Old Moon

Friday, September 2, 2011

A Light at the End of the Tunnel?

I've been reading a Pulitzer Prize winner. Without Mr. P's name on the cover, I'd have stopped after 30 pages. I persevered, and have come almost to the end. The characters that in the beginning made me grind my teeth have matured or died. From the beginning, the writing was vivid, original, attractive, but the situations and people in them made me want to drop them as quickly as I could. Even now, with only a few pages to go, and filled as I am with admiration for the creativity evident in A Visit from the Goon Squad, I'm shaken.

I'm not a prude, and the Anglo Saxon epithets were realistic, suited to the mouths uttering them. I simply wondered why I should care about people who were not only crude (though sometimes sensitive), but self-absorbed and amoral. Their world seemed to offer nothing on its surface to suggest they might need to become observant, other-directed, or altruistic, but their lack of imagination on their own behalf astonished me as the material that had won such a prestigious prize. I think that was the point, and satire was evident, but I felt cheated by seeing nothing else for so long.

It got me thinking about fashion. We all know that it comes and goes. We all know it applies to a lot more in our lives than clothes. It appears to be omnipresent in either the persons or the perceived rankings of judges--of all the arts. Where (outside of that enclave known as "Inspirational") are critics who are willing to look to the effects of their judgments on viewers and readers? What has happened to contemporary art? Why is the public so ready to immerse itself (if I may refer to it as a monolith for the sake of this argument) in the down sides of life? Happiness is so often as easy as understanding Rabbi Schachtel's aphorism: Happiness is not having what you want, but wanting what you have.

It's clear that nothing is quite that simple, but it's also clear that too many young people, especially those who have almost everything they could ever want, are the most dissatisfied and depressed and at a loss. Even today there are plenty of anecdotes about triumph over adversity, and too few of humility and gratitude. It's disheartening to see how much adult literature is devoted not just to showing the abstracted, drugged gyrations of musicians and those who look to the noise in their headphones to define themselves, but also to those who glamorize mindless sex as being as uncomplicated as the next drink at a bar, who give not a thought to how their actions may cause others to suffer, or even to the harm they do to themselves.

These days, you almost have to venture backwards in time to find pictures of life redeemed in spite of or because of depravity, dishonesty, error. The ancient Greeks, Shakespeare, Hardy, Austen, even Sinclair Lewis or Harper Lee...make your own list. Writing and painting and music hardly dare to be beautiful these days except for some poets. The cachet is in being gritty, hip, up on the latest fashionable illegality.

Being human should not be made to appear like a sentence to misery to be lifted only by discouraged compromise.

1 comment:

Glenda C. Beall said...

Great post, Joan. They say art reflects the culture, but sometimes I think if we raised the level of art we might also raise the level of those who read and watch.
In an effort to reward that which is different, or unique judges seem to go overboard and forget to choose something of value.