Saturday, May 24, 2003

Problem of Knowing

I hate most contemporary literature. Well, hate is a little strong. It bores me and that annoys me since I am a junkie of reading. I look for the good escape and then when I can't find it I become frustrated and cranky.

Then when I find something good--something, unlike about 90% of the books recently written that people recommend to me (like Jane Smiley?!? What's that about?) that I actually want to re-read I become fascinated.

I want to understand why some people suck at writing. Why even the halfway decent writing pre-war is 10X better than what is written now.

Does it say something about our society or is the idea that art reflects a society a bunch of crap? What does it say that everyone's stories written lately (well, not everyone) have characters who feel nothing.

What does it say that I think I can tell what the short story MFA teachers tell their students simply by the stories I am subjected to lately? (Of course I don't know what they say. I think I took creative writing in Junior High Summer School but I'm pretty sure that's not the same deal. I did it for free lunch. If you were in summer school Chicanos Por La Causa would give you a free bag of food and often there were really good hot dogs in there.)

I imagine that they say shit like: Show, don't tell. Death seems to be a favorite short story topic. Death and a couple. The woman is dying and the husband is there and kids or else she has no husband and kids. The problem is that the person dying has absolutely no emotion whatsoever. I think they are afraid to tell you what the person's emotions are. So they just do things and you are supposed to guess their emotions. The more serious the topic is, the less the characters in New Yorker/Harper's-type short stories talk about it or think about it in serious terms. They all end up seeming like creepy robots.

Maybe they are about the people in New York City?

And then there must also be some junk about a sense of place because they seriously hit you over the head with the sense of place and tell you the physical parameters of every building but never about what the people who the story is about think.

Or maybe they are copying Raymond Carver? Except the people in his stories don't yammer on about what they think and feel but somehow you know they do have thoughts and feelings.

I've been reading Isek Dinesen (the best escape writing there is) and she said something about the bourgeois fear or rejection of tragedy. She is not at all afraid to expound and thus she 'tells' a lot and doesn't always show. And she is a great writer so already we know that show don't tell advice is crap.

And then there is Thom Jones. He doesn't suck. In fact, to me he is a short story God. I will re-read his stories. I can even re-read them in the first week. In fact, they are so good I can't stop and then I have to re-read them many times to absorb them.

The thing is though, that then I did this thing I never do which is tried to find out who he is and what he does. Big mistake. It didn't ruin his stories for me. Yet...

I make a policy of never reading about authors I like. I realized that after I read a biography of Robert Lowell and then could never enjoy any poem of Robert Lowell's in the same way.

Occasionally, I break this vow. So when I saw an article on W.S. Merwyn sitting right there in front of me I weakened and read it. I found out he lives in Hawaii. How can W.S. Merwyn live in Hawaii? Maui, I think it is. That hurt, that one.

What a fool I was to try and find out about Thom Jones. Maybe you don't have a problem and can do this yourself.

Freakily, he wrote a novel and the editor didn't like it and now he is turning it into a screenplay.

A movie starring Bruce Willis. First, how could his novel not get published? Second, forget it.

Movies I love. Still, the movie and a literary piece it is based on bear almost no connection to each other usually. And I suppose it is better if it never is a book if it gets turned into a movie.

I want my authors to remain invisible, I suppose.

I feel guilty about ragging on Jane Smiley. I've been writing lately and what I write is truly garbage and really contains every flaw I expound upon above. And more.

And I hated the intro to Best American Short Stories where snooty Ford writes about how must stories are bad. He's another guy whose stories bore me. But then loved the one where Woolfe is kind about all short stories.

But I write not as an author but as a person who craves escape in every way and writes and reads only for that reason. To scrape out my brain, essentially. Put something else in there. Just a restaurant aficionado (plump, overfed, running up my charge card for pieces of charred flesh on beds of vegetables unheard of prior to 1991). Not a restaurant critic.

A lonely soul who is burdened and bored by my own consciousness. I read from need and against my own better judgment. Still, I feel guilty. I'll try not to be so snarky in the future. Who am I to talk?


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