Charles Valle, the editor of Fence, was kind enough to send us a detailed response to the articles on the economics of print literary journals Wet Asphalt recently published.
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The only way to save literary magazines is to change them.
I'm no great booster of market capitalism, so don't get me wrong here, this article is not going to be a defense of Milton Friedman Free Market Monetarism™. I'm a fan of social democracy and the intervention of governments in financially supporting all sorts of public goods from health care for all at one end of the importance spectrum, all the way down to experimental arts and letters at the other. Nevertheless for people who live and work in North America market capitalism is what we've got. What that means for producers of cultural artifacts—poems, short stories, paintings, movies, novels, commemorative mugs, chocolate candies modeled after the vaginas of performance artists, etc.—is that if said producer is producing a product and then selling it, those sales of said product are going to be determined by the old fashioned market rules of Supply and Demand.
Okay, so I didn't make up the term "workshop fiction..."
The charging of reading fees is the odious practice by which publishers of literature seek to pass on their operating costs to the people who generate the content they are selling. This is idiotic.
As contemporary English prose becomes ever more insular, derivative and bland, it's perhaps worth it to take a look at some more obscure International authors and see what they have to offer. This is the first in a series of posts and deals with some 20th century French Literature.
"The Ledge," a short story published in One-Story, is a tale of a 15th century cargo ship that unexpectedly stumbles across the edge of the world. It feels like a cross between adventure on the high seas, Latin American magical realism and the gothic ghost story and is utterly compelling from page to page. It is written by Austin Bunn.
From an article in The Australian about South African born author JM Coetzee:
universities should be educating students in the history of arts, music and humanities rather than just equipping them with the skills to write creative prose and play music.
"Should we be worried that the graduating students are equipped to write novels and stories and plays for today's literary market but not well informed about the history of these forms or about what has been achieved in the forms in the past?" Coetzee asked.
"If I asked the corresponding question in the realms of science and technology, a reasonable answer would probably be, no, it is nothing to be worried about, that someone could get a degree in astronomy without knowing about Ptolemy or a degree in engineering without knowing about Archimedes."
Whereas, of course, someone writing creative work who hasn't read at least a survey of Homer, Chaucer, and Cervantes is virtually crippled. The problem lies in the Trade School approach to literary education, the idea that there are critics who need one sort of learning and creators who need another. University English departments reinforce this division institutionally by providing their BAs of English Literature—for critics—and BFAs in Creative Writing—for poets, novelists, and the seemingly endless supply of short story writers in the vein of Raymond Carver—as separate sets of curriculum. I'm going to go way out on a limb here and say that a person who hasn't read a good 70% of Shakespeare, along with The Illiad, The Odyssey, The Canterbury Tales and Beowulf has no business even thinking about being a professional poet or teaching creative writing. I'd go farther than that and refer readers to Ezra Pound's ABC's of Reading for a more complete list, but I'd probably only get accused of elitism and any way, I have trouble with the idea that one needs to speak Provençal and Catalan in order to write good poetry in English. Still these days, given the emphasis on workshop courses and the reading and analysis of 20th century English speaking poets and critics, it's conceivable that there are Creative Writing MFA's, and maybe even a lot of them, who haven't ever done their homework. Some American schools have started to realize this problem. SUNY Buffalo, for example, runs the PhD in poetics program which is designed to produce well-read artists rather than the highly skilled artisans that come out of a program like Iowa's Writers Workshop.
What makes the Baigent vs. Brown lawsuit interesting is not that it's basically over a pun and a historical coincidence. In French "san greal" means "holy grail" and "sang real" means "royal blood." At the same time, much of the Anglo Saxon rooted Arthurian Legends were preserved by the French speaking Norman rulers of England, the Norman's being descendants of the viking invaders of Ireland, Great Britain, and Gaul late in the first millenium. The historical coincidence, combined with the coincidental fact that there was a major Templar presence in medieval Normandy, has for hundreds of years been the basis numerous tall tales about Templar conspiracies encoded in Holy Grail myths.
Rather, what is interesting about the lawsuit is that there was a much better book than The Da Vinci Code written by Umberto Eco in the eighties that the Holy Blood, Holy Grail authors have never seemed the least concerned about. Maybe that's because Foucault's Pendulum covers much of the same ground as The Da Vinci Code in a satirical way—weaving together paranoia, insanity, and modern day power lust into a complex and fascinating narrative. Whereas Brown's novel treats the legendary Templar stories about the Holy Grail as a hidden truth awaiting discovery—which, were it true, would make it one of the worst kept secrets in history—Eco opts to explore the ways in which semiotics and deconstruction can go wrong and lead otherwise intelligent people into irrational paranoia and truly stupid behavior.