Monday, August 9, 2010

Anis Shivani's "15 Most Overrated Writers"

It's been entirely predictable how the anti-Shivani arguments have run, as seen on other blogs and on the burgeoning comments section of the original piece in the Huffington Post (currently 1, 378 entries). For the record, of the fifteen authors given a bird's-eye assessment, I've only read Ashbery, Collins, and Oliver. I'm ambivalent on the former, and on the other two, I thought Shivani was dead on.

It's also predictably convenient how Shivani's larger argument has been ignored by those who benefit from the set up. On that issue, here's Shivani in his own words:

"As for the reviewing establishment, it is no more than the blurbing arm for conglomerate publishing, offering unanalytical "reviews" announcing that the emperor is wearing clothes ...

The ascent of creative writing programs means that few with critical ability have any incentive to rock the boat--awards and jobs may be held back in retaliation. ...

As for conglomerate publishing, the decision-makers wouldn't know great literature if it hit them in the face. Their new alliance with the MFA writing system is bringing at least a minimum of readership for mediocre books, and they're happy with that. And the mainstream reviewing establishment (which is crumbling by the minute) validates their choices with fatuous accolades, recruiting mediocre writers to blurb (review) them."

But then, Dana Gioia, Joseph Epstein, and Thomas Disch all said much the same things over a decade ago about the culture of poetry.

To summarize the main points of contention to Shivani's essay (commenting on them is superfluous):

"Mr. Anus should stop with the ad hominems!"

"He's never even read these authors. Who is Shivani, anyway? I've never heard of him till now. His writing probably sucks, and he's just envious."

"I've stayed up till 2 a.m. reading Amy Tan, so she must be a good writer."

"9 of the 15 authors trashed are women. It's obvious he's sexist!"

"This is so mean-spirited! Real writers, the greats -- or decent critics -- never had the time or low morals to argue viciously in the public sphere about other writers."

"Good or great writing needs encouragement! Without the support of institutions, many otherwise 'can't miss' writers would fold and fly away like a pup tent in a windstorm. And in any event, creative writing courses are all about building self-esteem, anyways, not producing the next Tolstoy or Dan Brown. Articles like these just make the Silliman brouhaha all too real -- one woman left literature altogether because someone attacked her work in a comment stream!"

[and my favourite irony guffaw:] --

"Anus should keep his hole shut! People should be able to express themselves however they like."


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