Monday, May 10, 2010

Defending the New

I hold a doctorate in English literature. In the course of earning and using this degree, I was and am asked to, among other things, read, discuss, and argue about texts that people earning and using degrees in English literature have read, discussed, and argued about for quite some time. And there is a reason that very smart people have said very smart things about William Faulkner and Toni Morrison and F. Scott Fitzgerald. But someone, at some point, had to risk sounding not very smart at all by asking people to pay attention to them. In Ratatouille, the critic Anton Ego says something that changed my perception of why what I do (write critical essays about literature and film) is important. Brad Bird's script reads, "In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. . . . But the bitter truth we critics must face is that, in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something . . . and that is in the discovery and defense of the new."

So. Rather than write another essay on Absalom, Absalom! (a book I deeply love, but that has been dissected to death), I would like to, for whatever it's worth, talk about things that are new. And not "serious art." That I think deserve to be taken seriously. Some of these essays might turn into conference papers or articles, but most of them probably won't. It's not easy to, for example, get an essay published on Ratatouille. And posting an anonymous blog in the abyss of the Internet is a pretty weak sauce "defense." And who am I anyway? Etc., etc., existential despair, and so on. But I am a writer who has been trained to talk about such things, and maybe it will encourage someone out there who hasn't heard of Good Hair to give it a rent. And in my next post, I'll tell you why I think you should.

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