The Case for Enthusiasm
April 26, 2012 § 2 Comments
If you read this site, you’ll already be aware of the fact that I’m a pretty sarcastic person. I’ve been known to say that my mother tongue is sarcasm, but that’s not quite true — it’s my father tongue. My mother is generally quite positive.
I am also fairly critical, a skeptic, and I definitely sometimes yield to the temptation to be elitist with regards to art and entertainment — Mumford and Sons? Really? — but I am also a sucker for enthusiasm.
The two worlds I spend most of my time in are academia and the art world, and I’m constantly surrounded by people hating on everything. It gets tiring. Wow, you don’t like Sylvia Plath, congratulations on your discerning taste, jackass. While academia certainly has a canon that it’s acceptable to worship/you’re expected to worship, academics can also fall prey to the hipster ethos of “the more obscure it is, the better it is” (unless it’s written by a woman: then it’s “chick lit”— or possibly young adult lit — and unworthy of serious discussion). And while artists love geeking out with each other over shared love of a certain writer/painter/musician, they also love hating on anyone whose work becomes successful. Just ask any young poet about the Dickman brothers: it’s a love them or hate them thing, and bitches will throw down.
Did you just say All American Poem was a shitty first book?
But really, I’m so bored with all this hating. A few weeks ago, The Awl published a piece in which they’d asked a number of editors of literary magazines, as well as some contemporary writers, to name books or authors that they’d loved in the past and are now ashamed to think about. Quite a few mentioned Ayn Rand (duh), since many writerly and intellectual types go through an infatuation with her — she particularly appeals to the individualistic mindset of the teenage years. Now, while the woman’s philosophy was batshit insane, I think the fact that thousands of teenagers read her massive novels (Atlas Shrugged is a brick: the thing’s like 1200 pages — imagine a high schooler choosing to read a 1200-page novel) and feel galvanized by them is a sign that she has a certain kind of talent.
The Beats were another oft-repeated example of books people used to love but now are embarrassed to have cared so much about. The Beats are an easy target, and I think it’s kind of lazy to say you hate them. It’s like saying you hate Nickelback: you don’t have to provide any reasons, everyone just nods along. Of course, Nickelback makes me want to drive my face through the wall, and I think their lead singer is impressively unattractive, but still, hating them isn’t very original. It’s the same with the Beats: you can say they’re simplistic and self-indulgent and overly grandiose, and everyone will just go with it. Even though what’s really simplistic and self-indulgent is regarding this passionately inventive and massively influential group of writers as somehow insufficiently literary, but whatever — have fun at your Douche Convention! (I will defend Alan Ginsberg to my grave. “America” is one of my favorite poems of all time.)
The part of The Awl article that really bothered me, though, was Edmund White’s comments on Virginia Woolf. What he said:
Well fuck you very much. You cannot tell me that reading Mrs. Dalloway isn’t a journey for your very soul, or that Orlando isn’t a tour de goddamn force. (Also, thanks for writing off basically the only female modernist anyone takes seriously — sorry, Djuna Barnes, but almost no one remembers you, even though you’re a genius — or rather, one of the only female novelists period that people are willing to accept as truly great, because she can keep up with people like Faulkner and Joyce, which she fucking does, by the way.)
Now, Mr. White teaches at Princeton, so I’m sure he feels entitled to belittle anything he damn well pleases. And that’s his (annoying) prerogative, but I’m really tired of a culture in which degrading others’ work is the key to establishing yourself as a “serious cultured person.” (Are you wearing a monocle? Why are you not wearing a monocle, serious cultured person? If you’re going to talk about how television is the opiate of the masses, you should at least be wearing a monocle. And a bow-tie.)
Imagine you are standing on a ladder, the top of which reaches a platform with a plate of cookies on it. Hitting the person next to you doesn’t get you any higher in the air, it simply knocks them down to a lower rung. There still isn’t anyone getting the cookies. (And yes, the ladder/cookie bit is an analogy for the progress of the human race. Where do I pick up my Philosopher of the Year award?)
And as much shit as I give various things/people on this site, it’s ultimately more fun to gush about something I love than to rant about something I hate — thus all the pictures of puppies and bunnies and Bradley Cooper.
I’m trying not to tamp down my natural enthusiasm in my life or apologize for liking the things I like. Yes, I write literary criticism that looks at Faulkner through the lens of poststructuralist and other twentieth century philosophical theories of consciousness, and I ALSO LOVE THE HUNGER GAMES. I LOVE THEM. I LOVE THE CHARACTERS. I LOVE KATNISS AND PEETA AND CINNA AND EVERYONE. I SOBBED THROUGH THOSE FUCKING BOOKS. THEY ARE INCREDIBLE AND THIS IS WHAT WILL HAPPEN IF YOU DISS THEM:
I think The Hunger Games books demonstrate keen attention to character development and a masterful management of plot, and you can make fun of them and of me all you want, but at the end of the day, I’m the one that gets to marry Peeta Mellark in my mind…I mean, what?
I’m campaigning for enthusiasm. Let’s love things and not feel ashamed for it.
My friend C is a continual example to me in this. C has perhaps the most unabashedly open heart of anyone I’ve ever encountered; she’s got love spilling out of her very pores: love for people, for nature, and for art and entertainment, both “high” and “low.” She doesn’t distinguish between these last two; she just loves things. Her heart is practically bursting with affection and joy when she watches Pretty Little Liars, and that enjoyment is not at all ironic. She feels no need to regard such a “trashy” TV show cynically, and watching her watch PLL is an absurdly enjoyment experience in and of itself.
We have a friend who doesn’t watch TV and sometimes when we’re talking excitedly about a show, he looks at us like we’re paramecia to his homo sapien. And we’re like, bitch, talk to Frank O’Hara:
I’m not going to cry all the time
nor shall I laugh all the time,
I don’t prefer one “strain” to another.
I’d have the immediacy of a bad movie,
not just a sleeper, but also the big,
overproduced first-run kind. I want to be
at least as alive as the vulgar. And if
some aficionado of my mess says “That’s
not like Frank!”, all to the good! I
don’t wear brown and grey suits all the time,
do I? No. I wear workshirts to the opera,
often. I want my feet to be bare,
I want my face to be shaven, and my heart–
you can’t plan on the heart, but
the better part of it, my poetry, is open.
— Frank O’Hara
I want to be at least as alive as the vulgar. So let’s roll back the cynicism a bit. I aspire to be this excited at least once a day:
Tagged: Academia, Annoying, Artists, books, Comedy, Culture, Dogs, Elitism, Entertainment, Enthusiasm, Excitement, Film, Frank O'Hara, gifs, Hipsters, Humor, Josh Hutcherson, Love, Media, Movies, Music, Opinion, Peeta Mellark, People, Pet peeves, Poetry, Suzanne Collins, television, The Hunger Games, Thoughts, TV, Writers, Writing