Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Splash du Jour: Tuesday

"In my last years as an editor I saw more and more stories and poems that amounted to a kind of literary MTV - they were sleek and shifting, quick and gadgety. I could have filled the pages I was editing with competent examples, by truly talented writers, of this 'tough, urban' writing, this so-called sudden fiction. Suddenly read, suddenly forgotten, but that hardly matters, as readers weaned on TV and videos we'll think we're getting the real thing, and maybe if we went and tried to read, say, Alice Munro or Keith Fraser, we'd have real trouble, would grow impatient for the payoff, the climax, the wrap-up and credits, and on to the next channel. Click."
-- Steven Heighton

Have a great Tuesday!


Merisi's Vienna For Beginners said...

By all respect for Steven Heighton's accomplishments, I cannot share his opinion about the scarcity of good readers due to MTV and the like. Those people wouldn't have read poems, and especially not Alice Munro, in the good olden times. I have no statistics, but from the number of books being sold I'd guess the number of good books being read and appreciated today is at least as high than say 50 years ago when people were sitting in front of TV and watching "I love Lucie" episodes.

cipriano said...

I have often said to myself.... how can some of these age-old authors [Hardy, Trollope, Dickens... hell, SOLZHENITSYN] have WRITTEN more stuff than I, as a modern reader, am able to READ.
I don't think that we can judge the amount of "good books" being read today according to SALES at the cash register. I sort of agree with Heighton in the sense that I believe that MOST of the books being rung through at the cash register today would have been better off left on the shelf.
The things worth reading are being either hauled off of library shelves or ORDERED at mega-bookstores!
The best literature is NOT on bestSELLER lists!
At the same time though.... I will say this, in regards to your comment. I believe that people reading ANYTHING are better off than people reading NOTHING.
But some [no... a LOT] of the people reading NOTHING should graduate, [long ago] to reading SOMETHING!

Anonymous said...

I have the Heighton with that quotation in it right here on my desk. It's from "The Electrocution of the World" in the collection The Admen Move of Lhasa and - in my limited opinion - it is brilliant and thought-provoking reading.

Throughout that collection Heighton seriously concerns himself with writing that is not authentic.
Yes, that old-fashioned word.
No tricks.

In the essay that you quoted on your blog, Cipriano, Heighton has related numerous examples of work that he calls "tough" and "gadgety" but lacking in genuine emotion.

I think any reader who has picked up such a book would know when he read it that it lacked authenticity – and surely feel cheated.

Because of Heighton’s considerable experience as both a writer and an editor, as well as my own experience of having read an occasional novel that just felt sterile to me, I guess I am sort of inclined to believe him when he worries about the lack of “real” in some of our contemporary “best sellers.”

One of my favorite quotations from the book's collection is from "A Wild Peculiar Joy." Heighton is musing on the rejection of a friend's story; he is particularly focused on the comment which the potential editor offered as justification for the rejection: the story was “too reverent.”

Heighton, as I, found that remark rather odd.

Heighton says: "Some stories surely are 'too reverent' - pious and portentous, bombastic and overwrought - but I liked the tone of my friend's story and I told him so. Still the damage had been done and for a while he could write only stories that were conventionally modern - witty, hip, quirky, and urban - streetwise...I found myself wishing that he had kept on taking risks with big emotions and grappling with great themes."

Stories that grapple with big emotions and great themes? Can't say as I disagree with that.

Much of Heighton’s subject matter in the collection seems focused on the difficulty of keeping one’s writing heart, so to say, intact when a disturbingly popular easy glibness seems in conspiracy against it. (See his essay called “Apollo VI and the Flight from Emotion”) Heighton sees our age, as do many other critics, as an increasingly fame-drenched and sound byte pre-packaged world where it is difficult for a "reverent" artist to communicate with people “to move them, arouse them, reopen dozing eyes not for the quick fix of a few moments, but in a lasting way.”

I think something like this was probably what he had in mind when he used the term “real thing.” It’s what he thinks we should be getting – demanding - from our literature as it gives us the ability to “see things through another’s eyes and to feel with another’s body and heart.”

And that’s exactly what I want too.

Your blog is consistently funny, perceptive, insightful and - well - just all kinds of reverent.

Thank you.