The mouthpiece of The Literature Collaborative, a group of Literature students in the College of Creative Studies at UCSB.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Marvin Mudrick

The person who founded CCS was an English professor and the Literature program was his baby, which means we're the heart of CCS. Reading about him can help you understand this place a little better.

Jervey Tervalon ('78) talks about learning from him:
Mudrick was fascinated by people, and he loved people in books, and he didn't make a big distinction between the two, except for the fact that you'll know people in books far better than you will know people in life. Here's the advice he gave me: Read literature like we read the newspaper, skim the boring parts, read carefully what interests you — just keep reading. What Mudrick couldn't stand were tastemongers, chasing some intellectual hobgoblin of the modern aesthetic; kitsch culture; the cult of family dysfunction; more about slavery; more about the Holocaust...Mudrick believed writing was a function of reading. If you read with passion and intelligence, you'd eventually come around to wanting to write.
Karen Christensen ('81) also talks about being a Literature major in the Mudrick era:
Mudrick would assign us a new novel every couple of days, and we were asked (though perhaps not expected) to get through piles of Shakespeare (whom he called a misogynist), Chaucer ("just pretend it's horribly misspelled"), and Milton (again, no favorite of Mudrick's).

He said, for example, that the measure of fiction was that it had a human story that would interest anyone, of any age, anywhere. Mudrick believed that students were able to write good stories — really good stories — because, as he said to one class, "you're at the right age, you're still about to get in touch with your own language...[but] you can't write expository prose. You can't write professional prose of any kind, you're not skilled enough yet."

That, for me, is Mudrick's legacy, or at least something he helped to strengthen in me: fascination with the whole of life and a fearlessness about digging into a new bank of knowledge.
From a New York Times review of a book by him:
In several of these essays, Mr. Mudrick seems to believe that the only way to judge a literary work is by the lusty willingness of its heroine or the vigor and explicitness of its sex scenes.
From another New York Times review of that book:
Mr. Mudrick is rude, contentious, incorrigible, comma spliced, headlong, raunchy, scornful and know-it-all...He plays, wonderfully, to the peanut gallery, and we clap so hard our hands and heads fall off, and then we go home and sleep, alas, with Hamlet: if only he weren’t real.
From his University of California memorial, written by CCS Literature professors:
...he reminds his readers that no artistic statement can be separated from the human being who has made it...Like the voices of his favorite authors, the voice in his writing reproduces his own living voice in an almost uncanny way. That voice is cantankerous, loving, aggressive, spiteful, charming; it abounds with energy and fierce humor. His very funny wordplay remains, and his gift for parody as well as his enormous love for, and need for the arts, as though his own life has depended on them.

There were subjects about which he could never be persuaded to alter his opinion, and this represents a weakness in his idiosyncratic approach. Personality was so important to him, the unstinted expression of a strong individuality was so much part of his own critical method, that he sometimes assumed that the personality of an artist lay closer to the surface than it sometimes does.

His capacity to aggravate was great, but so was his genuine pleasure at being opposed by people he liked...some of the College's most spectacular successes have been in areas where Mudrick himself had little expertise — for example in the sciences. This bears out the premise on which his College was founded, that similar qualities of curiosity and independence are necessary in order to excel in any subject.

And a picture.

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