amongst books

amongst books

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

the 20 minute rant, a new feature

[thanks for the inspiration, Rick Mercer]

this is a new feature on my blog. when i have something that irks me, i have 20 minutes to write about it. no research, probably not much backing up my arguments with supportive examples and likely great leaps in logic. just 20 minutes to pull that irksome burr out of my craw. yeah, mixed metaphors too. here goes…

you know what bugs me? the binary accessible/inaccessible, especially when used to critique poetry and other literary works. and by accessible i think i mean being able to access the poem or the prose from the get, right away. i find this idea daft and it doesn’t seem like a very rewarding or enriching way to read something.

what about being willing to spend time with a piece of writing, about coming back to it more than once instead of giving it a few short minutes of your time? what about exploring the piece, following up on its allusions to other works, letting your mind wander? what about the space in between?

seems to me the greatest works of literature, art and music were those that were criticized for not being accessible to the audiences of the day, such as T.S. Eliot’s the Wasteland, yet it has stood the test of time. it is a work that can be studied and read myriad times in myriad ways. it even apparently inspired Lovecraft to write a parody. any art that inspires more art has done its job, in my opinion.

yes, of course as a writer i want the work to be compelling to readers, i want the work to have anchors to make it cohesive and a hook to bring the reader in, but when a work is dismissed as not accessible that says to me that the naysayer didn’t really spend much time with it, that the person already had preconceived expectations.

labels are for marketing. in order to sell books, publishers have to put them into certain categories, i guess. labels like avant garde, experimental and innovative, for example turn off readers and critics who believe that such terms equal inaccessible work. if you’re already starting with a chip on your shoulder, how can you even begin to engage with a piece of writing? my suggestion is for the reader to put the label aside and give the work a fighting chance. don’t worry about whether or not you understand, whatever that means, a work right away. give yourself a chance to let it resonate for you. expand your horizons just a wee bit.

and those of you writers who cling to surface meaning like you are sinking on the Titanic and sense is the last lifeboat, i’d like to see what would happen if you let go of that. i recently saw a review of a book that’s been getting rave reviews and i was interested to see the reviewer say the problem with the book for the reviewer is that things are too well explained. there’s no space for the reader’s imagination. i would like to see what kind of result you would get if let go of sense and surface meaning, just once. i know you’re likely writing it and then editing it to make sense. i’ve heard two writers in the last year talk about how they wish they could let go of sense. do it, honey, shirk of that sense jacket and drop it on the ground. see what the water feels like on your bare skin. enjoy the sensation of floating.

great works such as Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow (i haven’t read it thru yet, but it’s on my list and the excerpts i’ve read make me want to read it) are worth discovering for yourself. don’t listen to other people when they use the A word. maybe they’re just assholes with inferiority complexes.

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