MA Semester Two, Week Seven

Week seven?  Seriously?  Oh, sweet spaghetti monster.  This year is sliding by stupidly fast.  I thought I'd have much more of the novel written by now, but it seems that institutions of higher education, though they may make me think more clearly and deeply about my work, don't have the miraculous ability make me write any faster.  I've written probably over 30,000 words since December, but I'll only keep about 10,000 of them.  Write three chapters and then archive two of them in the 'what was I thinking' folder - that's the pattern.  I envy people who work quickly.  I dither constantly.  I hover and delete and rewrite obsessively.  I should make my peace with that and not worry that I'm doing it wrong.  On to the next chapter today.

So.  Week seven's Contemporary Fiction class was about realism and experimentalism and JM Coetzee's Diary of a Bad Year.  I think I've been pronouncing 'Coetzee' wrong.  It'll have to be added to the list of Words To Avoid Saying Out Loud in case I make a tit of myself.  Donald Barthelme went on that list recently too; I thought it was obvious how you said that one, but it seems, again, that I was wrong, if the New Yorker podcasts are to be believed.  Henceforth he's The Guy Who Wrote That Story About The Balloon And Other Stuff.  Coetzee will be That Nobel Guy.  You Know The One.  Anyway.  Diary of a Bad Year.  We discussed the mixing of fictional and non-fictional modes; contemporary fiction's orientation towards the 'real', or otherwise; the flexibility of the novel form.  Then we talked about David Shield's new book, Reality Hunger (which I've recently reviewed for Bookmunch, link coming soon), though since hardly anyone had actually read it, it was more of a discussion about the reception the book has had in the media and the blogosphere.  Shields terms it a manifesto about the direction that literature ought to take, claiming that people want 'the real', but his definition of the real isn't very well-defined, and the debate (the death of the novel, the end of realism) is a very old and tired one, and as a manifesto it's more than a little woolly.  Still, I found it a really interesting read, and the collage aspect of it was pretty invigorating, but we didn't get into much of a serious discussion because, again, people hadn't read it (it's only been out a few weeks, in fairness, and it's an expensive hardback).  So then back to Coetzee - Diary of a Bad Year has a pretty unusual tripartite structure with one essay-like part, and two fictional storylines with two purported narrators.  We talked about narratives infecting each other, the permeable boundaries between the three parts, the disruptions in tension that this creates, Coetzee's foregrounding of the workings of the narrative, his intensification of textuality, the different versions of authority that the novel creates and questions, authority as a rhetorical construction.  And then there was some talk about politics, but you know, my notes seem to have fizzled out at that point, so it'll have to remain mysterious.

The workshop in the afternoon was a short story and a novel chapter, and we talked about two Grace Paley stories that we'd read.  Next week is the last week before the Easter break, and after that we'll only have a few weeks left before the summer and the dissertation .  Scary.  In the meantime, next Monday we've got the lovely Jenn Ashworth and the no-doubt-also-lovely Jen Hadfield reading and doing workshops with us.  The workshops are just for students, but the readings are open to the public, Monday the 22nd at 18:30 in the Whitworth Gallery.  Be there.

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