard Davis, 1987. Resisting Novels: Ideology & Fiction. Methuen, Inc., NYC NY.

    Lennard Davis & M. Bella Mirabella, eds., 1990. Left Politics and the Literary Profession. Columbia University Press.

    Annie Dillard, 1982. Living by Fiction. Harper & Row, NY.

    Peter Elbow, 1990. What is English? The Modern Language Association, The National Council of Teachers of English.

    Chad Harbach, ed., 2014. MFA vs NYC: The Two Cultures of American Fiction. n+1, NYC..

    Vincent Leitch, ed., 2ed 2010. Norton Anthology of Theory & Criticism

    Richard Lloyd-Jones & Andrea Lunsford, eds., 1989. The English Coalition Conference: Democracy through Language. The Modern Language Association, The National Council of Teachers of English.

    29 comments · 383 views
  • 3w, 2d
    HITALTCAASHR, part 3.1: College English leftism: How did it begin?

    How did the shift to the left in English departments begin?

    I have here two quotes from people at the center of the process.  The first is by the editor of College English during the late 60s and early 70s, and explains in detail how College English became a leftist publication during 1967-1974.  The second is a partial recounting of how the Modern Language Association (MLA), the most-prestigious academic organization in English, became radicalized in 1968.

    From Ohmann, Richard: WHAT IS COLLEGE ENGLISH? Some Reflections.  College English (76:3) Jan 2014, 269-273.  Long quote is long, but this is from the pony’s mouth.  Or, skip the quotes and go my summary.  If you trust me.  What's not to trust?  :trixieshiftright:

    Well, surprise. There was a war. The civil rights movement gave rise to a black power movement. Within two years, a new wave of feminism began to "inform" the "enterprise" of English--and much else. Soon a gay and lesbian movement emerged. Student activism for a role in curricular decisions and for an education relevant to social and personal urgencies mingled with these other activisms. The postwar boom crested, and along with it the growth curve of spending on higher education.

    It took a while for that last earthquake beyond the ivied walls to shake College English. But other tremors from outside arrived punctually in these pages. The last issue (May 1967) of my first year included Edward Nell and Onora Nell's "War Words," a detailed and-to my mind-devastating analysis of the ways that US military and political leaders talked about the fighting in Vietnam….  They were not by a long shot discussing concepts of criticism or the structure of college English (for that matter, one of them was an economist and the other a philosopher). Apparently, in just a few months, I had stretched my definition of our field enough to include a semantic critique of dominant US ideology.

    The anti-war movement was surely channeling me, when I accepted the Nells' article. No other was so directly about Vietnam, but the war and resistance to it ran like a current through CE from then on. Peter Elbow's discussion of sincerity in his classic, "A Method for Teaching Writing" (Nov. 1968), drew heavily on his experience advising students on the essays they needed to submit with their applications for conscientious objector status. Irving Halperin's quietly reflective piece on teaching through and around the strike at San Francisco State was filled with students' anger about the war, as well as about racial injustice. Bruce Franklin's far from quiet polemic, "The Teaching of Literature in the Highest Academies of the Empire" (Mar. 1970), took heart from the way the "struggle of the revolutionary masses of Vietnam [threw] the lie into the rotten teeth" of "cynical men of power" (556).

    The movement for racial equality made its way into CE in various registers, from Darwin Turner's smoothing out of the prickly question, are only black people qualified to teach black literature? ... to the purposeful prickliness of Michele Russell's "Erased, Debased, and Encased: The Dynamics of African Educational Colonization in America," next-door neighbor to Turner's "The Teaching of Afro-American Literature" in the April 1970 issue. The same issue included Dennis Szilak's "Afro a.m.: Renaissance in the Revolution," an argument for teaching respectfully about Black English and--on occasion--in it. A number of articles in other issues took up the related matter of bidialectalism (mostly on the negative side). African American perspectives were the chief expressions of college English from below, through this time, but claims for and of other previously excluded or denigrated voices reached these pages, too: for example, in Gerald Haslam's "iPor La Causa! Mexican-American Literature" (Apr. 1970); and, in February 1971, "Vision and Experience in Black Elk Speaks," by Robert Sayre and "The Study of Nineteenth Century British Working Class Poetry," by Martha Vicinus. In 1966, the flagship's admiral [the author means himself] had not foreseen a multicultural college English. The canon failed to make his list of critical concepts needing attention.

    Neither had he anticipated or hailed feminist criticism, women's studies programs, more women's literature in the English classroom, fair treatment for women in college English, or--for that matter--more articles by women in College English. There had been fewer than one per issue in the last year of James Miller's editorship. The entire first year of mine featured one article (co)authored by a woman. Two issues into my second year came Lynn Bloom's article, coauthored with Martin Bloom. Now I learn from her essay in the March 2013 symposium that the manuscript came to CE with only Martin Bloom identified as author. Might I have rejected it if I thought a woman had (co-)written it? Too humiliating to contemplate.

    So it was without guidance from the bridge that CE sailed out toward second-wave feminism. Rather, the women's movement arose outside the academy and then spread inside it. Academic feminists rebelled and organized in various fields, including the one represented by the Modern Language Association [the other main academic publication in literature], which responded by forming a Commission on Women that held a forum at the 1970 convention. Susan McAllester, the poetry editor of College English and herself an early feminist, gathered and edited a number of talks from the forum and associated workshops into a special issue on "Women in the Colleges" (May 1971)....  I consider this one of the most important issues of a professional journal to have appeared through this tumultuous period in US higher education….  The same was true of the successor issue on women in the colleges (Oct. 1972). Elaine Hedges guest-edited it. This was another fine moment in the history of CE, featuring articles by Tillie Olsen and Adrienne Rich. I was proud of it, from my back seat on the bridge of the flagship.

    I was also gratified by the way Louie Crew and Rictor Norton ended their editorial, "The Homophobic Imagination," in the November 1974 issue that they guest-edited: "The appearance of gay space in this issue of College English is more than a refreshingly novel turning of the tables: it is a step towards human liberation" (290). I could have imagined no such step when I wrote my 1966 directive for the journal; nor would I have taken that step in 1974 without the prodding and hard work of Crew and Norton. Their editorial bears close rereading today. It was learned, visionary, practical--a kind of founding statement for gay studies, in what I think was the first issue of a professional journal on this subject. "The New Marxist Criticism" (Nov. 1972, edited by Ira Shor and Richard Wasson) was far from the first on its topic, but it was an early and influential effort to reopen an old field that McCarthyism had driven underground for nearly twenty years. When the flagship sailed into new seas, guests were often at the helm. I think of them now as disciplinary guides thrown up to the bridge by surging 1960s and 1970s political movements. I was active in the anti-war movement and close to some of the others. To shift the metaphor: were activists my college English "networks," comparable to those Byron Hawk helpfully analyzes in the March 2013 symposium, to describe the process of disciplinarity? Retrospectively, mine seem to have inhabited a good deal more territory outside the academic institution, at first. Hawk challenges the familiar idea of the flagship journal as gatekeeper (to shift the metaphor yet again): looking back at CE that way, I'm inclined to say a big historical wind blew the gate open, knocked down the gatekeeper, and somewhat violently reshuffled practitioners' understandings of disciplinarity in college English.

    During those years, two other movements-the student movement and the counterculture-left their marks on the journal, often calling into question the basic terms of our field's disciplinarity, or the profession itself. For an amusing and striking example, see Tom Reck, "The Assistant Professor Who Returned to His Own Discipline" (Mar. 1968). But these movements were diffuse and largely unorganized; to follow their traces through CE would be a challenging task. In any case, I have said enough to make my point: that at some historical moments, changes in a discipline as registered in and facilitated by a flagship journal may evolve more or less independently of the editor's expectations and ground rules, in response to historical pressures from outside the discipline--in fact, from outside the academic sphere.

    From the introduction to Lennard Davis 1990, Left Politics and the Literary Profession:

    It was December of 1968. The prehistory constitutes an almost mythical chronology: the student sit-ins of 1960s and the organization by the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) of the Mississippi Freedom Summer, 1964; Berkeley 1965; and the Columbia strike of spring 1968. Kampf, Lauter, Florence Howe, and others informally decided to turn the December meeting of the Modern Language Association into an occasion for radical politics. One of the issues at hand… was a demand that the MLA take a stand against the Vietnam War and against the repression of Eldridge Cleaver and Octavio Paz [1]. The "demands" all passed — except one to cut the American author series, which was seen as an attack on scholarship itself. Out of that convention and other events came the impetus for a political movement in literary studies — and Kampf and Lauter's anthology was conceptualized along with the Radical Caucus of the MLA.

    In the introduction to that anthology, the editors describe the state of the English profession in 1968 as one rife with bad feelings. English professors were defensive and apologetic about their profession and contemptuous of their students. Teachers experienced burnout and in general were filled with a sense of uselessness. One of the issues raised about this malaise was how the teaching of literature could be translated into political practice. How could English professors make their teaching politically relevant? But the main concern of radical teachers at that moment was not pedagogy but political activism. Teachings against the war, racism, and inequality were high on the agenda; reconceptualizing the teaching of literature and culture was not. Emotions were charged during those days. People seemed to know quite clearly what the issues were, where they stored, and what to do. There was an integration of emotion, intellect, and action directed toward an issue in which many profoundly believed. [p. 2-3]

    So, it was the co-occurrence of Vietnam War, the civil rights movement, and early feminism that radicalized English departments.  Probably this happened especially to English departments because, as I indicated (shakily, but I'll go with it) in my Annie Dillard post, and Bradel addressed in the comments, English departments had no objective measure of quality, no essential skills to teach students that would enable them to get jobs, and  no clear idea what they were supposed to be doing at the time.

    A few things to note in the stories above:

    - Student radicalism in the 1960s was tremendously exciting.  These kids changed the world.  They took on the government, the military, the Man, and the South, all at the same time, and won.  Meanwhile the kids who disagreed with them went to Vietnam, and many came back disillusioned or in body bags, and then the US pulled out and lost.  It must have been a heady validation for 20-year olds.  "It is good to remember the excitement of that moment, when the pressure of events fused our energies into a ruthless critique of all things, as Marx put it," Richard Ohmann wrote (p. 38).

