“For the past several years, I’ve taught a class at the University of Pennsylvania called “Uncreative Writing.” In it, students are penalized for showing any shred of originality and creativity. Instead they are rewarded for plagiarism, identity theft, repurposing papers, patchwriting, sampling, plundering, and stealing. Not surprisingly, they thrive. Suddenly what they’ve surreptitiously become expert at is brought out into the open and explored in a safe environment, reframed in terms of responsibility instead of recklessness.
We retype documents and transcribe audio clips. We make small changes to Wikipedia pages (changing an “a” to “an” or inserting an extra space between words). We hold classes in chat rooms, and entire semesters are spent exclusively in Second Life. Each semester, for their final paper, I have them purchase a term paper from an online paper mill and sign their name to it, surely the most forbidden action in all of academia. Students then must get up and present the paper to the class as if they wrote it themselves, defending it from attacks by the other students. What paper did they choose? Is it possible to defend something you didn’t write? Something, perhaps, you don’t agree with? Convince us.
All this, of course, is technology-driven. When the students arrive in class, they are told that they must have their laptops open and connected. And so we have a glimpse into the future. And after seeing what the spectacular results of this are, how completely engaged and democratic the classroom is, I am more convinced that I can never go back to a traditional classroom pedagogy. I learn more from the students than they can ever learn from me. The role of the professor now is part party host, part traffic cop, full-time enabler.
The secret: the suppression of self-expression is impossible. Even when we do something as seemingly “uncreative” as retyping a few pages, we express ourselves in a variety of ways. The act of choosing and reframing tells us as much about ourselves as our story about our mother’s cancer operation. It’s just that we’ve never been taught to value such choices.
After a semester of my forcibly suppressing a student’s “creativity” by making her plagiarize and transcribe, she will tell me how disappointed she was because, in fact, what we had accomplished was not uncreative at all; by not being “creative,” she had produced the most creative body of work in her life. By taking an opposite approach to creativity—the most trite, overused, and ill-defined concept in a writer’s training—she had emerged renewed and rejuvenated, on fire and in love again with writing.”"
These signals point to the fact that Professor Skizzen has been writing some of the account of his own life in the third-person. And also that he might not have proofread the whole document.
There are in addition obvious errors of chronology and subversions of the historical record. When forging the government documents that will enable his rise from lowly service employee to senior academic, Joseph adds five years to the age he has been publicly giving, to allow space for more childhood years in Vienna before his family’s supposed escape ahead of the Anschluss. Even before this plain-language revelation that Joey is eager (and able) to put over fictions about his age, a careful reader will have noticed that we have been told several conflicting stories about Joey’s education: that he was held back for at least a year in elementary school (on account of his chaotic, war-disrupted youth); that he had already completed at least three semesters at a local college by the age of 19. In another section recounting these foggy early years, Skizzen works in a record shop during ‘early ’Nam time’. This doesn’t add up either: he’s portrayed as a teenager, but if he was born in the Blitz he would already be well into his twenties. In the shop Skizzen proudly cultivates his burgeoning classical music expertise and snobbishly sends customers wanting to buy pop music to a colleague: ‘Could you come over here a moment please and assist this young man who wants something in grunge?’ The trouble is that it’s about a quarter of a century too early for that reference to make sense. ‘Hip-hop’, too, is mentioned about a decade too soon. Does Gass not know when grunge or rap happened? Or is Professor Skizzen, in typing his own history, making mistakes?
There are other authorial jokes. When Skizzen gets a job in a library after dropping out of college, his boss gives him some advice: ‘Always assume the author is smarter than you are – have you written a book on his subject?’ Elsewhere it’s signalled that the story Skizzen tells about his family history is deliberately fractured. Of his father, ‘it was difficult to account for the abandonment of his family, his departure for America, and his subsequent disappearance, in some sort of sonata form. Changelings required impromptus, variations, bagatelles, divertimenti, to do justice to their nature. He, Joseph Skizzen, was a weathercock too.’"
