Gatekeeper

Outside of the workshop, academia also constricts genre by perpetuating the importance of the outdated role of the gatekeeper. In this model, a text is not validated unless a major, national press has published it. The importance of this gatekeeper can be seen in every solicitation for applicants for creative writing faculty positions, which invariably list such a publication as a prerequisite to teaching other writers. It is also noticeable in the syllabi of academic institutions where works that are self-published, or published by an independent press, are barely represented or absent entirely.

I attended an orientation for one MFA program where the Program Director argued that there was an absolute need for the Gatekeeper: Without having someone of that caliber and position validate one’s work, one could never be sure of its level of quality. The same Director was also dismissive of work that blurred genre, stating that it would be impossible to publish. Thus, the closed system that sees value only in what is published by a recognized gatekeeper and reinforces a specific poetics by publishing only work that conforms to the prevalent aesthetic. As Michael Bibby argues in his essay “Insurgent Poetry and the Ideology of the Poetic”:

[In this system of] delineating normative aesthetic boundaries, the poetic guarantees the perpetuation of ‘civilization’ and its values. Its institutionalization from Cleanth Brooks and Allen Tate’s Understanding Poetry to the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics has guaranteed its status as a specialized discourse that must be learned through disciplinary training, and that once learned confers value in the academic marketplace. (136-137)((Bibby, Michael. “Insurgent Poetry and the Ideology of the Poetic.” Poetics/Politics: Radical Aesthetics for the Classroom. Ed. Amitava Kumar. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999. 135–154. Print.))

Bibby goes on to argue that the creating of such boundaries not only legitimizes “the cultural norms and values of the bourgeois public sphere” but also that “the poetic ultimately serves to legislate critical value, rewarding texts that confirm the poetic, silencing those which do not” (136-137).

By working outside of “normative aesthetic boundaries,” genrequeer works bring into question the very notion of the poetic and, with it, the system of canon-making and creating what Myung Mi Kim calls “the sociohistorical index”:

For me, the question of what belongs and what doesn’t belong in some really foundational sense is a question of what has been excluded in terms of the sociohistorical index, and therefore the question of what belongs or doesn’t is one that needs to keep being opened up. There’s got to be some kind of pressure on the question of what closes down the archive, who has authority to create archive. (“Ear” n.p.)((Kim, Myung Mi. “Ear Turned Toward the Emergent.” Jacket2. Ed. Charles Bernstein. jacket2.org. 2012. Web. 19 Feb. 2012.))

The gatekeeper as authority is an outdated model that does not recognize the 21st century model: one of self-publication, direct connections between producers and consumers, working across genres; one where the work does not need a gatekeeper, critic, or intermediary to filter it or determine its value and where the concept of “value” as it ties directly to “literature” is in itself problematic. It raises questions about what Kim positions as “exclusion, inclusion, and social affiliation” and readability:

Can the masses actually have a lot more to say about what’s scrutable and readable and intelligible than what someone else external to the broad masses has determined. In other words, who has the privilege to say “this is transparent,” “this is being rendered transparently,” “I understand this”? What’s at stake, it seems to me, in poetry or any sort of writing practice, is to keep asking under what terms and conditions do we understand legibility? Who has the authority to invest and divest in formulating what’s scrutable, what’s readable? These are questions about exclusion, inclusion, and social affiliation. What are the orders of exclusion and inclusion that get rehearsed when we consider: do I understand this? What does it mean? Is it possible to keep extending the meaning of meaning, the terms by which we understand anything at all, and especially language, because that’s what we use all the time, every day, every second? How is it possible to keep extending the terms of meaning-making and of sense- making? (“Ear” n.p.)

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