Cass Sunstein — co-author of the hugely influential Nudge and an adviser to President Obama — unveils his new theory of "group polarization," and explains why, when like-minded people spend time with each other, their views become not only more confident but more extreme. (Read full article here.)
Naturally, we wonder how this can be applied to po-biz, right? Here's the incomparable David Shapiro on this very subject:
Apply this to poetry, poets and the clique, cabal, club, style. Advantages to authoritarianism. The group in Durkheim. "On a certain blindness in human beings." Why receptivity and love are wider than hate. "Do not commit an aesthetic bonfire." Noa: Human beings will give up a lot to attain security, only a few horrible ("literary dictators) want power. The Tiwi... we the people eat you when one can't claim relationship. The cannibalism in most criticism. etc.
Lots of bloggoblather yet again about MFA programs, pro or con, stimulated by Mark McGurl's book, The Program Era: Postwar Fiction and the Rise of Creative Writing - and the review of it in The New Yorker by Louis Menand. Click here, if you must, for another account - from the Chronicle of Higher Education - by the always-lucid Jennifer Howard.
It's a debate that's never held any interest for me, and I've only one very naive observation to make. I just spent a solid week at the Poetry International festival in Rotterdam, meeting day and night with poets from countries other than the USA, and heard - literally - not a single word about writing programs. (Nor about avant-gardes, post-avant gardes, flarf, or conceptual writing, speaking of group polarization....) I know that writing programs exist outside of the US (particularly in the UK now), and yet... we sure seem to do things very differently over here. The relative lack of toadying and jockeying for position I found among poets from other countries - and I know that a single week is nothing conclusive - leads me to wonder how and why things seemed so different. I have no answer. But among all the poets, editors, and attendees of poetry events I met or saw ... most very keenly wanted to read and learn about everybody they could. There was an impressive urgency among poets to encounter the work of people who were different. Sure, we had a few passionate and even heated discussions - but never about the kind of pecking-order stuff one must take for granted day in and day out over here. We're a big country, but our literary culture seemed quite small over there. . .
On a lighter note, here's a video of nimble critic James Wood in action: