Nick Mamatas on Approaches to Reading

Nick Mamatas, who always does a good job talking about creative writing, has an excellent blog post that boils down, in part, to a discussion of ways of reading in workshops.

That is, my workshops I’ve been in and in workshops I’ve taught, the “conservative” objections against “incendiary, sexual, and/or disturbing pieces of work” come not most often from political conservatives, but from people who just can’t read well enough to tell the difference between portrayal and advocacy, and in the case actual (or close seeming) espousing-of-the-disturbing lack the sophistication to approach a text as text. Basically, the struggle in the classroom is the cosmopolitans versus the conventionals. There are right-wing cosmopolitans—Celine and Gene Wolfe aren’t exceptions to some broad and otherwise universal rule, and there are many left-wing conventionals. Plenty of people who identify themselves as some species of “left” involve themselves in linguistic activism—my own first workshop experience in my MFA program involved a good Hillary Clinton-supporting liberal denouncing a story I workshopped and soon after published, even going so far as to suggest that no woman should read the story. (The several women in the class didn’t object to this man declaring my story off-limits to them, interestingly enough.)

Many on the left worry about being “offensive” and indeed worry even more when other people are being “offensive.” Many on the right—conservatism being a sort of machismo these days—are pleased to offend, of course. This doesn’t make them any good as readers or writers.

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