"Folk tales are humbler stories than the great cosmological myth cycles or long heroic Romances, and as such have been passed through the generations largely by the lower caste portions of society: women, peasants, slaves, and outcast groups such as the gypsies. The literary fairy tale, by contrast, began as an art form of the upper classes — made possible by advances in printing methods and rising literacy. Literary fairy tales borrow heavily from the oral folk tales of the peasant tradition (as well from myth, Romance, and literary sources like Apuleius’s Golden Ass and Boccaccio’s Decameron), but these motifs are crafted and reworked through a single author’s imagination. The earliest literary fairy tales we know of come from 16th-century Italy: Giovan Francesco Straparola’s Le piacevoli (published in 1550-53) and Giambattista Basile’s Il Pentamerone (published posthumously in 1634-36). Basile’s work in particular was an influence on the French fairy tale enthusiasts one hundred years later; and his book contains the earliest known written versions of such classic tales as Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Snow White, Puss in Boots, and many others."
Found in a book today: How To Open A Book, in The Rights of War and Peaceby Grotius. Part of the Universal Classics Library, Edition De Luxe, published 1901.
“If Socrates was a poet, Wittgenstein is a poet”
David Antin, as quoted in Remembering David Antin’s Black Warrior
How the wilde and sauage people used a naturall Poesie in versicle and rime as our vulgar is.
And the Greeke and Latine Poesie was by verse numerous and metricall, running vpon pleasant feete, sometimes swift, sometime slow (their words very aptly seruing that purpose) but without any rime or tunable concord in th’end of their verses, as we and all other nations now vse. But the Hebrues & Chaldees who were more ancient then the Greekes, did not only vse a metricall Poesie, but also with the same a maner of rime, as hath bene of late obserued by learned men. Wherby it appeareth, that our vulgar running Poesie was common to all the nations of the world besides, whom the Latines and Greekes in speciall called barbarous. So as it was notwithstanding the first and most ancient Poesie, and the most vniuersall, which two points do otherwise giue to all humane inuentions and affaires no small credit. This is proued by certificate of marchants & trauellers, who by late nauigations haue surueyed the whole world, and discouered large countries and strange peoples wild and sauage, affirming that the American, the Perusine & the very Canniball, do sing and also say, their highest and holiest matters in certaine riming versicles and not in prose, which proues also that our maner of vulgar Poesie is more ancient then the artificiall of the Greeks and Latines, ours comming by instinct of nature, which was before Art or obseruation, and vsed with the sauage and vnciuill, who were before all science or ciuilitie, euen as the naked by prioritie of time is before the clothed, and the ignorant before the learned. The naturall Poesie therefore being aided and amended by Art, and not vtterly altered or obscured, but some signe left of it, (as the Greekes and Latines haue left none) is no lesse to be allowed and commended then theirs.
He was, after all, the Einstein of the text-life continuum, proving over and over that books and life are always intertwined. His novels are full of lost manuscripts, self-parodies, authorial stand-ins, writers who wander into their texts and tamper with characters. And it’s impossible to imagine him ever ceding control, even to death. My inner Kinbote suspects, in fact, that Laura isn’t unfinished at all—that it’s actually a perfectly executed work of literary performance art, a carefully engineered posthumous spectacle that its author spent his entire career preparing us to receive. I imagine him reaching down, even now, to crank the recursion machine harder than it’s ever been cranked. Those 30 years of drama, perhaps, were part of the work itself. He may not have even wanted the manuscript destroyed: It’s possible he wanted it read at precisely this moment, under precisely these circumstances. Incompleteness is the book’s central theme, so it could only have been finished by being left unfinished. Like Philip’s body in the midst of one of his trances, Laura survives, ecstatically, with key parts missing. It could be Nabokov’s very last brilliant joke: a black hole of textuality that he conjured and then slipped into, pulling his pencil behind him.
In the end, Philip Wild’s manuscript—the first-person account of his experiments in “self-deletion”—ends up finished but unpublished: He dies of a heart attack before his secretary gets a chance to type it up. One of Laura’s last cards suggests that a mysterious figure steals the book, intending to publish it in a different venue than Wild had planned. Nabokov’s manuscript, of course, was published, yet remains eternally unfinished. Both books, however, teach the same lesson, the orgasmic pleasures of incompleteness.
from A Glorious Mess by Sam Anderson, New York Magazine, Nov 15, 2009 - Nabokov never wanted us to read his unfinished last novel. Unless, thrillingly, he did.
- William Caxton, Prologue to Golden Legend, First Edition, 1483