    Can you imagine what it was like after, though?  After they'd graduated and gotten jobs, and Carter was elected?  It must have been like coming back from Vietnam, except without the disillusionment and drug addiction.  I've never read about a 60's flower child finding herself in adrenaline withdrawal in 1977, but it must have happened.

    So these guys just… kept fighting the last war.  Trying to relive the glories of their youth, like Uncle Rico throwing his football in Napoleon Dynamite, they kept calling for revolutionary zeal, denying any real progress had been made.  "Inequality is as great in 1985 as in 1945", Ohmann wrote (Davis p. 41).

    - The radicalization was led by Marxists, and put Marxists in power, but was not motivated by Marxism.  Anti-war sentiment, women's rights, minority rights, and gay rights were the sort of issues that motivated the change.  Marxist language and doctrine came much later, and only at the college level, though by 1983 Terry Eagleton could write a popular college textbook on literary theory that assumed its readers were Marxist.

    - Ohmann participated in both events.  His claims in his College English article that he was just a neutral bystander watching all this happen are disingenuous.  He is a committed Marxist who wrote that the West is "founded on exploitation", and all his books since 1970 have been critiques of capitalist English.  He was the person at the MLA meeting who nominated the Marxist Louis Kampf for vice-president, and who defended the MLA putsch in the pages of College English.  After College English he became editor of Radical Teacher, "a socialist, feminist, and anti-racist journal on the theory and practice of teaching."

    - This illustrates that sometimes Marxists can win power struggles just because they're willing to join organizations and show up for the meetings.  It also illustrates a contradiction in their doctrine:  They insist on the importance of a diversity of views in literature, but fight for control of the views in the teaching of literature [3].

    - The people who took over teaching organizations or radical movements around 1970 were young.  This was fantastic for their careers; they got book contracts and were catapulted to a prominence at age 30 that people normally reach at age 60, if at all.  It also gave them an unusual amount of experience at using and keeping power.  Richard Ohmann is still a professor today (though he's an emeritus now), and so has been an influential figure for about 50 years.

    [1] Cleaver, a communist, US Presidential candidate, and a leader of the Black Panthers, was being "repressed" in that he had fled to Cuba after leading an ambush of Oakland police officers in which two officers were shot.  He was kicked out of the Panthers in 1971, probably because he was a psychotic, violent religious fanatic who wanted them to overthrow the US government.  He later went to North Korea, Algeria, and Paris, then returned to the US, did community service for his attempted murders, and joined an evangelical church, the Moonies, the Mormons, and the Republican Party, in that order. Paz was in Mexico; all I can find about his situation is that in 1968 he resigned as ambassador to India in protest against a massacre of students by the Mexican government.

    [3] The resolution of this puzzle is that they aren't actually in favor of a diversity of views in literature--most of the books published now under the auspices of multiculturalism are written by upper-class graduates of elite American and English universities, and carefully sanitized to erase the racism, sexism, and intolerance of the cultures they claim to represent.  But that would be a topic for another blog post.

    As long as we're talking diversity, I'll mention something I've noticed while doing all this research to figure out what happened in the past:  Every influential figure attended an ivy league school or equivalent.  Every book author was a professor at a top 20 school.  I've complained in other places about the what-school-did-you-go-to elitism in the sciences, but it's worse in English.  If you aren't from one of the top 20 schools in the world, it appears, people in the world of English academia will completely ignore you.  No exceptions.


    Lennard Davis & M. Bella Mirabella, eds., 1990. Left Politics and the Literary Profession. Columbia University Press.

    Terry Eagleton, 1983. Literary Theory: An Introduction. Basil Blackwell Publisher, Oxford, England.

    61 comments · 460 views
  • 3w, 3d
    HITALTCAASHR, Part 2: What are English departments teaching?

    Over the past 15 years, the proclaimed purpose of "English" classes at colleges and universities and in grades K-12 in America has shifted from teaching English or English literature to teaching "social justice".  ("Social justice" in all cases turns out to mean "the ideology of Social Justice Warriors.")

    Teaching for social justice with standards-based secondary English Language Arts curriculum

    Alison George Dover, University of Massachusetts - Amherst


    Teaching for social justice is the attempt by classroom teachers to use their position in the classroom to promote social and educational reform withinand despite current educational conditions and mandates [my emphasis]. However, while a growing number of K-12 teachers have published anecdotal reports of their attempts to teach for social justice in secondary classrooms (e.g., Bender-Slack, 2007; Christensen, 2000; Singer, 2005), ...  I present the results of a constructivist grounded theory analysis examining how twenty-four English Language Arts teachers conceptualize teaching for social justice, as well as a content (lesson plan) analysis detailing how they operationalize the practice through the use of standards-based curriculum. ...  Specifically, this study challenges critics’ attempts to portray social justice education as poorly aligned with academically rigorous content-area instruction (e.g., Will, 2006)...

    Yeah, but that's just a few... well, 24... teachers, right?

    From the home page of the English department at Lehigh University:

    The Department of English has a focus on Literature and Social Justice, the outcome of a multi-year effort to revitalize the traditional period-based approach to literary studies and to develop an organic interest among many of our faculty members.  Like the university as a whole, the department is committed to cultivating graduates who will be engaged citizens and community members, in addition to successful professionals and life-long learners.  We also hope that our students in particular will learn to recognize how literature and other forms of cultural production uniquely intervene in questions of justice and shape our ways of being in the world.

    Okay, so some second-tier college has joined.  Still, it must be an isolated case…

    Resolution on Social Justice in Literacy Education

    2010 National Council of Teachers of English Annual Business Meeting in Orlando, Florida


    Literacy education can be used to disrupt such inequitable hierarchies of power and privilege by adopting a stance on social justice and priming it for policy. Through the efficacy that social justice can have in schools, we commit to interrupting current practices that reproduce social, cultural, moral, economic, gendered, intellectual, and physical injustices. To prime social justice for policy in schools, it must be understood that it evades easy definition and is a grounded theory, a stance/position, a pedagogy, a process, a framework for research, and a promise (“Beliefs about Social Justice in English Education,” CEE Position Statement, December 2009).

    Through a sustained commitment to social justice in all its forms, English education can contribute to disrupting these inequitable hierarchies of power and privilege. Be it therefore Resolved that the National Council of Teachers of English

    - support efforts by educators to teach about social injustice and discrimination in all its forms with regard to differences in race, ethnicity, culture, gender, gender expression, age, appearance, ability, national origin, language, spiritual belief, sexual orientation, socioeconomic circumstance, and environment;

    - acknowledge the vital role that teacher education programs play in preparing teachers to enact and value a pedagogy that is socially just;

    - advocate for equitable schooling practices that reinforce student dignity and success; and

    - oppose policies that reinforce inequitable learning opportunities or outcomes for students.

    The NCTE is a big fucking deal.  They’re basically the US English teachers' union and academic hierarchy rolled into one.  They publish all of the major journals on English education, and spearhead political action.

    Sidebar: The changing face of College English

    The NCTE's main journal for literary theory, College English, used to publish literary criticism of works of literature.  Nowadays, they mostly publish articles about the profession, and about social justice.  I went through all the abstracts for every issue published in 2014 and found just one article that studied texts: “Revising the Menu to Fit the Budget: Grocery Lists and Other Rhetorical Heirlooms.”

    I didn’t read it; I trust the editor’s description:

    As White-Farnham notes, hers is not the first scholarly foray into the rhetoric of food, consumption practices, or food-related artifacts, including some in this journal, but so far, none in this investigative group has focused on the grocery list per se.

    I could not make this shit up.

    From the referenced "Beliefs about Social Justice in English Education", NCTE Conference on English Education, December 2009:

    We ground our work in the belief that English teaching and English teacher preparation are political activities that mediate relationships of power and privilege in social interactions, institutions, and meaning-making processes.

    Extreme cases?  No, the tip of the iceberg.  Check out this article from the Purdue English department (also available here):

    Reclaiming English Education: Rooting Social Justice in Dispositions

    Janet Alsup and SJ Miller

    This article addresses the importance of foregrounding social justice in teaching and assessing dispositions for preservice teachers in secondary English language arts....

    Modern notions of social justice have been in existence since the nineteenth century (Nussbaum, 2006; Rawls, 1971) but have only become a tenet of educational philosophy in English education as of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries (see Adams et al., 2010; Apple, 2006; Ayers, 1998; Bender-Slack, 2010; Cochran-Smith, 1999 & 2004; Groenke, 2010; Miller, Beliveau, DeStigter, Kirkland, & Rice, 2008; Miller & Kirkland, 2010; Morrell, 2005; Nieto & Bode, 2011). On first consideration, it may seem obvious that social justice is an important concept in the field of English education due to issues of injustice that are presented and (re)presented time and again through various texts and related real-life issues. However, for those of us who teach methods courses at universities and are educating new secondary school ELA teachers, the stakes might be even higher. To be successful, preservice teachers must be prepared for the diversity of students they will encounter and be comfortable modeling and encouraging fairness, equity, and respect in their classrooms. To complicate the issue, our field has become increasingly vulnerable to losing social justice as a critical tenet to those who believe that the teaching of academic skills and knowledge alone, when aligned with standards, should ostensibly provide youth with the tools they need to bring about a more just society.

    Notice they never consider the notion that the English department is not charged with bringing about a more just society so much as with teaching English or literature.  This is not an isolated attitude; this is the water that English teachers and professors now swim in.  They don't argue against the idea that English departments should teach English; the idea never occurs to them in the first place.

    Sidebar: The irrelevance of literature

    Vincent Leitch, editor of the Norton Anthology of [Literary] Theory & Criticism, described his personal journey which led him to literary theory in Chapter 1 of Literary Criticism in the 21st Century.  He mentions reading Heidegger, existentialism, leaving the military academy, his Catholic upbringing, his anger at God over his brother's death, the Vietnam war, the civil rights movement, the CIA, his mortgage, the corrosive influence of suddenly making a lot of money in the housing market, his daughter's student loans, the insufficiency of today's retirement system, the financial woes of his relatives, and concludes that "The mode of criticism that is best suited to these times, it has seemed obvious to me, is a renewed ideological and cultural critique with political economy, particularly finance, at center stage."

