為什麼要讀陳映真?──《橙紅的早星》自序

回顧戰後以來台灣的文學界,陳映真佔據了一個非常重要且獨特的位置,他意向明確且執著向前地將文學創作持續不斷地置放於大的歷史脈絡之下,疼痛地碰撞著時代的大問題,不懈地求索文學與歷史之間深刻的內在關係。在一種特定於第三世界語境下的「思想」意義之下,文學家陳映真是一個不折不扣的思想者,提供了一個人道的、平等的、正義的、民眾的、解放的,與第三世界的「左眼」。真誠,是陳映真文學之所以能感動那麼多人的最重要緣故。這個真誠既展現在歷史與傳記的再現,也展現在思想的顛躓摸索。

自我2009年初,一頭栽進閱讀與寫作陳映真的狀態中,並一發不可收拾以來,已歷三寒暑。2011年,我出了此一主題的第一本書《求索:陳映真的文學之路》。在書的〈自序〉裡,我交代了幾個相關問題,包括,陳映真與我們這一代人的關係、我重讀陳映真的緣由,以及,以一個文學門外漢如我,在磕磕碰碰的閱讀過程中關於閱讀文學文本的一愚之得……。在那裡,我並沒有好好地針對一個重要問題──「為什麼要讀陳映真?」,作出回應。現在,我將要出我關於陳映真文學的第二本書了,我覺得應該要對這一問題作出回應,於是有了這篇「代自序」。至於一般性質的「序言」,也就是介紹這本書的內容以及表達感謝之言,則是表述在「後記」裡。

這篇「代自序」,一方面是向讀者您交代我何以認為陳映真文學是重要的一個自白,但另一方面,它也是一封向公眾提出的意欲強烈的閱讀邀約信。但在寫作之中,我也常不安地轉而思之,這是否竟是那種常招人厭的「己所欲者施於人」。惶恐之餘,也只有建議讀者諸君不妨暫時只把現在這篇序言當作我的一個應是誠懇的自問自答,而設若您恰巧也接受了我對陳映真文學的價值的某些評斷,而希望進一步接觸的話,那麼,您也許應該直接閱讀陳映真作品,自行感受、闡釋與批評。之後,如果還有時間而且也還願意,再將這本書作為閱讀參照之一,且願意匡正我的某些讀法的淺陋與不達,則是我最大的盼望。而如果我的這本對陳映真早期的小說的詮釋之作,竟然替代了原始文本的直接閱讀與全面閱讀,則是這篇序言所不能承受的罪過。

直接切入正題。我將從歷史、思想與文學,這三個維度,分別說明為何要讀陳映真。

一、歷史

回顧戰後以來台灣的文學界,陳映真佔據了一個非常重要且獨特的位置。這樣的一個論斷,是因為那無法避免而且也不一定必然負面的「偏好」嗎?答案是否定的。這麼說好了。試問:除了陳映真,還有誰,像他一樣,在這過去半世紀以來,意向明確且執著向前地將文學創作持續不斷地置放於大的歷史脈絡之下,疼痛地碰撞著時代的大問題,不懈地求索文學與歷史之間深刻的內在關係?

也許,有人會嘟嘟囔囔地說,這不是我要的文學;「陳映真」不是我的菜。很好啊!口味是強加不來的。更何況,沒有哪一部文學作品是非讀不可的,畢竟這世界總是這樣或那樣繼續下去,不曾因這部或那部作品而變呀。但是,如果你給文學一點點機會、一點點重量,把它看做是一種幫助我們得以同情體會各種情境下的人物的境遇心情,從而得以更具體且更豐富地理解歷史中的他者,從而得以給自我理解多開幾扇窗戶,幫助自己評估價值、尋求意義的一種重要手段的話,那麼,或許你應該要注意陳映真的文學,更何況他講的正是和你、和我那麼密切相關的故事;特別是在很多很多個他說過的故事,以及故事裡的人物,已經被我們這個時代所遺忘之時。當歷史正在遺忘,陳映真文學的價值正是在拒絕遺忘。

拒絕遺忘,恰恰是要為當下找出走向未來的出路。因此,拒絕遺忘不是單純地回到過去,緬懷榮耀或是舔舐傷口──那是「遺老」的拒絕遺忘。對陳映真而言,「遺忘」是「歷史終結」這塊銅錢的另一面。拒絕遺忘,正是追問構成我們今日狀況的種種歷史線索。這要求我們打破霸權的記憶工程,讓我們重新理解我們的自我構成,看到自身是如何在歷史中被各種力量所形塑。這樣的自知,不待言,是理論與實踐的一重要前提。理論與實踐不是展開於一個前提自明的普世空白主體之上的。

因此,作為這樣的一個歷史的探索者,陳映真透過了他的文學裡的眾多主人公,向我們展現了很多現當代重要歷史階段或事件,從日本殖民統治、二戰及太平洋戰爭、國共內戰、二二八事件、中華人民共和國的成立、全球冷戰、白色恐怖、兩岸分斷、反共親美右翼威權政體的鞏固、資本主義的發展與深化、大眾消費社會的形成、學術與思想的美國化、政治與文化的「本土化」與去中國化,到如今持續迷亂整個島嶼的認同撕裂扭曲……。請問,在台灣當代的文學界,乃至思想界與知識界,在這半世紀多以來,持續不斷地直面追問這些從不曾「過去」的事件或過程的人,除了陳映真,還有誰?那麼,陳映真的文學難道不應該成為我們理解自身的一個重要憑藉與參照嗎?

上述的那些歷史事件,並非無人就此或就彼進行研究或表達意見,但少有人有陳映真的器識心志,直面它們的源流交錯,進而編織成一種歷史關係,對我們的今日提出一種原則性的看法。放大某一個孤立事件,然後擴而大之,周而廣之,形成一種單一的歷史解釋,並不為陳映真所取。歷史過程總是條縷共織、「多元決定」的。這一對待歷史的特點,我們無論是從陳映真1960年的〈鄉村的教師〉或是2001年的〈忠孝公園〉,都可以看得很清楚。陳映真的文學後頭站著一個思想者陳映真,但這個思想者在歷史面前總是謙遜與怵惕的,他要從歷史中得到某些教訓,而非挾其理論斧鋸,以歷史為意識形態之林場。

堅定地把書寫持續定位在歷史與文學的介面上,陳映真讓人印象最為深刻,為之掩卷,為之躑躕再三的,就是他透過小說為那大多屬於「後街」的小人物所立的傳。在陳映真目前為止的36篇中短篇小說裡,這些小人物,或憂悒、或決絕、或虛無、或堅信、或樸直、或妄誕……。他們在那些雖是虛構的但卻又無比真實的時空中行走著,時而歷歷在目,時而影影綽綽。此刻飄到我腦際的就有:安那其少年康雄、吃過人肉的志士吳錦翔、紅腰帶骯髒的左翼猶大、浪漫青年藝術家林武治、「存在主義者」胖子老莫、質樸厚實的女工小文、虛空放縱的學者趙公、做著經理夢入瘋的跨國公司小職員林德旺、在幻滅中求死的老婦蔡千惠、在廢頹中生猶若死的美男趙南棟、本性端方的忠貞黨員李清皓、前台籍日本老兵林標、前滿洲國漢奸馬正濤……。這些,對我而言,都是一篇篇傳世的「列傳」,比歷史還真實的歷史。沒有它們,台灣的現當代史所可能具有的歷史記憶將更為粗疏稀薄乾枯,而歷史意識也將注定更同質更空洞,因為我們只能空洞地記著一些大事件的年與一些大人物的名。因此,陳映真文學,其實竟是歷史的救贖,它重新賦予那些被歷史挫敗、傷害並遺忘的「後街」人們以眉目聲音,再現他們的虛矯與真實、脆弱與力量、絕望與希望,讓讀者我們庶幾免於被歷史終結年代的當下感、菁英感與孤獨感所完全綏靖,從而還得以有氣有力面對今日指向未來。

