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11/02/2009

Comments

Jacob Russell

How is it possible to hold a thought or belief one doesn't want? What does 'want' mean here? That it exposes repressed or unacknowledged desires that one in fact does hold? What is the 'self' here that is doing the wanting, and how distinguish that from the 'self' that holds these unpleasent thoughts? As for challenging a reader's psychological comfort zone vis a vis their ideas about reality--isn't that precisely the experience they seek when they read Stephen King? Vampire novels? Ghost stories? It would seem that the experience of having one's core illusions tweaked is both mildly titilating and comforting--confirming how easily the holes in the painted curtain are patched over.

On the other hand--if the tea baggers are any evidence--the most common reaction to a real challenge of core illusions would seem to be outrage and absolute denial. Now there's a thought... is there something about fiction (not the scary parts, not those powerfully evocative scenes), that alters our very way of percepting reality--at a level more subtle and difficult to identify?

After all, the aesthetic experience is not something altogether removed from the way we perceive reality outside the book, but is woven into the tapistry of our being in the world, a world-reality we are constantly adjusting and re-creating. Maybe not what Marie Darrieussecq was getting at, but enough there to suggest, mutatis mutandis, ways these thoughts might be worth closer examination.

Jim H.

Jacob: Google "negative capability"

A person of my acquaintance would not let her kids read the Harry Potter series or see the movies because some fundamentalist pastor had told her that it was through witchcraft and the occult that Satan entered their minds and possessed their souls. Of course, you have to believe in something called a 'soul' and that it can be supplanted or taken over or possessed by something that it 'not you' to even begin to credit such nonsense. Still, it is a model for the psyches of people who do not wish to hold a thought they do not want—they fear losing themselves in a very "real" sort of way (however delusional & pre-modern).

Religious beliefs are certainties which, if challenged, threaten to erode the very identity of the believer. Readers don't necessarily have to be religious to have this sort of psychological insecurity. There are stages and degrees of mental illness—high functioning illnesses at that—in which it is quite easy to 'lose one's mind'. One thinks, here, of "Glass Menagerie" and other tidy, little, frangible worlds.

I am not unsympathetic to the type, but I prefer Dan's robust call to the fullness of aesthetic experience. That's why I read.

Best,
Jim H.

Jacob Russell

Jim,

Granted what you say about both those with formulated irrational beliefs and those who hold to, shall we say, sub-rational, unexamined and unconscious ways of dealing with reality, but beyond that, there is an aesthetic element in how even quite healthy and intellectually mature persons experience the world... it would not be a 'world' but for that. Nothing pathological here. Art, among other things, raises awareness of the aesthetics of perception--is, in a sense, constructed out of them. In that way, it's not unreasonable to think that fiction might indeed have the power to affect, change and alter how we perceive and engage with reality. My point being, that aesthetic experience is broader and more inclusive than the works of art that raise them to fuller consciousness and enable us to speak, think and write about them.

Jim H.

Jacob,

"it's not unreasonable to think that fiction might indeed have the power to affect, change and alter how we perceive and engage with reality."

Absolutely no disagreement there. And that's what's so scary to people who lived tightly-controlled, -modulated, -sheltered emotional lives. Conventional types ("Well he gets up in the morning...") for whom change is bad, even tho' it never stops happening really. Horror and conspiracy and the other genre types are safe qua stories because we know how they're supposed to work, and if they stray from the usual patterns it's only enough to question the genre, not the world-view it represents.

Best,
Jim H.

CM

I'm not sure why it would seem strange, unbelievable, or exaggerated that a human might try to avoid or mitigate pain, which is exactly what a reader is doing when they employ cautious reading strategies. This post approaches the issue from a very intellectual standpoint, talking about our understood experience of the text, but the impact of books (and films and what have you) lodges immediately and permanently in a deeply unconscious place, which the intellect doesn't touch, though it can talk around it. In other words, once you have wept bitterly over Jude the Obscure or Old Yeller, in some way that experience of sorrow and loss takes up permanent residence in a part of the brain, and that's nothing to be taken lightly. Neuroscience is even teaching us that the brain memorizes and uses painful experiences in ways that can be particularly pernicious (and no amount of saying 'this is artifice' impacts the intensity of that initial encounter with the material which reads as experience, because theses are two different processes occurring in different parts of the brain, at two different times apparently). In life, when we know we will encounter sorrow and suffering, we look to others to support us, we try to avoid it, or, at least, we try to steel ourselves for the inevitable. Ironically, while avoidant, these strategies actually honor the full intensity of emotional experience, which can be overwhelming. I have to say, this post actually feels slightly resistant to the full intensity of emotional experience by simply not acknowledging why an individual might naturally seek to mitigate it.
Also, I have to disagree about the primacy of aesthetics; reading is not simply as aesthetic experience, but a mode of communication in which ideas and information are transferred. The transference of information doesn't only take place clumsily in bad novels, but in all novels. To use Jude again, the ideas communicated both by Jude as a character and by the narrative voice, harshly challenged accepted notions of class in England at the time of publication (and also led to feelings of emotional pain on the part of readers, and still do) and, not surprisingly, the public and critical reaction was pretty hellish. Talk about avoidance strategies.
Also, Jacob, I don't think it's merely folks who live tightly controlled lives who feel threatened when ideas press against the boundaries of their belief system. I'd even go so far as to say this psychological insecurity might be damn near universal, seeing as ideas and beliefs comprise so much of what most people consider the self, and the construction of a self (shaky though it may be) is an attempt to keep the chaos of everything at bay.
Anyway, longtime reader, never posted. Love this site.

CB

CM, lovely coment.

I too am a lover of this site, and was very surprised by the content of this post. It esp. surprises me because I think so much of the point of experimental fiction is to challenge a reader´s expectations and understanding of the world. This experience can be very pleasurable and beautiful but it can also be painful. I concede that literature is (or ought to be) predominantly an aesthetic experience, but I think the aesthetic aspect of the text can shock our conceptions of the world as much if not more so than any secondary information a text may impart.

Dan Green

CB: See my next post.

Jacob Russell

Jim: "Jacob, I don't think it's merely folks who live tightly controlled lives who feel threatened when ideas press against the boundaries of their belief system. I'd even go so far as to say this psychological insecurity might be damn near universal, seeing as ideas and beliefs comprise so much of what most people consider the self, and the construction of a self (shaky though it may be) is an attempt to keep the chaos of everything at bay." I think that was what I said--with the added point that this is precisely because the aesthetic experience is not confined to works of art--but is central to our engagement with reality, hence, power of art to create anxiety at the deepest levels.

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