Showdown at The Millions
23 June 2009
Boy, they really beat me up over at The Millions following my post about the dangers of genre-and-commercial-lit consumption. As I mentioned in my June 18 post, the day “Slinging Stones…” went up on The Millions site, I was expecting some degree of push-back. But as the days went on, and the comments piled up, it got pretty ugly.
So what did I learn from this experience?
1) beware of over-simplification via broad categories and labels
2) the essay-blog form is very, very difficult, especially when a nuanced argument is required
3) if you express a strong opinion, you will get strong reactions
4) literary populism is a serious force
5) I am an out-of-touch elitist (neither proud nor ashamed)*
I also learned that the blog-and-comment format is limited, and that it’s not terribly useful to repeatedly defend one’s position.
I wondered throughout the commenting period if someone would change my mind. I felt reasonably open to having my mind changed. But that didn’t happen. I probably feel even more strongly that gorging on pulp fiction and/or defending the literary merits of bad, empty writing is not harmless; and that much of the staunch defense of mass commercial writing is rooted in, as one commenter put it, “contempt-based faux-populism.”
In fact, the emotional pitch of the strongest comments seemed less driven by passion about this book or that book, this author or that author (in fact, there was more agreement about what constitutes good writing and bad writing than disagreement); and more by a sub-textual conflict between constructed notions of elitism and populism.
I take to heart that my essayist’s skills require much improvement; and for that, I’ll take my punches. But cries of elitism are starting to sound like “wolf” to me. If I claim that Doctorow is a better writer than Koontz, Marilynne Robinson better than Stephenie Meyer, I’m supposedly an elitist. At that point, it’s probably time to agree to disagree.
And, ultimately, disagreement is good. I really believe this. Mindlessness is the real enemy, and so I am encouraged when opinions — even ones I deeply oppose — are passionately, thoroughly, and intelligently defended.
*(“elite” is a neutral-to-positive word that’s been co-opted by the hysterical right wing; as for out-of-touch, well, that’s a relative term, depending on what one determines is worth being “in touch” with)