Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Splendor in the Can

Snow Monkeys at Play in Autum by Minol Araki Posted by Hello

“And this is because, today, I hurt with the mystery.”

We know monkeys can play the stock market with an almost equal precision to that of stockbrokers. We know further from the Japanese that monkeys can paint—abstract expressionism?—with equal pozazz to that of any human slashing away with a brush. Why even elephants can do that now. While this may prove certain Darwinian limitations, the entire theory of literary evolution may now be at stake.

Kenny Goldsmith, at least, is in the trying. As a professor of “Uncreative Writing” at Penn State he knows that evolution must essentially come to a halt. Hasn’t it already. Students in Goldsmith’s classes are “taught” to be “uncreative” because to be traditionally creative is boringly romantic, conventional and, yes, simply uncreative, traditionally speaking, that is. Goldsmith, rightfully, does not want his students to churn over that same old literary thing. That poem with a rhyme or, god forbid, that novel with a plot. I agree that if creative is boring then uncreative must be the way to go.

So how do you teach students to be uncreative and unoriginal in the contemporary way. Believe it or not such undertaking requires un-imagination. One way, why didn’t I think of it myself, is to have students watch Andy Warhol’s “Blowjob”—a film where only a man’s face in situ fellatio appears ripe and full of expression for thirty-five minutes—while the students churn away notes to later hand in as assignments. Talk about walking and chewing gum at the same time! (Goes to show you my own limitations: I’d have the students look at a can of Campbell’s Soup—all that red splendor—and have them write poetic recipes as an assignment. I’d give an A+ to any manuscript entitled “Splendor in the Can”).

Let’s face it, Goldsmith is right. We gotta teach kids to be unoriginal and uncreative. The contrary has already given wings to Goldsmith’s hypothesis. We must forever foster that inward, unconscious human ability to go beyond the boundaries of zero imagination. Nay! to the pundits. Who ever said originality cannot be taught? Question is: can it ever be learned?

Why should Ron Silliman, of all people, be suspicious of Goldsmith’s “uncreative position”. C’mon, Ron, it must be a question of your age. And, yes, as those thieving students at Penn State have been taught: we must all steal where we can.


  • i'm glad my favorite blogger is back.

    no one, i mean no one can teach creativity, originality, or anything that ends with that suffix (or the UN prefix as goldsmith as discovered). good writing comes with intense practice and even more intense maturity. originiality? that comes with time. it comes with relentless connection to humanity so that one can come up with new ideas the internal psyche can comprehend. so many people are ill-equipped to do this because they feel that being armed with a master's degree is enough to advance in the literary world, or being surrounded by "avant-garde" poets. it is so easy to forget the ultimate goal of art--human connection, emotional connection, spiritual connection--all these things that are inexplicable. warhol is a brilliant strategist. he knew what he was doing. he was of his time. he knew what was missing. and he delivered. originality is knowing what is not out there, and understanding how to bring it out and connect it to the living world.

    so many puritans in the poetry world...the land of the confused and disconnected.

    give it to them. you know it.

    By Blogger bino, at 2:25 AM  

  • You’re quite right, Bino. Originality presents one of those cute, dis-logical dilemmas: like painting in the past tense, but in direct opposition to it. That is, originality doesn’t exist until it happens; therefore, it cannot be consciously created, never mind taught. If the “original” poet is to create the taste by which she is to be judged—Wordsworth’s fair definition of originality—then we, at the present time, in the here and now, can do nothing but search for Holy Grails. Thanks for reading and your fine comment.

    By Blogger A.R.B., at 12:35 PM  

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