The other day I'd done that prose off with a story from The Missouri Review, which was a wholly typical story. It's very plain how similar all of these stories in all of these venues are. Same kind of shit every time, right? All of these stories come from the same place, which makes sense, because almost all of the people writing this bilge are products of the MFA system. They're also all similar people. With similar experiences--a lack of experiences. They look at the same things, they pretend the same things are good, they think the same way. It's a kind of pod person doing pod person writing.
But I want to take a second and revisit a passage in that story from The Missouri Review, because it's indicative of what people like Speer Morgan, editor in chief of The Missouri Review, look for, and by people like Speer Morgan I don't just mean literary magazine editors. I mean people up and down this system when we're talking so-called "literary fiction," too. They're looking for things by people who are mediocre like they are. That's a given. Tiny people of no talent always want tiny things at their own life-level of tininess. Otherwise they're just too threatened. They can't handle that. These aren't Zulu warriors. These are weak people who come apart over nothing.
I'm using Speer Morgan here, but really he's the name I'm putting to use in illustrating how so many of these types of people think. You might be taken aback that anyone could be that simple, but I know these people through and through for what they are. Here's the part I want to run out there again from that story in The Missouri Review, "End Times Cat," by Mark Martin.
The cat hurdled the sofa’s arm, knocking a book to the floor. (A second later, I held The Magic Mountain.) The needle skipped on a Bach piano concerto. In the afternoon sun, dust glittered in the air. Daisies on the shaggy lawn beyond the French windows were a scattering of antique coins. The carpet of grass outside came right up to the floorboards within.
The cottage in Oxford, with its shadowy eaves and wild garden, enchanted me.
Do you see how pretentious that is? Of course you do. It's just dropping names--the Thomas Mann novel, Bach. French windows = fancy to these morons, and that equals good. Oxford. "Enchanted me."
I mean, come on. Pretentious, go-nowhere twaddle.
Then someone like Speer Morgan--who is like so many of these people--eats that shit up.
They're not reading a story. They're not thinking about how something comes together. They're not having an experience with a narrative.
They're looking for certain words and phrases. It's no different from skimming. That's how these people read. When they read at all. It's not actually reading something. It's looking for certain hallmarks so that they can think, "I am smart, I know that that is a smart person term, kudos to me" or "I am smart because I am smart I like something that has a reference to Thomas Mann, it is smart and good like I am smart and good, I'll publish that from this mediocre person who is on my level and no threat to my self-esteem."
That's the level of pretentious idiot you're often dealing with. These are generally the least qualified people on earth to make some determination if writing is good or not. They're going to opt for stuff that is just nothing, as they are nothing. Throw in a reference to tenure, to a writing program, to Proust, slap in the word Latinx, use a foreign phrase, and that gets them their version of lathered up. They could not actually care less about the work, the story. Quality. Actual fucking writing.
And they don't even know anything about the things that are name-dropped. But nor does the author.
Want to do a contrast? So Schubert comes up repeatedly in "Big Bob and Little Bob," as does the Civil War, and especially Antietam. Here's an excerpt from the story featuring something about Schubert and Schubert parties, an idea that modulates throughout the story. It has what we might think of as narrative ductility. And life ductility. As our perspective changes and deepens, so does this idea, which returns each time it does so in a different way than before.
Little Bob was a classical pianist. That was his actual job. Not just a thing he did in the other room for adult friends over the course of an evening and then at softer volume after you had gone to bed and they had finished the board games and wine, though my dad only drank Scotch and Big Bob had a finger of straight bourbon which seemed more Civil War-ish. I thought of it as coming from barrels of Southern oak in a place like Virginia which is where Appomattox was fought, as I well knew.
Little Bob played a lot of Schubert because he said Schubert was for friends, and that Schubert’s own friends had parties for him even when he wasn’t there and would sing and play his music. They were called Schubert parties not because they were all about Schubert but instead because they were so jolly and kind with everyone liking each other and feeling happy to know who they did.
Schubert himself was quiet. That didn’t mean he didn’t talk much. His voice was actually quiet. Little Bob’s voice made itself known without being loud. He was quiet, too, like Schubert was quiet, but you always heard him because you wanted to listen.
The adults could have said that they were having Little Bob parties. Big Bob would likely have nodded in confirmation and respect—pride, even, but the good kind—and Little Bob would have done an “aww, come on,” type of smile, then offered to freshen drinks because he was embarrassed and play something instead at the piano when everyone said they were all set.
You see how different that is? And that's just the very first time Schubert comes up. This isn't a name that's dropped to say, "Don't you think I'm smart?" This is an organic, essential part of an organic, essential story.
These people use these various broken-person ways to flash each other a sign or signs that they're a member of this warped subculture of theirs. And these things that are just name-dropped are never used with any purpose or knowledge. It's just dropping names. They're not used in service to the story. There's hardly ever even a story. Nothing like this is conversational, known, imbued and interwoven with thematic purpose.
Think of how simple you have to be to be like this. Simple, insecure, and pretentious. And dumb.
What is a bigger waste of being alive? You write shit like this, you put shit like this forward, you teach others to do shit like this, and then you die. And that was your life.