Robert Uren - Essay

A Self as an Artist: On Being a Writer in the Academy

Part I

Teaser: Important & Interesting Academic Creative Writing

“Novelists within the academy serve the important function of teaching literature for its own sake; some of them also produce
interesting work while teaching.” - Jonathan Franzen (48)

Affirming Bill Readings, Mark McGurl posits a contemporary university “held together” by the empty notion of “excellence,” which he, unlike Readings, sees as indicative of the corporatization of the university and the subsequent need to compete in a market in part by taking recourse to such meaningless but commercially propitious descriptors as “excellence” and “diversity” (or “important” or “interesting”) (126-7). Academic creative writers 1) are cheap to train, 2) embody the professionalization that students seek, 3) assuage the anxieties and assist the retention of tuition-paying artsy students, 4) make art that replicates their institutions' empty excellence, and, finally, 5) lend high cultural credibility to their universities' claims of relative prestige and contribute “their bit to the market value of the degrees it confers” (128). That sounds okay, if you're a person. Who could begrudge a real human being her submission to an institution that pays her to, yes, serve on committees, review peers for tenure, organize this and that, but also, too, to read, write, and talk with other real people about reading and writing? The prospect of being an academic creative writer gets sticky only if the contemporary university poses some threat to something.

Act I: To be Just Like I Am

Who gets hired to teach creative writing? The genre of faculty biographies will no doubt be shaped under pressures from university-mandated uniformity, say, or the need to communicate too much in too little space. Nevertheless, we may ascertain from these pages how writers are packaged in official university media. We may infer what in a writer is of value to a university. We may further infer what a writer needs to be to gain and keep a job teaching creative writing.

Using the Academic Jobs Wiki: Creative Writing, 2011, we can secure a list of thirty openings (in fiction) that were filled last year. I’ve selected a set of six hired writers, twenty percent of the total. Not as established as other recent hires Richard Ford or Chris Bachelder, the sample here may be more representative of writers who are nearer the beginning than the middle or end of their careers as teachers and creative writers in the academy.

Maile Chapman, University of Nevada, Las Vegas

Maile Chapman's CV

Chapman’s UNLV faculty bio page provides nearly no information, but does link to her CV. As we might expect, the document is merely a list of degrees, awards, publications, and teaching positions. It does conclude with a page of prose, but Chapman merely narrativizes the material in the CV and adds some brief commentary on her teaching philosophy. Highlights from the CV include Chapman’s PhD from UNLV, her year as a Fulbright fellow in Finland, and the publication by the respected Graywolf press of her novel Your Presence is Requested at Suvanto.

Emily Danforth, Rhode Island College

Emily Danforth's Faculty Page:

"emily m. danforth's first novel, THE MISEDUCATION OF CAMERON POST (HarperCollins, 2012) is a coming-of-age story intended for both YA and adult audiences. Novelist Jacqueline Woodson calls it "A beautifully told story that is at once engaging and thoughtful…a book that can change lives;" and novelist Nancy Garden calls it "…a story that keeps you reading way into the night - lively, funny, brash, and oh, so true!" THE MISEDUCATION OF CAMERON POST has been chosen as an official selection for Bookspan's Insight Out Book Club (February 2012). emily's short fiction has appeared in numerous literary journals, including Willow Springs, Enizagam, Dogwood, and Chroma (UK), which awarded her short story—"The Truest Way to Name Something" - its 2008 International Writing Award for Short Fiction. emily is also a co-editor of the quarterly prose chapbook (as journal) The Cupboard, which can be found here: http://www.thecupboardpamphlet.org/"

Here we see Danforth as a novelist with an excellent publishing house who has written for a mixed audience, whose work has been praised by two other novelists and recognized by official entities, who has been published widely, and who edits a journal.

Danielle Dutton, Washington University, St. Louis

Danielle Dutton's Faculty Page:

"Danielle Dutton is the author of Attempts at a Life and S P R A W L, which was shortlisted for the Believer Book Award. Her fiction has appeared in magazines such as Harper’s, BOMB, and Noon, and in anthologies including A Best of Fence and Where We Live Now: An Annotated Reader. Dutton received her PhD from the University of Denver, where she served as associate editor of the Denver Quarterly. Before joining the faculty at Washington University she taught in the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa and was the book designer at Dalkey Archive Press. Dutton founded and edits the small press Dorothy, a publishing project."

