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Abstract

This dissertation examines how and why manual labor is invoked as a metaphor for literary production across the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Specifically, I am concerned with that form of literary production we know as the creative writing “workshop.” Where does this term originate, I ask, and to what ends? How do literary techniques such as imagery, dialogue, structure, texture, and tone come to be thought of as creative writing “craft,” as strict technical construction with the brick and mortar of language? Most importantly, what is at stake—aesthetically, socially, economically—in the figuration of literary production as craft labor? For there is noting inherent in creative writing that precludes one from practicing it in a “salon” or “studio” or “seminar.” There is nothing in the discipline that necessitates a craft-based approach over one based on affective response or literary history or even poetic theory. With the rise of the workshop system in American culture, however, work and writing have been welded together like steel plates—this dissertation inspects that weld. Beginning with the first writing “workshop” so called—the 47 Workshop taught by drama professor George Pierce Baker of Harvard from 1912 to 1924—I show how that term mediated key ideological tensions rending American culture during the industrialization of the early twentieth century. In doing so, I track two interrelated procedures. First, I assess how craft rhetoric supplied a set of values by which to reorient institutions of higher education and, thereby, to alter American literary theory and practice. Second, I explore how artists affiliated with early workshops used them to stage a wider social intervention, mobilizing literary craftsmanship to rethink the meaning and ramifications of labor. As work—in the form of writing craft—entered institutions of higher education, workshop itself became a laboring force in American culture. If Baker and others marshaled craft toward economic critique, however, craft pedagogies would come with rise of the MFA industry to consolidate the authority of elite educational institutions, veiling the postwar university’s promotion of professional-managerial values in the language of manual labor.

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