18 November 2006

Bears repeating

I've been taking time out from writing an exam (on Holes no less) to explore a few new (to me) litblogs, and loved reading these thoughts by Darby Dixon on "difficult" books and those who read them:
Now--slight but personally important aside begins here--this isn't about being part of "the literary smart set." Rather, I think it's good practice for anyone who wants to talk shop about literature and the reading of it to engage with books from across, and sometimes off, their personal taste radars. Which, okay, maybe is about being part of the literary smart set. What I think I'm getting at is that I'm not comfortable with the sort of value judgment implied by a discussion of "the smart sets," in a sort of snoot-vs-snooty-antisnoot sense, or a hipper-than-thou-hipster sense. As if the "smart set" were a self-important, exclusionary organization, populated by nothing but smug bastards who scoff at those on the outside. I'm not so naive as to suggest it doesn't happen, consciously or not, but I'm also bold enough to suggest that people who are like that ought to be bopped on the nose, because thinking that way is a bunch of horsepucky. Reading literature and talking about it is as inclusive an activity as I can think of, asking of those who wish to take part in it only that they do it as much as they like, to whatever extent or end they like. I like to think (hope) that the "literary smart set"--and yes, you can read "litbloggers" there if you want--is by and large an encouraging group; that the discussion, debate, and disagreements are friendly in nature; and that I'm contributing to that in my own way. At least, I hope my professed love of and enthusiasm for big hard books--as well as for all books I like--is as evidently well-intentioned (an entertaining) as I desire it to be.

In any case--literary or not--I do think it's healthy to stretch beyond yourself from time to time. In a literary sense, a book like Gravity's Rainbow becomes a portable education in close reading, forcing you--if you accept the challenge--into a deeper headspace that both shifts and intensifies your relationship with the words on the page.
(Emphasis mine.) I've said it before and I'll say it again: a lack of willingness to submit oneself to "difficulty" can be just as snobbish as the attitude of ivory-tower types who look down on "the masses." We are the ones who deny ourselves opportunities to grow beyond our personal boundaries.

As Flannery O'Connor said,
Art never responds to the wish to make it democratic; it is not for everybody; it is only for those who are willing to undergo the effort needed to understand it. We hear a great deal about humility being required to lower oneself, but it requires an equal humility and a real love of the truth to raise oneself and by hard labor to acquire higher standards.

9 comments:

Carrie (from the Orchard) said...

Thanks for writing this Ana. I needed to hear that...

Brook said...

Your last bit on anti-literary snobs reminds me of some of the bad reviews I've read on David Dark's last book (Gospel), where they didn't like it because, not only was it too difficult to read (and therefore bad reading right there), but he talks about a lot of authors that hardly anyone has read (apparantly referring to Pynchon, Faulkner, Melville, Hawethorne, and their like). Rather than accepting the invitation to raise their own standards, they reject those who have not lowered theirs.

good post. love the quote from that Flannery person (whoever the hell that is).

amcorrea said...

I think you two will really enjoy reading this: http://www.themorningnews.org/archives/
reviews/lone_star_statements.php

Brook said...

funny yet sad, as much of that is typical (like the Tropic of Cancer bit... worst book I ever read, got to page 3 or 4). And I pretty much agree with the On The Road one... ;-)

Dorothy W. said...

Yes, the post makes a lot of sense. I don't like telling anybody what they ought to read -- "difficult" things or "easy" things -- but I fully agree that there's a snobbishness to refusing to stretch oneself.

Jana Swartwood said...

That's a good word. I have to say that some of my favorite books have been the ones I've had to work hard to understand. The satisfaction, combined with whatever literary insights I gleaned, has been something of immeasurable worth.

Darby M. Dixon III said...

Ana--Glad you liked my post. You said it much better (and far more succinctly!) than I did.

Also, thanks for the blogroll link...I've added yours to mine.

Brook said...

just for shits and giggles, here's one of the actual reviews for Gospel According to America:

"This book is a difficult read, with too many obscure references to Southern United States literature and music that many folks are not familiar with"

lord...

Anne said...

A lovely, smart post. Thanks, Ana Maria!

I've been thinking about all of this lately from a lazier angle. Sometimes, I just feel like finishing a book: I read so many difficult books that I forget the pleasure of the book that can be read in a few days. Now that I've remembered it, I am hooked and will introduce more variety into my diet from now on.

Good luck with the exams...!!!