    His only mention of literature as an influence on him, or as relating to his purpose in studying and teaching literature, in this chapter-long autobiography, is that a list of his activities in college includes "Beat literature."

    But perhaps this isn't surprising, considering that he deliberately omitted the word "literary" from the title of his book on literary theory.

    I continue to quote from "Reclaiming English Education: Rooting Social Justice in Dispositions" below, but here's the TL;DR for the next quote: The NCATE sets the standards used in most US states to judge teachers and decide whether to promote or fire them.  These standards used to measure a teacher's level of social justice activism.  In 2006, they decided that measuring their sensitivity to discrimination based on race, class, gender, disability, sexual orientation, and language was sufficient and that they did not need additional measurements of their devotion to social justice.  This article demands the return of measurements of social justice activism as part of teacher performance standards across the US.  "Politically comfortable" diversity and tolerance are not enough to bring about the revolution.

    In 2006 NCATE, the National Council of Accreditation of Teacher Education, removed social justice as an explicit performance indicator for assessing teacher dispositions.  Twenty-five states have adopted or adapted NCATE (now CAEP) unit standards as the state standards, and according to the NCATE website, “NCATE’s professional program standards have influenced teacher preparation in 48 states and the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico” ( NCATE regularly partners with professional organizations (in our case, NCTE) to create standards for teacher preparation and assess programs on their success in doing so.... NCATE, on the other hand, claimed that it drew upon rhetoric from No Child Left Behind and argued that the words social justice themselves were unnecessary because they could be assumed under the revision of Unit Standard 4, which now reads, “The unit designs, implements, and evaluates curriculum and provides experiences for candidates to acquire and demonstrate the knowledge, skills, and professional dispositions necessary to help all students learn. Assessments indicate that candidates demonstrate and apply proficiencies related to diversity” (see [url= UnitStandardsinEffect2008/tabid/476/Default.aspx]Unit Standards in Effect 2008[/url]).... Candidates are helped to understand the potential impact of discrimination based on race, class, gender, disability, sexual orientation, and language on students and their learning” (Kissel, 2009)....

    As noted above, NCATE’s definition of diversity is arguably myopic in scope because it is instantiated by who is defining it, the time it is being defined, and who/what is included/excluded. When we see absences of the words social justice, replaced by more politically comfortable or less charged terms such as diversity or even tolerance [my emphasis], we, as English educators who recognize that our students cannot be reduced to essentialist or binary categories, might challenge how social justice is being defined and by whom, as social justice and diversity are not the same.... This lack of naming particular student identities in the definition of diversity, such as those whose race, gender identity or expression, national origin, or weight (size or height) are nonconforming, makes vulnerable preservice teachers, who by their nature are new to the profession, to marginalizing the potential cultural and social capital of the students they are teaching.

    Teaching for peace (or revolution, same thing)

    From the English Leadership Quarterly, published by the National Council of Teachers of English.  Vol. 33 No. 4, April 2011:

    p. 1:

    Peace, Love, and Understanding

    Dr. Judson Laughter, English Education, University of Tennessee, guest editor

    Imagine all the people living for today.

    Imagine all the people living life in peace.

    Imagine all the people sharing all the world.

    Just over 30 years ago, the voice that penned these words was gunned down by a lack of imagination. When it comes to violence, we as a society lack imagination. We choose violence as the appropriate response to violence because we cannot imagine a better way....

    I believe that English language arts teachers are ideally placed to be effective agents of change in developing a world that can imagine a better way. After all, we traffic in the realm of imagination every day. We invite students to step into another’s shoes through reading a text....  Best of all . . . we teach poetry.... Poetry is where we imagine, a place where living for today, living life in peace, and sharing all the world are possible realities.

    In this issue of English Leadership Quarterly, we are celebrating the poetry of a better way—our imagined possibilities for teaching peace, love,and understanding.

    I love the blatant doublethink here.  The entire issue of this NCTE journal was devoted to social justice, presented as "teaching for peace… the poetry of a better way."  Their actual agenda in practice is to replace the teaching of poetry and literature with teaching political activism.  The examples given in this issue speak about justice, empathy, and respect, but the actual politics and economics of most English departments today are explicitly Marxist, as evidenced by the frequent use of Marxist terminology, teaching of Marx's writings, and the common assumption in literary theory papers that the reader and writer are both Marxists.  Regardless of whether it's good or bad, teaching Marxist activism is not "teaching peace."

    p. 3, "Lessons from NETS: New English Teachers for Social Justice"

    … Many teacher educators have begun to infuse a focus on equity throughout preparation programs and are challenging new teachers to assume personal responsibility for students in the “opportunity gap” (DeShano da Silva, Huguley, Kakli,& Rao, 2007). In fact, many teacher preparation programs market themselves to socially concerned students like Jamie as spaces in which they can learn how to teach for social justice, promote empathy and respect while teaching their subject matter, and play a part in reducing persistent inequities among American youth....

    [The NETS teachers’] second-year narratives began to include some stories about ways in which they advocated for justice in student learning. ...   The sense of inefficacy experienced by some of the new teachers had less to do with reaching their students and more to do with choosing their curriculum.  The study revealed that these equity-oriented teachers also cared deeply about integrating modern, engaging, multicultural texts into their classes....

    In one especially moving narrative from the very first NETS meeting... [Heather said] that though she was assigned to teach world literature and was excited to have been given an anthology that truly included literature from all around the world, she was

    not "supposed" to teach anything but British literature right now. . . . I feel like I’m stuck, where I can’t really go too far outside of the box since I’m brand new and I’d like to be there next year. That’s a big issue for me because I feel like the social justice that my kids need is exposure to things outside of their little town and outside of their middle, working class, white kid/white family society, so I’m working with that.

    "The social justice that my kids need is exposure to things outside of their little town..." what does that mean?  It sounds to me like it means not the justice they need, but the social justice indoctrination that they need.

    Speaking as a white guy in a little working-class town, I am upset that these working class families are sending their kids to this teacher in the hopes they'll get a decent education and make something of themselves, and she is not there to help them.  They are unaware that she doesn't plan to do the job they hired her to do (teach them English), and that she isn't there to help their kids, but to help somebody else's kids.

    A teacher is not supposed to be an impartial judge dispensing social justice to the world.  A teacher is supposed to look after his or her students.  This is not to perpetuate the whitearchy; it's because each kid deserves to have someone looking after that kid.  For many kids, the only adult in the world looking out for them is a teacher.  For a teacher to go to a school in order to represent the interests of other kids she doesn't know, against the presumed oppressive tendencies of her own students, is obscene.

    Continuing with the travails of our social-justice teachers:

    I was told that I could do Fahrenheit 451 instead of The Giver.  Do we have Fahrenheit 451? Absolutely not. And I could do 1984 instead of The Giver, but we don’t have 1984, either. I was told, “You can pick, and this is the list of suggested literature,” but we only have The Giver.

    Funny thing: In the real world, books cost money.  But what about The Giver?  What is this white male conservative crap they force her to teach?

    The Giver is a young adult novel written by a white woman in 1993.  In it, a boy lives in a society that appears, to the naive observer uneducated in its invisible, underlying reality, to be a perfect utopia with equality for all.  But he learns that--to quote Wikipedia's summary of the Cliffs notes summary:  "The Community lacks any color, memory, climate and terrain, all in effort to preserve structure, order, and a true sense of equality beyond personal individuality."  So he must work with The Giver to overthrow this apparent utopia.  The message is that equality and rationality are bad, color and diversity are good, and the only way to get color and diversity is to overthrow the government.

    And, funny enough, 1984 and Fahrenheit 451 are also both books about oppressive evil governments.  Heather shouldn't be complaining about... whatever it is she's complaining about, but about only being allowed to teach books about oppressive evil governments.  I mean, why couldn't she take books off the Common Core curriculum?

    Well, there is no Common Core curriculum, for one thing.  But they do have a list of "illustrative texts":

    6-8 grade:

    Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (1869)

    The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain (1876)

    “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost (1915)

    The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper (1973)

    Dragonwings by Laurence Yep (1975), a book about American racism against Chinese

    Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor (1976),  a book about racism in America during the Great Depression

    “Letter on Thomas Jefferson” by John Adams (1776)

    Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave by Frederick Douglass (1845)

    “Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat: Address to Parliament on May 13th, 1940” by Winston Churchill (1940)

    Harriet Tubman: Conductor on the Underground Railroad by Ann Petry (1955)

    Travels with Charley: In Search of America by John Steinbeck (1962)


    The Tragedy of Macbeth by William Shakespeare (1592), a book about murderous white men

    “Ozymandias” by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1817)

    “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe (1845)

    “The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry (1906)

    The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (1939), a book about the oppression of the poor

    Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (1953), a book about an oppressive government

    The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara (1975), a book about war

    “Speech to the Second Virginia Convention” by Patrick Henry (1775)

    “Farewell Address” by George Washington (1796)

    “Gettysburg Address” by Abraham Lincoln (1863)

    “State of the Union Address” by Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1941)

    “Letter from Birmingham Jail” by Martin Luther King, Jr. (1964)

    “Hope, Despair and Memory” by Elie Wiesel (1997), a book about the Holocaust

    11– CCR:

    “Ode on a Grecian Urn” by John Keats (1820)

    Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (1848)

    “Because I Could Not Stop for Death” by Emily Dickinson (1890)

    The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925), a book about the futility of the American dream

    Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston (1937)

    A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry (1959), a book about racism against blacks

    The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri (2003), a book about an Indian immigrant to America with ethnic identity problems

    White men wrote 19 of these 31 works.  Unfair!

    But, look closer:  White males wrote less than half of the curriculum by word count, and except for Tom Sawyer, the novels by white men are all about violence, oppression, or despair.

