20 September 2007

Literate Nobodies

Christian Bök offers his poetry students a somewhat different view than they are likely to get from many other teachers:
I often remind my students that, despite their belief that they have important knowledge to communicate to the world at large through their poetry, their status as poets already suggests that they have failed to make any momentous discovery that might have otherwise contributed to the history of knowledge; otherwise, the students might have exploited this insight in far more lucrative vocations, like the sciences or even business. I remind my students that they are probably taking my class in poetry because "math is hard"--and since they have no other worthy skills, they have chosen to accept their demotion to a lowly caste of literate nobodies. I get a few nervous giggles from the students after these waggish tirades--but then I underline my argument by saying that, if students really do believe that they are communicating, heretofore undiscovered, revelations to the public, then the proper genre for transmitting such a discovery is definitely not a poem, but a press conference....

7 comments:

  1. My first reaction to this is to say "Jeez, what a creep." I mean, it sounds like what he's saying is totally antithetical to my entire life philosophy, but surely I'm overreacting, right?
    Um, right?

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  2. I don't know if you're overreacting, but I think he's right. Don't write because you think the world has to hear you, but because you have to say it.

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  3. Love that line about a press conference ... or Oprah?

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  4. You mean some poets actually _know_ they are losers? Another progression from the old days when poets were geniuses and scientists were losers (or rich aristocrats).

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  5. A certain fiction professor I know put it much more kindly by noting first that all his books were out of print, and remarking on how he saw himself contributing a little to the river of art that passed by him. Saying it like Bok does is just obnoxious.

    And speaking as someone WITH other worthy (or at least more lucrative) skills who chose writing anyway, this attitude just perpetuates the denigration of the humanities that's already a bit too rampant in our society.

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  6. I'm closing comments on this post because it was somehow getting spammed consistently.

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