Literature… what?

Because I fear the judgment of the literati? It is a fear that plagues all of us – the horrifying moment we run into an ex-lover carrying a copy of a tabloid newspaper or magazine: the intellectual equivalent of stained pyjama pants and askew hair.

Ahhh, yes, the fear of judgement: Used by pathetic bourgeois assholes to legitimate their narcissisms. Marieke Hardy hints at the real problem with literature in that very few people care. This is the fear of judgement of judgement. The spectre of commodified pulp haunts every judgement of ‘good writing’. Hardy quotes some bloke:

As he writes on his blog, so beautifully: “Words are your birthright. Unlike music, painting, dance and raffia work, you don’t have to be taught any part of language or buy any equipment to use it. Don’t be afraid of it, don’t believe it belongs to anyone else, don’t let anyone bully you into believing that there are rules and secrets of grammar and verbal deployment that you are not privy to. Don’t be humiliated by dinosaurs into thinking yourself inferior because you can’t spell broccoli or moccasins. Just let the words fly from your lips and your pen.”

You don’t have to be taught any part of language? Bullshit. Buy any equipment to use it? Nice tweet, bourgie peanut. So it may have a ‘beautiful’ liberal humanist sentiment, if you believe such crap, but the writing is cliched derivative shit that has been said many times by every single boosterist of so-called ‘new media’. Here is my version: Don’t just write something. Because ‘just write something’ is the literary equivalent of the fucking Nike slogan.
Instead, Hardy should have been critical, or at least a realist, and call it how it is. Most writing on the internet is deplorable. All it allows you to do is follow your own interests as a reader. Therefore, it is not the beauty that can be expressed through writing that should be championed (ala that unintentionally neo-Kantian peanut she quoted), but the accessibility (of whatever) that is liberating. Hence, the contradiction. Hardy wants to democratise the judgemental conservative impulse of literature, but she valorises the medium of mediocrity instead.

Epic fail.

/angry blog

11 thoughts on “Literature… what?”

  1. A) It was Stephen Fry, not some guy. He has a formidable intellect. I don’t know you, but I’d be surprised if you could truly compete. He is also intelligent enough to be comfortable with modesty.

    B) His point is that we should relax and not worry about narcissist critics such as yourself. I completely agree with him. To me, your disagreement comes across as a cry for attention, or a plea for recognition of your own perceived talent with words. Self-justification.

    C) Your use of the word ‘bourgeois’ as an insult is amusing at best – I mean, you don’t exactly express yourself like Joe Everyday working down at the local garage. You seem to have completed a higher research degree. Kind of bourgeois, wouldn’t you say? What are you trying to do by using ‘bourgeois’ as an insult? Identify with a grassroots working class culture that you’ve spent your life trying to rise above? Isn’t that a bit transparent?

  2. Hi Jeremy, I respect and acknowledge your contribution to my blog.

    A) Yeah, no, ‘Stephen Fry’. Don’t care. He may be an intellectual giant. Awesome. He is a funny bugger though.

    B) My anger with what he wrote is less to do with a tortured expression of my own narcissism (it is somewhat narcissitic; it is a blog), but because I have a weird relationship to language as I have a stutter and every day I find new, tiring and often frustrating ways to express what I am trying to communicate in words that are often second or third choice. Being programmed for the capacity for language is not the same thing as being programmed for language. He may be an intellectual giant but his argument is wrong on this point.

    C) Bourgie, not bourgeois. You probably don’t have to be an intellectual giant to search my blog for ‘bourgie’. Such a search will explain things better than I can writing this before heading to work. Yeah, I have a PhD.

    Hi Sally, I respect and acknowledge your contribution to my blog.

    Twittering was a good example of a communications technology that enables bourgie mode of communication, ie finding all the loose moments in one’s day to be gathered up into a twitter stream.

    There is a possible alternative not raised in my first post being an entrepreneurial mode of expression that enables a narrow form of human relation as a substitute for more substantial relations; like just-in-time logistics, twittering is just-thick-enough relations.

    Maybe I wasn’t clear in my first post, but I was hoping readers would infer that I implied that language is a technology. The capacity for language may be innate, that does not mean anyone knows how to use it. Hence, Stephen Fry’s argument is wrong on this point.

    My overall point had nothing to do with Stephen Fry, or maybe it does, not sure. We should be encouraging people to live lives worthy of expression, not trying to force expression to be a vehicle for what ever mundane crap people want to talk about. The internet does not help people use language in a more creative or effective manner, it allows them to access with greater ease the writing of people who do use language in a more creative and effective manner. Democratising access to others’ works under the guise of democratising expression itself is a cheap and harmless (ie liberal humanist) way of improving the world.

