Thursday, April 19, 2007

Writings from the Dark Side

Terri, from my British Council writing group, sent me this yesterday:


Do you ever feel like you can see directly through people when you read a few pieces of their writing? I imagine you must. It's always their inner voice speaking somewhere beneath the adverbs and the plots.

The excerpt below really made me think about the role teachers play in the lives of their students. Not just writing teachers but all teachers ...
A Virginia Tech professor told NBC News that Cho’s creative writing was so disturbing that she referred him to the school’s counseling service, but he would not go. The professor, Lucinda Roy, the English Department’s director of creative writing, would not comment at length on Cho’s writings, saying only that in general they “seemed very angry.”

“I kept saying, ‘Please go to counseling; I will take you to counseling,’ because he was so depressed,” Roy said. But “I was told [by counselors] that you can’t force anybody to go over ... so their hands were tied, too.” Fellow students in a playwriting class with Cho also noticed the dark and disturbing nature of his compositions.

“His writing, the plays, were really morbid and grotesque,” Stephanie Derry, a senior English major, told the campus newspaper, The Collegiate Times “I remember one of them very well. It was about a son who hated his stepfather. In the play, the boy threw a chainsaw around and hammers at him. But the play ended with the boy violently suffocating the father with a Rice Krispy treat,” Derry said.
It's easy to be wise after the act, but weren't the clues to his later behaviour all in place?

Should I be worried when my own creative writing students harbour dark thoughts of murder?

(And to Terri, does your writing show a way into your soul? Oh yes, all writing does!)


Thanks Chet for pointing the way to other links which discuss Cho's writing. This article from CNN tells how renown poet and author, Nikki Giovanni, immediately suspected Cho when she got word of the shootings. She said that she had found Cho's poetry was intimidating, and his behavior so menacing that she had had him removed from her class.

And AOL News has acquired two of his plays from a Virginia Tech student.

Required reading at this point in time - of course, DBC Pierre's Vernon God Little which will remain just as relevant as long as history is allowed to repeat itself by courtesy of US gun laws.


Blake Morrison on the Guardian blog writes:
... in truth, the plays are no more violent than Shakespeare's. In fact, despite their banality, Shakespeare is arguably a key influence ... many theatres have staged bloodier dramas. And if creative writing programmes excluded students with personality disorders, they would all have to close down.

Cho's literary experiments neither caused his psychosis nor purged him of it. Psychoanalysing them for clues to his behaviour is a pointless distraction from the underlying cause of the massacre: American gun law.


Chet said...

Before Lucinda Roy took Cho on as her student. Nikki Giovanni was his writing teacher. She was so disturbed by him that she asked for him to be removed from her class, adding that she would resign if he wasn't. She said, in an an article on CNN Online, that when she heard about the shootings, she knew who it was who had done it.

One of the CNN articles has a link to a blog with two of Cho's plays. Real dark and scarey writing.

lil ms d said...

be very afraid sharon... :)

but also before one starts panicking when reading a story, do watch out for clues in action/behaviour. a wild imagination does not mean the person is crazed. id go by my gut feeling.

Shahril Nizam said...

The blank and souless expression etched on his face in that mugshot is...very disturbing

bibliobibuli said...

bu i look even scarier in photos ... so how?

chet many thanks for the link which i will put up

yes, ms d, just because you write about something doesn't mean you need to be that thing!

Chet said...

Article with Nikki Giovanni's comments (under sub-heading "Professor recalls 'mean streak'"):
Killer's manifesto

Cho Seung-Hui's Plays

Ron said...

I was reading through the comments at the AOL link provided above by Chet.

I didn't read all of them as they were very repetitive in blaming teachers for not doing something about the writing the man had produced.

However not one commenter mentioned what I believe is a very obvious factor: American gun laws are very lax, actually almost non-existent in a state like Virginia.

Until gun ownership is severely curtailed, even banned, then I believe these events will continue while the US remains such a troubled society.

Anonymous said...

Nikki Giovanni is an idiot. instead of helping, or ttrying to help, the young man, she kicked him out of her class.


it's heart-breaking and and frustrating to read all the comments from students and teachers, painting Cho as a disturbed and dangerous young man, and "evil" guy, with none of them ever trying to really listen to him or help him. this is the kind of society we are dealing with here. is it any wonder shootings occur so often in America?

i recall what Marilyn Manson said in the docu Bowling For Columbine, when he was asked what he would say to the two kids if he could have met them. his reply: "i wouldn't say anything to them. i would listen to what they have to say."

yes, gun ownership and gun laws in America are a problem. but a little compassion could have helped to divert the situation too.

Sharon, if one of your students here displayed such violence in her or his writing, at least you don't have to worry that the student will be able to buy guns from across the street.

The Visitor

Anonymous said...

OK, on second thot, maybe calling Nikki Giovanni an idiot may be a bit harsh, considering everyone's fears were justified. but like i said, a little compassion goes a long way. and its frustrating to see the media going to town (as they always do) with stories that paint Cho as a psycho monster. how quickly we always forget that these are human beings with real deep-seated problems.


Shahril Nizam said...

About the comment I made earlier: I wonder if the descriptions (blank and souless) which I had used to define his image were based primarily on how I had interpreted his actions AFTER reading and listening to all the media hype(here in Melbourne, that photo was blown up so large it occupied a quarter of The Age- one of the local broadsheets). The image was then set aside thumb-sized photgraphs of the victims, all of them smiling (still breaks my heart to see it).
In hindsight,I'm pretty sure that I would not have used those words if the killer looked like Shirley Temple.
Sharon,I think you look rather jovial in most of the images I have seen of you :-)

bibliobibuli said...

ron - absolutely agree with you. why the gun laws in the US don't change is beyond me. it's simple common sense. and this kind of tragedy will keep happening until it does.

visitor - it was clear the authorities new for a long time that something was wrong, that this guy needed help. didn't the institution have any kind of pastoral system that worked? how was he allowed to slip through the net and endanger others?

sweet you are, shahril, but i could pass for an axe-murderer in my passport photo! you raise an interesting question about how we interpret images when we know about the person ...

i love to look at images in the colour supplements of the british newspapers and imagine who the people are before i read the article. i'm so often wrong about them though!

Anonymous said...

Should you be worried ? I don't know, lots of people have written scripts and plays that have been more scary. Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho", Stephen King's "Carrie" etc. You can't look at someone's writing and say that it reflects someone's soul, otherwise messrs. Hitchcock and King would be among the most evil people on earth :D

Chet said...

Yes, in hindsight, it's very easy to see the clues that were there all along. But way before all this happened, his teachers and classmates probably saw him as nothing more than a disturbed youth - well, maybe a little more disturbed than the average kid - and thought he'd probably grow out of it.

And those of his teachers and classmates who have spoken up and said they weren't surprised it was him - well, they're just seeking their 5 minutes of fame. I hope they got asked in return why they didn't do anything to help him at the time.

The Great Swifty said...

Stephen King's 2 cents regarding the whole issue.

bibliobibuli said...

thanks very much swifty - very interesting piece