Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Nice to See You, too

From time to time you hear nominal readers complaining about a writer such as Cormac McCarthy in the context of not wanting to subject themselves to the discomfort his stories put them through.  From time to time, such as tonight in class, you feel the wall of resistance between you and the class when you speak of the need to push the characters and readers over the margins and into the potential for discomfort.  Oh, do I have to, is the plaintive cry.  I feel so awful writing about those things.  You pounce.  Then those are the things you should most write about.

What about, someone asks with mounting tenacity, individuals who like to read for pleasure?

You want to be a novelist or short story writer, you venture, or a composer of greeting card verse?

But what about beauty?

Ah, you say.  Forget about the price it just fetched, think how much beauty there is in Van Gogh's The Irises, and think how stark and disturbing that beauty is.  Think about doing that in a story.  You want to be writers or guides at Disneyland.

Which leads to the question, Is there anything wrong with wishing to be entertained?  Of course not; entertainment is a valid part of the human experience, but so is the telling of story that linger in the memory and show a picture of the kind of starkness of The Irises.  Muriel Spark's rather persistent poke in society's ribs that is her novel, Memento Mori, is a relentless take on a condition we must all face sooner or later, the condition of age and what the condition will do to us in specificity and what it may already have done to friends, associates, family members.

There was a time when your mother was on your case to write something nice, like the old fashioned stories.  Your response was variations on the theme of you making them as nice as you can without making them too nice to be published.  Then you would delight in taking her on a tour of some of the moments in the canons of western literature  where the reader was apt to get roughed up a bit, some of the Thomas Hardy, for example, and look how angry Ahab was over a single whale.

Nice works, but only when it is portrayed in context with the sorts of things that go bump in the night and in the sensitivities of individuals who try to fend off discomfort as though they were instead trying to stave off Count Dracula and his thirsty minions.

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