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?