陳映真的小說在認識歷史上是有效且有力的。以我的教學經驗為例,我曾以陳映真小說作為我所任教的大學裡「台灣社會變遷」這門課的唯一閱讀材料,取代了長期因循西方(美國)的「社會變遷」材料,結果學生的反應非常好。他們覺得,閱讀陳映真讓他們得以開始從大歷史的變局與微小個人的運命交關之處,去思索台灣戰後以來的歷史,是一個很啟發的學習經驗──「很有FU!」。又,以我自己這幾年的切身經驗來說,陳映真的確是一個極重要的媒介,透過它,我找到了一些支點、一些契機,去開始提問當今的各種「現狀」(尤其是知識現狀)為何是如此?為何非得如此?它要去哪裡?……。我自己就是透過閱讀陳映真,從西方理論與方法的唯一世界中一步步走出來,開始追問學術與思想之間更歷史性的內在關連。陳映真文學讓我從一種封閉的、自我再生產的西方理論話語中走出,走向歷史、走向現實、走向第三世界。

二、思想

因此,在文學與歷史介面中的陳映真文學,其實還有一個第三維度,也就是思想維度。陳映真說過很多次,他之所以寫作,是要解決他思想上所苦惱所痛感的問題。沒有思想而寫,於他,是不可能的;他不曾因繆斯之牽引,而恍惚為文,或為文而文。陳映真的忘年之交,文藝理論前輩與劇作家姚一葦先生,就曾指出他所理解的陳映真是「為人生而藝術的」,「只有在他對現實有所感、有所思、有所作為時,才發而為文」。這個「文」,有時是論理文章,有時是小說,但它們其實又只是一體之兩面。姚先生說:「論理是他小說的延伸,小說是他理論的變形。」 。(姚一葦(1987)〈姚序〉。收於《我的弟弟康雄:陳映真小說集1》(台北:洪範,2001)。序文頁12。)

姚先生的這段話說得非常好。然而,我們也許要稍加註明的一點是:陳映真的文學創作從不是站在一種啟蒙高位,去宣揚某些「理論」、「意識形態」或是「立場」。歸根結底,這是因為他不是因「已知」而寫,而是因困思而寫。擺在一個對照的光譜中,陳映真是一個左派、是一個統派,這都無需爭議也不必爭議,但陳映真文學的意義與價值,並不在於它宣揚了左派或統派的觀點與見解,好比我們所熟知的某一種「社會主義現實主義」文學或藝術的營為作用。陳映真文學後頭的陳映真,其實更是一個上下求索的思想家,而非深池高城的理論家。但這並非因為陳映真不擅理論或論理,而是因為他並無意於為理論而理論,猶如他無意於為文學而文學。理論,一如文學,都可以是他思索的手段或方式。

誠然,你可以說,沒有文學家是不思想的──卓然成家,豈能只是花拳繡腿錦心玉口?但「思想」也者,並非「我思故我在」,也非「敢於思」這些大箴言所能適切指涉的,那樣的「思想」,反映的更經常是西方特定上升時期的「普世」理論與哲學體系的建造慾望。在第三世界,以「思想」為名的活動(相對於建制學術),所要召喚出的更應是一種對於霸權價值、知識與政治的否思、一種在人類大歷史中的主體自覺,以及,一種對民族對區域乃至對人類的未來走向的想像承擔。就此而言,第一世界沒有思想。但這樣說並不意味歧視,反而意味恐懼,因為──它不需要思想。除了極少數例外,第一世界知識分子意識所及或無意識所在的是:如何保持這個霸權。明乎此,無可抱怨。讓人哭笑不得的反而是,第三世界的知識分子與文藝創作者比第一世界的知識分子似乎更是青筋暴露地鞏固在霸權周圍。

因此,一個第三世界的「現代主義文學家」,也許很「深邃地」、「玄虛地」、「創意地」思考並表達了一種「人類存在處境的荒謬感」。他在漆黑的個體內在與蒼溟的普世人性,這兩極之間姿勢優雅地來回高空馬戲,但他畢竟不曾「思想」過,而這恰恰是因為他不曾駐足於特定的歷史時空之間,從而得以接收到這個時空向他所投擲而來的問題。不此之圖,他反而以漂流於「同質性的空洞時間中」(班雅明語),以習得他人的憂傷,而沾沾自喜,進而、竟而,驕其妻妾。

是在一種特定於第三世界語境下的「思想」意義之下,文學家陳映真是一個不折不扣的思想者,而且幾乎可說是戰後台灣文學界的不作第二人想的思想者。但一經這麼說,不就同時召喚出一個尷尬問題:戰後以來乃至於今,台灣有「思想界」嗎?但我們還是暫時讓答案在風中飄吧。以我之見,陳映真是台灣戰後最重要的文學家,恰恰正因為他是台灣戰後最重要的思想家──雖然他不以「思想」為名、出名。但,除了他,還有誰,以思想之孤軍,強韌且悠長地直面這百年來真實歷史所提出的真實問題,其中包括:如何超克民族的分斷?如何理解一種「近親憎恨」?如何理解與評估殖民統治的遺留?如何掌握白色恐怖的「歷史意義」?如何反抗這鋪天蓋地而來使一切意義為之蒸發的消費主義?一種改革的理想主義如何與一種民眾視野與第三世界視野聯繫起來?在這個荒涼的繭硬的世界中,如何寬恕、如何惕勵,如何愛人?

這樣的一種思想與文學,固然在系譜上、在現實上、在對照上、在效果上,讓我們肯定它是屬於「左翼的」。且這樣的一種「左翼的」聲音與視野,在台灣乃至於在今天的兩岸三地,是極其珍稀的。它為一個被發展主義、新自由主義、帝國主義、虛無主義,與美式生活方式,所疫病蔓延的世界,提供了一個人道的、平等的、正義的、民眾的、解放的,與第三世界的「左眼」。在這個重大價值之外,這個「左翼」的另一重要價值,或許是在於它更是傳統左翼的一種超越。陳映真當然是生活在人間的思想者,他當然內在於這人間的左右乃至於統獨的鬥爭,但陳映真總是有一種既內在於但又試圖外在於這個對立的心志與情操。它來自哪裡?我認為它或許是陳映真批判地承襲基督宗教的某種深刻精神底蘊的展現。從宗教與傳統中汲取抵抗現代與當代的思想力量,是「陳映真左翼」或「陳映真思想」的一非常重要但卻又長期被忽略的特質。這個意義,超越了一般將宗教等同於個人信仰與解救的那個層次。