Dutton is an author of two long works, an award near-winner, a writer of work favored by estimable magazines and collections, a successful student at a respected doctoral program, an editor, a teacher, a book designer, and, finally, a founder of a small press.

David James Poissant, University of Central Florida

David James Poissant's Faculty Page:

"David James Poissant’s stories have appeared in The Atlantic, Playboy, One Story, The Southern Review, Mississippi Review, New Stories from the South, Best New American Voices, and elsewhere. He is a winner of the Playboy College Fiction Contest, the George Garrett Fiction Award, the Matt Clark Prize, the Alice White Reeves Memorial Award from the National Society of Arts & Letters, and Second and Third Prizes in the Atlantic Monthly Student Writing Contest. He has attended the Sewanee Writers' Conference as a Georges and Anne Borchardt Scholar and taught at the Clarksville Writers' Conference. He holds a PhD from the University of Cincinnati, where he was a Taft Fellow, and an MFA from the University of Arizona, where he served as Co-Editor of Sonora Review. His chapbook Lizard Man, winner of the RopeWalk Press Editor's Fiction Chapbook Prize, will be published later this year."

Poissant has published in excellent journals, has won awards, has held competitive positions, has earned degrees, has co-edited a journal, and has won more awards.

Ben Stroud, University of Toledo

Ben Stroud's Faculty Page:

"Ben Stroud (MFA, PhD Michigan) specializes in Creative Writing and 20th-Century American Fiction. His stories have appeared in One Story, Electric Literature, Boston Review, Ecotone, Fiction, Subtropics, and other magazines. He has been a fellow at the MacDowell Colony and Yaddo, and had a story selected by Amy Hempel for the 2010 edition of New Stories from the South: The Year’s Best."

Stroud has earned degrees, has published well, has been a fellow, and has had his work selected for an anthology by a recognizable name.

Glenn Taylor, West Virginia University

Glenn Taylor's Faculty Page:

Taylor's faculty page is designed like an online CV. It lists his degrees and the granting institutions, provides a link to his work, then presents headings for “Specializations,” “Books,” Reviews” (of his work), “Publications,” Awards,” “Admires,” and “On a Personal Note.”

The reviews are identified as “[p]raise” and are by reasonably well-known writers and/or from respectable publications (like The Guardian). The publications are in competitive journals. The personal note regards geography, family, and hobbies.

Most or all of the six faculty pages contain or link to lists of:
Work(s) (and occasionally their presses)
Journals
Awards (and occasionally their judges)
Universities
Supplemental experience (editorships, fellowships, etc.)

The model academic creative writer has been vetted by editors, judges, fellowship committees, and academic programs. How does one go about passing through these kept gates to attain the “evidence of … relative prestige” by which administrators, in McGurl's view, must assess the value of the specialized projects of faculty and prospective faculty (128)?

ACt II. Scene 1: Where to Now, St. Peter?

“[G]ermane is the frequent charge of a certain numbing sameness about much contemporary young writing.” - David Foster Wallace

Wringing hands over the aesthetic conservatism of American fiction is a cottage industry, a hobby for writers to return to between novels. What does literary fiction look like? McGurl says “technomodernism” or “high cultural pluralism” (with possible blending). In 1987, David Foster Wallace said emotionally and/or linguistically sparse or perfectly plotted and lyrical in the manner of Updike (37). In 1996, Jonathan Franzen said self-indulgent (48). Of the two trends McGurl identifies in postwar American fiction, “technomodernism,” a revisioning of postmodernism as the modernist project intimately entwined with emergent and ubiquitous contemporary technology—stuff largely dominated by white guys Barth, Pynchon, Dellilo, Wallace, and so on—is the less active in the current literary moment (109). More visible is fiction that McGurl calls “high cultural pluralism,” or multiculturalism, which places identity—usually ethnic, though gender, sexuality, and class suffice—at the center of fiction. But just because contemporary fiction can be sorted into like parts, that doesn't mean it's doing something it shouldn't be doing or not doing something it should be doing. Unless that's exactly what it means.

Act II. Scene 2: Everybody's Alright. Everything is Automatic.

