Guest Blog Post, Connor Syrewicz: Nothing-but-Language: Literary Theory and Creative Writing


“I cannot say what cannot be said, but sounds can make us listen to the silence.”
R.D. Laing, The Politics of Experience

Connor SyrewiczHaving just graduated from a research university, this seems like a convenient forum to reflect on the intersection of what became my main fields of study: literary theory and creative writing. What has struck me most profoundly after my four years (and what this article is in reaction to) is that philosophers are better creative writers than the creative writers are. I would levy a guess that few people could find more beautiful lines written, think what you will of their theories, than those of the first chapters of Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus. And is there a writer—literary, creative or otherwise– who has ever conveyed the sublime joy of linguistic play better than the dense complexity of Jaques Derrida? While this list could be endless, after four years of studying literature, I came to be left with this question: How is it that those who wrote about literature became superior to those actually writing it?

For those of us unfamiliar and those of us repelled (perhaps rightly so) from theory and philosophy by its urgency or self-importance, ‘literary theory’ predicates a multi-disciplinary basis of insights (philosophical, sociological, linguistic) centered loosely around  language. In university literature programs, it functions in so far as pursuits in knowledge parallel to literature can draw a critical focus on how a reader experiences language (for the act of reading is at essence an experience of language). At its best, theory in the context of literary criticism belies the question: what of my experience (of reading) belongs to me (of course, what am I?) and what belongs to the words themselves?

Hardly approached, the question remains. What is the use of literary theory for a creative writer?

Few neither before nor since have made the point more radically than Julie Kristeva, a French semiologist: literature does not exist. There is only language. In The Ethics of Lingustics she approaches the linguistic community with an object of ‘poetic language’ (i.e. language which does not assume first and foremost communication as its goal) and follows by positing that from this view, all language is always already-poetic .

Suddenly, walls fall. Ernest Hemingway runs screaming through Tucker Max’s kitchen. Sigmund Freud is washing his hands after taking a shit in Ariana Huffington’s bathroom. A how-to manual is telling a joke to a poorly written blog post while standing in line behind a coffee table book about pop art. ‘Poetic language’ is the ambiguous line at which language approaches but never meets meaning absolutely nothing. ‘Poetic language’ is a kaleidoscope through which all writing, especially that which makes such pretensive strides at considering itself ‘creative’ writing, becomes exactly what it is: nothing-but-language.

We creative writers should be (and sometimes are: http://poeticjabberwocky.blogspot.com/2010/06/my-favorite-legal-terms-that-sound.html) looking on in a jealous rage at the rate at which scientists and lawyers create language in their everyday pursuits (‘dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane’ pulled from a schizophrenic need to find this chemical distinct from that chemical, ‘habeas corpus’ kept from the linguistic grave that is ‘dead’ language).

Creative writers! Do not fall prey to genre-writing, forcing language between some minimum and maximum point at which it is allowed to mean anything. Creative writers! We are the linguistic scientists of our time. Let us allow our vast, oft-loved and romanticized empty pages become the playful laboratories of language itself. And as we, childish scientists, send language through our experiments, meant to prove nothing at all, only valid if results cannot be repeated, creative writing becomes all that it already is and ever hopes to be: language. Not stories or narrative or characters (not that these things need to be avoided) but tone and rhythm and rhyme and meter and lineation and alliteration: just language. Beautiful, playful, surprising language. Nothing- but-language.

Guest Blog Post, Rikki Lux: New Superstition Review Goodreads Account

GoodreadsAs an English Literature major, I’ve studied Hemingway, Nabokov, Bronte, Chaucer, Shakespeare…and the list goes on. There’s something all of these writers have in common: they aren’t living. Their voices are frozen in the past.

Can you think of any living authors that you love to read? There was a time when I couldn’t list many. On the Superstition Review intern application, our editor Patricia Murphy asks for three of your favorite living authors. When I saw that I thought, “Living? Why? All the good ones are dead!” Looking back, I can’t believe all of the authors I was missing out on reading. If you browse through the contemporary authors in Superstition Review’s Goodreads bookshelves, you’ll see these authors are writing lots of books and they are all a part of a thriving literary community. If only we would put down Faulkner, Fitzgerald, or Frost, pick up one of their books, and join the conversation. When I began to use Goodreads, the social networking site for readers, I found that Margaret Atwood, along with some of my other favorite authors, has an account there as well.