    Getting back to our special issue on Peace, Love, and Understanding:

    Comfortable with Controversy in the English Classroom

    Scott E. Jenkinson, Tennessee High School, Bristol, Tennessee

    [This] is at the heart of what I do as an English teacher. I believe a central aim of public education should be to help high school students critically assess their world. To do so, teachers must help students learn how to discuss such topics as politics and contemporary social issues.

    Okay, but can't they do that in their social studies classes?  Which they also have.

    At the heart of determining the need for discussion-based education is the teaching and ideology of one figure: Paulo Freire. In his literacy work with Brazilian peasants in the 1960s, Freire established the tenets of a curriculum whose primary intention was to question the politics that contributed to the society that had developed in his country. This, ultimately, gave his students a voice, which they learned to exercise for social change (Torres, 1993). Freire also establishes the notion of the "progressive" teacher who seeks to empower his/her students to think and develop critical thoughts of their own through a developed sense of classroom autonomy.

    Paulo Freire was one of a very influential group of "third-world" theorists, like Franz Fanon of Martinique and Algeria, and Steve Biko in South Africa, whose writings are studied in the critical pedagogy (which until this moment I did not know had another name besides "literary theory").

    These guys became famous because they were involved in horrific situations of lethal poverty or violent and deliberately racist oppressors.  But is 21st century America really comparable to South Africa under apartheid, or Algeria under the French?  Is it "critical" to go into a high school in a neighborhood that's 96% black, and have kids who don't know any white people read a Tony Morrison novel about white slaveholders raping black slaves, followed by the story of Steve Biko's torture and murder by white police in South Africa, and then ask them to critique American society?

    Or is it just brainwashing?

    110 comments · 609 views
  • 3w, 4d
    HITALTCAASHR, Part 1.2: Annie Dillard on modernist fiction

    I wrote the original opening paragraph of my last post while I was angry.  I realized I don't have time to support its bold claims, and they were unhelpfully biased, so I toned it down.

    You can read the first 72 pages of McGurl's The Program Era online.  I said that McGurl wrote that (for the most part) only three types of books can be published today as English literary fiction.  I don't know how true this is, but I read at least a half-dozen reviews of it, and I did not see "this basic premise is false" among the criticisms.

    That part of my last post was talking only about literary fiction.  "Literary" means nothing other than "the right (sort of) people (university professors and journal and newspaper editors, I think) say this is a good book."  I said this in a comment, and should've said it in the post:

    It matters less because people actually read literary fiction--they don't; Man Booker Award finalists sell 3,000-25,000 copies or so--than because of the cultural importance of those books.  The professors and publishers get to say what "our culture" values by stamping it "literary", and the values endorsed by literary fiction slowly work their way down the cultural food chain to philosophers, pundits, politicians, bloggers, artists, musicians, filmmakers, and eventually even to the lowly genre novelists.

    American English in 1967

    Today's post is a digression in fairness.  I was beginning a story of how leftist ideologists took over English departments and journals in the US, starting in the late 1960s, and turned them into industrial radical-leftist factories which operate by enforcing ideological purity and by teaching a philosophy designed to destroy peoples' ability to think.

    If I leave it at that, it sounds like a crime against humanity.  But the thing is, nobody was really using America's English departments at the time anyway.

    What follows is my own hypothetical reconstruction of events I did not witness, based mostly on written and oral accounts of the times.

    The only literary theory journal I know of that was publishing in the 1960s and is still publishing today is College English.  If you look through its archives at the titles of papers published in the 1960s, you'll see that they seldom printed papers on any literature written since 1930.  College classes were at the time dominated by New Criticism, or at least they thought they were.  (Nearly everyone misinterpreted New Criticism--a topic for some other post.)  New Criticism was difficult and rigorous, and students didn't like it.  It did not indulge in emotional endorsement or rejection of literary works, which are mostly what college sophomores want to do.

    And students wanted to talk about contemporary fiction.  College classes in the 1960s forced students to do "dry" (their words) technical analysis of old, canonical poems and novels.  IMHO New Criticism would have been great training for would-be novelists, but colleges didn't see that as their purpose at the time the way MFA and Creative Writing programs do today.  Publishing for money was at the time (even more) disreputable, something that smacked of Charles Dickens.

    In any case, the sort of fiction one could learn to write from New Criticism was already not the sort one could publish.  1960s literary fiction was late modernism being taken over by postmodernism.  Leftists didn't turn publishing "literary" fiction into an exercise in ideological conformity; the modernists had already done that.  But college classes were taught by old people, and university chairs were held by older people, many of whom resisted Modernism, at least the stuff after Joyce and Eliot.

    So when the big push to politicize English departments came in 1967 and 1968, there was already an army of modernists and post-modernists struggling to get their views onto campus.  At the same time, Marxist economics professors and Freudian psychology professors were looking for work, as both were then being kicked out of their departments for not being sufficiently scientific.  The resulting alliance between radical student leftists, post-modernists, and Marxist and Freudian professors was inevitable, and the New Critics were soon gone.

    Living by Fiction

    To get an idea what modernist fiction was like before leftists added multiculturalism to the mix, I'm going to quote from Annie Dillard, who wrote about that type of fiction 35 years ago, in Living by Fiction (1982).

    Dillard is a famous novelist who didn't write any famous novels.  Her best-known work is non-fiction, such as Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.  It's a fair guess that she wrote so much non-fiction because she knew she couldn't get her uplifting, sentimental passages published as literary fiction at the time.

    It's a wonderful, insightful book, so don't take this as a review.  Dillard loved much modernist fiction, and did not write Living by Fiction to denounce it, not quite.  But she was growing tired of it by the 1980s, and felt very constrained as an author.  The book is her analysis of the problem, and how authors can cope with it.  What I'm going to do, unfairly to Dillard, but quite fairly to the fiction she was criticizing, is quote bits where she talks about the problems with late modernist fiction.  I'll boldface the most-important parts.  Notice none of this has any obvious connection to leftist politics.

    Nothing is more typical of modernist fiction than its shattering of narrative line. Just as Cubism can take a room full of furniture and iron it onto nine square feet of canvas, so fiction can take 50 years of human life, chop it to bits, and piece those bits together so that… we can consider them all at once. This is narrative collage. The world is a warehouse of forms which the writer raids: this is a stickup. [p. 20-21]

    If and when the arrow of time shatters, cause and effect may vanish, and reason crumble. This may be the point. [p. 22]

    Narrative collage, and the shifting points of view which accompany it, enable fiction to make a rough literature of physics, a better "science fiction" which acknowledges the quality of all relative positions… One extreme of this kind of fiction is an art without center. The world is an undirected energy; it is an infinite series of random possibilities. (Barthelme ends "Views of My Father Weeping" with a section which reads only "Etc.") The world's coherence derives not from a universal order but from any individual stance…. It is not really physics but ordinary relativism. [p. 23]

    Our contemporary questioning of why we are here find a fitting objective correlated in the worst of the new fictions, whose artistic recreation of our anomie, confusion, and meaninglessness elicits from us the new question, Why am I reading this? … Some contemporary modernist fiction can claim, Yes, it does mean; it re-creates in all its details the meaninglessness of the modern world. And I cry foul. When is a work "about" meaninglessness and when is it simply meaningless?

            … The question is, what is negative art? … What can a writer do when his intention is to depict seriously a boring conversation? Must he bore everybody? How should he handle a dull character, a hateful scene? … How can a writer show, as a harmonious, artistic whole, times out of joint, materials clashing, effects without cause, life without depth, and all history without meaning? [p. 26-27]

    Contemporary modernist writers flatten their characters by handling them at a great distance, as if with tongs. They flatten them narratively. They flatten them, as Robbe-Grillet does, by treating them as sense objects alone, as features of landscape. A writer may show his characters' speeches and actions without the faintest trace of motivation, so that we watch the scenes as strangers, as if we were freshly air-dropped into Highland, New Guinea. The speeches and actions of such characters seem random, unwilled, or absurdist. [p. 37] … Such characters tend to be less human simulacra, less rounded complexities of deep-seated ties and wishes, than focal points for action or idea. Pynchon people are lines of force. Some Nabokov characters are literally chessmen. Borges characters may be ideas. [p. 39-40]

    [Speaking of the modernist dictum that art must create an aesthetic distance between the work and its viewer:] If telling a good story engages readers, then it stands to reason that you can effectively distance readers  by telling a bad story.  Say what you will of Finnegans Wake, it is a lousy story. [p. 45]

    Narration, then, in the name of purity, can go the way of character. It is optional. It is suspect: recently Richard Lingeman, writing in The New York Times, accused the ending of a novel of being "plotty." … Telling a story is not at all impossible if the writer wants to; but for contemporary modernist writers, it is getting increasingly impossible to want to. At any rate, there are forms of fiction in which no story is told at all. …

            In the contemporary modernist view, a work of art is above all a chunk in the hand. It is a self lighted opacity, not a window and not a mirror. It is a painted sphere, not a crystal ball.  The reader, then, must not wholly enter such a work of fiction; if he enters it emotionally, he will be lost, and miss the work's surface, where the framework of its meaning as art is spread. So the contemporary modernist fiction writer deliberately flattens the depth elements of his art. He replaces emotional strengths with intellectual ones. He makes his characters into interesting objects. He flattens narrative space time by breaking it into bits; he flattens his story by fragmenting its parts and juxtaposing disparate elements on the page. He writes in sections; he interrupts himself by a hundred devices. In so doing, he keeps his readers fully conscious [of] his work's surface. Finally, he may wish to distance readers so thoroughly that he dispenses with character and narration altogether.

