This Summer Session we’re going Back to School, and today we bring you an interview with David Levi Strauss by Amelia Rina. Rina had first been interviewed by Strauss in 2013 for admission to the School of Visual Arts’ MFA Art Writing and Criticism program, and here returns to speak with Strauss about his perspectives on writing, academia, and his role as an educator. Throughout the conversation, Strauss emphasizes the dynamism of discourse and art’s need for something outside of itself. This interview was originally published on September 10, 2015.
Amelia Rina: Can you talk about your relationship with teaching writing and your own education as a writer?
David Levi Strauss: The Art Writing program at the School of Visual Arts (SVA) in New York is really modeled after the Poetics program at the New College of California, San Francisco, in the 1980s. It was built around the teachings of the poet Robert Duncan and the other poets that gathered around him, including Diane di Prima, David Meltzer, Michael Palmer, and Duncan McNaughton. It was pointedly not a creative-writing program, but a program in poetics, the study of how things are made. The poets who taught there intended to give us an intellectual base that we could build on for the rest of our lives and to give us sources we could continue to draw on as we built our own network of sources. I think that’s probably even more important today. We now live in the Golden Age of Search, where a vast amount of material is accessible, so the need to develop ways to make distinctions among these disparate sources is crucial.
AR: Something that seems integral to the SVA department’s mission is that it isn’t in the business of “discourse production.” Can you elaborate on what you mean by that? And if it’s not in the business of discourse production, what is it in the business of?
DLS: I don’t know when the term discourse production was first used, but I think it was imported from cognitive neuroscience. To me, it always sounded like a needless bureaucratization of writing and thinking. Our approach is very different from this. We look at writing as a way of thinking—and a way to live, actually—and, at the same time, as a craft.