Contemporary authors are not only writing books: they’re tweeting, collaborating with a publisher on a Q & A session, or speaking to college students. Simon J. Ortiz is speaking to my Literature of Immigration and Diaspora class this semester. Michael Ondaatje came to ASU’s Tempe campus to hold a public discussion. Margaret Atwood is an activist of environmental preservation in Canada, and she uses Twitter and Goodreads to connect with her fans and promote environmental awareness. Alice Munro is the literary voice of the Canadian middle class – she is referred to as “the Canadian Chekhov” – and her new collection of stories was just published. Dickens or Dickinson can’t fulfill that kind of presence.

When I joined Twitter, I was delighted by the presence of authors, literary magazines, and book presses. It was like browsing through a virtual bookstore: I followed Margaret Atwood, Joyce Carol Oates, Michael Ondaatje, Salman Rushdie, Anne Lamott, Sherman Alexie, Roxane Gay…and that’s just the writers. Almost every university literary review is on Twitter, plus Tin House, Willow Springs, McSweeney’s, and The Paris Review. I followed The Penguin Press, Red Hen Press, Random House, and Graywolf Press. Authors, magazines, and presses are tweeting like they aren’t worried about censoring themselves or fulfilling an image of distant formality. They talk; their followers talk back.

Every time the little blue mark pops up on the bottom of my Twitter feed, it means I have connected with someone. One time, that blue mark appeared because Margaret Atwood had retweeted my tweet. It was incredible – an accomplished, famous writer who has over 300,000 Twitter followers took the time to retweet my tweet. I took a screenshot of my tweet on her profile, uploaded it to Instagram, and updated my Facebook status (it read: One of my tweets was retweeted by Margaret Atwood, one of my favorite authors. No big deal…just kidding, it is!). In my 15 minutes of Twitter fame (at least, it felt like fame to be on Margaret Atwood’s profile for, literally, 15 minutes before I was lost in her sea of tweets) I experienced how literary culture powered by social media makes writers and literary organizations accessible.

One of my projects this semester was to add to our SR Goodreads bookshelves all of the books by SR Contributors from all of our nine issues. I created bookshelves that hold fiction, nonfiction, and poetry written by Superstition Review contributors. With nine issues of Superstition Review released to date, the number of books quickly rose to well over 1,000. I became better acquainted with so many contemporary authors.

Some Superstition Review contributors have a vast list of published works, such as Sherman Alexie, T.C. Boyle, Adrian C. Louis, and Madison Smartt Bell. Other contributors have a smaller list of works on Goodreads, but their readership is growing as they use Goodreads and other social networking sites to create an online presence. The SR Goodreads account is a great way to follow their careers.

As I worked on a Goodreads project for Superstition Review, I noticed that literary magazines and presses are also using Goodreads, like other social networking sites, to extend their online presence. Goodreads’ target audience is passionate readers, so the site can be used to showcase works that magazines and presses have published while making connections with readers and other literary organizations.

Willow Springs and Featherproof Books have bookshelves titled “we published it,” The Paris Review has their blog connected to their Goodreads account, and Superstition Review includes all of their various social networking links on their Goodreads profile. The Goodreads literary community shares the goal of extending readership of their magazine, blog, and the authors they have published, while increasing traffic to their other social networking sites.

With the emergence of Goodreads, the options for following and connecting with authors, literary magazines, and presses is vast. Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, and Goodreads are all channels of communication within the literary community: which do you prefer and how do you use them?

You can visit our social networks here:

Blog: http://superstitionreview.asu.edu/blog/
Facebook: http://facebook.com/superstitionreview
Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/SuperstitionRev
Google+: https://plus.google.com/u/0/111992497499045277021
iTunes U: https://itunes.apple.com/us/itunes-u/superstition-review/id552593273
LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/groups/Superstition-Review-4195480
Tumblr: http://superstitionrev.tumblr.com/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/SuperstitionRev