            In The Voices of Silence, Andre Malraux likens storytelling in literature to representation in painting. Telling a story and painting a likeness of a face or a tree are sure-fire crowd-pleasers. (And for the idea of crowd-pleasing Malraux displays a fine Gallic contempt, in which he illogically does not include either storytelling or representation themselves.) … The more interesting comparison between storytelling in literature and representation in painting is this: that each was considered for centuries the irreducible nub of its art, and is no longer.  [p. 46-47]

    This, then, is contemporary modernist fiction. Its themes are its own artfulness and pattern, and the nature of a world newly elusive and material, and a mind newly aware of its limits, and an imagination newly loosed. Technically as well as thematically it has taught us to admire the surfacing of structure and device. It prizes subtlety more than drama, concision more than expansion, irony more than earnestness, artfulness more than versatility, intellection more than entertainment. It concerns itself less with social classes than with individuals, and, structurally, less with individual growth than with pattern of idea. It is not a statement but an artifact. Instead of social, moral, or religious piety or certainty, and emotional depth, it offers humor, irony, intellectual complexity, technical beauty, and a catalog of the forms of unknowing. … The modernist direction in all the arts is a movement from what might be called the organic to the inorganic. [p. 61-62]

    The Modernists — Kafka, Proust, Faulkner, Joyce — were interested in society, deepened time, verisimilitude, complex character, and authorial austerity. They were a sincere lot. They wrote big books. Contemporary modernists alter their aims by isolating them.

            In fact, on a very gloomy day one could say this: that contemporary modernism accurately puts its finger upon, and claims, every quality of Modernist fiction that is not essential.  It throws out the baby and proclaims the bath.  Joyce wrote parodies and made puns and allusions on his way to elaborating a full and deep fictional world called Dublin. Now people write little parodies full of puns and allusions. … Joyce and Woolf made their characters think on the page to deepen the characters… Proust and Faulkner fiddled with time to create an artful simulacrum of our experience of time and also our knowledge of the world; now some contemporary writing may fiddle with time to keep us awake, the way television commercials splice scenes to keep us awake, or they may fiddle with time to distract us from the absence of narration, or even just to fiddle…. In short, [the early] Modernist writers expanded fictional techniques in the service of traditional ends… And those ends have been lost. [p. 63-64]

    This is a good century for writers like the contemporary modernists who wish to make their works' aesthetic structures plainly visible… Writers whose vision is almost wholly formalized, and not referential or interpretive, have free rein. And writers who are sitting on a story absolutely great in its own right have no problem either; it they have little extra to say, they also have little to hide. The paradox hurts only frankly interpretive thinkers, who have a theory or two about the world, as well as an art; their sort of thinking is frowned upon in fiction. [p. 159] … Insofar as a writer is interested in interpretation, then, he is stuck in this paradox. His role is like that of a scout whose job it is to blaze a new trail, all traces of which he must carefully obliterate. [p. 156]

    This sort of fiction, though, was not the only kind you could publish as literary fiction in the 1970s.  (John Steinbeck won his Nobel in 1962.)  Lamott writes:

    The [original] Modernists themselves, I say, begin to look semi-traditional in the light of contemporary practice. It is not unreasonable to place The Castle, Ulysses, or Light in August near the center of a spectrum on which we place Great Expectations … at one end and Pale Fire, Hopscotch, and Ficciones at the other. And given these extremes, it is easy to see that most living writers also belong somewhere in the middle. Most often these writers, like the Modernists themselves, turn sophisticated techniques towards traditional ends. Here are the many writers of serious fiction — including the majority of writers in the Americas, Britain, and Europe whose work is widely known… — who are writing novels and stories of depth and power, novels and stories which penetrate the world and order it, which engage us intellectually and move us emotionally, which render complex characters in depth, treat moral concerns and issues, make free use of Modernist techniques, and astonish us by the fullness and coherence of their artifice. This is still, if only by volume, the mainstream. [p. 64-65]

    So cutting-edge literary fiction was already boring when the leftists got to it.  Under the leftists, stricter conformity to doctrine has been required, but they have at least added multicultural novels to the list of allowable novel types.  Today you can buy stacks of good literary novels written by authors from India and China.  "Ethnic" books by Americans began to be popular in the late 1960s, but they focused on discrimination within America.  In the 1990s, publishers began looking for foreign-born authors writing about their own countries or their immigration experience, and the category became a genre.  They're still usually dismal and sloppily-structured, in my experience, but they're readable, interesting, and about something.

    27 comments · 467 views
  • 3w, 5d
    How I took a literary theory class and accidentally stopped hating Republicans, part 1

    I used to be a good progressive liberal.  If 3 years ago you'd told me that there was a conspiracy to overthrow Western civilization's commitment to progress, humanism, equality, and freedom, and that an army of changelings had set up a beachhead in many Western universities by taking over English departments--kicking out or muzzling the professors who were interested in English or literature, and redefining words to disguise the fact that they weren’t studying literature anymore, I'd have backed away slowly.

    It's not quite like that sounds.  It is an unfair way of stating things.  But it's not exactly untrue.

    I wrote this in early 2016, while taking a Literary Theory course at a local university, which was the soul-crushing, life-changing experience that alienated me from progressive politics.  I went to understand literature and figure out why I didn't enjoy it anymore.  I had been reading Wells Draughon's A Book Worth Reading (2003), and found myself agreeing with its dismal diagnosis:

    Never has so much technical skill been employed to say so little. Today, the lowliest mainstream novel is better written than any novel published before the mid-century, yet we fall asleep reading it and when we do manage to reach the last page, we feel that we have wasted our time.... Today, the reader's choice is Hobson's choice: either genre fiction or neurotic fiction, either insipid entertainment or insipid boredom, either two-dimensional characters or sick characters.

    Instead of literature, I found myself studying Marx's economic theories, contrasting second and third-wave feminism, answering questions about Adorno's critique of capitalism, boggling at the illogic of Louis Althusser's writings on ideology, and listening to three different presentations on body positivity.  During the entire semester we only got around to reading one story, a feminist short story called "The Yellow Wallpaper", for which we had to do a Lacanian or Freudian psychoanalysis of the trauma inflicted on the narrator by the patriarchy.

    When we started studying Marx, I protested that Marxism was the most thoroughly-disproven hypothesis in all social science and that Marx's writings were not taught in economics departments.  Our professor told me that was because the capitalist hegemonic forces were suppressing it.  When we studied Lacan, I protested that psychoanalysis had been shown decades ago to be ineffective and was not taught in psychology (I minored in psychology).  When we studied Saussure, whose linguistic theories are one of the foundations of post-modernism, I protested that his theory was based on work done in the 1890s, that it was all wrong (I also minored in linguistics), and that we should look at more relevant work from the past 50 years instead.  All this got me was funny looks from everyone.

    We kept talking and reading about the importance of encouraging diversity and acceptance.  Yet I think I was the only straight male enrolled in the entire department.  I wasn't excluded, but as the only straight white male "capitalist" in the room, studying essay after essay about how evil straight white male "capitalists" are, I did not feel like I was in a "safe space".

    One day before class, our professor mentioned that she'd gotten an email that week from a man who had been her professor, who had inspired her nearly 40 years ago to get her doctorate in literature.  He was already past retirement age, but had still never found a permanent position, bouncing all these years from temp position to temp position.  He wanted her to write him a recommendation.

    She said she'd written him a recommendation, then smiled, and said, "But he's a white male who wants to study literature in an English department--so what can you do?"  She shrugged her shoulders.  At which moment I realized that she knew, and had known for years, that nearly everything she was teaching--including that the patriarchy still dominated academia and that Adorno's critique of capitalism was important to literature--was a lie.

    Who defended Melissa Click?

    Remember late in 2015 when Professor Melissa Click was fired for getting some students to kick a journalist out of a protest?  This was part of the protests against racism at the University of Missouri.  Eventually, President Tim Wolfe resigned when the school football team told him to, which is not as surprising as it may sound to people in other countries.

    A reporter tried to cover the protest, and Click tried to get the students to throw him out.

    Prohibiting journalistic coverage of public events on public property, besides kind of defeating the purpose of a protest, is seen as very bad in the US.  It is traditionally interpreted as a violation of the first amendment to our Constitution.  100 Republican state legislators signed a letter asking for Click to be fired.  In response, 115 professors at the U of M signed a letter expressing their support for using force against journalists Dr. Click.  The letter concluded, ironically, with, "We call upon the University to defend her first amendment rights of protest and her freedom to act as a private citizen."

    Dammit, they’ve got me siding with the Republicans.

    Who would defend Click?  Who signed that letter?  What departments were they from?  Black Studies?  Gender Studies?  Sociology?  Place your bets now.

    Department                  #Signed   Faculty  % signed

    All sciences combined      7    386   1.8%

    Anthropology                      0      10       0%

    Art                                         0      18       0%

    Film                                       0       3       0%

    Music                                    2      38       5%

    Philosophy                           1       9      11%

    Communication                   3      17      18%

    Classical Studies                 3      15      20%

    Romance Langs. & Lit.       9      31      29%

    History                                  7      23      30%

    Black Studies                       3       7      43%

    Art History & Archaeology 4       8      50%

    Sociology                              8      13      62%

    Religious Studies                 10      15      67%

    Gender Studies                      8      10      80%

    German & Russian Studies 10      11      91%

    English                                    38      38     100%

    Sampled Arts+Humanities  106     266      40%

    1/3 of the support for Click from the entire university came from the English department.  (Click was not in the English department.  She was from the Communications department.)  Every single member of the English department expressed support for her.

    Could this have something to do with why I don't enjoy literature anymore?


    Professor Click told a reporter for the Chronicle of Higher Education that she was fired due to racism against blacks and against whites:

    Under pressure from state legislators, she says, Missouri’s Board of Curators fired her to send a message that the university and the state wouldn’t tolerate black people standing up to white people. "This is all about racial politics," she says. "I’m a white lady. I’m an easy target."

    The three kinds of permissible novels

    In The Program Era: Postwar Fiction and the Rise of Creative Writing (2009), Mark McGurl wrote that three types of books can be published today as English literary fiction.  I don't know how true this is, but I read at least a half-dozen reviews of it, and I did not see "this basic premise is false" among the criticisms.

    - The Technomodern: Post-modernist fiction, especially when concerned with information technology.  McGurl explains this as being based on a new ethnicity called "technicity".  You might think this meant William Gibson, in which case I might have understood what he was talking about, but McGurl's examples are John Barth, Don DeLillo, and Thomas Pynchon, none of whom actually knew anything about technology AFAIK.