於是,體現於陳映真文學中的另一特質,是一種深刻的自指性或反身性。沒錯,他的小說是在說這個世界的故事,但更也是在說他自己的故事。紀錄、理解、解釋並批判這個世界時,陳映真也在深刻地、痛苦地反省著自己。這個看似矛盾的「向外批判與往內反省」的雙重性,使得陳映真的文學從來就不具一種說教味、訓斥味,一種自以為真理在握的啟蒙姿態。在21世紀的今天,在世界大勢的支撐下,「(新)自由主義」知識分子更是極為奪目地顯現出這樣一種真理使徒的姿態樣貌。歷史上,左翼,作為另一個啟蒙之子,當然也有過那樣的一種批判、批判再批判,一心打破舊世界、建立新世界的心志,但陳映真從很早很早,就已經展現了他對這樣的一種「往而不返」的左翼精神狀態的憂慮。於是他在〈加略人猶大的故事〉(1961)一篇中,塑造出「猶大左翼」這樣的一種原型,指出他在「理想」與「自省」、「恨」與「愛」之間的失衡。我們當然也要讀出,那是陳映真對自身狀態的反省,更也是他透過反省自身作為一個謙遜的邀約,請大家一起來反省「改革大業」裡的「改革主體」問題;改革主體也要自我改革。陳映真思想總是糾纏在一種深刻的、矛盾的二重性之中。

如果用「溫度」來比喻陳映真思想的二重性的話,那麼他的思想的特色是冰火同源。我曾在前一本書《求索》的序言裡,如此描述陳映真文學,說它「總是蘊藏著一把奇異的熱火與一根獨特的冰針」。火,是陳映真滾燙的對世信念,而冰則是他冷悒的自我懷疑。這裡,陳映真說:「因為我們相信,我們希望,我們愛……」 。(陳映真(1985)〈因為我們相信,我們希望,我們愛……〉。收於《父親:陳映真散文集1》(台北:洪範,2004)。頁35。 )那兒,陳映真又說:「革命者和頹廢者,天神和魔障,聖徒與敗德者,原是這麼相互酷似的孿生兒啊」。對著他的亡友吳耀忠,陳映真幾乎可說是哭泣地說:「但願你把一切愛你的朋友們心中的黑暗與頹廢,全都攬了去 ……」 。(陳映真(1987)〈鳶山──哭摯友吳耀忠〉。收於《父親:陳映真散文集1》(台北:洪範,2004)。頁42。 )陳映真的思想因此不只是思辨性的,更也是情感性的、道德性的,乃至「宗教性」的。我們體會陳映真的思想狀態,不應以一種對思想家的習見冷冰理智的設想去體會。或許,我們甚至也不應該將陳映真的思想抽象地、形上地結論式地標定在一種「二元性」上。那樣也可能會誤導。「陳映真思想」不是一種純粹的狀態,也不是一種結果,而是一種過程──一個人如何和自己的虛無、犬儒,與絕望鬥爭的過程。陳映真的文學所展現的正是這樣的一個思想過程。

我們閱讀陳映真,當然是想要向他學習,好讓我們自己成長。在學習中,這樣的一種「過程性的陳映真」的體會尤其重要。尤其當我們知道,在中國的知識傳統中,知識分子的學習不是以經典、著作,甚或言教,為單一對象,而更是向一個作為整體的人與身的學習。緣是之故,陳映真文學的另一個深刻意義恰恰在於提示了一個重要的知識的與倫理的問題:「如今,我們如何向一個人學習?」昔日,我的讀書習慣是把人和作品切割,把人和時代切割,把作品和時代切割,抽象地理解「思想」或「理論」,習得其中的抽象思辨方法與概念,今日,我知道那是錯的。閱讀陳映真,也讓我理解了如何回答上面那個問題。我們要從一個人(當然,一個值得我們學習的豐富的人)的整體去理解他,他的方向與迷失、他的力量與脆弱、他的信念與虛無,他如何在這個矛盾中惕勵、學習,克服脆弱與虛無…….。

因此,陳映真文學的另一個重要特質就是「誠」(authenticity)。他用他的誠克服那處處瀰漫的犬儒、虛無與絕望。他的文學袒露了他的真實,他從不虛張聲勢掩飾脆弱與懷疑。文學,於是只是一個與你與我一般的尋常人真誠面對自己的寫作,而寫作其實又只是自救與求索的足跡。陶淵明在他的〈閒情賦〉裡所說的「坦萬慮以存誠」,似乎正好為陳映真文學中的一個重要思想特質做了一個簡潔的勾勒。

三、文學

寫作至此,我這個陳映真文學的「推薦者」,依稀面臨了一個弔詭情境:就在我一直強調陳映真文學的寶貴價值是在於它所承載的歷史與思想的時候,我發現這些價值不可以也不可能作為「文學」的外在來談。因此,如果我前頭的書寫造成了一個可能誤導的印象,讓讀者您以為陳映真文學的價值僅僅是以其歷史與思想而成立,那此後就是一個必要的澄清。說實話,這個澄清不是我的能力所能做得好的,但我努力嘗試。

「文學是什麼?」──這是一個大問題。文學作為結果,是一本本的詩、小說或散文,但作為過程,文學是一個具有敏銳心靈的人,努力理解他的世界、他的民族、他的時代、他的社會,與他自己,的一種努力,並透過適度講求的文字與適當的形式,感動自己進而感動別人。己達達人,讓自己讓他人能夠對我們所存在的環境有一個較深入較透徹的理解,從而促使我們能朝更合理更尊嚴的人生前進。這樣的一種理解,我相信,是從閱讀陳映真得來的。如若比較箴銘式地說「文學起始於苦惱,終底於智慧」,我想應不為過罷。

在如此的關於文學的想像中,文字與形式是重要的。有聽過流水帳的小說或是陳腔濫調的詩或是套話充斥的散文嗎?那還能叫小說、能叫詩、能叫散文嗎?還會有人樂讀嗎?但是,反過來說,如果文學之為物,只剩下了優美絢爛乃至於古怪奇情的文字與形式,那還叫文學嗎?對這一點,我不想在此開展爭議,因為本文的主旨在推薦陳映真,而非反推薦他人。

對陳映真而言,文學的價值絕不在「文字煉金術」。陳映真不是沒有這個本事。就術論術,陳映真當然是一個大煉金師。但關鍵在於,文字與形式的講求並非陳映真文學的目的。不自寶其珍寶,陳映真不止一次說過,文字與形式是文學這一行當的基本功,沒啥好多說的。初讀他的小說,如果又聽到陳映真這麼說,我們也許會疑心他矯情:當真如此嗎?以我們看來,你對文字是講求的,你的文風是獨特的呢……。這都沒錯,但我們要注意一點,文字與形式的專注,是陳映真思想與信念專注的外在表現;沒有言,無以展意,沒有筌,無以得魚。但當他專心一意往思想與實踐的目標奔去時,這些言或筌,都會被忘掉的。這有些像早期的清教徒企業家一樣,根據韋伯,他們在一心奔向信念的目的地時,他們日常所追求的那些財貨,都像是一件件輕輕的斗蓬般,全都是隨手可拋的身外之物。但對資本主義的第二代及其之後的企業家,這些如斗蓬般輕飄的身外之物,都變成了無所逃於天地之間的「鐵籠」(iron cage)。想想看,在台灣,有多少文學家在他們自己所經營的「世紀末的華麗」鐵籠中困囚終生。

陳映真甚至如此說:其實不一定非要寫。我們可以做很多很多的事,不一定非要寫作。寫作本身不必然是一個「志業」。我們必須先要有困擾、感動、憤怒、憐憫、痛感、喜悅、荒謬……各種真實的感情,我們才開始去寫。發於中形於外,這才是文學的正路;也正是「為賦新詞強說愁」的對反。長久以來,我們看到很多「強說愁」的變形,包括那些以文學作為西方摩登文化理論的註腳或操場的書寫。

