Ever since I read Middle Passage, I’ve been a fan of Charles Johnson and I was delighted to find a recent interview with him at Monsters & Critics. It’s a good, long interview, but the reader has to look past the interviewer’s pathological, crude braggadocio.
Johnson on post-literacy:
Our culture is not just post-literate. We live in a period of late decadence. If we had to compare ourselves, as writers, to anyone in the past, the best choice would be Petronius, author of the Satyricon, written at the end of the Roman Empire. One feature of our post-literacy is, as your term deliterate indicates, an unwillingness people have to exposing themselves to works in the great legacy of literature that we inherit from our predecessors. One of my writing colleagues pointed out recently that students in his classes struggle with the very idea of metaphor, and fail at metaphorical thinking, which has been the basis for many great works of fiction. Another sign of post-literacy is the boredom the young feel with narrative, its slow accumulation of detail, and its demand upon a reader to pay attention, to wait, to selflessly immerse themselves in fictional, unfolding lives other than their own. I’ve talked with many young people who have told me they want to write but they do not like to read. These, to my eyes, are signs of post-literacy and late decadence in American culture.
Read the rest of the interview here.
More than a decade ago, after having read Middle Passage, I wanted to enroll for an M.F.A. with Johnson at the University of Washington (Seattle). A series of administrative errors on my funders’ part and some research gaps on my part led to my placement at another university where I did, eventually, find a good mentor in Sharona Ben-Tov (now Sharona Muir), but from which I would drop out after only two semesters. Encountering a recent essay by Johnson on what he considers a good, strong and rigorous creative writing class, “A Boot Camp for Creative Writing”, renews a mild regret in me that I never made it to Seattle.
Johnson’s own website: Oxherding Tale