The discourse right under our noses

CHRISTIAN HARTSELLE | OPINION COLUMNIST

The typical Butler University student is utterly unaware of the university’s duty to be part of a larger academic conversation—and even more unaware of how well it executes this role.

This trend concerns me recently because of a publication that Booth Magazine just released. The MFA Program in Creative Writing works alongside Booth magazine, the Butler-affiliated literary magazine, to publish online every Friday and in print twice a year.

The magazine, and thus the MFA at Butler, received attention when the magazine published an interview with one of last semester’s visiting writers, the contemporary literature icon Jonathan Franzen.

Major platforms like the Guardian, the Chicago Reader,  Bustle and Salon covered the interview and Franzen’s unsurprisingly contentious thoughts. The fact that none of this is commonly known among Butler undergraduates certainly reflects their incognizance about the wider liberal arts dialogue at their liberal arts university.

Franzen, as articulated in Booth’s introduction, is “arguably the best living American novelist.” His novels distinguish themselves through their emulation of the social novel—one that explores an entire society holistically. His works “The Corrections” and “Freedom” encapsulate this masterful form. His style contrasts hugely from the contemporary proclivity to only focus on a few “universal themes” in the novel.

When Franzen answered questions at Clowes Memorial Hall, I, similar to the interviewer, was surprised that he did not necessarily intend his books to be catalysts of social change, even though they have spurred so much thinking and discourse about our post-9/11 society.

In the Booth interview, he also discussed the role of different narrative forms such as the memoir and the novel. He then added that Franz Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis” is the most autobiographical work he has seen, even though Kafka’s protagonist in the story is a giant bug.

When asked if he found the rise of adults reading young adult fiction troubling, Franzen said, “I don’t care what people read.”

That said, he then mentioned that most books on the shelves are young adult in their moral simplicity. At the same time, he understands that people essentially do not want to be exposed to their delusions all the time, so moral complexity is a luxury, in that sense.

Susan Lerner, a student in Butler’s MFA for Creative Writing and a reader for Booth, was Franzen’s interviewer.

“He makes a great interview subject because he doesn’t shy away from controversy,” Lerner said.

Speaking on the MFA, she told me how her professors have taught her about how to be a better writer.

“There are so many opportunities offered to students,” said Lerner. “That parade of authors I wrote about came to Butler courtesy of the Vivian S. Delbrook Visiting Writers Series. I’ve interviewed Alicia Erian, Richard Rodriguez and Jonathan Franzen. I have dined with Jeffrey Eugenides, Zadie Smith and Margaret Atwood. Butler’s MFA program is vibrant and growing, a great place to be.”

Emma Hudelson, another MFA student, elaborated on the program.

“I came in not knowing what to do with my love for the written word,” Hudelson said. “I ended up learning that I want to teach.”

She explained that the students in the graduate program receive individual attention, and workshops exceed no more than 11 people.

Butler has a heavy relationship with academic culture, and it would be enriching for Butler students to realize the value in that. Our school offers more than degrees—it offers real, vibrant, intellectual education.

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