Aphorism of the day: Controvert the content, not the convention.
Ruby got up at 5AM this morning – little bugger.
So, because my powers of concentration left something to be desired, I decided to go through a bunch of stuff I cut from Disciple of the Dog and see if I couldn’t shoehorn it into Light, Time, and Gravity – the CanLit piece I’ve been sitting on for a couple of years now.
That got me thinking about Literature and conventionality. A few days back I caught Sheila Rogers on the CBC talking about Miguel Syjuco’s debut, Illustrado, and going on about how its so daring and “unconventional,” something which made me scratch my head, because the book is about as po-mo conventional as can be. It reminded me of something that I’ve thought for quite some time: a book can only be ’experimental’ or ‘challenging’ relative to a certain kind of reader with certain kind of expectations, and that when the literati crow about these things they are generally talking about readers who would never be caught dead reading the book they happen to be touting.
Let’s call this reader the Ideal Philistine. The ideal philistine is the phony reader that the literati like to trot out to flatter and prioritize their conventions and expectations at the expense of the general reading public – to make themselves special. The problem, of course, is that the actual readers of these books, far from being challenged, generally find their values and attitudes mirrored and confirmed. What these jokers call ‘literature,’ in other words, is nothing more than another parochial form of apologetic entertainment – the very thing they pretend to scorn.
Which is why real people don’t get angry at their books any more. Commercial genre, where conventionality is honestly embraced as a means of connecting to readers, is the royal road for the delivery of challenging content. “Experimentalism” has degenerated into a self-aggrandizing dodge, a way to conceal a conventionality every bit as narrow, tendentious, and worn out as anything in genre fiction. The difference is that genre writers and readers don’t pretend otherwise.
Literature is dead. It has been for quite some time.