Lynda Barry’s Syllabus and Refuting Plato

Syllabus cover

When I first saw Lynda Barry’s Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor in Barnes & Noble the cover called to my curiosity and I flipped through its contents. Each page felt like a visual bombardment with tons of handwritten text and artwork. However, I’m glad that didn’t deter me from actually sitting down and reading my library copy a few days later.

Syllabus gave an inspiring sense of what a class experience would be like as one of her students. After I finished reading her book last Wednesday I immediately wished I could sign up for one of Professor Lynda’s courses. The book will have to do as a substitute for now (I intend to purchase a copy for my evergrowing bookshelf). Also, Lynda is on twitter and tumblr, where she often gives students their assignment.

This year I’ve been borrowing and reading a lot of books about writing and learning more about an author’s process of creating a story. I’ve started to read 12 Short Stories and Their Making: An Anthology with Interviews edited by Paul Mandelbaum. The first featured author Walter Kirn, who wrote The Hoaxer, gave his opinion of fiction writing at the end of the interview.

Fiction writers have not made a very good argument, and professors haven’t either, for why made-up stories can actually be relevant to real life. And I think we’ve kind of lost that thread as a culture. It’s an increasingly quixotic enterprise to try to enlighten through falsehood. And that’s why people want true stories that they can take away a clear moral from, rather than ambiguous, made-up stories that will somehow … increase their wisdom.

So I think that the father in the story represents some of my own conflicting feelings about writing fiction. I mean, it’s never been an entirely reputable occupation. Plato pretty much said flat out that artists were deceivers and creators of useless, untrue objects, and I don’t think we’ve ever gotten over that as a society. (p. 27)

For other writers out there, do you feel that writing is NOT a reputable occupation? I highly admire writers and other artists for their creativity and persistence. I felt defensive and I wanted to shout that art is not a falsehood. Instead, I would propose that art making and the product/object may bring you closer towards truth (whatever that may mean to an individual). But then that’s the art therapist side of me roaring back.

And I was so grateful to soon read two quotes that contradict Plato’s belief about art/ists in Lynda Barry’s Syllabus her 16th class note on page 171.

The 16th class note
A look at the 16th class note. The rabbit creature appears interested as well.

The arts, I believe have a pivotal role in putting us in touch with the transcendant, with whatever it is that is beyond us. They are core to a civilization, measures of our health, and should be treated as such …” Iain McGilchrist, psychiatrist & writer

Devils come to earth briefly transformed to stop you from being artistic, from becoming artists. And they have a magic question. The magic question is, “WHAT FOR?” — but art is not for anything. Art is the ultimage goal. It saves our souls … ” –Young-Ha Kim, writer

There’s so much more to digest in Syllabus. What do you think about fiction writing? What’s your view on artists?

Lynda Barry’s Syllabus and Refuting Plato

One thought on “Lynda Barry’s Syllabus and Refuting Plato

  1. You bring up some great questions about the use and value of fiction! I actually focused a lot on similar questions when I was an undergraduate and graduate student in English literature, and I looked at a lot of instances in autobiography when fiction was borrowed to help tell the author’s story. It’s such an interesting line of inquiry, one which helps us understand why fiction is so important, and I agree that we’ve lost sight of this in our culture in a lot of ways.

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