German creative writing system also cultivating well-financed conformism?
January 29, 2014 | 10:44 am
Following Rahul Kanakia’s highly informed diatribe against the astroturfed sameness created by the U.S. creative writing industry, it appears that Germany is suffering from the same problem. At least according to a very opinionated comment piece from Florian Kessler in Zeit Online, entitled: “Let Me Through, I’m a Doctor’s Son!”
“Why is German contemporary literature so well-behaved and conformist?” asks Kessler – or at least, his headline writers. “Because the graduates of the writing schools of Leipzig and Hildesheim all come from the same saturated milieu.”
The Leipzig and Hildesheim schools he references are the German Creative Writing Program of the Deutsches Literaturinstitut in Leipzig (DLL) and the Creative Writing and Cultural Journalism course at the University of Hildesheim, both of which, according to the Goethe Institute, “train writing talents to become authors.” Or, perhaps, a specific type of author.
Perhaps it’s unfair to read too much into the statements by the heads of these distinguished schools, but here is one example courtesy of the Goethe Institute, from Claudius Nießen, Executive Director of the DLL. “We naturally want writers to think about how they conduct themselves at readings, how they present themselves to the public. Every writer is in the end also an entrepreneur, who should have heard at least once in his life of things such tax statements, collecting societies such as VG WORT, and the Artists’ Social Insurance.”
The DLL is a successor institution to the Johannes R. Becher-Institut, founded in 1955 in the then East Germany. And it’s interesting to reflect, then, that according to Kessler, the most successful graduates of Hildesheim and the DLL appear to be “the graduates with the highest-ranking West German parents.”
“Conformity has never paid as well as it does today,” Kessler protests. And he continues, “the success story of German writing schools is thus the dominant story of a single persistent milieu,” yielding twenty-year-old writers who ” just do not enrich the literature with different voices and backgrounds of experience.” And this includes not only the writing schools, in his view, but the agents and publishers as well. “A total of more and more books are published , but an ever smaller constellation of major agents, major publishers and wholesalers decides which of these books gets the chance to be promoted to recognition and success. Success for an author today must take place within these circles.”
Sounds like a repeat performance of the dominance of MFAs in U.S. publicly-supported creative writing circles? All too much, perhaps. And Kessler should know – he’s a product of Hildesheim himself. But it appears that some alums can see through the cracks in the system. Some, anyway.