“The classic gripe about program fiction is … that it’s boring.” - Laura Miller

I propose that nearly all fiction I've read by a writer under forty in the last fifteen years fits into one or more of these categories, which I've bolstered with examples from the Best New American Voices series, a defunct annual anthology of short stories from writing programs:

Style

1) Narratological Conservativism.The epistemological configuration of the narrative is straightforward: first-person, third close, third omniscient. The delivery mechanism is familiar and both writer and reader are spared the intellectual work necessary to understand how information is being made available and accessed.

a. BNAV: Julie Orringer's “Pilgrims” (Iowa); Aryn Kyle's “Brides” (Montana); Will Boast's “Weather Enough” (Virginia); and really every one I've read except maybe Eric Puchner's “Essay #3: Leda and the Swan,” which is presented as, in fact, an essay.

b. Blame: Poe or Chekov.

2) Syntactical Conservativism.Even when the voice is somehow idiosyncratic, it is never difficult to read sentence by sentence; linguistic newness is relegated to the lexical, never the syntactic.

a. BNAV: Antoine Wilson's “Home, James, and Don't Spare the Horses” (Iowa); Lauren Groff's “Surfacing” (Wisconsin); and, again, the rest.

b. Blame: Hemingway or fear that one will be charged with pretension.

Content

1) Emotional Disaffection.Wallace's “Neiman-Marcus Realism” for the unwealthy, here narrators or central characters are often detached from the goings on around them; they drink or take pills or smoke weed and just can't deal with it right now. Sometimes they'll crack at the end, as though people who are as perceptive and articulate as these characters—who often sound remarkably like an English grad student—drift through their days disengaged until some last straw finally breaks the metaphorical backs upon which they've been emotionally reclined.

a. BNAV: Tamara Guirado's “Dog Children” (Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing, a fellowship); Brady Johnson's “Michiganders, 1979” (Minnesota).

b. Blame: Carver.

2) Dramatic Conservatism.Someone will die, probably a child or an animal.

a. BNAV: Orringer again, a kid; Tucker Capps's “Alice,” a dog (Iowa); Will Boast again, a guy's brother; Kira Salak's “Beheadings,” a kid (Missouri, PhD).

b. Blame: Shakespeare, everybody, and Flannery O'Connor.

3) Multiculturalsim.A kind of conservatism because it's so thoroughly ingrained in the worldview of the literati. Obviously we want to read stories about and from different cultures, to read through different perspectives. But the prevalence of young Americans writing about Americans in other countries or people from other countries in America feels opportunistic.

a. BNAV: Salak again, an American in Cambodia; Sharon May's “The Wizard of Khao-I-Dang,” a Cambodian in America (Stanford's Stegner fellowship).

b. Blame: Kipling? A shift toward purposeful inclusiveness in both English departments and their employed writers that gets taken up by the very people such inclusiveness was meant to quiet down a bit so others could speak.

4) Anglicized Magical Realism.To an otherwise verissimilitudinous fictional world, some fantastical element lends emotional resonance.

a. BNAV: Jacob Rubin's “Little Stones, Little Pistols, Little Clash” (Mississippi); Jedediah Berry's “Inheritance” (Umass-Amherst).

b. Blame: Marquez and Saunders.

I'm claiming that these six characteristics are exceedingly common in American fiction written by those who learned and perhaps now teach in creative writing programs. I'm also claiming, now, that this is bad.

Act III: Fucking Human Beings

“Fiction's about what it is to be a fucking human being.” - David Foster Wallace (McCaffery 131)

The argument here is simple enough. Fiction is a communicative act between consciousnesses. For certain consciousnesses, those that understand themselves and their worlds most intimately in language rather than, say, image, movement, or sound, fiction can outperform other media in its capacity to connect selves. Wallace thought this made readers feel less alone, though of course he resisted an outright optimistic prognosis—nothing, language least of all, is so simple as all that. We know that sometimes when we read something happens that can feel like human connectedness. And that feels good. It feels especially good because so much about US culture occludes deep and complex human connectedness. Efficiency. Ownership. Competition. These are not the stuff of humanism, of the humane.
If the academic institutionalization of fiction writing is dehumanizing in nearly all visible extratextual spaces (including biographies on authors' personal websites), we ought to have misgivings. But worse: what if that dehumanization intrudes upon the very art spaces that we believe in? What if the ways that consciousnesses connect in university-located and -funded fiction is systematically, even if not explicitly (although, in those private spaces the workshop and the conference, much will be explicit), dictated by the very forces that also dictate the nature of faculty profiles, author bios, and CVs? When the university is a patron of the arts, the arts answer to the university. And when the university answers to market logic, the arts answer to the bottom line.