真誠,是長期以來陳映真文學之所以能感動那麼多人的最重要緣故。這個真誠既展現在歷史與傳記的再現,也展現在思想的顛躓摸索,也展現在文學的一通內外。這其中,必須要特別感謝文學,若不是文學這一輛神奇的車,陳映真也無法如此讓人深受感動地進入到他的歷史與思想世界。「但為君故,沉吟至今」──我想到了好多好多陳映真的朋友,乃至敵人。陳映真不喜空車文學,也不會達到目的地之後還戀車,但沒有這車,也就沒有我們所知道的陳映真了,而這世界大概只有那行動者陳永善以及議論者許南村了。某種程度上分享了前輩姚一葦先生對陳映真文學的感情,我想在此重錄他為《陳映真作品集》(人間出版社)所寫的著名〈姚序〉的最後一段:

……他是一位真正的藝術家。因為上天賦與他一顆心靈,使他善感,能體會別人難以體會的;上天又賦與他一雙眼睛,能透視事物的內在,見人之所未見;上天復賦予他一隻筆,揮灑自如,化腐朽為神奇。因此我敢於預言,當時代變遷,他的其他文字有可能漸漸為人遺忘,但是他的小說將會永遠留存在這個世界!這就是藝術奇妙的地方。( 姚一葦(1987)〈姚序〉。收於《我的弟弟康雄:陳映真小說集1》(台北:洪範,2001)。序文頁12。)

「藝術奇妙的地方」,的確。其他文字也許會為人遺忘,也許。但是,我們也都別忘了,陳映真的文學將永遠留存在這個世界,恰恰也是因為它是一列滿載的火車。

火車來了。

臉書討論

回應

愛荷華「國際寫作計畫」(International Writing Program,簡稱 IWP) 詩人保羅‧安格爾(Paul Engle)和他的第二任妻子聶華苓於1967年創立,平行且分立於「愛荷華作家寫作坊」( Iowa Writers’ Workshop, 1930年代成立)之外,保羅‧安格爾曾經主持「愛荷華作家寫作坊」多年 (1941-1965)。

在冷戰及文革時期成立的愛荷華「國際寫作計畫」受到中情局的外圍組織法飛爾德基金會(The Farfield Foundation, Now Defunct)及亞洲基金會 (The Asia Foundation) 的全力資助。

臺灣的陳映真、柏楊、白先勇、余光中、鄭愁予、楊牧、林懷民,大陸的丁玲、王蒙、劉賓雁、北島、殘雪、蘇童、西川、余華、莫言,以及茹志鵑和其女王安憶等,均參加過「國際寫作計畫」(International Writing Program,簡稱 IWP)。

IWP 並不進行直接的政治宣傳,而是在優美的大學城環境中,提供異於第三世界的「高級」創作氛圍,包括友善、舒適的物質條件及「純粹、自由」的工作氣氛。中情局深謀遠慮,並不冀望立竿見影、短線的宣傳效益,而放眼於長遠的、深刻的、微妙的潛移默化與文化影響。

前蘇聯的KGB、大陸的中宣部、國安部有同樣的水準、資源和規模嗎?

「國際寫作計畫」(IWP, International Writing Program)
http://iwp.uiowa.edu/
「愛荷華作家寫作坊」( Iowa Writers’ Workshop)
http://writersworkshop.uiowa.edu/
「亞洲基金會」 (The Asia Foundation)
http://asiafoundation.org/
Farfield Foundation - Wikipedia
http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/Farfield_Foundation
Paul Engle - Wikipedia
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Engle

The Chronicle of Higher Education
The Chronicle Review
February 10, 2014
http://chronicle.com/article/How-Iowa-Flattened-Literature/144531/

How Iowa Flattened Literature

With CIA help, writers were enlisted to battle both Communism and eggheaded abstraction. The damage to writing lingers.

By Eric Bennett

Did the CIA fund creative writing in America? The idea seems like the invention of a creative writer. Yet once upon a time (1967, to be exact), Paul Engle received money from the Farfield Foundation to support international writing at the University of Iowa. The Farfield Foundation was not really a foundation; it was a CIA front that supported cultural operations, mostly in Europe, through an organization called the Congress for Cultural Freedom.

Seven years earlier, Engle, then director of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, had approached the Rockefeller Foundation with big fears and grand plans. "I trust you have seen the recent announcement that the Soviet Union is founding a University at Moscow for students coming from outside the country," he wrote. This could mean only that "thousands of young people of intelligence, many of whom could never get University training in their own countries, will receive education … along with the expected ideological indoctrination." Engle denounced rounding up students in "one easily supervised place" as a "typical Soviet tactic." He believed that the United States must "compete with that, hard and by long time planning"—by, well, rounding up foreign students in an easily supervised place called Iowa City. Through the University of Iowa, Engle received $10,000 to travel in Asia and Europe to recruit young writers—left-leaning intellectuals—to send to the United States on fellowship.

The Iowa Writers’ Workshop emerged in the 1930s and powerfully influenced the creative-writing programs that followed. More than half of the second-wave programs, about 50 of which appeared by 1970, were founded by Iowa graduates. Third- and fourth- and fifth-wave programs, also Iowa scions, have kept coming ever since. So the conventional wisdom that Iowa kicked off the boom in M.F.A. programs is true enough.

But it’s also an accepted part of the story that creative-writing programs arose spontaneously: Creative writing was an idea whose time had come. Writers wanted jobs, and students wanted fun classes. In the 1960s, with Soviet satellites orbiting, American baby boomers matriculating, and federal dollars flooding into higher education, colleges and universities marveled at Iowa’s success and followed its lead. To judge by the bellwether, creative-writing programs worked. Iowa looked great: Famous writers taught there, graduated from there, gave readings there, and drank, philandered, and enriched themselves and others there.

Yet what drew writers to Iowa was not the innate splendor of a spontaneously good idea. What drew writers to Iowa is what draws writers anywhere: money and hype, which tend to be less spontaneous than ideas.

So where did the money and the hype come from?

Much of the answer lies in the remarkable career of Paul Engle, the workshop’s second director, a do-it-yourself Cold Warrior whose accomplishments remain mostly covered in archival dust. For two decades after World War II, Iowa prospered on donations from conservative businessmen persuaded by Engle that the program fortified democratic values at home and abroad: It fought Communism. The workshop thrived on checks from places like the Rockefeller Foundation, which gave Iowa $40,000 between 1953 and 1956—good money at the time. As the years went by, it also attracted support from the Asia Foundation (another channel for CIA money) and the State Department.

As for the hype, it followed the money and attracted more of it. The publishing moguls Henry Luce and Gardner Cowles Jr. conceived of themselves as fighting a battle of ideas, as they contrasted the American way of life with the gray Soviet nightmare on the pages of their newspapers and glossy magazines. Luce published Time and Life, Cowles published Look and several Midwestern newspapers, and both loved to feature Iowa: its embodiment of literary individualism, its celebration of self-expression, its cornfields.

Knowing he could count on such publicity, Engle staged spectacles in Iowa City for audiences far beyond Iowa City. He read memorial sonnets for the Iowa war dead at a dedication ceremony for the new student union. He convened a celebration of Baudelaire with an eye toward the non-Communist left in Paris. He organized a festival of the sciences and arts. Life and Time and Look transformed these events into impressive press clippings, and the clippings, via Engle’s tireless hands, arrived in the mailboxes of possible donors.