  3. Yeah, I can see what you are saying. Sorry – I am such a narcisstic critic.

    I like Stephen Fry quite a bit, so I guess I felt you underrated him. I also think you miss the main point of his comment, which to my mind is an attack on the ‘inner critic’, if you will. I think this is valid. Clearly though, he is demonstrably wrong about not needing to be taught language. To me however, this does not invalidate the thrust of his argument.

    Also, you explicitly used the word bourgeois, i.e. “pathetic bourgeois assholes “. So my point still stands on that count.

    This, however, I like: “encouraging people to live lives worthy of expression”. Yes.

    I guess I see so many people scared stiff of social judgement, to the point that they internalise their fear. I feel that it is this fear that Stephen Fry was gently urging us to overcome. It is possible that I am reading too much into it.

  4. “Used by pathetic bourgeois assholes to legitimate their narcissisms.”

    Oh this line!

    Judgement of judgement, let me explain.

    I critique the concept of Kantian judgement (smuggled into Bourdieu’s work on taste through the concept of ‘recognition’) in my dissertation. The very basic version of the argument is that saying that something else is important, in part, makes one feel worthy (narcissisms) if that judgement of the something else is agreed with by a second person (ie it is social, perhaps inculcated as discourse, etc). There is a vertical hierarchy here that Bourdieu is very apt at exploring and critiquing, there is also a horizontal distribution of various hierarchies depending on one’s own subcultural practices of valorisation, locality, etc.

    Bourdieu calls this ‘recognition’, like you ‘recognise’ worth, as if there was some quality out there to be perceived by the subject and, according to Bourdieu, reflected upon (if bourgeois) or interacted with in an immediate way (if of the lower classes). However, ‘recognition’ only allows a very small slice of whatever to be perceived according to valorizing discourses. Recognition is a practice, a process, an event — of perception, action, affective comportment, etc.

    Each value hierarchy therefore has a ‘visibility’ (ala Deleuze’s Foucault) that is practised as ‘recognition’. Those authorised to speak within a given discourse have assumed the dominant visibility and make statements congruent with the dominant value hierarchies about things that others are compelled to recognise.

    I am refusing the whole bloody system!! But I am very good at it, hence my current job as a magazine writer. FAIL!

    rob, isn’t that what US grad students say to each when vigorously debating something of infinite consequence? 🙂

  5. I see. I guess the apparent hypocrisy in your refusal of the system you seem to otherwise embrace for practical purposes was kind of my point. It doesn’t amount to much of a refusal… more of a confessional, perhaps.

    I am reasonably familiar with Bourdieu, though honestly I prefer him at his moments of rhetorical bombast (i.e. Weight of the World etc). So with reference to his work, I suppose the underlying message of my critique is that what you are doing in this post is applying your own brand of taste distinction. Bourdieu would probably relate this back to a bid for cultural (and consequent symbolic) power, which was essentially the accusation I was levelling.

    Ha! Take that.

    Now who has the symbolic power, biatch?


  6. nah, it is more of an alienation from my own intellect. I am using about 30% of my capacity in this job, which is unfortunate. (ab)using a system can be a refusal! yeah? this sort of refusal just isn’t as obvious as a naive ‘no’. It is like saying ‘yes, but here is a better way, that will achieve your goals (and allow me to achieve mine).’

    If you separate Bourdieu’s critique of Kant’s aesthetic judgement from his argument regarding class, then every distinction can be a taste judgement and Bourdieu’s argument is next to useless. Therefore reading my distinction above without taking into account whether or not I am conforming to specific class-based hierarchies is problematic.

    In Accounting for Tastes, Frow and Bennett asked people what car they wanted (as an indicator in the class taste thing) and only 2.somthing percent of people said a hot rod or modified car. Enthusiast car culture of the type I write about and my PhD investigated has traditionally been a working class or lower-middle class pursuit. Do I have bourgeois tendencies running through my subjectivity due to my (over-)education, like veins in a marbled steak? Of course. I get on very well with the blokes in my office now compared to most people I have met through university. Where can there be a refusal here, in the sense I think you may mean ‘refuse’, if I am already across different cultural milieus structurated by class?

    I meant I refused the mechanism of ‘recognition’ itself. Distinction comes after recognition. Recognition is the sorting mechanism, the way value is distributed at the taking up of prehension. If I wanted symbolic power then I would play the game. I opted out of one game (casualised academia) and opted into another (creative industries). There are many ways that one is almost forced to play a game. Like the way people talk about certain universities have value over others. This makes me laugh, especially when I read some of the work from ‘good’ universities, particularly ‘good’ universities from the US. Can you see how there is a pan-institutional institutionalised stupidity inculcated in these ‘judgements’?

    In case you missed it, I don’t disagree with Fry’s main point at all. I disagree with the way it is used to possibly justify shit on the internet.

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