    - High Cultural Pluralistic Fiction: Stories told in a high modernist style from the point of view of an oppressed or formerly-colonized race, gender, or ethnicity, especially if emphasizing trauma and the authenticity of the "ethnic".  In other words, multiculturalism.

    - Lower Middle-Class Modernism: Not blue-collar fiction as John Steinbeck wrote, but fiction about middle-class boredom, anomie, and misery, expressed in a minimalist (Hemingway) or maximalist (Faulkner) modernist style, by white narrators who "silently aspire to become 'white'".  Above all, McGurl says, this type of book requires shame.  This includes Raymond Carver's shame of failure and Joyce Carol Oates' white guilt.

    All three types, McGurl says, must be post-modern in at least being self-conscious and reflexive (what he calls autopoetic, which I assume is a misspelling of autopoietic).

    McGurl calls this "program fiction", because he attributes the limitation of the permissible types of books to these three to the dominance in literary publishing of the Master of Fine Arts and creative writing programs.  (His explanation of why writing programs produce these 3 types of fiction makes up most of the book.)  He doesn't see this as a problem, but as a great thing.  He calls program fiction "as rich and multifaceted a body of literary writing as has ever been."

    Elif Batuman (2010), responding to McGurl in the London Review of Books, wrote,

    Non-white, non-college-educated or non-middle or upper-class people may write what they know, but White People have to find the voice of a Vietnamese woman impregnated by a member of the American army that killed her only true love. … Although there is nothing intrinsically wrong with writing about persecution, for either the persecuted or the non-persecuted, there is a genuine problem when young people are taught to believe that they can be writers only in the presence of real or invented sociopolitical grievances…. McGurl continues, inviting us to ‘think of Tim O’Brien and his lifelong use of nine months in Vietnam.’ Indeed, think of Tim O’Brien. As a White Person, he couldn’t write about most of his life experience, which was probably just like Father Knows Best. Instead, in If I Die in a Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Ship Me Home and the several novels that followed, he had to write about the period of his life when he – like the conscripted Native Americans, like the napalmed Vietnamese – was the victim of the murderous policy of the White Man. ...

    Ironically, a preoccupation with historic catastrophe actually ends up depriving the novel of the kind of historical consciousness it was best suited to capture. The effect is particularly clear in the ‘maximalist’ school of recent fiction, which strives, as McGurl puts it, to link ‘the individual experience of authors and characters to the kinds of things one finds in history textbooks’: ‘war, slavery, the social displacements of immigration, or any other large-scale trauma’; historical traumas, McGurl explains, confer on the novel ‘an aura of “seriousness” …. Personal experience so framed is not merely personal experience,’ a fact which ‘no amount of postmodern scepticism … is allowed to undermine’. The implication is that ‘personal experience’ is insufficient grounds for a novel, unless it is entangled in a ‘large-scale trauma’ – or, worse yet, that an uncompelling (or absent) storyline can be redeemed by a setting full of disasters. …

    I think of myself as someone who prefers novels and stories to non-fiction; yet, for human interest, skilful storytelling, humour, and insightful reflection on the historical moment, I find the average episode of This American Life to be 99 per cent more reliable than the average new American work of literary fiction. The juxtaposition of personal narrative with the facts of the world and the facts of literature – the real work of the novel – is taking place today largely in memoirs and essays. This is one of many brilliant observations in David Shields’s recent manifesto Reality Hunger, in which he argues that we had best give up the novel altogether. But I don’t think the novel is dead – or, more accurately, I don’t see why it has to be dead. It’s simply being produced under the kinds of mistaken assumption that we don’t make when it comes to non-fiction.

    (I find interesting the notion that today's novels should circle around epic disasters because post-modern scepticism has acclimatized us to misery, so that we require bigger and bigger hits of it to get our anomie fix.  One would expect a publishing industry so snotty about sentimentalism to likewise object to manipulating emotions via mass tragedies, but not so.  The Victorians didn't do it, so it's okay.)

    McGurl's effervescence over program fiction, and his praise of it as "rich and multifaceted", is understandable when you compare it to what came immediately before: the wasteland of late Modernist fiction.


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Clarion Writers' Workshop

I know you guys are all stolid, respectable members of society.  But I thought there might be one or two crazy people out there who are into ... writing fantasy.

If you want to write fantasy or science fiction professionally, you should apply to Clarion.  Clarion is to science fiction & fantasy what Harvard is to high-powered law firms and Wall Street bond traders.  Like Harvard, it's a great learning experience, but that's not why you need to go.  You need to go because saying you went to Clarion in your cover letter is like saying you went to Harvard on your resume.  I spent years writing stories and getting dozens of photocopied rejection letters.  After Clarion, I sold the first two stories I sent out to the first places I sent them out to.  (One of the checks bounced, but I don't blame Clarion.)  I haven't seen a rejection letter since.  Mostly because I haven't written anything but fan-fiction since.  But that's not important.  What's important is that if you want to become a professional F&SF writer, you should apply to Clarion.

When I went to Clarion, they put us all up in tiny 2-person dorm rooms with window air conditioners that roared like jet engines, so that you couldn't write, let alone sleep, with them on (because of the noise) or with them off (because of the heat).  So Lister Matheson, who ran Clarion at the time, gathered about a dozen standing fans of all different types from the pocket dimension where he always managed to find at the last minute whatever Clarion needed, and distributed them to our rooms.  I remember typing stories on a word processor—literally, a machine that was not a computer and did nothing but word processing, with a four-line LED screen—but I have no idea whose it was.  Now they tell you to bring your own laptop.  They provided a printer.

Once a week, you write a story, print up 18 copies, and hand them out.  Each morning you all sit in a big circle and spend 3 hours critiquing about 4 stories, every person giving their opinion in turn.  We had the official Clarion Black Stetson Bad-Guy Hat to put on if you thought the story stunk.  (I was heavily black-hatted the week that I had no story and instead put my name on the first four pages of the Eye of Argon and handed it out.  Don't do this unless you can handle an entire week of covert, frightened glances from your classmates.)  Then the instructor gives their opinion, and everyone hands their marked-up copies of the story back to its author and moves on to the next story.  Then you have lunch, and return to the dorm to read other people's stories, mark them up with red pen, and work on your own story for next week.

What did I learn?  Well, you're getting critiques from other students, so mostly you'll get line edits (grammar, word usage, awkward sentences, wordiness, repetition) and story content reactions (I didn't care about this person, this threat wasn't threatening, this contradicts that, I didn't understand what happened).  Seeing critiques of other stories is as valuable as reading critiques of your own stories.

I wouldn't go back to Clarion now, because my problems now are mostly things I do over and over that I'm already aware of, or that require a theoretical understanding of story to fix (bad dramatic structure, unclear theme, competing themes, subtext that contradicts theme, scenes whose relation to the story problem are not immediately clear).  Nor could I; you may go to Clarion only once.  But my writing post-Clarion was noticeably better than before Clarion.

Perhaps more importantly, I spent six weeks getting to know people who care about the same crazy kind of stories that I do, who can write pretty well (even if most of them scorn my fan-fiction), and whom I'm still in contact with today.

Applications for the 2013 Clarion Workshop will remain open until March 1, 2013.  On February 15th, the application fee will increase from $50 to $65.  The 2013 faculty will be Andy Duncan, Nalo Hopkinson, Cory Doctorow, Robert Crais, Karen Joy Fowler, and Kelly Link.  You must include two complete short stories, each between 2,500 words and 6,000 words in length.  No novels, poetry, essays, or screenplays.  No word back yet from Karen on whether you can submit fan-fiction.

The workshop fee is, yikes, $5000 (including room & board).  It was cheaper when I went.  Most people get a scholarship, but the size of the scholarships hasn't increased with the price of tuition; most are still about $1000.  Don't bother asking exactly how much; they're a lot of different individual scholarships--little independent bookstores will fund one student, or a regional science fiction convention will fund one person from its state.  There are special grants for students of color (I don't which colors count; yellow usually doesn't), students age 40 and older, students who are affiliated with Michigan State University, and students who are affiliated with UCSD.

These are some of the people who went to Clarion before starting their writing careers:

Octavia Butler

Ted Chiang

Cory Doctorow

Scott Edelman

Nicola Griffith

Nalo Hopkinson

Richard Kadrey

James Patrick Kelly

Geoffrey Landis

Kelly Link

Vonda McIntyre

Pat Murphy

Tim Pratt

Kim Stanley Robinson

Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Felicity Savage

Darrell Schweitzer

Lucius Shepard

Dean Wesley Smith

Bruce Sterling

Other SF&F Writing Workshops

There is also Clarion West, in Washington State, which is modelled on Clarion.  This year, their instructors are Elizabeth Hand, Neil Gaiman, Joe Hill, Justina Robson, Ellen Datlow, and Samuel R. Delany.  Application fee is $30 thru Feb. 10, then $40 until midnight of March 10.  The workshop costs $3600 (including room & board).  Writing sample 20 to 30 pages of manuscript (that's about 5000-7500 words).

Can you submit fan-fiction for your writing sample to Clarion West?  Neile Graham says:  "They can, but I strongly recommend against it. It's riskier than submitting original fiction, because the tendency of most fan fiction is to rely on the original source for much of the characterization and world-building issues, leaving fiction that isn't as strong out of context, especially for readers not familiar (or not sympathetic) with the source."

Odyssey is also modelled on Clarion.  Application fee is $35.  Tuition is $1920, textbook $100, optional college credit $550, housing $790, food about $500; total without college credit (not offered at Clarion): $3410.  Writing sample maximum 4000 words.  Applications must arrive there by April 8.  No electronic applications.

Jeanne Cavelos says, "We don't prohibit applicants from submitting fan fiction as their writing sample.  But if someone asked my advice, I would advise them to submit something else, since fan fiction probably won't showcase their skills in characterization and world-building."

Both these other workshops also have good reputations.  I promise not to think much less of you if you go to a lesser, Johnny-come-lately knock-off of Clarion.

