Academics and Writers

I have to admit it: I am a bit perturbed, or shaken, when I encounter Charles Stross, one of the more interesting SF writers at work today, writing the following:

We have literary academics studying us (and as a jobbing writer, I can tell you there are few things as terrifying as discovering that some poor bastard’s dissertation depends on a misinterpretation of one of your books).

Now, fortunately I am far past the dissertation stage; but as a “literary academic” who studies SF, and who writes about it both here and in my more formal acaemic writing, I am eternally worried about precisely this, even though (or more to the point, precisely because) when I write about books I admire, or books that make me feel something or understand something I didn’t feel or understand before, — and I usually do only write about books I like, letting the ones I don’t be passed over in silence — I make no pretense of describing them accurately, as they are — but rather use them (or appropriate them) to come to some understanding for myself, which means that the author might just as well be upset by my (admitted) misinterpretation, as he/she might be pleased by the fact that I liked their book.

5 Responses to “Academics and Writers”

  1. Jonathan says:

    I have to admire the ingenuousness of the implied claim that Stross is in possession of the “interpretation” of his books. Most writers have by now, if only by cultural osmosis, learned to let this one go.

  2. rossignol says:

    It’s interesting to see how writers react to misinterpretation, or indeed how they react to having their work associated with readers with whom they do not wish to be affiliated. (Is misinterpretation less offensive to fiction writers than to non-fiction writers?)

    Your post reminded me of Mark Kurlansky’s reaction to being place on George W Bush’s official reading list from last year: http://books.guardian.co.uk/news/articles/0,6109,1554673,00.html

  3. […] I completely agree with Steven Shaviro and the Reading Experience to”only write about books [and films etc…] I like, letting the ones I don’t be passed over in silence.” […]

  4. Dejan says:

    We have literary academics studying us (and as a jobbing writer, I can tell you there are few things as terrifying as discovering that some poor bastard’s dissertation depends on a misinterpretation of one of your books).

    You know what I often thought about this in the course of my own creative work. I alway had to deal with
    the annoying and incessant remarks of my animation professor at the academy, that I seem to
    THINK my concepts instead of FEELING them. Once he had a fight with my semiotics teacher, who of course
    loved me for my texts, because he thought semiotics was hampering my creativity.

    And there are many artists out there who see books as a suffocating phenomenon in the first place – they
    never read many of them. No doubt many of them would consider someone like you a theoretical twit.

    Now it’s certainly true that popular culture often says things in a simple and direct way that you would
    dedicate several hundreds of philosophical pages to. (But since your writing often endorses and acknowledges
    populism, I wonder why someone would want to blame you for being overly academic.)

    But on the other hand, behind this plea for ”intuition”, ”art” and ”emotional understanding” I see one of those
    annoying visions like say Transactional Psychoanalysis or Emotional Healing Psychology, which tends
    to see emotions as somehow a separate entity, and then we go looking for them, we go searching for our
    self-expression.

    They blame people like David Cronenberg for being ”dry” and ”detached”, etc.

    Utter nonense, of course: both from the psychoanalytic view and in the eyes of Deleuze.

  5. FJ Torres says:

    Maybe all SF critics and academics should IGNORE Mr Stross further works out of respect to him. No reviews or critical pieces of any kind about his work. Yep. That will do it. Leave the poor guy alone. In ten years people will ask- “Charles WHO?”.
    Sure he’ll love that.
    BTW-
    Doesnt this guy realizes how PK Dick became a cottage industry? It was the critics and academia that kept Dick’s work from oblivion!

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