Found this article in Publishers Weekly and thought it interesting.  The decline in literature magazines, especially university edited magazines, is the subject of discussion.  Apparently people are wringing their hands and lamenting to the heavens about the demise of proper literature.


One pundit blames the rise of all the MFA schools in writing as partial blame.  And I can see where a case could be made for that.  So many writers contemplating about the meaning of Life as they gaze at the lent in their navels.  Read about lent in one navel and you just about read about lent in all navels, haven't you?


What do you think?

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Looking at my pile of rejections and non-responses, I had the impression I was responsible for killing fiction writing, but if you want to blame MFA programs, I'm okay with that, too. (Yes, I know there can't be a pile of non-responses; inappropriate use of non sequiters is part of my plan.)
I'm surprised by the decline of literary magazines. I would have thought with less time set aside for reading, people might be more drawn to shorter works. And who knows, maybe as more fiction gets delivered digitally, that might change.

I do think it's a mistake to think that MFA programs spend much time talking about the content of the writing - all that navel-gazing stuff. My experience in university creative writing classes was that they were mostly about the craft, the prose, but not much about the content.

The classes were often made up of the same 'type' of people (generalizing, of course) who had very similar values and concerns, which may have tended towards the navel-gazing, but the classes weren't about that.
What with London Book Fair having suffocated under the blanket of volcano ashes, the upcoming BEA is everybody's next great hope. PW writes about publishers' plans. Among changes, one big publisher explained their choice of smaller facilities by saying that their approach is much more focused (!) this year, and that their ARC give-away will be highly selective. You know what that means. Only the prospective mega-buck authors will be given attention.

I'm completely convinced that the miserable condition of fiction is entirely the fault of the big publishers and their bean counters.
That's what the article really suggests. The conclusion is that MFA programs aren't at fault but the blockbuster mentality and what it does to editors.
I think that if I found the liturgical year in my navel, I'd damn sure be writing about it.
I'm not sure I agree that literature is dead. Yeah, OK, 'Literature' with a capital L may be, because it was an artifact of a specific era -- I don't think there's anything to be mourned in that. Rarity is what makes works of art valuable.

However, I think I agree that self-referential 'serious' writing is losing its appeal. It was interesting for a while because nobody was doing it -- it came along as a reaction against popular fiction of the early 19th century, which was heavy on storyline and cheap thrills (ring a bell, anyone?). I think the pendulum is swinging back now toward those story-centered works, maybe because we're now living in an era where the cultural norm is navel-gazing rather than activity. Remember that fiction's first job is to give the reader an experience outside his/her normal everyday experience -- our everyday experience now is reading the internal thoughts and feelings and world views of our peers on a regular basis. Much less common is the action-filled crime scenario, which is the theme of most best-sellers lately. People want what they can't have.

Mmm. I rather think it's the other way around. We get fed too much action and horror on a daily basis. Some people become addicted.
I'm talking about what the average person *does* every day -- very few of us have much action or horror in the course of our normal lives, which is why we're interested in it.
If you look at the dominant figures in literary fiction both pre-war and post-war, you come up with what--Hemingway and maybe Philip Roth? Both very invested in story, both very attentive to the reader in the sense that they worked hard to keep the reader involved. So the business of self-referential fiction is pretty recent--it really is kind of a post-modern development, and it may be the case that it's run its course. Trouble is, the next thing hasn't happened yet. Unless the next thing is genre, which it might be.
I class both Hemingway and Roth with the navel-gazers of modern fiction -- I'm going further back, before WWI, when survival was a grind of physical toil and daily horrors. It seems to me that readers coming home from the workhouse through disease-ridden slums would not be interested in reading about action and horror, since they were experiencing it on a regular basis. And so the capital 'L' literature of the navel-gazing type was born, to offer these readers a different experience.
The navel gazing of the moderns, whether early or late, was high entertainment compared with the navel-gazing of post-modernism. Hemingway and Roth were both consistent best-sellers and big celebrities in their day, and always decidedly literary both in intent and execution. That's why I thought of them.
Here's the original article:

I can't work up a lot of enthusiasm for the "was it murder or suicide" argument over the fate of American poetry and literary fiction. It was both, most likely--the commercial publishers mostly care about the bottom line, and the literary mags and university presses haven't, for the most part, found a way to engage the broader public. At the same time, Americans are (still) steeped in anti-intellectualism, and those who are intellectuals are often trained to read adversarially--to see works of literature as bits of racist or sexist code to be cracked, so that the true (dark) nature of the author can then be exposed. Blaming MFA programs is the most completely asinine argument of all, though it's not new--if anything, MFA programs have kept literary fiction and poetry alive in this country years beyond their natural lifespans. Economics has a lot to do with it, too--from the defunding of public education to the decline in real incomes in this country that forces people to work ever harder just to keep heir heads above water. Who has time to read when they're working two jobs and trying to raise a family? I'm rushing this response a bit--trying to grade a batch of student poems, as it turns out--sorry if it's a bit incoherent.


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