Friday, August 29, 2008

When Four Tribes Go to War

Ron has linked to a blog entry by Damien G. Walter on Scott McCloud's theory of the four tribes of artists in his book Making Comics. Longtime readers may recall my excitement about McCloud's classifications in this post that I wrote two years ago. I only call attention to it now because of the spiffy graphic, which I may print out and give to my creative writing students late in the semester, after they've had a chance to build up a small body of work and some confidence, just to promote discussion.

My own natural orientation tends toward Formalist/Classicist, the two "headiest" tribes, but I often look with longing at the greener grass of the Animists and Iconoclasts, grubbing and hooting and blazing with passion and hurling their own feces at the looky-loos. Flarf has attracted so much attention, I think, for being a counterintuitive blending of the Formalist and Iconoclast positions, whereas most of the Language and post-Language writers tend to be either strongly Formalist or strongly Iconoclast without much mixing (Michael Palmer versus Bruce Andrews, say, or Lyn Hejinian versus Alice Notley). The good old School of Quietude writers form an occasionally fractious alliance between Classicists and Animists; for a long time they had many people persuaded that their dyad was the only game in town. One could go on mapping poets and movements this way, but as a cognitive model it's probably most useful for obtaining a better self-understanding.

For a writer like me, uneasily perched between "emerging" and "mid-career," McCloud's tribes help me explain a little better to myself my own dissatisfactions with my writing, and will maybe even serve as fingerposts pointing toward new goals, new processes.

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