Wednesday, August 11, 2021

What Help's Creativity


"What helps creativity?"

Creativity is indeed tricky.  So many of the novels I'm encountering seem largely autobiographic in nature.  If you are just saying what happened, is it creative?  Perhaps the autobiographic story is cleverly and attractively arranged.  Is it not then a product of genius and creativity?  One thinks of poor Thomas Wolfe excoriated by Bernard Devoto:    

It was during his tenure as editor of the Saturday Review that DeVoto produced one of his most controversial pieces, "Genius is Not Enough," a scathing review of Thomas Wolfe's The Story of a Novel, in which the novelist recounted his method of writing his autobiographical Of Time and the River, as essentially submitting undigested first drafts to be transformed into finished work by others.[4] According to DeVoto, Wolfe's writing was "hacked and shaped and compressed into something resembling a novel by [his editor] Mr. Perkins and the assembly-line at Scribners."[5] Although in passing acknowledging Wolfe's genius, DeVoto excoriated his lack of artistry, "Mr. Wolfe ... has written some of the finest fiction in our day. But a great part of what he writes is not fiction at all: it is only material with which he has struggled but which has defeated him." "Until Mr. Wolfe develops more craftsmanship, he will not be the important novelist he is now widely accepted as being." DeVoto's essay was a decisive factor in Wolfe's subsequent cutting ties with Scribners and editor Maxwell Perkins shortly before his death in 1938[6] and had a devastating effect on Wolfe's posthumous literary reputation."

Alas, Wolfe never had a chance to follow DeVoto's advice, instead dying at age 37 in 1938 of miliary tuberculosis.  

Since I left the Marine Corps for it, I took college seriously.  I didn't feel a need to go to a major University since I mistrusted them all (something I got from my grandmother but can't remember exactly what).  Wolfe was treated with disdain in some class I took; so I decided to read him on my own.  I read Of Time and the River and You Can't go home again -- huge time-consuming works.  I was entertained by them, but also read DeVoto's comments, and so ended up not having an opinion of my own.  Thinking about Wolfe now, didn't the same thing happen to T. S. Eliot?  Eliot wrote a voluminous Waste Land and had it whittled into a masterpiece by Ezra Pound.  One doesn't hear a DeVoto-type criticism of that. 

Where is the novelist or poet who doesn't write autobiography?    I suppose poets and novelists who have a political ax to grind don't write autobiography, but writing for a political end was at least at one time consider the most heinous sin against creativity.

Afterthought:  I didn't mean that all novelists wrote autobiography, but I seem to have encountered quite a lot of autobiography in novels considered "serious," and perhaps I haven't been as impressed by them as though who publish them.  

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