Regarding $$$:  A FimFiction Scholarship

Most of the people I'd like to go to Clarion, can't afford to.  I'd like us, fimfiction as a whole, to sponsor somebody to attend one of these workshops.  Ideally there would be a non-profit escrow fund, like for the Wollheim Memorial Scholarship (which is split among people from the NYC area who are admitted to Clarion, Clarion West, or Odyssey), but for now, making pledges on this blog post would suffice.

I don't want to collect money myself, because I know screaming and accusations would inevitably follow on our lovely little community here.  So here's my plan:

- A writer qualifies for the fimfiction scholarship if they were registered for fimfiction as of January 1, and they have at least 2 stories published on fimfiction or totaling at least 5,000 words, or 1 story on Equestria Daily, by March 1.

- To donate, post a comment on this blog saying "I will give $X by paypal to fund fimfiction writers to attend these writing workshops if one is accepted," where X >= 5.

- If you are a qualifying writer and you're accepted into a workshop, PM me as soon as you find out, tell me your real name, the workshop you'll be attending, and a made-up secret word, and I'll get in touch with their organizers and verify that you were accepted and you are who you say you are (using the secret word).

- I will get the participating workshops each to set up a paypal account or other method to receive fimfiction donations and list it on their websites (to prove they control those accounts).  Neile Graham of Clarion West and Jeanne Cavelos both said that a Paypal account is complicated for non-profits (they have extra paperwork to set one up), but they can each arrange something similar.

- I will then post a blog saying who was admitted, where they're going, and how to contribute to their fund.  This is not tax-deductible in the US, because you're donating to a specific person rather than to the workshop.

- I, Bad Horse, will match all received contributions up to $250 if we have someone accepted to any of the workshops.

(You can't use a kickstarter campaign to fund a scholarship.  I checked.)

I'd like to extend this to include ponyfic writers on .  I don't know about .  I don't think we have any good way of contacting those people anyway.

TO SUMMARIZE:   There are 4 ways you can help:

1.  Write a blog linking to this blog.

2.  Pledge money.

3.  Ask the mods to say something about this on the front page.

4  (CURRENTLY MOST IMPORTANT).  Apply to one of these workshops.

Report Bad Horse · 5,511 views ·
#1 · 224w, 18h ago · 2 · ·

I've been back and forth on applying this year. On the one hand, it would be awesome. On the other hand, I have no idea where I'll be with the editing for my novel or other personal things that might be going on. So it's probably not a good year for it.

However, someone should be having fun. I'm tight on funds, but in the event some lucky person from the site is going, I can put up $10. It's not much, maybe it'll help.

#2 · 224w, 18h ago · 2 · ·

It's a brilliant idea, but I've two problems with it:

a) I'm as poor as a churchmouse, being a Dirty Foreigner. I don't think I could pay more than...oooh...$50. Tops. And, to me, that's quite a lot. Ask Bad Horse. He knows how much I make.

b) I can't use Paypal for reasons complicated, technical and unalterable.

That being said, if I can actually pay, and if my meager offering means aught -- I'm all for it.  

#3 · 224w, 17h ago · 1 · ·

See, instead of English class, why don't schools let students do stuff like this? I'd totally go... if I had the money... and a laptop. :ajbemused: And I doubt I'd go for the FiMfiction scholarship if we do organize one... other writers here probably deserve it more. Looks like I should do a little saving up.

#4 · 224w, 17h ago · 5 · ·

I will give $10 by PayPal to fund FIMfiction writers to attend these writing workshops if one is accepted.

Hoping we can raise some good money here. I've donated to worse causes... in my defense I thought the Taliban were a band.

#5 · 224w, 17h ago · 2 · ·

" tendency of most fan fiction is to rely on the original source for much of the characterization and world-building issues, "  (Looks back at collection of writing).  Oh.  Wow.  Yeah, I never really thought of that.  I should really try writing one that assumes ground zero, no pony pre-knowledge at all.  Darnit  BH, you've given me another project!

I will give $20 by paypal to fund fimfiction writers to attend these writing workshops if one is accepted.  (or more, if the wife approves)  Bear in mind I am one of the cheapest human beings on the planet, and the only reason I even had a paypal account is for a couple of ebay transactions last year when I needed to buy a cheap computer and parts.  (nobody takes checks there any more, boo)  The only reason I still have money in there is the Past Sins hardcover release is upcoming.  (patience, must have patience...)

#6 · 224w, 16h ago · 2 · ·

I'd support this. I'll donate 25 canadian min. Possibly more depending on my circumstances.:twilightsmile:

#7 · 224w, 16h ago · 2 · ·

I'll pledge $50.

#8 · 224w, 14h ago · · ·

This actually seems like a good idea. Might it be possible to arrange a group for interested parties? I can think of a few brilliant authors that are quite deserving of a chance like this. Given that I'm mostly a Luddite, the whole paypal thing is beyond my reach, but I could certainly contribute if another method of payment were possible.

Kudos to you for thinking of this. Another reason why bronies rock!

Also, whatever you plan, keep me in the loop, ok? Thanks!

#9 · 224w, 12h ago · · ·

I will give $25 by paypal to fund fimfiction writers to attend these writing workshops if one is accepted.  (I reserve the right to up my offer if my job situation improves.)

This is an amazing idea, Bad Horse.  Thank you for your community-building efforts.  My respect for you continues to grow.

(I'm also curious to read your published non-pony stories, but if you would prefer to keep the link between here and your non-pony identity secret and/or non-public, I understand.)

#10 · 224w, 10h ago · · ·

I'll give $10. I'd give more, but I'm a poor high schooler. BH, you're awesome :derpytongue2:

#11 · 224w, 10h ago · · ·

Ditto with golden vision on wanting to give but being broke, except I don't have 10$ because I'm a broker university student. Also I don't have a credit card with which to use paypal (and I don't want a credit card).

Having never before heard of Clarion, I'm actually kind of interested in going. However, I don't think I can go until I've at least finished my current bachelor's degree (and in three years, maybe other alternatives open up).

Ultimately I want to write and design video games, since I have been studying storytelling for a couple years now, game design for half a decade, and writing for the past year. Right now becoming a lead designer for a video game requires you to go indie, know people, or have already managed and designed the production of a game. It's painful how many video games have suffering storylines, but the diamonds in the rough like journey and shadow of the colossus make it worth while.

If that turns out to be unrealistic, I'd probably try writing elsewhere, since I'm determined to be a creative... something, anything, really.

#12 · 224w, 8h ago · · ·

>>815463 I feel your pain about game design. It may be easier to become a movie director than a game designer nowadays.  I suggest writing indy cell phone games.

When you're in college is the only time you'll be able to go to Clarion.  After college, with a job and/or kids, you'll never be free to take 6 weeks off in the middle of the summer.

#13 · 224w, 8h ago · · ·

>>815463 I feel your pain about game design. It may be easier to become a movie director than a game designer nowadays.  I suggest writing indy cell phone games.

When you're in college is the only time you'll be able to go to Clarion.  After college, with a job and/or kids, you'll never be free to take 6 weeks off in the middle of the summer.

#14 · 224w, 5h ago · · ·

Well, your description of the class format made me very nearly pee myself in terror.  I do want to write for a living (Starlight Over Detrot is my first full length piece that's survived inception.) but this sounds positively maddening.  I've no doubt I'd come out of it a much better writer but methinks I'd end up with a thoroughly stomped ego.

Damn, damn, damn.  I haven't written anything but MLP fan-fiction for some time now.  This is so tempting to try for but six weeks of dropping life to go to what amounts to summer camp...

I've got to think about it.  


#15 · 223w, 6d ago · · ·

amagodiluvfantsy :rainbowkiss:

juslookitthis. juslookitthis world-build.

i can fantasy! :twistnerd:

#16 · 223w, 6d ago · · ·

This idea is great enough to make me overcome my intense hatred of PayPal. I just hope it gets spread widely enough that those who might take advantage of this scholarship become aware of it - less than three hundred views on this blog post after more than a day is not encouraging.

I will give $50 by paypal to fund fimfiction writers to attend these writing workshops if one is accepted.

#17 · 223w, 6d ago · · ·

>>817446 Yeah, I know.  I posted a signal boost to Reddit /r/mylittlefanfic and /r/MLPwritingschool, and my own fimfic blog, but this really needs more exposure.  Bad Horse, have you considered messaging a mod — I know Wanderer D does the monthly group roundup thing, maybe this would work as a PSA that could be inserted in the next one?

By my count, the response thus far has been enough to hit Bad Horse's cap of $250 in matching funds — so that's over $500 toward someone's attendance.  I would think "Hey, we want to give someone $500 toward writing school!" would be enough to turn heads.

#18 · 223w, 6d ago · · ·

>>818413 >>817446  I sent it to Wanderer D last week asking if he'd post it to the front page.  He said it would need knighty's approval.  I sent knighty a PM yesterday, but haven't heard back.  knighty pretty much never responds to my PMs.  If someone who knows him would forward it to him, that would help.  I also notified Equestria Daily yesterday, but haven't heard anything back from them.

You can spread the word by re-blogging about this.

#19 · 223w, 5d ago · · ·

>>814208 >>814393 >>814408 >>814539 >>815009 >>815364 >>817446 >>814425

Thanks so much!  That's a total of $200 + $200 = $400, not counting the dirty foreigner.

>>814245  Your money no good!  We don't need no steenking pledges from dirty furriners!  Reblogging on your web page to your hundreds of followers, however, is acceptable.

>>814425  Is Canada still separate from the US?  I keep forgetting.

Since Wanderer D says I have to talk to knighty, and knighty hasn't responded, could you all please consider reblogging this on your blog pages?  Remember to tell your readers that something horrible will happen to them unless they tell three more people about it by next week.  Oh, did I forget to mention that?  No worries; you still have several days to live.

#20 · 223w, 5d ago · · ·

Neat idea. I'm in for $50... wait. Lemme use the correct verbiage:

"I will give $50 by paypal to fund fimfiction writers to attend these writing workshops if one is accepted."

