Writers: Hell’s Angel in a China Shop

In the novel I’m reading, somebody notes that those in a college English department who write about writing are well paid and respected within the academic world while anyone in the department who actually writes is branded as dangerous and is considered definitely outside the safe and stifling confines of the brick walls that house literature. Since I’ve been there and done that, I’ll say we are viewed with the same horror as Hell’s angels in a China shop.

My favorite college writing instructor was in a similar position. When we (students of his) got together with him outside of class at a campus watering hole, we talked about this. Some people saw the English department paradox as similar to having a battle-scarred general on the staff of a military school who is treated with less respect than those who learned battlefield tactics by reading books.

The best we could determine is that wiring requires heavy use of the imagination and that teaching literature (pronounced li-tri-chure by the snobs) requires logic. And never the twain shall meet. Those who pride themselves on logic don’t like those who rely on spontaneity and imagination. Logic is favored in our science and technology world over intuition and magic, so naturally, writers don’t fit into the consensus reality of the university, much less the English department.

So, as I read this novel, I recognize a lot of things from my life as a student en route to becoming a writer and suffice it to say I’m getting angry again about the way prospective writers were/are treated by their English departments. And yet, all these years later, I wonder what the logic-focussed non-writers in the department thought we were going to do after college. Write or teach, I guess–and teaching was more stable, salary-wise, and respect-wise.

I hope there will come a day when magic and imagination and intuition are respected in writers and others who can sense how the world works without a calculator.


Malcolm R. Campbell

Publisher: Thomas-Jacob Publishing


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