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May 13, 2022Liked by a. natasha joukovsky

The biggest problem today may be the low stakes (combined with high debt), given what's happened and happening to literary culture overall: https://jakeseliger.com/2021/09/30/the-death-of-literary-culture/

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Thanks for sharing this. Also, general to the blur of fact and fiction: https://joukovsky.substack.com/p/the-poleax-vzt07?s=w

There’s a reason I set The Portrait of a Mirror in 2015…

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Sep 16, 2022Liked by a. natasha joukovsky

Nice piece! Lots of insights I agree with here. I've always viewed the brutal grad school culture (especially online) as a primarily function of the "elite overproduction" (Peter Turchin's thesis). The fight for scarce prestige/elite status devolves into factionalism, aggression, and deception (material concerns are important but as a secondary factor that exacerbate status anxieties when relative comparisons are unfavorable).

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Thank you! And I think the very term “elite overproduction” implies a supply-demand dynamic that we see in far greater misalignment for MFAs than, say, MBAs.

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What I’ve rarely (ever?) seen addressed in these debates is that the MFA itself most often has a negligible impact on the writer and their art. It’s two, sometimes three years, and unless one is lucky enough to have a real aesthetic connection with a professor or peer, it’s a pretty forgettable experience, and most of what writers “learn” about their craft and their evolving standards and taste is going to occur outside the confines of a program. For that reason I always thought the debate was a little silly.

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I'd argue you're broadly adhering to the standard anti-MFA logic of (1) already great writers do not need MFAs to write, (2) MFAs cannot transform mediocre writers into a great ones, so, (3) with negligible impact on both groups, what's the point? Pro-MFAers generally respond to this with something along the lines of "funded programs give great writers the time & resources to hone their craft and kick-start their literary careers"...I'm less interested in either position than I am the desire to defend it. Like, I'm super-curious what compelled you to make this comment--especially if you think the debate is silly. That's the rationale I'm interested in here.

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Something like that, perhaps. I mean, I agree with your points 1 through 3 (they don’t seem very controversial) but I don’t consider myself “anti-MFA.” (I did an MFA, and was one of the “lucky” ones I mention who connected with an aesthetically sympathetic mentor, whom I still correspond with.) My point was about how brief MFA programs are in the total lifecycle of a writer -- the tendency to place so much weight on their impact (on individuals, on broader literary discourse) still seems like an error to me. What I find more interesting re: the MFA debate are the economic and social conditions that saw such a proliferation of them (especially, uniquely, in the US). And maybe some of those conditions are related to a kind of compulsive, Puritan-adjacent justification for art, that it’s actually “work” (as in workshop), and therefore should be credentialed, and that this is at the heart of both these defenses and attacks.

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The Puritanism point is interesting (Batuman posits this too)

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much ado about nothingthat wuld offput 98percent of the worlds 'writers

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