In 1954, Engle became the editor of the O. Henry Prize collection, and so it became his task to select the year’s best short stories and introduce them to a mass readership. Lo and behold, writers affiliated with Iowa began to be featured with great prominence in the collection. Engle marveled at this, the impartial fruits of his judging, in fund-raising pitches.

The Iowa Workshop, then, attained national eminence by capitalizing on the fears and hopes of the Cold War. But the creative-writing programs founded in Iowa’s image did not, in this respect, resemble it. No other program would be so celebrated on the glossy pages of Look and Life. No other program would receive an initial burst of underwriting from Maytag and U.S. Steel and Quaker Oats and Reader’s Digest. No other program would attract such interest from the Asia Foundation, the State Department, and the CIA. And the anticlimax of the creative-writing enterprise must derive at least in part from this difference.

There, in the paragraphs above, is blood squeezed from the stone of a dissertation. If, in 2006, as a no-longer-quite-plausibly aspiring novelist beached on the shores of academe, you’re struggling against the bleakness of the dissertation as a genre, you’ll do your best to work the CIA into yours. You’ll want to write a heroic dissertation—or at least a novelistic one. You’ll read books about soft diplomacy during the Cold War, learn about the Farfield Foundation, and search for its name, on an abject hunch, in the 40 boxes of the Papers of Paul Engle at the Special Collections Library at the University of Iowa. You’ll exhaust those archives and also the ones at Palo Alto (where Wallace Stegner founded the Stanford program) and Tarrytown (home of the Rockefeller archives), tracing the relationship between creative writing and the Cold War. But even as you do, you’ll wonder about your motives.

Because you yourself attended the Iowa Writers’ Workshop before deciding to enter a Ph.D. program. At Iowa, you were disappointed by the reduced form of intellectual engagement you found there and the narrow definition of what counted as "literary." The workshop was like a muffin tin you poured the batter of your dreams into. You entered with something undefined and tantalizingly protean and left with muffins. You really believe this. But you can also see yourself clearly enough: unpublished, ambitious, obscure, ponderous. In short, the kind of person who writes a dissertation.

Were you right to be frustrated by the ethos of Iowa City, or are you merely a frustrated novelist? Were there objective grounds for your sense of creative stultification, or did the workshop simply not love you enough? Was the whole idea of your dissertation a guerrilla raid on the kind of recognition you couldn’t attain by legitimate means? And did the CIA really have much to do with it?

At the Iowa Writers’ Workshop between 1998 and 2000, I had the option of writing fiction in one of four ways.

First, I could carve, polish, compress, and simplify; banish myself from my writing as T.S. Eliot advised and strive to enter the gray, crystalline tradition of modernist fiction as it runs from Flaubert through early Joyce and Hemingway to Raymond Carver (alumnus) and Alice Munro. Marilynne Robinson (teacher) did this in her 1980 novel Housekeeping. Denis Johnson (alumnus) played devil to Robinson’s angel in Jesus’ Son. Frank Conroy (director, 1987-2005) had this style down cold—and it is cold. Conroy must have sought it in applications, longing with some kind of spiritual masochism to shiver again and again at the iciness of early Joyce. Such lapidary simplicity becomes psychedelic if you polish it enough. Justin Tussing (class ahead of me) mastered it in his prismatic novel, The Best People in the World. I myself, feeling the influence, revised sentences into pea gravel.

Second, and also much approved, I could work in a warmer vein—the genuinely and winningly loquacious. Ethan Canin (my favorite teacher) set the example here, writing charismatically chatty prose that, like the man himself, exhibited the gross health of the fortunate and tenderhearted. Your influences, if you tended this way, were F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Irving, or anybody else whose sentences unwind with glowing ease. Cheever loomed as an undisputed great. Curtis Sittenfeld, in the class below mine, displayed this style and charm and unassuming grace in Prep and American Wife. Marilynne Robinson’s recent novels, Gilead and Home, turn toward this manner from the adamantine beauty of Housekeeping.

Third, you could write what’s often called "magical realism." Joy Williams (alumna, teacher) and Stuart Dybek (alumnus, teacher) helped to shape a strain of fable-making passed down to my classmates from Kafka and Bruno Schulz and Calvino or their Latin American heirs. Sarah Shun-lien Bynum was writing Madeleine Is Sleeping; Sarah Braunstein was developing the sensibility she’d weave into The Sweet Relief of Missing Children; Paul Harding was laying the groundwork for the enchanting weirdness of his Pulitzer Prize-winning Tinkers.

These first three categories were the acceptable ones. But Category 4 involved writing things that in the eyes of the workshop appeared weird and unsuccessful—that fell outside the community of norms, that tried too hard. The prevailing term for ambitious pieces that didn’t fit was "postmodernism." The term was a kind of smackdown. Submitting a "postmodern" story was like belching in class.

But what is a postmodern story? In those years, Robinson was already in the Norton Anthology of Postmodern American Fiction, as were Jayne Anne Phillips (alumna) and Bobbie Ann Mason, model citizens of the M.F.A. nation. Joy Williams and Stuart Dybek were certainly not Victorians nor modernists nor best sellers. What was it that you weren’t supposed to do?

At the time I considered Freud and Rabelais my favorite novelists. Later I understood that I was being annoying. But I thought then, and still think now, that the three-headed Iowa canon frustrated as much as satisfied a hunger for literature that got you thinking. Iowa fiction, published and unpublished, got you feeling—it got you seeing and tasting and touching and smelling and hearing. It was like going to an arboretum with a child. You want exactly that from life, and also more.

People at Iowa love to love Prairie Lights, the local independent bookstore. In Prairie Lights I found myself overwhelmed by the literature of the senses and the literature of the quirky sensing voice. I wanted heavy books from a bunch of different disciplines: on hermeneutics, on monetary policy, on string theory, on psychoanalysis, on the Gospels, on the strange war between analytic and Continental philosophers, on sexual pathology. I was 23. I knew I wanted to write a novel of ideas, a novel of systems, but one also with characters, and also heart—a novel comprising everything, not just how icicles broken from church eaves on winter afternoons taste of asphalt (but that, too). James Wood did not yet loom over everything, but I wanted to make James Wood barf. At Prairie Lights, I would have felt much better buying the work of Nathan Englander (alum) if it had been next to that of Friedrich Engels. I felt there how I feel in bars that serve only wine and beer.

This aversion to novels and stories of full-throttle experience, erudition, and cognition—the unspoken proscription against attempting to write them—was the narrowness I sensed and hated. The question I wanted to answer, as I faced down my dissertation, was whether this aversion was an accidental feature of Iowa during my time, or if it reflected something more.

In July 2007 I returned to Iowa City for the first time since graduating. It’s one of my favorite places in the United States, and I’d always envied both those classmates who published quickly, earning a right to linger around the workshop after their time, and those who felt no shame about lingering despite failing to publish.

I sublet an apartment above a pizza restaurant I used to love and spent quiet nights at bars I had rowdy memories of. But the main business was research. Each day from 9 to 5, I visited the papers of Paul Engle in the university library, and in four weeks watched Engle’s life pass three times: once in the letters he sent, once in the letters he received, and once in newspaper and magazine clippings. Three separate times, as the decades slipped by, I watched a broad, supple mind in tune with its era harden into a tedious one, trying to attach old phrases and concepts to a world that no longer existed.

I was haunted and smitten. As only an ambitious and frustrated person can fall in love with an ambitious and frustrated person, I fell in love with Engle. His career was a long slow slide from full-throated poetic aspiration into monochromatic administrative greatness—a modern story if there ever was one.

