deconstruction and metafiction

The head of the MIT program in Writing and Humanistic Studies, Thomas Levenson, has a masterful takedown of a recent op-ed by Emily Ruppel claiming that poetry classes at MIT have been cut for budget reasons. Short version: they're not, and in fact another professor, who's here on a two-year fellowship, has been brought on to teach one of the poetry classes offered. The Advanced Poetry Workshop, which Ms. Ruppel wanted to take, isn't being offered this year, but two other advanced-level poetry classes are. (It looks like this term's advanced-level poetry class is Digital Poetry with Ed Barrett[0], which almost makes me wish I was an undergrad again, but which apparently Emily Ruppel doesn't consider "the remedy for our dumbness".)

The point of me mentioning this, though, is — I really love that, at MIT, the head of the staid and respectable Program in Writing and Humanistic Studies will say things like:

As an aside: I was troubled by the implication in this opinion piece that writing for digital media is somehow as a category less valuable than more traditional forms of expression. It seems to me that the exploration of the artistic possibilities that emerge from technological innovation cuts right to the heart of the mission for a writing program at MIT.


Digital Poetry may not be everyone's cup of tea, I'll grant, but its offering is not tantamount to the death of the arts at MIT, either. The world feels a little topsy-turvy when the department chair understands this fact and at least one of his students seems unclear on it, but I like this topsy-turvy world, and I'm happy to live here!

If you'll excuse me for a moment: Oh, poor baby, MIT doesn't offer the class you want, so you have to take classes at Harvard. Which MIT will happily let you do, at no extra cost. My, your problems are first-world. My heart bleeds for you. I mean, Harvard. Really. Such a slight program in the arts, don't you think? Nobody else will give you the time of day for having gone through it.

And, to be serious for a moment, let's be clear — the classes you want to take sound like interesting classes to me. I'm not trying to perpetuate the stupid engineering-vs-the-arts thing, because, as classes like "Digital Poetry" show, it's not an all-or-nothing thing, and pure forms of either art or engineering are awesome too. Would it be great if MIT offered more traditional arts classes to go with Digital Poetry? Sure! Is Digital Poetry a travesty? Heck no.

So MIT's humanities department has a different focus than you'd like. Point the first, you're here for graduate school — did you not research this and realize this going in? This should not be coming as a surprise to you. It's pretty evident from the web site and everything, seeing as there are all those classes with "Digital" in the name at which you turn up your nose. Point the second, oh no, Harvard is your backup plan. How terrible.

Unrelatedly, I found Cat Valente on the joy of deconstruction and metafiction amusing — nothing people who eat and breathe this stuff will find groundbreaking, but a sentiment I agree with expressed in an engaging fashion.

In part:

As a post-postmodern grrl, I dig it when everyone knows they're in a constructed narrative–because solid portions of life exist in constructed narratives and it's a tangled, broken wheel of: we read and view narratives from earliest memory and those narratives reflect real life but we also construct our lives to fit the narratives we ingested before we understood them so life reflects narrative and it all goes around and around and we are always living some story or other.


[0]: Ed Barrett was awesome when I had him for Interactive and Non-Linear Fiction. Any current MIT students reading this: if you're looking for a mad writing-meets-technology class to take, Ed's are awesome.[1]
[1]: Saying this of course shows my true colors here, which I have not been attempting to hide. But, in case it wasn't obvious: I'm a big, sloppy fan of MIT's humanities programs, I concentrated in literature (as MIT understands it) as an undergrad, and it was awesome, and I learned a lot, and I wouldn't have it any other way.