Friday, January 16, 2009

My Workshops

F. débaucher is, according to Littré and Hatzfeld, derived from n. bauche, of which the precise sense and origin are according to the latter unknown; according to the former it = ‘a place of work, workshop’, so that desbaucher would mean orig. ‘to draw away from the workshop, from one's work or duty’.

Oxford English Dictionary

I usually introduce my writing workshops by explaining the etymology of "debauchery". Today, the words means "a vicious indulgence in sensual pleasures", but it stems from "seduction from duty, integrity, or virtue; corruption." The modern sense of "debauch" apparently emerged in the 17th century, i.e., at the beginning of the modern era, when we began to separate the pursuit of profit from the pursuit of pleasure.

Workshopping is the attempt to "get back to work". In a workshop, we try to take craftsmanship seriously and derive pleasure from the first-hand manipulation of materials. Quality in any art, I believe, depends on integrating (and in our age this means reintegrating) productivity and sensuality, industry and creativity. It is the opposite of the vicious indulgence in sensual pleasures, the pursuit of false pleasure, we might say. Quality is a true pleasure; it is the sensuality of work.

My workshops try to establish the microcosm of a writer's bauche, a place of (pleasurable) literary work. This semester, we will meet on Tuesdays and Wednesdays as often as possible for two-hours (sixteen meetings in all). We work on a one-page (14 point, Times New Roman, double-spaced) sample of text that has been submitted by one of the participants, editing it together in Word using an overhead beam projector.

Only the materials, our interests and time constrain what we do. While it is sometimes hard work, it is an enjoyable way of improving a text. I think one of the reasons it is so much fun, both for the participants and for me, is that we do not try to reduce improvements to rules of style or grammar. I will, of course, sometimes mention a stylistic virtue, or correct a grammatical error, but the aim is not to teach "good English". The aim is to develop a sensitivity for good prose. We try to learn what works in a text and what does not work. And we learn this by doing. It is a workshop, not a classroom.

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