let's all piss on 'craft'

Back in the 1920s, the avant gardes, radicalized by the Russian revolution, explored the concept of the author as producer. This was a response to varied changes in the cultural industrial landscape, from the growth of newspapers and magazines to the coming of radio and film, in the light of a somewhat Marxist theory of economic development. Brecht, for instance, began to explore writing theater collectively. The surrealists briefly explored automatic writing. Skhlovsky and the Russian formalists became interested in skaz, or orality in the story.

And then there was England, and a guy named Percy Lubbock. Who was not at all interested in writing as a product manufactured  under the framework of capitalism. He was, in a gesture that referenced the 19th century reaction to industrialism, interested in “craft”.  The writer as the proprietor of an atelier, not as a worker in the factory of language – that is the image.

Lubbock’s book, The Craft of Fiction, gifted us with that image and sign of this ye olde tweediness. Actually, I don’t want to be too hard on Lubbock – it isn’t a bad book. But it is a book that utterly skips modernism. All of which is encoded in that horrible word, “craft”.

We live in a vast world of bogus words – we train people up to create and distribute them, and we call them marketers. Marketers play a valuable Keynesian function, getting us all to purchase things we don’t need and might not even want, in a constant flow of purchase, work, and credit. The word craft applied to fiction, or to beer, or to cheese, etc., bears the marketer’s impress: it is a bogus descriptor from the topimus to the bottomus.  That writers take up the cross of that bogosity and actually write about the “craft” of fiction, or poetry, or whatever, always makes my heart sink, since we begin by stripping away the critical moment and retire into Hobbitland, from whence we make up “rules” and have ourselves a very good, ye olde time. Marketing, manufacture, production on different scales, all these are ways of getting to the social causes and effects of literature, or cheese, and lead us much more interestingly to the existential substructure.

So this is my plea to writers out there: let’s all piss on craft.