NaBlogWriMo 2: "Is Curtis Faville dumb?"

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arg, couldnt post last night cuz the place i’m staying has inconsistent internet access. also couldnt check email–but today things seem to be working. in my inbox, another friend who doesnt blog asked me “is curtis faville dumb?” i wasnt sure what he was referring to, as curtis faville usually trolls intelligently in ron silliman and seth abramson’s blogs (tho i dont always agree with faville’s comments). when i emailed my friend for clarification, he pointed to faville’s comments on barbara’s blog, a post where she listed 20 books that ‘made her fall in love with poetry, the books that made her think: I want to do this, I need to do this.’ her list is here. in the comments, faville writes:

Ms. Reyes: Well over half the names on your list are writers for whom English isn’t their first language. That strikes me as problematic. If one chooses to write in a foreign language, as in this case English, one would presume that the most compelling efforts would originate in native or nativist speakers, rather than those for whom that language is a tongue learned later in life. Might your bias reflect a preoccupation with foreign literature which is not justifiable on grounds purely of literary merit? In other words, is it possible to be a serious writer in English, and not be significantly influenced by any important writers in that language prior to, say, 1960, with the exception of Ginsberg’s Howl? I think perhaps your measure of influence is based on non-literary characteristics. The books on your list may indeed be those which made you believe you could write, but perhaps a different list could be made out of those books you respect as literary milestones? If the only books you emulate are those which answer to a non-literary tendency, then the implications for your work seem obvious.

faville’s comment is problematic on so many levels–so it’s understandable that my friend would think he’s dumb. first off, his observation that ‘well over half’ the writers are ESL is just inaccurate. second, the concept itself of ‘first language’ is problematic cuz it doesnt take into account the complex dynamics of language acquisition suppression loss multiplicity among immigrant, immigrant-descendant, colonial, or post-colonial subjects. the idea of english being ‘foreign’ is problematic as well–particularly to second/third/etc generation immigrant writers (which make up a chunk of barbara’s list). faville’s presumption that “that the most compelling efforts would originate in native or nativist speakers” is a nativist and racist presumption.

and i’m not sure why faville comments: “Might your bias reflect a preoccupation with foreign literature which is not justifiable on grounds purely of literary merit?” when most of the writers on barbara’s list are not ‘foreign’ but embedded in complex hyphenated american identities? clearly, faville must not have read many of the writers. does that make him dumb?

the rest of faville comment is merely condescendion based on his nativist and racist presumptions.

the only reasonable part of his comment is this question: “is it possible to be a serious writer in English, and not be significantly influenced by any important writers in that language prior to, say, 1960, with the exception of Ginsberg’s Howl?”

of course it’s possible. but dont ASSume that that means folks havent read that work just because it wasnt the work that spoke to them most.

in conclusion, is curtis faville dumb?

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3 thoughts on “NaBlogWriMo 2: "Is Curtis Faville dumb?"

  1. Perhaps it would be best to avoid engaging with you at all, since your familiar habit would seem to be to slap easy labels on people, to defend your narrow view of the literary potential of so-called "immigrant, immigrant-descendant, colonial, or post-colonial subjects." (I like that "subjects" designation for non-native groups. Is that really the way you see yourself? It sounds like a form of self-persecution.)

    Nevertheless, let me see if I can clarify your perceptions about this subject. Anyone who speaks a language becomes a part of the larger tradition of that language. It is not voluntary. If you speak English, either as your native tongue, or as a second language, you can't simply pretend that Shakespeare doesn't exist, or that Keats never lived, or that Harold Pinter is a figment of someone's imagination. Every language contains, and is contained by, the literary tradition out of which it is made. This is not a racial presumption, but a fact. If your parents were born into another culture, but bore and raised you in a country in which English is the primary language, and English was your language, then your apprehension of language occurs within the crucible of that language, and all its traditions. (You may also share other cultural and literary traditions; they may continue to influence you, or not.)

    You may deliberately pretend that this is not the case, either by ignoring the literary history of English, or you may seek to define a new literary or cultural history based on the shared experience of your forebears, as an immigrant, or some hybrid combination. Languages–and cultures–cross-fertilize.

    But it does nothing to improve your chances at making important new literature, to try to repudiate the classic literary texts of any language. Does it make you feel stronger, or more encouraged, to believe, for instance, that some or all classic English texts which precede, say, an arbitrary date of 1960, are prejudicial and "racist"? Perhaps, just by convincing yourself that this is so, you may feel stronger, that the burden of your difference is lightened.

    If you or Reyes believe that focusing your attention on writers of lesser literary merit (but with whom you feel a necessary and useful kinship), as a way of redefining the body of literature to which you owe a debt, helps you achieve a separate integrity that is nourishing, that is perfectly fine.

    My question was whether by doing so, using criteria other than literary merit per se, you do not, in effect, privilege qualities which are not literary at all, but extra-literary. Do you not, in effect, become defensively racist and reactionary yourself by doing so? Why deny the best in any language?

    The tendency to deconstruct literary tradition in favor of "suppressed" cultural archetypes is by now a pretty tired exercise. If you're still doing it in 2009, you're living in the intellectual past.

    If there is any condescension in my post, it is to your argument (and what it implies about your attitude), NOT to your sex, or race, or creed, or background. That's what living as a citizen of America is about, in case you hadn't yet noticed.

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