Wednesday, February 4, 2009

RE: The Brown Bunny

Context does not necessarily define literature, but it cannot be discarded carelessly as insignificant. Nothing exists in isolation; there is no culture-less vacuum.

There is a similar argument in the art world regarding (and tied to looting) whether or not the context from which an object stems really matters. The director of the Chicago Art Institute was quoted saying that since ninety-eight percent of all information on an object comes from the object itself, the other two percent is negligible.

The same point could be made for any work of literature (I use this term loosely since we all know how that goes). Ninety-eight percent of its "worth" could be in its actual content, and that sounds very reasonable, but what of the other two percent? After all, without context, art work in a museum, although aesthetically pleasing--beautiful even, arguably still consists of a bunch of well-preserved, pretty knick-knacks.

I'm not saying I can't pick up a novel and enjoy it without first researching the era it was written in and the author's life; however, sometimes I find the experience that much richer when I do go through that extra bit of effort and google up some data. Also, there is the problem of self-imposition (that slightly narcissistic activity) on the work when you don't know from whence it came. It's true I've enjoyed reading many works because I can identify with the characters or situations present in them, but is it okay to completely screen out the author's intent, to entwine with the words someone else wrote our own personal experiences and reflections of contemporary society (even though we may believe that in doing so we establish a "greater" connection with it)? I'm all for personal intepretation, but where is the line drawn between that and the author's true intent? Which one should take higher precedence?

Without Gallo's intention (whatever that may have been), The Brown Bunny may well be merely a "low-budget masturbatory aid," as Elizabeth says. (And maybe it still is? I don't know much about it.) A parallel fall in status may occur for other literary works when stripped of their context as well.

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