At the beginning of the month I didn’t know what I was looking for, exactly. At the end I had a list of unlikely names, a file of ideological quotations, and the smoking gun of the CIA connection. Later, after gathering secondary sources and digesting the primary ones, I would have my thesis: The Cold War not only underwrote the discipline but also gave it its intellectual shape. This was the linchpin of the story, and it would take a long time to develop. That summer I was mostly just mesmerized by a biography.

Engle’s life, at least for a while, exuded pure romance and adventure: a boyhood in a Midwestern city still redolent of the frontier; a father who trained horses; an adolescence during the heady years of American modernism; a coming-of-age at the beginning of the Depression; the receipt of laurels for his poetry by his early 20s; travels in Europe as a Rhodes scholar; the witnessing of Nazi rallies in Munich; celebrity back home for American Song, a collection of brawny, patriotic blank verse published in 1934 and touted on the front page of The New York Times Book Review by a conservative reviewer; his undignified, typically American, and only half-successful attempts to befriend Stephen Spender, Cecil Day-Lewis, and W.H. Auden at Oxford in the 1930s, when those poets were striking poses as exciting young Communists; his conversion to Communism; his adoption of the role of the strapping American vernacular savant in the face of English reticence and snobbery; passionate letters to his future wife back home; a honeymoon in Russia; a homecoming so much less exciting than the voyage out; an American lecture tour; a job teaching at his alma mater, the University of Iowa; the strangely anticlimactic war years, including an unsuccessful bid to serve in the Office of War Information; the panicked recantation of his Communist sympathies in the dawning days of the House Un-American Activities Committee; a marriage not long in its happiness; two daughters; the gradual assumption of the helm of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop; the inexorable diminishment of his prospects as a poet; and the birth, in the iciest years of the Cold War, of an institutional vision that would transform American literature.

Engle longed, above all, for poets to move nations. His poems say it, and his papers do. I doubt he had a happier moment in his life than when he addressed Americans from NBC in London in 1934. "We stand on the thin and moving edge of our history," he crackled distantly to his countrymen, "where it bends down on one side to the irretrievable past and, on the other, swings outward to the flat plain of the future."

What was he talking about? He probably didn’t know exactly. Soon Engle would make the Communist conversion; soon after, he would convert back. His youthful exuberance could fit itself to the ideology nearest at hand. Sway, image, ethos, and glory attracted him: the raw power of words. In American Song, in 1934, when he was still a darling of the conservatives, he envisioned the American poet launching poetry into the sky like a weapon:

America, great glowing open hearth,
In you we will heat the cold steel of our speech,
Rolling it molten out into a mold,
Polish it to a shining length, and straddling
The continent, with hands that have been fashioned,
One from the prairie, one from the ocean, winds,
Draw back a brawny arm with a shout and hurl
The fiery spear-shaft of American song
Against the dark destruction of our doom
To burn the long, black wind of the years with flame.

What did this even mean? It meant that the poetic and the public, the personal and the national, could still fuse in the right words. It was a dream that, after 1939, would vanish almost as quickly as Communism in America.

(The workshop was like a muffin tin you poured the batter of your dreams into. You entered with something undefined and tantalizingly protean and left with muffins.)

When Engle got back from England, the figure of T.S. Eliot—his hard poems, his oblique criticism, his antagonism to dialectical materialism—had long since embarked on its path to ascendancy on American campuses. The United States, the last power standing, would need some high culture of its own, and Eliot set the tone. The New Critics, his handmaidens, were waiting to infiltrate the old English faculties.

Within 10 years, modernism would win an unadulterated victory, and difficult free verse would sit alongside epics and sonnets on the syllabi. The day would belong to Robert Lowell, writing as a latter-day metaphysical. Engle—in his commitment to soaring iambic lines, to the legacy of Stephen Vincent Benét, to the open idiom that had so recently remained viable—would look like a has-been.

But it was not in Engle’s character to stand still or look back. His gut told him something that most educated citizens would have to learn from sociologists: that the postwar era belonged to institutions. The unit of power was no longer the great man but the vast bureaucracy. Eliot’s "The Waste Land" had satirized the bold lyrical speaker; that voice now sounded hushed, tiny, tragically diminished, none of which appealed to a mind as brawny and sunny as Engle’s. The unit of power was no longer the poem.

But it could be the poet as a concept, a figure, a living symbol—and therefore, implicitly, the institution that handled and housed the poet. Engle began working long hours at Iowa. His new poems, when he wrote them, merely burnished his credentials as an administrator, patriot, and family man. Many were sonnets, earnestly passé, and his audience included political patrons, present or prospective. (The politician W. Averell Harriman received flattering sonnets; after Kennedy was assassinated, and despite the advice of candid, unimpressed first readers, Jackie Kennedy received memorial verses.) Between the mid-1940s and the early 1960s, Engle transformed the Writers’ Workshop from a regional curiosity into a national landmark. The fiery spear-shaft of American song would take the form of an academic discipline. The fund-raising began.

Engle constantly invoked the need to bring foreign writers to Iowa so they could learn to love America. That was the key to raising money. If intellectuals from Seoul and Manila and Bangladesh could write and be read and live well-housed with full stomachs amid beautiful cornfields and unrivaled civil liberties, they would return home fighting for our side. This was what Engle told Midwestern businessmen, and Midwestern businessmen wrote big checks.

Engle borrowed tactics from the CIA long before their check arrived in 1967. At the time, the agency sponsored literature and fine arts abroad through the Congress for Cultural Freedom to convince the non-Communist left in Britain and Europe that America was about more than Mickey Mouse and Coca-Cola. The CCF underwrote Encounter magazine and subsidized subscriptions to American literary journals for intellectuals in the Eastern bloc. Some of the CIA guys were old Iowa graduates from the early 1950s—including the novelists John Hunt and Robie Macauley—and Engle probably first connected with the CIA through Hunt.

By the mid-1960s, Engle had grown remote from the domestic workshop, and so lost control of it. He let it go its own way and founded the International Writing Program with the help of the Chinese novelist Hualing Nieh, who would become his second wife. In retrospective accounts, Engle presented this founding as a sudden idea, a spontaneously good one. But it marked the culmination of the logic of 20 years of dreaming.

When I was at Iowa, Frank Conroy, Engle’s longest-running successor, did not name the acceptable categories. Instead, he shot down projects by shooting down their influences. He loathed Barth, Pynchon, Gaddis, Barthelme. He had a thing against J.D. Salinger that was hard to explain. To go anywhere near Melville or Nabokov was to ingest the fatal microbes of the obnoxious. Of David Foster Wallace he growled, with a wave of his hand, "He has his thing that he does."

Conroy hated what he called "cute stuff," unless it worked, but it tended never to work. Trying to get cute stuff to work before a sneering audience is like trying to get an erection to work before a sneering audience. Conroy’s arsenal of pejoratives was his one indulgence in lavish style. "Cockamamie," he’d snarl. "Poppycock." Or "bunk," "bunkum," "balderdash." He could deliver these quaint execrations in tones that made H.L. Mencken sound like Regis Philbin.

Conroy would launch his arsenal from his seat at the head of the table. His eyebrows were hedges out from which his eyes glowered like a badger’s. He would have hated that metaphor. His eyelashes remained handsomely dark in contrast to his white hair and sallow complexion. He loved one particular metaphor that likened the crying of a baby to the squeaking of a rusty hinge.

