A conversation between myself and Mr. Pineda. Pardon my ignorance on the literary establishment of Mexico. In a global culture, we should be more aware of how different nations establish their cultural norms and how this extends into their forms… (Follow Pineda here. I have always enjoyed his words and his ‘lies’ as he affectionately refers to them. http://bardofsteel.wordpress.com/)
“They are both amazing clips, but I think I enjoyed the second one better.
You see, that split between commercial fiction and the more artful, “harder” kind should still be cherished. People are still reading! I say this coming from Mexico, a place where the culture and the present generation of writers (who are really the previous generation unwilling to move on) want all aspiring writers to commit to a very hard, very difficult, extremely serious view of literature. We are not allowed to have fun and enjoy writing anymore, because god forbid you may end up writing some of that commercial garbage.
So you know what happens? Guess what? Exactly. Almost nobody wants to read, not because we lack dedicated places or because we pipe awful music, but because they (the government and the cultural leaders) wish to teach the habit of reading, but only a very particular kind that only a handful will enjoy in the first place. Figure that out.”
I’m not sure the government or the cultural leaders establish what is read. At least, not in my locale (and I live in an extremely conservative region of the American South where thankfully, the Internet also exists) I do think something strange happens to a lot of those that really pursue writing as a craft and a discipline. I think it cracks a lot of eggs. I think it creates a type of mental hardness and that quality comes through in their language as well as their craft. Sometimes it is a conscious choice made of a volition to be confrontational. Augusten Burroughs’ work comes to mind. Others, it seems an intuitive choice made by the necessity for the creation of the proper vehicle to deliver a challenging message or pose a challenging question. Wally Lamb’s work comes to mind.
I think these people do have a finger on something they may not even be conscious of while doing it. “Times they are a changing” as Dylan famously said and Socrates before him. It is interesting in the last 20 or 30 years how literature has manifested this ‘darkness’ however. The range includes the work of Vonnegut, but also the work of Cormac McCarthy and even Steven Hall.
However, our times also contain the bright strong voices of the optimistic and still-very confrontational Richard Dawkins, or the ever-observant T.C. Boyle. They deal with storytelling in a very different way (one is the attorney representing evolution, of course), but exist at the same time. We have the incredible benefit of sharing that time.
At the end of the day, however, people will decide whether or not a medium is relevant to them. People have not stopped reading. Book sales are high. E-books are simply a device to deliver the words (though I am a proponent of print first and foremost over such wasteful things as e-readers). The people are still reading, however. When did they stop?
I think it is a mistake to assume that people only read a very particular kind of material. I think we live in a day and age (unless you live somewhere where restrictions are placed on literature) of unprecedented access. There is a phenomenal range of stories told and vehicles for the delivery of those stories. You can pick your viewpoints and decide what form they take. This is one area where Orwell’s dark predictions mutated into something else entirely. It is not the limits placed on our choices that stifle us, but the galactic library of choices before us that distract us into complacency. We come back to the problem of choice.
Every generation has its observable thematic preferences. It so happens that ours seems intrigued by ‘an end’ or our relationship with ‘the end.’ Perhaps it represents the next stage in intellectual development, or even our overcoming the fear of death that has restricted our access to enlightenment since the dawn of time.
Through effort and discipline and an open mind, however, I believe in the potential of all humans to change and to decide for themselves what they like both as individuals and as a collective.
Within the discipline of writing however, there will always be a line drawn in the sand. There are those that are thrilled every day to sit down and begin their craft. There are those that will need four fingers of Scotch to brave that precipice on the edge of their typewriters and keyboards. What’s beautiful about the world of words to me, is that both exist. What’s incredible is as many approaches there are to living life in this world, there are also stories and methods of telling them. All these approaches can be ‘good’ at telling a story.
It is the people that decide what is ‘commercial.’ Stephen King is commercial. He is a production beast. He created alternate personalities to contain all the work within him. He also opened the floodgates onto our consciousness. And we responded by buying his books.
Academics that respond to book sales by dismissing the work of these successful authors, or submitting the practice of phylogeny (that works for the physiological practice of biology, but not to the organic world of art) to an unpredictable and untamed beast like creativity should be caged themselves. Often, this practice is applied by weak and bitter personalities that find success wanting despite practicing a craft they were never meant to practice in the first place. Practicing a craft every day does not make you good at it. Everyone has not only their genetic limitations, but also their environmental thresholds.
It is the ones that work hard that will be successful, in this life or the next. Whatever happens in the now, it is the work that will live on. The people will decide what they ‘like.’ Academics that think otherwise will remain in their ivory towers, alone, bickering over breadcrumbs left by greater men, fighting battles that don’t exist in the every day.
All the while, a whole world of practice and craft and internal struggle and the beautiful unfolding of love and honesty and truth is happening now, all around, everywhere. Whether they choose to participate or critique it from some self-created Ludovician’s vantage is their choice. What will be yours?