Saturday, March 09, 2013

The Writer's Inferno

When I was a senior in high school, as a culmination of our study of Dante's INFERNO, my high school English teacher gave us the assignment of writing our own INFERNO.  It had to be an allegory, all our punishments had to fit the crimes, and we had to reach for a style reminiscent of Dante.  It remains one of my favorite assignments.

I decided to make my inferno a writer's inferno.  The entire thing was structured on a gigantic typing element.  The most offensive crimes were relegated to the most frequently used letters, while lesser crimes were placed on the less frequent letters.  Hence, Satan and the worst offenders of all were located on the letter "e."

I still have this paper, and it still cracks me up to read it.  It's also somewhat gratifying to remember that, even at the age of 17, I saw myself as a writer, so much so that, in my high school English assignment, I attempted to define my view of literature.  However, it was a high school student's perspective.  Therefore, I placed Dante, Melville and other writers of allegory near the worst offenders.  Their punishment, besides getting pounded against the wall of the infernal paper, was to be plagued with lice and vermin because  they "attached significance to every detail of their writing, causing endless suffering for others" (I was thinking of myself and my fellow students, who had endured the hard labor of lengthy term papers about symbolism in these works).  "Their works crawled with symbolism that their readers had to pick out."  Hence their lice-infestation punishment.

My 17 year old self made James Michener my guide, there to save me "from the path of cheap detective stories, dime novels, paperback books, television miniseries, lousy English papers and other bad writing."  Apparently I had issues with genre fiction and making money from writing.  Ah, youth!  Michener clearly qualified, in my teenage mind, as a virtuous pagan, and his only crime, apparently, was that he had allowed his epic novels to be turned into mini-series.  I condemned Alex Haley for the same reason.

I seemed to have been on quite an anti-TV screed on this assignment, because TV critics and writers of TV series got pretty prominent spots.  Poor Norman Lear gets special mention.  Other writers my teen self deemed worthy of Hell included Harlequin Romance writers, sensational journalists, political philosophers, and writers of pornography.

I wonder who I would place in writer's Hell today.  Who would you put there, and where on the landscape would they land?

1 comment:

  1. This is awesome! I, too, remember reading this in HS English, but we did not have such an interesting assignment. :)


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