welcome to the working week
Last night I read that biting New Yorker article on the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference; granted, the author went in there looking for things to mock, but it's like shooting fish in a barrelso much of it is absurd. And most of it also applies to this program.
The conference largely consists of M.F.A.-program teachers leading classes stacked with M.F.A.-program students whose dearest desire is to get a job teaching in an M.F.A. program and ultimately return to Bread Loaf as a teaching fellow or faculty member. From the outside, the whole business looks weirdly self-replicating, like a psychoanalytic institute whose members spend most of their time training new psychoanalysts.
The triple compulsions of Bread Loaf have, traditionally, been getting published, getting drunk, and getting laid; and, though each is honored more in the breach than in the observance, the reputation lingers.
The professional model dominates the conference workshops, which combine the detached efficiency of a committee meeting with the emotional exposure of a group therapy session.
For the majority of Bread Loafers, the ascent up the literary ladder is slow and difficult, and publication is a far-off goal; a more immediate preoccupation is reaching the level where they get a personal rejection rather than a form one. Such handwritten letters are scrutinized for meaning as if they were the Dead Sea scrolls, and are recalled with absolute precision.
By the conference's end, a degree of shaking out had occurred: the hot writers were being circled by agents... Some of the faculty seemed drained by the eleven days. "This place is the shocking culmination of all that is foolish and ill-conceived in the writing programs," said Vivian Gornick, who led a nonfiction workshop. "The boosterism, the childishness, the prolonged collegiate atmosphere. It's like a fucking parody."
There is this emotion I get that doesn't seem to have a name: a sense that everything is childishTalmudic preoccupation with rejection letters, jockeying for the North Dakota Assmaster Fellowship or whatever, salivating over visiting agents, squabbling Israeli ministers, New Yorkers trying to buy gas masks for their dogs, payloads dropping on unoccupied camps, and on and on. It's not really misanthropy; it's more a generalized sense of being fed up. Everything seems venal. We're not all going to die; we're going to live in a world that will seem incresingly compromised with each passing year. There are worse fates, sure. But sometimes you really have to talk yourself into leaving the couch.