The bottom line is, if you want that job reading, writing, and talking to readers and writers, it'll cost you. You'll have to get an advanced degree in creative writing. Those programs are difficult to get into. You'll have to win some awards or get a fellowship or two or something like that. That's difficult. And you'll have to publish a book and your work will have to appear in journals that other people think are the best. That's difficult. Those things are difficult because other people get to decide if you or your stories are good enough and because the competition for these things is intense. These are zero-sum games, after all. To win, you'll need to play by certain rules. You'll have already committed yourself to acquiring those widgets that universities tally to evaluate writers, those publications, those fellowships. You'll have to figure out what kinds of stories get published, get writers into fellowships, win awards. You'll see patterns of practice that yield widgets. You'll probably need to internalize some of those patterns, put them inside you, make room for them by discarding something else, like vision, so that out of you can come interesting, excellent widgets.

Tag: Oh Well? Whatever? Never mind?

Here's the truth, though. You're probably not special. You probably won't do anything on a page that would matter to readers if only conservative editors would just put it out there already. Here's the truth. Our ways of understanding ourselves and our worlds are largely determined by the coding of our culture, so we don't have some more genuine self to get into words, some deep humanity to communicate to others that can't be communicated in the usual ways that actually constitute our subjectivities, anyway. I'm complaining about how boring fiction is, about how much reading contemporary fiction can be like watching a good sitcom—if not predictable, then recognizable; if not meaningful, then pleasant. But what do I want? To laugh with laborers who laugh to live or to meditate with adulterers on their suburban despondence? To face my complicity in global atrocities or to revisit high school with an unsure teenager? To practice living with raw depression or to enjoy perfected craft? To love people or deft metaphors? And do I want to ask of you as you read me that you laugh with the unlettered, confront your hypocrisy, study sadness, love? It's better for both of us if I make you comfortable. So, welcome. Have a seat. Do you like my essay? I can change it.

Part II

“None of the arguments against conventional fiction will hold” – John Gardner (48)

“[T]he deep engineering of realism has already been accomplished … ambition, or even sheer curiosity, would ask us to forge something new” – Ben Marcus (42)

“So long as conventional fiction remains adequate and worthwhile, innovative fictions are literary stunts” – Gardner (49)

“I didn't feel anything … Is this real life? … Why is this happening to me? Is this going to be forever?” – Robert after Realism

“Perhaps the logical first step in the fictional process is the writer's … acceptance of the shackles imposed by his decision to tell a story” – Gardner (53)

“The creation of a self as an artist and hence the artist's role in culture is as interesting to me as the individual artifact of poem or story” – Michael Martone (159)

I'm making an argument I have no right to make. The thesis is that writers in academia must compromise to subsist. The aesthetics that get published are largely conservative; since academic jobs require publication, aesthetics veer to the conservative. To build a career, the writer of unconventional fiction faces even more difficulty than other writers, and that's no small feat. Seth Abramson, the foremost authority on MFA programs for several years, once suggested in a now unavailable online video that a genre writer would do well to apply to fiction programs with a literary sample, then, once admitted, write genre as desired. So the application game must be played. Outside of a certain few programs – mostly ones without the job market prestige of an Iowa or Michigan – a writer of experimental fiction almost certainly faces harsher odds of admittance than even the sub-5% chances taken on by writers of more conventional fare. Beyond grad school, the experimentalist will likely struggle to string together a sufficient CV to land or keep a teaching job. Journals devoted to experimental fiction are too obscure. Spots for experimental fiction in mainstream journals are too few. So if you want to write unconventional stories, you'll have a rough go of it, professionally.

Of course, I'm committing a few logical fallacies. One is hasty generalization: I've read not nearly a representative sample of contemporary fiction, but I'm concluding that it's broadly dissatisfying. Another is ad populum: everybody thinks fiction from MFA programs is boring. Like a true academic, I've appealed to authority a bit: these six people who matter more than I do say it is so. And there's the post hoc blaming of program association for program-y work (to say nothing of the question-begging use of “program-y,” as though I needn't defend that premise any better than I have). I recognize those logical fallacies because I have supported my fiction writing with graduate assistantships for which I have taught composition courses. In those classes, I have begrudgingly told students that there are right ways to write a paper and that some of what they do is a wrong way. So who better to argue, fallaciously or otherwise, that there is something undesirable about what a writer has to do and to write to succeed in academia? Who better than I who stand at the beginning of a professional timeline that I had better start dotting with publications, fellowships, and awards? Plus, thanks to time spent in classrooms, I have a nifty psychoanalytic theory with which to work.

