Sunday, 8 March 2015

Total Hedonist

Steven Beattie gets serious about the seriousness that enfeebles a great deal of Canadian literature:
The books we tend to elevate in this country are ones with subject matter that is intended to educate rather than entertain, and the dominant tone is almost painfully sombre. Which has never made sense to me. Canadians are great at being funny: why is it we seem so reluctant to embrace humour in our literature? Why do we assume that just because a book happens to be funny, it must therefore lack serious intent?

I shy away from literature that is more self-consciously good for you than simply good. That is, if the primary intent in a novel is to teach the reader some kind of moral lesson or to convey a message about, say, tolerance or acceptance, I tend to tune out. That is the job of an essayist, a teacher, a polemicist, or a priest, not a novelist. The novelist should be primarily concerned with story and technique, not the importance of the theme or the potential for improvement in readers. (If this happens as well, so much the better, but it should never be the foundational reason for telling a story.)

There also seems to be an idea afoot—still—that books should be edifying, but not necessarily enjoyable. Where did that idea come from? I am a total hedonist in this regard: when I read, I want to derive pleasure from the experience, not be preached to or lectured at. Why bother reading—fiction, at least—if it isn’t enjoyable? We spend so much time lamenting the fact that young people don’t read anymore, then we try to force-feed them the most self-consciously upright, moralistic stuff on the assumption that it’s good for them. No wonder they run screaming in the opposite direction.

1 comment:

David Godkin said...

Plainly we don’t live in an either or universe. We can have all of the above and usually do in the very best poetry and fiction.