Wednesday, February 25, 2009

David Wallace isn't "dumb"...

But I think he's off-base in the short piece we read. I take issue with several of his assertions. One thing I do like is his criteria for good literature: "to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable." This is by no means all that good literature can do, but it eloquently states two possible uses of literature. After that, he talks about art as an opportunity to vicariously experience suffering. This, perhaps, is not an opinion I share, but I can see where he's coming from.

His next point, however, that indentifying with a character makes it possible for us to conceive that others could care for us and empathize with us, does not make sense to me. I know that, looking into my own experiences, I can't expect this to be a conscious thought I have when I read/watch movies, but even retrospectively, I don't see his idea as something that has ocurred. Sometimes if a character is experiencing pain very similar to something I've experienced, I might feel a kinship and a special empathy for them, but it doesn't make ME feel loved, which is what I feel he's implying.

I also reject his analysis of "high" vs "low" art. I feel like television (which is for making the monies) has made a turn to the artistic lately and has become more valid as literature. Likewise, just because art isn't made commercially doesn't guarantee it will be good, and certainly doesn't guarantee that it will make you uncomfortable like some puzzle until you figure it out and unlock its pleasurable secrets.

This may seem minute, but his 49/51 split of pleasure/pain in reality is irksome to me, mostly just that he had the audacity to even half-seriously fabricate numbers for the ratio of pain and pleasure humans experience. I get the underlying point that life is not always happy endings or even eloquent bittersweet ones, but his choice of how to express this is obnoxious.

Towards the end, I get a very "kids these days" vibe from him that I cannot stand. I firmly believe that people, at their basic, don't change and people's reaction to literature doesn't change. I could read his statement that people expect art to be all pleasure and can't properly process anything else and think to myself "Well, I am not one of the ones he's talking of," but I don't even think it applies to most people. Most people are capable of handling unpleasant art and do not expect the pleasure to be handed to them. Within his point about today's readers, in the last line, he calls them lazy. Speaking of this, and of pleasure handed to you, I fail to see how emotion should or even really can require work. His entire construction of working to feel good and vis instant gratification is not something that applies to literature.

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