In The Plague of Fantasies, Slavoj Žižek outlines a structure for ideology that consists of the Law and a paradoxical underlying fantasy. While the Law is the set of directly countenanced official mandates of the social order, Žižek writes that ideology “requires a minimal distance from its explicit rules” (29). This minimal distance is afforded ideology by fantasy, the psychical interplay of the impossible and the possible within the Symbolic. First, fantasy “closes the actual span of choices” within the Law: never mind what you are officially allowed or not allowed to do, we all know you should do X. Second, fantasy “maintains the false opening” of possibility within the Law: never mind what you would never do (due to spoken and unspoken rules), you obviously could do other than X (39, I removed italics in both quotes). Consequently, fantasy allows us to identify with a given ideology by protecting us from its utter enactment, giving us an order of things that we follow without admitting to ourselves that we follow it.

Surveying the lay of the literary land in 1996, Jonathan Franzen argued that socially conscious art is at odds with “ the 'value-neutral' ideology of the market economy” (39). He's wrong, if he believes that academic creative writing is art, which he does not necessarily believe. Faithfully lived, a free market, capitalist ideology might have us egoistically compete to acquire material status. For whatever reason, we might not wish to identify with this ideology entirely. In the “minimal distance” schematic, we are able to sustain a psychic comfort with capitalism precisely because its ideological apparatus features a fantasy that allows us to locate ourselves in the gap created by the paradox of fantasy. In fact, as the postmodern power structure par excellence, capitalism subsumes into its ideological being material manifestations of its own disavowing fantasy. A subject can (dis/re)locate itself in a space other than capitalism proper, the gap of satire, of ethical consumerism, of writing stories. So we ask, How can you say we're part of a capitalist ideology when we take low-paying teaching jobs and buy hybrids? Because it is possible for me to conceive of myself as deciding against capitalism's ruthless practice, I feel less urgency to rage against the machine.

The complex social order includes officially sanctioned incarnations of the fantasy restrictions necessary to sustain ideology. If we were outright coerced to adhere to an ideology without recourse to an (illusory) alternative, we might challenge the coercive power. The craftily coercive power maintains power by relinquishing the right to coerce. Instead, the dominant force of capitalism draws strength from the undeniable fact that we are free not to consume or to consume products that would seem to compromise the strength of capitalism itself. In the first case, of course we can skip the latest iPad or re-release of Titanic. In the second case, we may buy The Communist Manifesto. In whatever way we feel that we are gaming the capitalist system, the fact remains that, in “post-ideological” postmodernity, “the gesture of self-censorship is consubstantial with the exercise of power” (Žižek 35). See commercials that make fun of commercials, sitcoms that satirize sitcoms. See freedom of speech: “You are allowed to speak against us. How oppressive can we be?” See representative democracy: “You can vote us out. How self-serving can we be?” Ideology always contains allowances for its own refutation; nobody can coherently claim that an ideology is actually compulsory. We are welcome not to believe, and many of us do just that, no matter how we live. Like living in a cult compound, skeptical of the prophet, free to leave but content to stay, maybe the better to disabuse others of their faith.

Franzen claimed that the ideology of market logic had, by 1996, “set about consolidating its gains, enlarging its markets, securing its profits, and demoralizing its few remaining critics” (39). And as he points to a similarity between multiculturalism in the academy and niche marketing, Franzen no doubt saw that market think had seeped into higher education, where, he observes, literary magazines are “edited by MFA candidates aware that the MFA candidates submitting manuscripts need to publish in order to obtain or hold on to teaching jobs” (47, 48). We've seen publications and prizes treated like tradable commodities: The New Yorker for a job; an O'Henry for tenure. We've seen trends shift, aesthetics become as fashionable as shag carpet and, later, just as obsolete. Neo-hemingcarverism was hot in the Eighties (will be hot in the Twenties, probably). Until it died a commercialized death in 1993, postmodernism was hip. Realism is always the new black, though -isms are so last century. Is it not telling that we now likely believe that there is no current Thing? I mean other than capitalism. It's always been capitalism. And in an obvious way, we do not have a choice, not even a false one: if you want to teach and write in the academy, you must follow the capitalist model. But, of course, that model, the academic creative writing incarnation of the capitalist ideology, includes all manner of fantasies to protect us from having actually to live with ourselves.

