So an essay-review I wrote about Kenneth Goldsmith’s newish essay collection Uncreative Writing: Managing Language in the Digital Age just went up over at Souciant Magazine. Initially I took a much different approach with the piece, and then stopped because it was kind of insane. But I do have some of that original draft, and you can probably see why I didn’t end up going in this direction. Anyway:
“In regard to the many sophisticated ideas concerning media, identity, and sampling developed over the last century,” writes Kenneth Goldsmith in the introduction to his new collection of essays, Uncreative Writing, “books about how to be a creative writer have completely missed the boat, relying on cliched notions of what it means to be ‘creative’.” I can imagine a 22-year-old version of myself nodding along sympathetically. Disgruntled and arrogant, having run through the course of workshops and lectures required for a BA in creative writing, “creative” seemed a laughable term to apply to the diarrhetic flood of forced epiphanies, leaky metaphors, execrable prose, and shitty advice washing over the seminar tables in the Modern Languages building in the spring of 2005. Genteel “literary fiction” was the house style — a cohort of dreamy MFA students and downtrodden adjuncts policed our sentence boundaries: simple, precise phrases must be mobilized in the service of conjuring a vague aura of meaningfulness from the most commonplace events. A strict attention to the wonderousness of the everyday was rigorously enforced. Had any of us any talent, it surely would have been crushed under the boot heel of the institution. Some of us carved away, carefully blowing the dust off the most exquisitely idea-less sentences, while the rest took refuge in a half-baked version of postmodern involution, barricading our lack of creativity from scrutiny with wall after wall of ham-fisted irony and self-reference.
I was one of the worst offenders, a pomo dunce of the first order. My cleverness knew no bounds. To be “creative” was to turn the tenets of the workshop on their head, to be “creative” was to lay bare the device, to be “creative” was to reckon with the infinitely regressive nature of signification, to be “creative” was, finally, to sneer at all of those unreflective trogs who thought they were so “creative.” Workshops were ideological warfare, though only I seemed to be aware of it, if one can be “aware” of something that simply isn’t the case. I harangued the insufficiently self-conscious, derided the epistemologically naive, lambasted the formally normal. An adjunct instructor told one of my classmates that I gave her nightmares, and when that classmate relayed the information, I felt a buzz of perverted pride that now registers as a correspondingly powerful shame.