Yesterday morning attended a panel presentation (and this is what I wore) at The Algonquin (!) (old New York!) (swanky!) as part of a conference put on by the School Of Visual Arts. The panel theme was on teaching creative writing in visual arts schools and it was moderated by Hugh Behm-Steinberg. All of the panelists were interesting, but I was of course especially interested in Mairead Byrne’s and Christine Wertheim’s sections, because I knew and liked and admired these two in advance. Mairead addressed such fundamental questions as the SPACES students write in and the SURFACES they write on. Fundamental? Absolutely. Obvious? No! Quite inspiring.
Christine’s presentation intrigued me, too. She said that in her time teaching at Cal Arts she had come to realize that there are two separate worlds of creative writing, one that aims for publication in the New Yorker, and then the other, which is, of course, our world. She said that (and I believe she attributed some of what follows to Ranciere. please insert accent) in the ancien regime, writing was employed exclusively for rhetorical purposes, but that in the mid-nineteenth century, writing broke off into realism a la Balzac and Flaubert, in which representation was still referential, but was no longer motivated by argumentation. She instead posited other modes for writing, saying that essentially “New Yorker” writing was still stuck at the point in the 19th century before the turn to realism. Some of these modes included:
collapse of representation: language as subject rather than the world
language subjected to external force, pressure, constraint, or form to reveal what is unconscious or latent in culture or society
language literally as object, as in zaum
language as a medium of self analysis as in Rothenberg’s shamanism
language as a medium of witness: “framing the namelessness”
writing as a medium as speculative possibilities for society & social relationships
My rhetorical questions in response to this division into “rhetorical/ non-rhetorical” are these:
Are not these other modes rhetorical as well?
Can it not be said that the location of the argument moves in them from message to form?
Is it ridiculous to say that even “writing-as-speculation” or “writing-as-analysis” or “writing as witness” is itself a kind of rhetoric arguing for the value of speculation or analysis or witness as such?
Are all forms of writing that are obviously argumentative necessarily passe?
I suppose I am sensing some flaws in this taxonomy. What do we do with works of literature that emerged before the mid-nineteenth century that are not argumentative?
What about Don Quixote?
What about The Pillow Book? Or Rabelais?
What about William Blake’s works?
This list could grow and grow.
Anyway… I’m wondering about this. Certainly the mid nineteenth century was a turning point into something (although clearly you wouldn’t know it from today’s outfit :-)). I have noted that Moby Dick emerged in 1851: to me, it is a profoundly proto-modernist work. But I think there’s something else to notice about the time rather than the turn from rhetoric. I haven’t read Ranciere, and I’m curious to, but I wonder if anyone has the same questions…
Here’s so you can see the footwear:
The velvet “wench” blouse is Anthropologie bought 2ndhand on eBay: I mentioned that trick to you, yes? I love the princess lines of the bodice, and the little peplum. And under that, my favorite UniQlo “heat technology” undershirt, fitted and cozy! Compexly tiered lace and taffeta skirt bought recently at Daffy’s for under $30; it’s Italian (whatever that means). Maroon tights of a satisfyingly thick denier. The burgundy suede clodhopper maryjanes are actually Earth shoes, oddly enough. I think of them as a sort of variation of a “Henry the VIII shoe.” You know? My look has got so casual lately, I mean relatively speaking, I really felt it was time to bust out the ruffles and velvet again…because you know what? Life is short.