A little plea to stop judging art by what the dullest take away
I also think it's okay -- depending on the work, sometimes even preferable -- for the reader not to know where the author stands on their own themes or characters... or for the author in fact not to know. I think of that David Lynch quote about how, if he could explain his movies in words, he wouldn't have to make them as films. Even though we're using words to construct our stories, if we were able to reduce those stories to a pat explanation, we wouldn't need to dramatize them (or whatever other literary strategy we're using to bring them to life). This is also often the way that imperfect humans with uninspected biases and bigotries can create works that seem a lot wiser than those problematic creators.
‘Art isn’t osmosis’
I think I should frame this and hang on our wall
I need to remember this in workshop. Not everyone’s notes serve your story. It’s like in 12-step meetings, “Take what you like and leave the rest.” Hardest part for me is trusting my discernment, but that’s a practice. Thanks for this!
Satire, for me, demands self-reflection. If I don't get it or I take offense to it, I read it again. And again if necessary. Until I figure out what it is that I MISSED. Not what I think the author didn't communicate. It's challenging reading and is often oversimplified by Dumbos. Great piece. Thank you!
Had to read this three times:
“People at first were not so much concerned with what the story meant; what they wanted to know was where these lotteries were held, and whether they could go there and watch.”
To revel in the idiocy.
Thank you, brill post!
I'm 90% of the way with you on the satire thing and I hate moralizing art/affirmation art and I've written criticisms of that kind of art many times before (including on my own Substack), but I do get where people are coming from when they're tired of satire that just inevitably ends up glorifying the characters or ideas that aren't meant to be so. I think that's because a lot of so-called satirists don't fully want to commit, because chances are that the thing they're satirizing if something they closely identify with. So they pull punches and end up glamorizing (whether intentionally or not) the subject, because they want themselves and their ideas to be glamorized.
A great counter-example of this is Girls. The show was so brutal in its self-satire that Lena Dunham herself became so identified with Hannah Horvath and thus loathed (along with various other reasons, not all of them legitimate). But many people aren't willing to go that far and pay that kind of price.
"I take what I want/I'm a bad go-getter, yeah..."
Somehow that musical phrase popularized by Sam & Dave jumped into my head, because you are correct people taking what they want from art. But it's not always the positive stuff.
“To such readers, it seems the only safe way write a novel is for the author to footnote every single sentence with either ‘I think this is good!’ or ‘I think this is bad!’”
I needed to read this. I just started posting a serialized novel at my Substack (it’s called The Education of Lisa Rose, for those who’re interested) which promises to feature a ton of bad behavior and I did wonder whether I’m now supposed to include those lame disclaimers. Fuck that. The story is the story. Thanks!
Very good article. You have earned a subscriber. I had a running with his exact phenomenon. I don't know if there are many video game players here, but the survival horror indie darling Signalis is very much a victim of this.
Many fans of this game are seemingly unable to see past "OH cool, Lesbian robots in space." Many of them are queer and many of them seem to belong to that bafflingly omnipresent internet denizen: the LGBTQ Tankie. They are able to play a whole ass game in which Space East Germany Send a young woman on a pointless and suicidal mission into deep space in large part BECAUSE she was queer and the anti-Communism just bounces off their thick skulls. It is really quite astounding. It is doubly astounding that when you point this out to them their response is frothing rage and pointed anger at you.
"FOUND THE FASCIST"
that sort of thing
This subject is close to my heart. The use of irony has similar impacts...often large swaths of the public simply don't understand irony and so when you say something ironic they think you are advocating for that thing when in reality you are trying to demonstrate the absurdity of what you're critiquing.
I read this a second time this morning, and I've decided this is the best thing I've read online all month.
What I reeeeeeaaaaaaaalllllllllly appreciate is your brevity, getting your point out there and then closing things down.
Too many SS post's nowadays go on and on and on and on -- the downside of not having editors about.
Great article. Could have done without the pithy political jibes that added no context but I'm sure made you feel that the other side were the stupid ones
I’m in the middle of this all Fall with my manuscript...how much do I rewrite for the easily confused reader? It’s a delicate balance for commercial success and for maximizing word of mouth. If it’s only clear to a tiny tribe of literary geeks, you can’t earn a living. Opacity doesn’t sell, even if it satisfies
I still laff (a little, uncomfortably) when pro-war nut jobs jam to Metallica and Megadeath. Do you even understand the lyrics, bro? They're written in plain English… As novels, Ender's Game and Dune weren't playbooks—they were cautionary social commentary. Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, and Saving Private Ryan weren't meant to be recruiting tools. 🙄