Wednesday, May 30, 2007

"Why so sad, people?"

Julian Gough ponders why the modern literary novel is "so bloody boring"

What is wrong with the modern literary novel? Why is it so worthy and dull? Why is it so anxious? Why is it so bloody boring?

Well, let's go back a bit first. Two and a half thousand years ago, at the time of Aristophanes, the Greeks believed that comedy was superior to tragedy: tragedy was the merely human view of life (we sicken, we die). But comedy was the gods' view, from on high: our endless and repetitive cycle of suffering, our horror of it, our inability to escape it. The big, drunk, flawed, horny Greek gods watched us for entertainment, like a dirty, funny, violent, repetitive cartoon. And the best of the old Greek comedy tried to give us that relaxed, amused perspective on our flawed selves. We became as gods, laughing at our own follies.


This obsession with dry, slogging seriousness combined with a particular group's particular jargon and language structure as a sign of true professionalism has thoroughly penetrated Western culture. It's not just the literary novel that's turned its back on clear comprehensible writing. I see it in all aspects of our culture from the disclaimers on ads to the stilted construction of emails flying about in Corporate America.

We seem to have developed a fear of humiliation and to counteract that we've wrapped ourselves in this impenetrable fog of buzzwords and jargon. This allows the writer to appear more intelligent while also moving the discourse such that any attempts at humor or levity can be dismissed as "inappropriate". After all, doesn't everyone look up to dour geniuses as the pinnacle of intellectual achievement?

Don't misunderstand me. I'm not pushing for red noses and big shoes in the Boardroom. I do believe, though, that as a culture we've lost a lot of the ability to laugh at ourselves. Maybe it's a response to the constant push for bigger and better. If we admit for a second that we're flawed then we've seemingly given a leg up to whomever we're competing with to be richer, better looking, smarter, etc. Sometimes you just have to look in the mirror and realize that you're a bald white guy that's probably too anal retentive for your own good. I have to do that every day and every day it gets a little easier. I'm still driven to succeed and improve myself but I know a few of my faults and shortcomings now and they make me chuckle.

1 comment:

Julian said...

Hi Don,

Thanks for taking the time to read, and quote, my essay. Glad you liked it. And I think you're right when you say

"If we admit for a second that we're flawed then we've seemingly given a leg up to whomever we're competing with to be richer, better looking, smarter, etc."

The official world has to project itself as perfect (whether it's the officialdom of Tehran or Cuba or Washington). And anyone working for, or dealing with, that official world, tends to end up afraid of their own imperfection, and of revealing their own imperfection. (Often quite justifiably afraid!)

And comedy spends most of its time pointing out imperfection (in bodies, minds, ideologies, you, me, the author, officialdom, God, the universe itself). So you can't risk using it if you're trying to look official, and more and people have to look official more and more of the time...

Anyway, I'm glad your faults make you chuckle. A very healthy sign!

Best of luck with the blog,

-Julian Gough