The words “master class” suggest a teacher/ student relationship. We usually use that term to refer to a special event when a well-known artist comes to town and gives short individual lessons to students who were chosen ahead of time for this occasion.
Master classes are given in many disciplines of art, and I was delighted to read that the American author Nell Zink (The Wallcreeper, Mislaid) was in Jerusalem and was giving a master class on eavesdropping in Mishkenot Sha’ananim.
I called ahead and asked whether the participants were expected to bring a text to the class. But it transpired that it wasn’t that kind of a master class, the author was just giving a talk. Nell Zink used to live in Israel and is a close friend of the writer Avner Shats, she wrote to him and about him, and he translated her work into Hebrew.
When we gathered, about 12 people, in the small room in Mishkenot, Ms. Zink went into a tirade about a man who dared calling her, on the hotel phone, earlier that day and asked her to read his book. I was embarrassed and felt guilty, even though I didn’t call or send her any manuscript. When that gentleman entered the room, few minutes later, she went on and on. The poor man must have mistakenly assumed that a master class meant “a class taught by someone who has an expert knowledge or skill in a particular area” and that the author/instructor would be willing to read his work and give her opinion.
Nell Zink told us that her writing career started very late in life (she was older than 50 when she was first published), but she must have forgotten how it felt. She was very pleased with herself and wanted to brag and not to instruct. Moreover, she kept saying how almost all contemporary literature was unworthy. When I asked her a question and brought up the name of another woman author as an illustration, she dismissed me by saying that she had no idea who that writer was.
The topic of the talk in Hebrew was “the walls have ears” or in English eavesdropping. I was certain that Zink would discuss the importance of curiosity in literature, and would explore the way writers get their material: by listening to conversations etc. But it was obvious that she wasn't interested in other people or curious to hear them. Thus she spent the hour talking about herself.
Over a year ago I attended an inspiring gallery talk at Yale by the renowned filmmaker Mike Leigh about his latest film Mr. Turner. One of the more memorable things that he said was “The audience is a collection of people who are at least as intelligent as me.”
Mike Leigh was kind to the people in the audience. Unlike Nell Zink who had her big break only recently, he has been around for a long time. I wish she could hear him to learn a few things about humility and respect, but perhaps she doesn’t even know who he is.
The essay first appeared in the Times Of Israel