The Writing Program At Stanford And The Emergence Of Early Postmodernism

.tags These two divergent commitments to write what you know and in the process nurture self-expression, and to submit to the discipline of craft so as to show rather than tell, and hence professionalize and improve yourself meet in the third chapter, which is focused on the writing program at Stanford, and the emergence of early postmodernism. Conceptualized by Wallace Stegner as a place that could help returning veterans with their stock of intense experience turn Five Fingers Shoes their lived knowledge into powerful narrative in a group setting that cultivated and refined through craft, Stegner’s vision of an easy synthesis of these two ideas is complicated by the emergence of a countercultural commitment to finding your voice through models of experimental selfhood.

Stegner is a key figure in The Program Era not only because he was one of the nation’s first holders of a creative MA, but because he “is a ‘pivotal’ figure of postwar literary history not simply in helping it pivot into the Program Era, but also because the Program Era pivoted off of him into a future he could not endorse”. One early student of Stegner’s was Eugene Burdick, familiar to many scholars of the contemporary as the coauthor of The Ugly American and Fail-Safe. Burdick’s 1946 short story “Rest Camp on Maui” helps to indicate how the countercultural revolutions of the 1960s would complicate Stegner’s dream of a community of writers. For, notes McGurl, “Rest Camp on Maui,” with its sequential third-person account of the wartime memories of a group of soldiers, is the “creation, in the medium of narrative, of a small group consciousness”. Produced in a writing program, this story could be read as a defense of the value of the program in a number of ways: an example of a carefully crafted link between theme and point of view, it also represents the value of Vibram Five Fingers Shoes the small group setting that Stegner aimed to cultivate and institutionalize in the writing program, and which was also the form of social interaction so often featured in Stegner’s own work. But this commitment to a perfected small group identity would come to be the problem as the postwar became the Sixties, and the difficulty of imagining individual freedom in any constricted social group would ultimately define the counterculture.

One of the most entertaining sections of McGurl’s book is an extended engagement with the work of Ken Kesey. It is difficult to imagine a more anti-institutional novel than One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, with its easily-exportable-into-different-settings critique of institutional power. And yet when reread with the knowledge that it was the product of an institution written while Kesey was a student of Stegner’s at Stanford the novel looks altogether different. Less an example of what Stegner criticized as the desire for total freedom, and more the substitution of unofficial for official forms of power, and the highlighting of a problem of temporality (how to keep an institution moving in some cases literally, as in Kesey’s later school bus) so as to remain flexible and red finable as an open system, Kesey’s career posed a challenge for the Stegnerian problem of scale: that is, once you’ve figured out the ideal size for a group, the question is answered. This account McGurl gives of Kesey and Stegner, along with his brilliant readings of Thomas Pynchon and Donald Barthelme, constitutes a challenge to the impersonality which was the goal of craft, and this chapter is itself lovingly resistant to the impersonal; “crafted” though the chapter assuredly is, McGurl’s delight in his subject here is quite palpable.

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