His force of personality exceeded his sweep of talent—and not because he wasn’t talented. By the time I met him, he had entered the King Lear stage of his career. He was swatting at realities and phantoms in a medley of awesome magnificence and embarrassing feebleness. His rage and tenderness were moving. I adored him. He was a thunderstorm on the heath of his classroom, and you stepped into his classroom to have your emotions buffeted for two hours. Nothing much was at stake, but it sure seemed like it. He was notoriously bad at remembering the names of students. If he called you by your name, it was like seeing your accomplishments praised in the newspaper. "Should we sit where we sat last week," I asked during the second week of class, "so you can remember our names?" "Sit down, Eric," he said.

What did Conroy assault us in service of? He wanted literary craft to be a pyramid. He drew a pyramid on the blackboard and divided it with horizontal lines. The long stratum at the base was grammar and syntax, which he called "Meaning, Sense, Clarity." The next layer, shorter and higher, comprised the senses that prose evoked: what you tasted, touched, heard, smelled, and saw. Then came character, then metaphor. This is from memory: I can’t remember the pyramid exactly, and maybe Conroy changed it each time. What I remember for sure is that everything above metaphor Conroy referred to as "the fancy stuff." At the top was symbolism, the fanciest of all. You worked from the broad and basic to the rarefied and abstract.

Although you could build a pyramid without an apex, it was anathema to leave an apex hovering and foundationless. I’ll switch metaphors, slightly, since Conroy did too. The last thing you wanted was a castle in the air. A castle in the air was a bad story. There was a ground, the realm of the body, and up from it rose the fiction that worked. Conroy presented these ideas as timeless wisdom.

His delivery was one of a kind, but his ideas were not. They were and are the prevailing wisdom. Within today’s M.F.A. culture, the worst thing an aspiring writer can do is bring to the table a certain ambitiousness of preconception. All the handbooks say so. "If your central motive as a writer is to put across ideas," the writer Steve Almond says, "write an essay." The novelist and critic Stephen Koch warns that writers should not be too intellectual. "The intellect can understand a story—but only the imagination can tell it. Always prefer the concrete to the abstract. At this stage it is better to see the story, to hear and to feel it, than to think it."

Since the 1980s, the textbook most widely assigned in American creative-writing classes has been Janet Burroway’s Writing Fiction. Early editions (there are now eight) dared students to go ahead and try to write a story based on intellectual content—a political, religious, scientific, or moral idea—rather than the senses and contingent experience. Such a project "is likely to produce a bad story. If it produces a bad story, it will be invaluably instructive to you, and you will be relieved of the onus of ever doing it again. If it produces a good story, then you have done something else, something more, and something more original than the assignment asks for." The logic is impeccably circular: If you proceed from an idea, you’ll write a bad story; if the story’s good, you weren’t proceeding from an idea, even if you thought you were.

Creative-writing pedagogues in the aftermath of World War II, without exception, read Partisan Review, The Kenyon Review, The Hudson Review, and The Sewanee Review. They breathed the intellectual air of New Critics, on the one hand, and New York intellectuals on the other. These camps, formerly enemy camps—Southern reactionaries and Northern socialists at each other’s throats in the 1930s—had by the 50s merged into a liberal consensus that published highly intellectual, but at the time only newly "academic," essays in those four journals, all of which, like Iowa, were subsidized by the Rockefeller Foundation. John Crowe Ransom, who believed in growing cotton and declined to apologize for slavery, found common ground with Lionel Trilling, who believed in Trotsky—but how?

The consensus centered on a critique of instrumental reason as it came down to us from the Enlightenment—a reaction against the scientific rationality that led to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the bureaucratic efficiency that made the death camps in Poland possible, and the materialism behind the increasingly sinister Soviet regime.

Ransom and his fellow Southerners had developed their ideas in the 1920s as agrarian men of letters resentful of the specter of Northern industrialism. Meanwhile, Trilling and his fellow socialists were reeling from all that had discredited the Popular Front: the purge of the old Bolsheviks in the late 1930s, the Soviet conduct of the Spanish Civil War, the nonaggression pact that the Soviets signed with the Nazis in 1939, and so on. These were chastened radicals who believed in the avant-garde and saw in totalitarianism the consequences of pure ideas unchecked by the irrational prerogatives of culture.

So the prewar left merged with the prewar right. Both circles thought that the way to avoid the likes of Nazism or Stalinism in the United States was to venerate and fortify the particular, the individual, the situated, the embedded, the irreducible. The argument took its purest form in Hannah Arendt’s essays about the concentration camps in Partisan Review.

You probably can see where this is going: One can easily trace the genealogy from the critical writings of Trilling and Ransom at the beginning of the Cold War to creative-writing handbooks and methods then and since. The discipline of creative writing was effectively born in the 1950s. Imperial prosperity gave rise to it, postwar anxieties shaped it. "Science," Ransom argued in The World’s Body, "gratifies a rational or practical impulse and exhibits the minimum of perception. Art gratifies a perceptual impulse and exhibits the minimum of reason." In The Liberal Imagination, Trilling celebrated Hemingway and Faulkner for being "intensely at work upon the recalcitrant stuff of life." Life was recalcitrant because it resisted our best efforts to reduce it to intellectual abstractions, to ideas, to ideologies.

Engle versified Ransom’s notions in the 1950s, and no doubt taught them. It was daily facts that would make the literature that fortified the free world: nuts and bolts, bread and butter, washing machines sold by Maytag executives who wrote checks to Iowa.

To Wallace Stegner, who directed the influential Stanford creative-writing program throughout the 1950s, a true writer was "an incorrigible lover of concrete things," weaving stories from "such materials as the hard knotting of anger in the solar plexus, the hollowness of a night street, the sound of poplar leaves." A novelist was "a vendor of the sensuous particulars of life, a perceiver and handler of things," an artist "not ordinarily or ideally a generalizer, not a dealer in concepts."

From Trilling, Ransom, and Arendt to Engle and Stegner, and from them to Conroy, Almond, Koch, and Burroway, the path is not long. And yet that path was erased quickly. Raymond Carver, trained by writers steeped in anti-Communist formulations, probably didn’t realize that his short stories were doing ideological combat with a dead Soviet dictator.

Why has the approach endured and thrived? Of course, it’s more than brute inertia; when institutions outlive their animating ideologies, they get converted to new purposes. Over the past 40 years, creative writing’s small-is-beautiful approach has served it well, as measured by the discipline’s explosive growth while most of its humanities counterparts shrink and cower. The reasons for this could fill many essays.

For one thing, creative writing has successfully embedded itself in the university by imitating other disciplines without treading on their ground. A pyramid resembles a pedagogy—it’s fungible, and easy to draw on the board. Introductory math and physics professors like to draw diagrams too, a welcome analogy for a discipline wishing both to establish itself as teachable and to lengthen its reach into the undergraduate curriculum, where a claim of pure writerly exceptionalism won’t cut it.

Specialization is also crucial, both for credibility’s sake and to avoid invading neighboring fiefdoms, and today’s creative-writing department specializes in sensory and biographical memory. The safest material is that which the philosophers and economists and sociologists have no claim on, such as how icicles broken from church eaves on winter afternoons taste of asphalt.

And it’s easier to teach "Meaning, Sense, Clarity" than old literature and intellectual history. Pyramid building fosters the hope that we can arrive at the powerful symbol of a white whale, not by thinking it up ahead of time, but by mastering the sensory details of whaling. "Don’t allegorize Calvinism," Conroy could have barked at me, "describe a harpoon and a dinghy!"