That's official, now, yes? :twilightsmile:

#21 · 223w, 5d ago · · ·

>>821793 *smirks* Well lessee. Seeing as the last time you invaded, we repelled you, invaded, burned out the white house and left after we ran outta booze...I'd say yes we're still independent. and I can pledge 100. I finagled my finances and realized I had extra to spare. Feel free to figure out what that is in your funny leprechaun monies since I know the dollar likes to shift around.:twistnerd:

#22 · 223w, 5d ago · · ·

I will pledge $50 or more if an FIMfiction writer enters Clarion.

#23 · 223w, 5d ago · · ·

If I wasn't broke I'd pledge about $50, but an unopened PERSONA 4 got to me first, sorry... :twilightsheepish:

...I really should try to get a jorb. :facehoof:

#24 · 223w, 5d ago · · ·

I never went to Clarion:

     But I did the similarly-structured Writers of the Future workshop back when the second real story I ever wrote made it into vol.7 of their anthology.  So I'm all for this: I'll pony up--as it were--$250 to the cause.  Thanks, maskedferret, for the heads up!


#25 · 223w, 5d ago · · ·


Wait...Creideki...that sounds familiar...ah! Fan of the Uplift novels, perhaps?


It's hard, sometimes, being the token dirty furrin' bastard. :ajsleepy:

Reblogging as requested. Don't want the unspecified horrible thing happening.


Daaaaamn. Do not mess with the Canadians seems to be the Moral of the Day. :twilightsmile:


I teach game design, actually, and given what my students[1] say, starting game development is dead easy. No, really.

Starting AAA game development is damn near impossible. And getting the wherewithal to actually lead the project in some creative capacity (as a writer, say) is...unlikely. Unless you are a legend of the Old School (Tim Schafer, Chris Avellone, Brian Fargo, Chris Roberts...) and can ask the internet for your video game money via Kickstarter, the gatekeepers to your success are the malicious trolls of the Corporate Office. They are not fun to deal with.

Bad Horse has the right of it -- indie mobile games are a good way to get some capital going. I would have mentioned Facebook and such, but that's really dying down lately, and, anyway, Zynga has that market well and truly sewn up.

Another unlikely avenue of success are those execrable Hidden Object adventure-games-for-the-recently-lobotomized[2]. Those are easy to make if you get a team going[3] and sell for $15-$20 a pop. Sure something like Big Fish Games[4] will take a hefty cut of it, but considering the development costs, it's still almost a license to print money. Great way to get your eye in, design-wise, and get some capital going.

The biggest problem is that you must pander to your demographic like crazy and that you'll be in direct competition with companies from, say, Eastern Europe, where the development costs are ludicrously low.

[1] Some are possibly even faithful.

[2] I don't like them. Can you tell?

[3] No need for a fancy engine, for one, but more importantly your asset creation pipeline demands much less of your artists. No need for fancy modeling and such. It's pretty much all pre-rendered into 2D and hand-drawn.

[4] You need a publisher. Without their distribution channel you won't get far.

#26 · 223w, 5d ago · · ·

>>823312 Yes. And temporarily imagination-challenged when I needed to think up a username on the spot about 15 years ago. But it seems to have stuck.

And now I have a sudden craving for a neo-dolphin/seapony crossover fic.

#27 · 223w, 5d ago · · ·

I like this idea. A lot. I can't promise much financial circumstances being what they are but I can and will promise to pony up (as it were) at least $10.

#28 · 223w, 5d ago · 1 · ·


You don't really even have to have the seaponies. Just have the Earthship Streaker find refuge in a strange system accessed through a disused byway in Hyperspace E or what-have-you where the sun appears to go around its Earthlike planet. And on it find another wolfling species, hell, dozens of 'em, some of whom have psi powers that dwarf those of even the Episiarchs and Acceptors. New allies for Earthclan? Or another prize the Galactics will fight over?

...someone write this, please.

#29 · 223w, 4d ago · · ·

I'm probably a crazy person, but even as a PhD student I pull in a decent check and I think the world needs better writers.  I can't afford to apply to Clarion myself this year (too much time commitment to my program coming up this summer – I might be able to try next year), but I think it would be awesome if one of you all could go!

I will give $100 or more by paypal to fund Fimfiction writers to attend these writing workshops if one is accepted.

#30 · 223w, 4d ago · · ·

Very well, I can contribute to this. It's a charity I can actually get behind :).

I pledge $50.

#31 · 223w, 4d ago · · ·

Huh. I'd never heard of this Clarion thing. :rainbowderp:

Would love to participate it, except for a distinct lack of non pony related content. (and cash, naturally:rainbowlaugh:). But knowing this exists does help out quite a bit... hmm.:trixieshiftleft:

#32 · 223w, 4d ago · 1 · ·

>>821873 >>822037 >>822153 >>823174 >>823357 >>823447 >>824114

Thanks!  Every little hundred dollar bill counts!  You guys are much more generous than I'd expected.  I'll regain my faith in humanity if I'm not careful. :trixieshiftright:

>>821873 That's official, now, yes? :twilightsmile:

Yesss.  Your soul now belongs to ... I mean, yes.

>>822037  So Canada is still independent.  Thank you for bringing that to my attention.  BTW, your English is very good.

>>823312 >>815463  You want to hear a sad story?  When I was in college, Ken Williams invited me to come to California and be a game designer for Sierra, based on a game I'd sent him.  (Written in assembly language.)  This was back in the days when you could write a "spec" game and shop it around to publishers.  I said I wanted to finish college first.  By the time I finished, everything had changed.  :flutterrage::applejackconfused::pinkiesad2::twilightangry2::raritycry::rainbowhuh::applecry::facehoof:

#33 · 223w, 4d ago · · ·

Darn it.  I'm intrigued, of course, but I don't have the time/money to go nor the interest-in-writing-for-a-living to try and overcome that lack.  And I don't believe I have money to contribute, either, or I would.  :twilightoops:

I am, however, interested in this in a become-a-better-writer hobby sense.  Do you suppose it's possible for us to run an internet-based something similar?

#34 · 223w, 4d ago · · ·

I will give 10euro (current exangerate would make it 13 dollar) by paypal to fund fimfiction writers to attend these writing workshops if one is accepted.

#35 · 223w, 4d ago · · ·


That's...damn. To have worked at Sierra in the Glory Days...:raritycry:


Well that's what pre-reading is, but the trick with Clarion is the presence of world-class writerly types and six weeks of intense work. That's hard to recreate. Also hard to recreate is the cachet of having finished something as exclusive -- that opens a lot of doors, as you may imagine.

#36 · 223w, 4d ago · · ·


The whole point of my idea is "eh, who cares about the exclusive part, let's do the intensive part!"  So something that's part NatNoWriMo, part Internet!Lame!Clarion.  In my dream world we could, like, recruit Bad Horse and AugieDog or similar to stand in for the world-class writerly types, and I was kindof expecting to do the reviewing thing on GoogleDocs or something.

#37 · 223w, 4d ago · · ·

I'm gonna end up spending it on something silly anyway (BustedTees is having another sale, you say? Well, one can never have too many corny t-shirts!) so let's do this...

Ahem. I hereby proclaim that I, Ladyhart21, will pledge 20 dollars (Canadian, if it matters at all) to fund a Fimfiction writer if they were to be formally accepted to either of these prestigious writing workshops.

Tada! Speaking in fancy is kinda fun, I should do it more often :derpytongue2:

#38 · 223w, 3d ago · · ·

It sounds like getting this would mean a lot to someone. I can pledge $100.

#39 · 223w, 2d ago · · ·

I can pledge $250.  I trust your judgement as to who to grant the scholarship to.  On a related note, asking me to apply to Clarion was sweet, but it's not happening.  :rainbowwild:

#40 · 223w, 1d ago · · ·

Great Idea!

I will give $15 by paypal to fund fimfiction writers to attend these writing workshops if one is accepted.

#41 · 223w, 4h ago · · ·

On the application form, there is a request for an "invitation code". The application also asks you to list the professional writers of Clarion graduates you know personally. Do you have such a code, or is it unnecessary?

#42 · 221w, 4d ago · · ·

>>842212  That sort of question you ought to send to the contact point on that website.  But I know you don't need to know anyone, and you don't need an invitation to apply.

#43 · 221w, 4d ago · · ·

>>872194 Yes, I noticed that the next day. Sorry, I forgot about the comment. Heh heh... :twilightsheepish:

#44 · 221w, 2d ago · · ·

Alicorn apples!  While I wasn't looking this somehow exploded.  All of the pledges you've acknowledged, plus >>827465 >>830018 >>837421, is $1175, plus your $250 matching bid, plus the dirty furrin undollars of >>824418 and >>825714, is about …


What have you wrought, sir?  What have you wrought?

Buck it; I just came into $60 I hadn't expected.  Because exchange rates will cause the Canadian and Euro donations to translate into weird dollar amounts, I am adding to >>815009, and additionally pledging the amount necessary to round the scholarship off to an even $1500 USD.  (Should be about $40, unless you're categorically refusing dirty furrin undollars, in which case I need to revise this.)

Edit: Oops, >>822037 was a revised pledge, so I'm off by $25, and $100 of the $1175 $1150 is Canadian.  New math: $1050 USD + $250 USD from Bad Horse + $120 CAD + €10 = $1300 + ~$130 ~= $1430.  I pledge enough to round it off to an even $1450 USD, and I'll do some hunting through the couch cushions.

#45 · 221w, 2d ago · · ·

Well, my application just went in. Wish me luck.

#46 · 220w, 5d ago · · ·

So I guess i can't submit my 200 thousand word fan-fic? Bummer. :ajsleepy:

#47 · 203w, 4d ago · · ·

Hmm... thanks for blogging this. I've been looking for this kind of place.:twilightsheepish:

#48 · 203w, 3d ago · · ·

Cant really help with the money, but I'll spread the word regardless.

#49 · 173w, 2d ago · · ·

Until 2 minutes ago, I had never heard the phrase "Johnny-come-lately" outside of the Eagles song "New Kid In Town". I always learn something from you bad horse, even if it's not what you intended

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