Brad Curran's angry anti-indy-fans rant over at Comics Should Be Good struck a chord with me in regards to my troubles with school this semester, but I don't want to come off like I'm either starting a cross-blog argument with Brad or heralding his views, because I'm not. If I'm responding to him at all, I'm doing it tangentially, as his post reminded me of something I've been wrestling with the past few weeks.
I fucking hate T.S. Eliot.
A few semesters ago, a writing professor nagged at me to hand in an essay that I hadn't written. I hadn't written it because I didn't like it. The assignment was to write a manifesto about poetry, and I don't like manifestos about poetry or literature or any other creative medium. I've been exposed to phone books full of such arguments by various writers since returning to school, and the result is usually a drop in respect, on my part, for the writers in question. Each writer has his or her way of writing, and in their diatribes they always do the same thing: each writer reviews how he or she writes, describes how he or she writes, and heralds the idea that everyone should write that way. Since I have a nagging suspicion that at least at this point in history, most professional creative writers would value the idea that people write differently from them, if for no other reason than the fact that it renders that individual writer's work unique; I suspect that this act of writing manifestos on art, poetry, literature, whatever, has become more of a rite of passage than anything else. In other words, if Bartleby Shitfarm becomes a well-respected author, he figures he has to write a manifesto because Matthew Arnold did it and Oscar Wilde did it and T.S. Eliot did it and Mr. Shitfarm's place among the canon will somehow falter if he doesn't do it, too.
But it was close to the end of the semester, and I had to fill the gap in my grades. So, I did what I usually try to do when I have absolutely no idea what to write for an undesirable assignment: I turned to comic books. I wrote an essay called "Nobody Likes A Smart Ass." I talked about The Riddler. I said The Riddler was a lame super-villain because he didn't commit crimes for money, for power, or even out of pure psychosis. He commits crimes to prove he's smarter than everyone else.
And that last sentence should, for those who have read T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land, give a hint as to where I'm going with this.
As a writer who constantly struggles to convey sometimes complex subjects, ideas, arguments, etc., in ways that, hopefully, anyone could understand, I have to question the motivation of writers and other artists who create things with the goal to confuse.
My edition of The Waste Land is close to 300 pages long. The poem itself, accompanied by extensive footnotes which sometimes take up over half the page, is 21 pages long. The 40 pages directly following the poem are filled with Eliot's own notes to individual lines of the poem and, mostly; with excerpts from the 19 poems, songs, novels, plays, religious texts, and academic texts directly alluded to in The Waste Land, each of whose overt and covert significances must be understood in order to unravel the enigma that is The Waste Land.
What kind of runny piece of shit writes a poem you need footnotes for; not only 80-plus years after the fact, but the fucking day it's fucking published?
I realize that there is worth to texts whose meanings are not obvious, and that there is worth to the learning that must take place in order to find the meaning. But, as a writer, I have a very specific opinion on this subject. If you create something that has some kind of covert message that you hope the readers and the critics will figure out on their own, fine. But if you create something that can ONLY be appreciated if that covert meaning is extracted, you're just being a smart-ass.
For example, when I first watched Dr. Strangelove, I didn't really get a lot of the statements Kubrick was making about the connections between sex and violence (though on my second viewing, I was surprised because they were kind of glaring). But, I still loved the film. I was still able to appreciate it purely as a war satire. And I might add that my enjoyment of the film on that level is exactly what inspired me to look deeper into the images Kubrick was giving me. Likewise, bringing the conversation back to the comic book world, I'd be a lying bastard if I claimed that I absorbed all or even most (or maybe even any) of the subjects Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons were exploring with Watchmen the first time I read it, but I was still able to appreciate and enjoy it simply as an alternative history/super-hero conspiracy thriller. And, on a bit of a tangent, it was the first comic book I ever read in which prose was used to accompany the sequential art, I loved it, and still wish it was something I saw more. The only other examples I can think of off the top of my head are Fantastic Four: Unstable Molecules and Harlan Ellison's Dream Corridor.
Back on topic, with something like The Waste Land, there's nothing else to appreciate. You either get it, or you slave through a library's worth of literary allusions in order to get it. And if you don't make me at least enjoy, on any level, what you're creating without that grand message, I'm not going to be interested enough to go any further (unless, of course, my GPA is on the line).
Tomorrow, I'm going to regretfully tell my professor that I will accept any deserved grade reduction he gives me for turning in my paper next Monday instead of tomorrow. I HATE this poem. I HATE T.S. Eliot's approach to writing, and I haven't been able to get over my hatred enough to write a 4-5 page paper on it. Believe me, I'm usually a-okay at this literary stuff, even if it's literature I don't particularly like. But you can't give me a rubics cube and expect me to be enthralled. If I wanted riddles I had to unravel, I'd dig out my old Infocom text adventure games (and I always needed the hint books for those things anyway).
P.S. The fact that I've been blogging more probably has something to do with my enduring hatred for The Waste Land, since it's helped me feel productive while avoiding the paper I have to write on this useless, canonical piece of ape-shit.