The overwhelming conservatism of contemporary academic American fiction is an ideological structure, complete with exceptions that prove nothing more than the rule, both the Law and the reign. As journal after journal and anthology after anthology evidence, fiction is readable prose about realistic people in realistic situations, carefully plotted with nuanced symbolism and subtle emotional undercurrents. Obviously we don't really believe that. Just look at that one story with that ghost, or that thing with the eighteen thematically related flash fictions. When we see in a journal's Writer's Market entry that its editors look for “experimental” fiction, we rest assured that we are allowed to write as we please. Every now and then we even try out a little collective first-person. But we return to tradition, and the reasons are legion. Ultimately, it's because that's what we're supposed to do. So sayeth the Law.

Experimental fiction cannot challenge the ideology of conservatism in academic creative writing. Writers from Barth to Wallace have done unconventional things in their stories while maintaining ties to the university and the status of traditional storytelling remains uncompromised. In the ideological structure of Law and fantasy, experimentation is actually the salve that keeps the rub of tradition from chapping. We feel like we don't have to do as we do. But what if someone did exactly what we do, and boisterously? Žižek argues that in the case of a postmodern power that already allows for and profits from dissent, the most efficacious mode of transgression may be, as the philosophical collective BAVO calls it, over-identification. To transgress capitalism, the artist and “true capitalist” Santiago Sierra paid day laborers minimum wage to build his land art (BAVO 6). Sierra adopted this strategy rather than produce superficially contestatory or ameliorative art. The first contests by resisting capital from the outside, like a folk song about war in a subway or graffiti of Newt Gingrich with devil horns. The second ameliorates by fixing what capital has broken, like installing beautifully crafted benches in a ravaged urban park (BAVO 24). These are so obviously worthwhile that they can do nothing to compromise the deep structure of ideology. Instead, they only ever convince audiences that they already have an alternative to capitalism's Law. Sierra's art project more effectively forces his audience to spend time in the Law of ideology, without recourse to the fantasy already made available in other forms of subversion.

Just as certain “'over-orthodox' authors … subvert the ruling ideology by taking it more literally than it is ready to take itself,” the writer of contemporary fiction who refuses at all artistic costs to challenge convention may expose just how disgusted we who love literary art would be were we forced to face our own ideology (Žižek 99). Could the academic literary community stand reading only first-person stories about an over-educated pothead returning home to uncomfortably say goodbye to a non-demonstrative and now dying father? What if young writers, emerging from MFA programs, fulfilled too well the mandate that they demonstrate the craftsman-like skill to (re)produce great literature? The conservative pedant John Gardner writes, “All great writing is in a sense imitation of great writing” (11). Well, why not rewrite exactly such great writing as “Hills Like White Elephants”? Like an only slightly less plagiaristic Pierre Menard, we could follow the letter of the conservative Law – free of the fantasy that we could do anything else – and recreate word-for-word the very stories we are supposed to be imitating. Replace “The hills across the valley of the Ebro were long and white” with “The houses along the street in The Pines are brick and big.” Get that story published. Then write the same story – replacing noun with noun, verb with verb – again and again, publishing it again and again. Fill a CV with a dozen stories – “Houses like Brick Boxes”; “Children beneath Dim Stars” – and a collection – Stories about White Elephants. Cash checks.

As it is, we are taught conventions and taught to teach them. We see all around us the most unsurprising of aesthetics find its way into the pages of journals and anthologies. When we write a weird story and a reader dislikes it, we prove for all involved that weird stories don't work. When we write a weird story and a reader likes it, we prove that the rules do not apply to successful manipulations – all is well enough. Better, then, to follow the well-established rules, if only to draw attention to how those rules, when followed, read: they read like everything you've ever read. In the first part of this admittedly strangely structured essay, I wrote of consciousnesses connecting on the page through idiosyncrasies of voice, story, and character. Am I arguing that we should abandon such lofty ideals for something else altogether, something artistically immoral, maybe, or at least artificial? Not exactly. Instead, I'm arguing that we should become so Law-abiding that our beliefs – in conservatism – inform our fiction so deeply that it is anything but artificial and, so, entirely moral: once we've taken as the loftiest of ideals the exact aesthetic we're taught to value as the pinnacle of literary fiction, we will be true artists. The new transgression is to live – to truly live – as the perfect version of the commanded self. To live this self so perfectly and sincerely that we no longer care that the ideological structure will never collapse, even if we refuse to create the necessary distance between its mandates and its practice. So perfectly and sincerely that we no longer worry about what we do as writers in the academy. So perfectly and sincerely that we can in good conscience remain writers in the academy.