The thing to lament is not only that we have a bunch of novels about harpoons and dinghies (or suburbs or bad marriages or road trips or offices in New York). The thing to lament is also the dead end of isolation that comes from describing the dead end of isolation—and from using vibrant literary communities to foster this phenomenon. In our workshops, we simply accept it as true that larger structures of common interest have been destroyed by the atomizing forces of economy and ideology, and what’s left to do is be faithful to the needs of the sentence.

To have read enough to feel the oceanic movement of events and ideas in history; to have experienced enough to escape the confines of a personal provincialism; to have distanced yourself enough from your hang-ups and pettiness to create words reflecting the emotional complexity of minds beyond your own; to have worked with language long enough to be able to wield it beautifully; and to have genius enough to find dramatic situations that embody all that you have lived and read, is rare. It’s not something that every student of creative writing—in the hundreds of programs up and running these days—is going to pull off. Maybe one person a decade will pull it off. Maybe one person every half century will really pull it off.

Of course, we live in an age that cringes at words like "greatness"—and also at the notion that we’re not all great. But ages that didn’t cringe at greatness produced great writing without creative-writing programs. And people who attend creative-writing programs for the most part wish to write great things. It’s sick to ask them to aspire but not to aspire too much. An air of self-doubt permeates the discipline, showing up again and again as the question, "Can writing be taught?"

Faced with this question, teachers of creative writing might consider adopting (as a few, of course, already do) a defiant rather than resigned attitude, doing more than supervising the building of the bases of pyramids. They might try to get beyond the senses. Texts worth reading—worth reading now, and worth reading 200 years from now—coordinate the personal with the national or international; they embed the instant in the instant’s full context and long history. It’s what the Odyssey does and what Middlemarch does and what Invisible Man does and what Jonathan Franzen’s and Marilynne Robinson’s recent novels try to do. But to write like this, you’re going to have to spend some time thinking.

Eric Bennett is an assistant professor of English at Providence College. His book on creative writing and the Cold War, Workshops of Empire, is forthcoming from the University of Iowa Press. This essay is adapted from MFA vs. NYC: The Two Cultures of American Fiction, edited by Chad Harbach and published this month by Faber 
and Faber and n+1.

Correction (2/14/2014, 5:05 p.m.): This article mistakenly identified Paul Engle as director of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in 1967, but he had left that position by that year. The article also incorrectly identified the name of the government agency Engle sought to work for. It was the Office of War Information, not the Office of War Intelligence.

Providence College
The Department of English
Eric Bennett
http://www.providence.edu/english/faculty/Pages/ebennet4.aspx

中時電子報
林博文專欄 - 中情局的帝國寫作坊
2014年 11月 12日
林博文
http://www.chinatimes.com/newspapers/20141112000871-260109

惡名昭彰的美國中央情報局,冷戰時代除了在伊朗、瓜地馬拉、剛果、越南和其他各地製造兵變,同時亦花了不少美金設立外圍組織,滲透海內外學術、教育與文化機構,宣揚美國文化與美國價值。詩人保羅‧安格爾(Paul Engle)和他的第二任妻子聶華苓於1967年成立愛荷華國際寫作計畫時,中情局的外圍組織法飛爾德(Farfield)基金會,即向他們提供一筆成立經費。中情局的另一個外圍組織亞洲基金會亦給了不少錢。

冷戰時代 宣揚美國價值

1991年在芝加哥機場等飛機準備去東歐訪問時,82歲的詩人安格爾因心臟病突發去世。他從1941年開始擔任愛荷華大學作家寫作坊主任,一直做到1965年。曾在《自由中國》半月刊當文藝編輯並執教台大文學院的聶華苓(1925年生),1964年到愛荷華,1971年和安格爾結婚,夫妻兩人為愛荷華國際寫作計畫付出了極大的心力。這項寫作計畫不僅促成了兩岸三地作家的心靈交流,更推動了世界各地作家一年一度在「玉米之鄉」愛荷華的文化大會師。1976年,安格爾與聶華苓曾被提名諾貝爾和平獎。

現任教羅德島州普羅維登斯學院英文系的艾力克‧賓內特(Eric Bennett),曾在1998至2000年在愛荷華作家寫作坊進修。2007年夏天,賓內特回到愛荷華,以1個月時間從早到晚埋首愛大圖書館研讀40大箱安格爾的檔案與資料,他發現愛荷華作家寫作坊及愛荷華國際寫作計畫這兩個不同的單位和中情局的關係太深了。

於是,他準備寫一本書專門談中情局與愛大這兩個寫作班子的故事,書名就叫《帝國的寫作坊》,打算由愛荷華大學出版社出版,但遲遲未面世。賓內特今春在水準頗高的《高等教育紀事》刊物上發表一篇長文揭發安格爾和中情局的關係,因雜誌發行不廣,很少人注意到。

賓內特說,早在1960年,安格爾即向洛克菲勒基金會(舊譯羅氏基金會)反映說,蘇聯向海外招收大批年輕學子到莫斯科上大學,免費念書,灌輸意識形態。安格爾認為美國亦應學蘇聯這種作法。洛克菲勒基金會即給安格爾10000美元前往歐亞兩洲訪問,開始招收海外作家到愛荷華作家寫作坊進修。安格爾和聶華苓於1967年想到何不另創愛荷華國際寫作計畫,不受愛荷華作家寫作坊(1930年代成立)管轄。中情局外圍組織法飛爾德基金會很爽快地出錢資助這個新的寫作班子,安格爾亦於1969年正式脫離愛荷華作家寫作坊,以全副精力投入愛荷華國際寫作計畫。

安格爾聶華苓 超越冷戰

當初中情局要求安格爾在海外找作家時,最好是在右派反共國家(如台灣)邀一批愛批評政府的左翼作家、在左派或共黨當道的國家邀一批右翼作家來美國,讓他們認識美國,不要以為新大陸只有可口可樂和米老鼠。從這個角度來看,即可了解愛荷華的寫作班子為什麼會邀請陳映真、柏楊去美國,並會邀被鬥過好幾次的丁玲訪美。安格爾和聶華苓都是心胸寬大的知識分子,他們擴大邀訪對象,不限左派或右派,只看有沒有料、夠不夠格。中情局絕未想到他們想要對抗共產主義的文化戰爭,竟成了兩岸三地作家團聚、暢飲的天地。安格爾在1968年即曾邀請他的同行、捷克詩人哈維爾到愛荷華,但蘇聯坦克開進布拉格,哈維爾去不成。

中情局最大的外圍組織是「促進文化自由聯合會」(CCF),法飛爾德基金會即受其監督。促進文化自由聯合會在35個國家設有辦事處,出版20種雜誌,常主辦音樂會、展覽和研討會。波士頓交響樂團在50年代常到海外開演奏會,經費即由促進文化自由聯合會所提供。許多名學者和作家參加過一些聯合會主辦的研討會,但他們都不知道中情局出錢。賓內特稱安格爾是個「冷戰鬥士」,又說他年輕時曾相信過共產主義,但從他和聶華苓數十年辛勤耕耘愛荷華國際寫作計畫的成果來看,他們夫妻應被稱為「文化園丁」,有功於思想自由的開拓。

兩岸政府都曾一度不滿愛荷華國際寫作計畫,大陸說他們反共,台灣罵他們親共,一個號稱「詩人」的國大代表鍾鼎文甚至誣指寫作計畫的經費來自《花花公子》雜誌,以貶低寫作計畫的價值與純度。安格爾與聶華苓的文化貢獻,早就跨越了冷戰時代!