Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Enough to be angry about

This review of a recent poetry collection makes a really interesting point: There's just not enough anger in today's writing. Not enough outrage. And with the state of, well of almost everything, the economy, the environment, our families, our streets - the greed, the corruption, the values (or lack of same) - there is so much to be angry about. If the arts are any indication, we are in a blithe period; polite in our art and criticism, form trumping content, attention-grabbing foolishness (Lady Gaga) masquerading as originality, escapist-fantasy eclipsing discourse. I know it's been said before and better (Neil Postman's seminal Amusing Ourselves To Death). But it might be that the reaction to Yann Martel's latest novel, is also in part, a reaction to an author who dares to be 'serious' and who believes that art/literature should be taken seriously in an unserious ironic age, to the point of being 'offended' by such a position. Clearly, the 'offense' expressed by some reviewers was entirely misplaced and overstated, curiously so. Misplaced outrage in a review says more about how culturally misguided we are than reflect on the quality of the work in question. It may bespeak the forlorn state of book reviewing at the moment but also show how inured we have become to outrage as an important motivating emotion in the art we create and experience. Where anger and outrage still find purchase in our culture seems to be with essayists/media commentarists, some witty, articulate and intelligent, (Christopher Hitchens) and others downright insulting and obnoxious (Rush Limbaugh), especially (and maybe only) when it entertains (John Stewart). It's hard to imagine a novel published today that will outrage, say the way, Tropic of Cancer did. Or a painting the way Guernica did? Or a song the way the Sex Pistols' God Save the Queen did: Works so powerful and truthful as to become influential.

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