Friday, October 28, 2005

truth and art and structure and essays

I'll get around to explaining what I am doing here, but in the meantime:

From the Ten Month Beat, the j-school's blog (because I'm posting using Safari and can't link):

"for all the literary journos out there

a word of wisdom from a guy named Frederic Tuten.

Think of yourself as making art -- however bombastic or vague that may sound even to you--and not as a producer of products or units: You will thus relieve yourself of worrying about your work's social or political function, since all art is redemptive, salvational, ennobling and is a protest against ignorance, crime, lies and Death....One beautiful novel shames all broad enterprises and sends brightness through the prison walls of prisons, parliaments, and publishing houses.
I love this because it's an outrageous claim. When you're shouting to keep your courage up, why go halfway?

By novel you can think of any longer work where you take formal risks. (And if you think he's being a religious fanatic or something, check out the magazine where this essay appears.)"

My response was:

"is it really so outrageous a claim? why do you think so? I'm curious. A lot of people are attracted to this world because, as with any form of art, truth-seeking is bound up in the pursuit of a story, right? It makes sense. Sure, lots of us will have to slog through bread and butter stuff along the way, but aren't truth and art what lots of us want to make?__And it didn't occur to me at all that the writer was being fanatical in any way. I just thought, oh, right, that's what I need to hear from time to time. Maybe that just makes me fanatical or too idealistic?"

I shouldn’t have written that last piece in the form of a question. I should have just said – if that does make me fanatical or idealistic, so be it. Commit! I am a fanatic and an idealist.

I’m sequestered at home with a stupid cold that I thought I’d fought off in Chicago, sitting in panels and breakouts adding emergen c and ecinacea to glass after glass of water. I have a paper that I haven’t even started to write (should I compare hersey and levi writing about suffering or should I start a new deal with Herr on Vietnam. And what on earth would I say about Herr?). Helen, the prof for this seminar (The Literature of Nonfiction), e-mailed the entire class to tell us that even after out rewrites we still didn’t know how to properly structure an essay. And while I am usually one for being pushed, in this case it’s not about polishing a piece, it’s about not knowing what I'm doing, apparently. Which is a little harsh to be told when you are at a school where people might be presumed to know a little about how to write. I do always wonder how the hell I got in to begin with. It’s a little discouraging.

Anyway, I’m thinking of just using the example essay she provided and quite literally, for the rest of the term, using that as a template. This much background on an author, nut graph and thesis approximately coming in at this point, and so forth. Maybe that’s what I should have been doing all along. But I never write with structure in mind. I throw everything out in notes and then try to rearrange it until it makes sense, or until I think it makes sense. I think Louis Menand thinks that’s the worst way to write, I think he once wrote in the New Yorker that when he sits down to write he already knows everything he wants to say and he already knows how he’ll structure a piece. But Don Finkel, one of my professorial mentors, said it's better to start writing before you know what you think about something.

Maybe I’ll try that outline/template method as an experiment and see how it goes.

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