Sunday, January 9, 2011

Teacher's Pet

I was a teacher's pet. I freely admit it. Not in every class, but in the classes I cared about. I guess I was the right combination of smart/pretty/non-controversial to make most teachers like me. Plus, I was punctual and sometimes wrote more pages than I had to for assignments. I liked to be liked. And, I liked to learn.

But, there were a few teachers in my career who could not be won over, for whatever reason. I guess I can respect that. One was an ex-hippy professor who opened our first class by playing John Lennon's Imagine while swaying with her eyes closed. I won't go too deeply into the subject matter covered by this class, since this is the internet, but I will tell you that it was a lit class. We watched movies, read books, and were assigned creative class projects. Should have been an easy A. ;)

But, no. I made the mistake of asking the wrong question.

We were reading We. We (in case you don't know) is a dystopian novel that predated Brave New World, 1984, and Fahrenheit 451. It was written by Yevgeny Zamyatin and is a pretty awesome book. I've reread it a couple times since.

Because I liked the book and had found some parallels in my research between Zamyatin's experience in Russia and the themes of We, I asked the teacher to what extent she felt Zamyatin's life influenced his writing.

Whoa. Big mistake. This initiated a huge lecture about how, "Everyone always thinks that they can use a writer's work to learn about his life. You can never know what is going on in a writer's head. Sometimes a book is just a book. Don't try to understand writers through their work!" Then, she glared at me.

Imagine innocent, little, butt-kissing me sitting there with a huge question mark over my head.

(In case you'd like to do some brief browsing on the parallels between Zamyatin's life and novel, here ya go: We )

So, I ask you this: Is a book ever just a book? Is there any work of art through which the artist cannot be glimpsed, even a little bit? I would challenge that everything we make says something about us. Our fears, our hopes, the people who have shaped us, the places we've been, the things we believe, and the moments that excite us. If none of this can be reflected through our writing, then why write? What is the point of creating a passionless, sterile, object that has nothing to do with us?

I argue that if you read a lot of Bradbury, you're going to begin to know something about who Bradbury is. Not everything, but an awful lot. When Dostoevsky wrote The Brothers Karamazov he claimed that he tried to put everything he believed about life into it. (apologies, I cannot find the exact quote.) If you don't think that Chuck Palahniuk spends a lot of time thinking about sex and disintegration, then you'd probably be wrong. And all the young adult dystopian novels on the shelves these days? I wouldn't dare to claim that their proliferation doesn't have something to do with the state of our current society. Really, you can go on and on and on.

I guess all of this is just to say something I wish I had the guts to say back then, "You are wrong."

I've got jury duty, so I might disappear for a while. Hopefully this entry came off as more triumphant than spiteful.

Currently listening:
To Hell With The World - David Ford


  1. I completely agree with you. A book might not be summarizing the author's life but I do think that many works of art take a sliver from the creator's life and then expand on it!
    I stumbled across your blog through Lydia's. I'm also writing my first novel. So cool that you are a dance instructor! I learned Indian classical for quite some time but always loved ballet. Good luck with everything :)

  2. I had a response typed out, but I instead am wiping it all out in favor of pointing out that your end-of-blog image should've been Inception Cat again instead of that silly sign.

  3. Saumya - Thanks for visiting! What genre are you working in for your first novel?

    Mike - Darn you, self-edit! Way to tease a girl. :( Inception Cat does not approve.

  4. I agree with you! Even if a writer is exploring a world they know nothing about to write a project, that in itself is telling. While I think your teacher has a point about not digging into every little detail of a book to uncover the author, I think you're more right--it's impossible to divorce yourself from your writing.

    (And don't worry, your tone was quite triumphant).

    Thanks for commenting on my blog. I'm glad to "meet" you, and I'm deeply jealous you're a dance instructor. A screwed up foot took me out of the game years ago.

    - Liz

  5. Liz - Thanks for coming by! Of course to treat every creation as a complete autobiography would be silly, but there are so many fingerprints and us-shaped smudges on everything that we do. My professor's position seems strange and difficult to defend. Aw well.

    So sorry about your foot! I've had many friends drift away from dancing because of injuries. It's pretty sad. I struggle with some tendentious in my feet, but it hasn't kept me from dancing. (Fortunately!) What kind of movement did you study?