Posts Tagged ‘Hans Bertens’

I read these two beautiful passages in two books that I am reading now. Thought you might like them J


From ‘Reading Like a Writer’ by Francine Prose


Can creative writing be taught?

      It’s a reasonable question, but no matter how often I’ve been asked it, I never know quite what to say. Because if what people mean is : Can the love of language be taught? Can a gift for storytelling be taught? then the answer is no. Which may be why the question is so often asked in a skeptical tone implying that, unlike the multiplication tables or the principles of auto mechanics, creativity can’t be transmitted from teacher to student. Imagine Milton enrolling in a graduate program for help with Paradise Lost, or Kafka enduring the seminar in which his classmates inform him that, frankly, they just don’t believe the part about the guy waking up one morning to find he’s a giant bug.

      What confuses me is not the sensibleness of the question but the fact that it’s being asked of a writer who has taught writing, on and off, for almost twenty years. What would it say about me, my students, and the hours we’d spent in the classroom if I said that any attempt to teach the writing of fiction was a complete waste of time? Probably, I should just go ahead and admit that I’ve been committing criminal fraud.

      Instead I answer by recalling my own most valuable experience, not as a teacher but as a student in one of the few fiction workshops I took. This was in the 1970s, during my brief career as a graduate student in medieval English literature, when I was allowed the indulgence of taking one fiction class. Its generous teacher showed me, among other things, how to line edit my work. For any writer, the ability to look at a sentence and see what’s superfluous, what can be altered, revised, expanded, and, especially cut, is essential. It’s satisfying to see that sentence shrink, snap into place, and ultimately emerge in a more polished form : clear, economical, sharp.

      Meanwhile, my classmates were providing me with my first real audience. In that prehistory, before mass photocopying enabled students to distribute manuscripts in advance, we read our work aloud. That year, I was beginning what would become my first novel. And what made an important difference to me was the attention I felt in the room as the others listened. I was encouraged by their eagerness to hear more.

      That’s the experience I describe, the answer I give to people who ask about teaching creative writing : A workshop can be useful. A good teacher can show you how to edit your work. The right class can form the basis of a community that will help and sustain you.

      But that class, as helpful as it was, was not where I learned to write.


From Literary Theory : The Basics by Hans Bertens


Within binary oppositions we do not only find an oppositional relationship between the two terms involved, we also find a strange complicity. Take for instance ‘light’ vs ‘darkness’. Arguably, light needs darkness. If there were no darkness, we would not have light either because we would not be able to recognize it for what it is. Without darkness, we would in one sense obviously have light – it would be the only thing around – but we would not be aware of light. We would not have the concept of light so that what we call light (which implies our awareness that there is also the possibility of non-light) would not exist. One might argue, then, that the existence of darkness (that is, our awareness of non-light) creates the concept of light. Paradoxically, the inferior term in this oppositional set turns out to be a condition for the opposition as such and is therefore as important as the so-called privileged one. The two terms in any oppositional set are defined by each other : light by darkness, truth by falsehood, purity by contamination, the rational by the irrational, the same by the other, nature by culture. Here, too, meaning arises out of difference. If there were no falsehood, we would have no concept of truth; if there were no purity, we would have no concept of contamination. Once difference has given rise to meaning, we privilege certain meanings and condemn others. Some privilegings will strike most of us as wholly reasonable – good vs evil, or truth vs falsehood – others have done incalculable damage – white vs black, the masculine vs the feminine. But whatever the effect of binary oppositions they always have their origin in difference. To analyse and dismantle them, as I have just done, means to ‘decentre’ the privileged term, to show that both terms only exist because of difference.

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