I don’t pretend to know anything. I am not that kind of master teacher where I know something and transfer that knowledge to students who don’t know. Instead, I guess, I teach curiosity. I try to create in the classroom interesting environments and then, with the students, discover things that, perhaps, we already knew or know but didn’t know we knew. I think my other job as a teacher is really to resist the bias bred into the institution where I am housed. A university is by nature a critical institution. I want to resist having my students learn to be critics. Instead I want to inculcate the habit of writing and in doing, so I think one has to defuse the tendency to judge quality of work, to even resist asking the question, “Does this work?” Students come to me ready to think of the classroom as a place of battle. They have already been naturalized into thinking that a workshop, say, is a simulation of the way the world works. You write something and an editor or reviewer beats up on it. So students have come to think of workshops as a way to create calluses, to out-think the critics. Instead, I like to invite them to remember the intrinsic pleasures of the business, the act itself of sitting down and writing, not the ritual of self-sacrifice. My students’ writing have, for a long time, been quite timid and, as they love to say, traditional. The many classes many of them have taken have led them into an aesthetic that is by design static. The realistic narrative—once a highly experimental form—has produced a series of stylistic rules that can be taught and my students have learned—don’t use exclamation marks, underlining, or any graphic measure to intensify emotion, for example. Those kinds of rules are set in stone. What is to vary realistic story to story is the content, the local, the details. You can in that kind of aesthetic do things wrong. And the critical institution we work within loves that kind of knowledge. I have seen recently more and more students attempting fiction outside that particular drama. More interest right now in the fantastic, irreal, the magical. Also a growing interest in more things lyrical, meditative, associative, and less linear.The Michael Martone Interview » Quarterly Conversation
I like the way Martone talks about teaching. Workshops can, I have often felt, become, as he says, "places of battle", with a great deal of "this doesn't work" and "this is wrong". I know friends who recently completed an MA in Creative Writing where one tutor's idea of a comment was "This is unpublishable". I don't think that is helpful. Or necessarily true.
Martone's own fiction is wonderfully irreal, non-linear. His collection, Double Wide Fictions, is waiting on my shelf to be read, a real treat!
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