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What has the movement of postwar writing into the university done to our literature?...The obvious nature of this question only places the decades-long lack of a proper answer in higher relief. It is proportionately exhilarating to find, in Mark McGurl's The Program Era, a brilliant and comprehensive mind developing one at last. McGurl trains his gaze on the university writing programs and some of the masterful novelists they have incubated. But he makes his most compelling arguments at the level of the writer's practical place in the academy, examining the distorting (and enabling) effects of university discipline on individual artists, and considering the wider role of "creative writing" within a chain of notions of creativity (lasting from high school to the service-economy workplace) that inculcate skills for late-capitalist life...McGurl gives the best account I have seen of [Flannery] O'Connor's cruel maximization of "ironic distance"; in her third-person narration, she aspires, as he puts it, almost "to the unimaginable condition of fourth person narration—narration from a higher dimension." His pages on Raymond Carver and '80s minimalism, a mode that "came to be seen, oversimplifing the case drastically, as the 'house style' of the creative writing program," are similarly unrivaled...McGurl's clear-sighted exposure of the hidden institutional background of postwar literary production is one of the first reliable signs that we will finally see that era thoroughly anatomized in a new generation of scholarship.
— Mark Greif