Thursday, January 05, 2006

After 2005, the only way to go is up

Too bad “the writing is mostly indecipherable.” But it does make you wonder what strange, wonderful combination of circumstances compelled humans to start writing. Some strange new desire to create, to make your mark... that, or to scrawl angrily, “For a good time, stop by Kukulcan’s tent.”
This is just hilarious:
Submitted to 20 publishers and agents, the typed manuscripts of the opening chapters of two books were assumed to be the work of aspiring novelists. Of 21 replies, all but one were rejections. Sent by The Sunday Times of London, the manuscripts were the opening chapters of novels that won Booker Prizes in the 1970's. One was "Holiday," by Stanley Middleton; the other was "In a Free State," by Sir V. S. Naipaul, winner of the 2001 Nobel Prize in Literature. Mr. Middleton said he wasn't surprised. "People don't seem to know what a good novel is nowadays," he said. Mr. Naipaul said: "To see something is well written and appetizingly written takes a lot of talent, and there is not a great deal of that around. With all the other forms of entertainment today, there are very few people around who would understand what a good paragraph is."
Like I always say, the only constant in the world is change, but there’s still no accounting for taste. Book buyers aren’t looking for, you know, writing; they’re looking for a multimillion-dollar cash cow they can turn into a movie, a record album and a theme park.
An interesting read, from a different perspective. Author Nick Gillespie’s most intriguing point follows:
Both cognitive and evolutionary approaches to lit-crit have been gaining recognition and adherents over the past decade or so. Cognitive critics are less interested in recurring plots or specific themes in literature, but they share with the Darwinists an interest in using scientific advances to help explore the universally observed human tendency toward creative expression, or what the fascinating anthropologist Ellen Dissanayake called in Homo Aestheticus: Where Art Comes From and Why, “making special.” This unironic -- though hardly uncritical -- interest in science represents a clear break with much of what might be called the postmodern orthodoxy, which views science less as a pure source of knowledge and more as a means of controlling and regulating discourse and power. The postmodern view has contributed to a keener appreciation of how appeals to science are often self-interested and obfuscating.
Criticism being the exploration of a personal reaction, it follows that the self-examination that it entails would lead some down a more scientific path, ostensibly to find data with the cold hardness of fact to support their own feelings and interpretations. But it figures just as much that those very “facts” are actually quite specious -- any statistician will tell you that you can find any amount of data to “prove” your “theory,” no matter how insane. Simple old willpower can bring any nutty notion to light but the ideas that strike a deeper, more logical and rational chord within us -- theories like evolution, for example -- tend to take on lives of their own, far beyond what their discoverer ever intended or even understood themselves. I remember a bit from Bertrand Russell’s The History of Western Philosophy where he talked about how a philosopher in ancient Greece -- Anaxagoras, I believe -- came up with a version of heliocentrism, long before 17th-century scientists like Copernicus and Kepler proved it so; the point being, sometimes the answer sits right in front of people for a long time before anyone notices. Lit-crit might come up with some fancy new terms but unless they’re really, really challenging the status quo, it’s just gonna be old wine, new bottle.

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