Friday, May 08, 2009

Passion or Product?

Russell Celyn Jones, course director of the Birkbeck writing programme, responds in the Guardian to Ian Jack's criticisms of Creative Writing courses (discussed below). As far as Celyn Jones is concerned, the job of writers in the academy is to 'preserve the world of writing and reading (an art too) on both old and new forms of production.'

You can't argue with such an aim, I reckon, but Celyn Jones's refutation of Jack's claim that all applicants want to be professional writers seems a bit weak. Apparently at Birbeck there are 'doctors, journalists, police, actors and lawyers ... clear-eyed about their expectations: they want to pursue a passion communally for a year', and he backs up his argument thus:
Any individual who expressed only a desire to become the next Zadie Smith would not get past my radar... If 80% of students do not progress beyond being the gifted amateur, I have yet to hear of anyone demanding their money back.'
Disingenous, or what? He surely knows that anybody who thought fit to say such a thing in an interview would need their head examined, but it doesn't mean students aren't hoping that they will be the next ZS. It's actually that kind of arrogance and hope that keep one going as a writer. And of course no one ever asks for their money back, because to do so would be to admit defeat, to decide you are never going to be published, and how many people do that before the creative course is so far distant in the past you just wouldn't bother?

And at the end he gives the game away. Creative writing tutors have taken over the job of editors now, he says, honing the manuscripts of those students who will get published: 'We are guardians of the product now.'

Ah, so that's what's important: there's a product involved, provided by the 20% who will get published, and there is a professional point to it all!
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