Works Cited

BAVO. “Introduction.” Cultural Activism Today: The Art of Over-Identification. BAVO, eds. Rotterdam: Episode Publishers, 2007. Print.

Berry, Jedediah. “Inheritance.” Best New American Voices 2008. Ed. Richard Bausch. Orlando: Harcourt, 2007. 42-57. Print.

Boast, Will. “Weather Enough.” Best New American Voices 2009. Ed. Mary Gaitskill. Orlando: Harcourt, 2008. 20-42. Print.

Capps, Tucker. “Alice.” Best New American Voices 2008. Ed. Richard Bausch. Orlando: Harcourt, 2007. 1-41. Print.

Franzen, Jonathan. “Perchance to Dream.” Harpers.org. Harper’s Magazine Foundation, April 1996. Web. 28 December 2009.

Gardner, John. The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers. New York: Vintage, 1983. Print.

Groff, Lauren. “Surfacing.” Best New American Voices 2008. Ed. Richard Bausch. Orlando: Harcourt, 2007. 176-203. Print.

Guirado, Tamara. “Dog Children.” Best New American Voices 2005. Ed. Francine Prose. Orlando: Harcourt, 2004. 290-319. Print.

Johnson, Brady. “Michiganders, 1979.” Best New American Voices 2004. Ed. John Casey. Orlando: Harcourt, 2003. 257-273. Print.

Kyle, Aryn. “Brides.” Best New American Voices 2005. Ed. Francine Prose. Orlando: Harcourt, 2004. 195-215. Print.

Marcus, Ben. “Why Experimental Fiction Threatens to Destroy Publishing, Jonathan Franzen, and Life as We Know It: A Correction.” Harpers.org. Harper’s Magazine Foundation, October 2005. Web. 28 December 2009.

Martone, Michael. Unconventions: Attempting the Art of Craft and the Craft of Art. Atlanta: Georgia UP, 2005. Print.

May, Sharon. “The Wizard of Khao-I-Dang.” Best New American Voices 2008. Ed. Richard Bausch. Orlando: Harcourt, 2007. 301-320. Print.

McCaffery, Larry. “An Interview with David Foster Wallace.” The Review of Contemporary Fiction 13.2 (Summer 1993): 127-50. MLA International Database. Web. 15 November 2009.

McGurl, Mark. “The Program Era: Pluralisms of Postwar American Fiction.” Critical Inquiry 32.1 (Autumn 2005): 120-129. Academic Search Complete. Web. 10 Sept. 2011.

Miller, Laura. “Are MFA Programs Ruining American Fiction?” Salon.com. Salon Media Group, Inc., 17 May 2011. Web. 16 October 2011.

Orringer, Julie. “Pilgrims.” Best New American Voices 2001. Ed. Charles Baxter. San Diego: Harcourt, 2001. 1-21. Print.

Puchner, Eric. “Essay #3: Leda and the Swan.” Best New American Voices 2005. Ed. Francine Prose. Orlando: Harcourt, 2004. 50-74. Print.

Rubin, Jacob. “Little Stones, Little Pistols, Little Clash.” Best New American Voices 2009. Ed. Mary Gaitskill. Orlando: Harcourt, 2008. 81-109. Print.

Salak, Kira. “Beheadings.” Best New American Voices 2001. Ed. Charles Baxter. San Diego: Harcourt, 2001. 130-60. Print.

Wallace, David Foster. “Fictional Futures and the Conspicuously Young.” The Review of Contemporary Fiction 8.3 (1988). 36-53. Periodicals Archive Online. Web. 11 November 2010.

Wilson, Antoine. “Home, James, and Don't Spare the Horses.” Best New American Voices 2001. Ed. Charles Baxter. San Diego: Harcourt, 2001. 244-68. Print.

Žižek, Slavoj. The Plague of Fantasies. New York: Verso, 2008. Print.

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