If, however, I …


If, however, I did fear, deep inside, that my inability to appreciate any celebrated book betrayed my complete intellectual and aesthetic inadequacy, I would probably be pretty angry. (1)

So this is a quote from a Salon article that I really intended to dissect (and who knows, perhaps somewhere I will).

Basically, the author comes to the conclusion that the only reason people write passionately negative reviews of books only do so because they couldn’t understand the words or just don’t trust their literary judgement. In fact, the subtitle reads “What readers who take offense at unfamiliar words and challenging books are telling us about our culture.” In other words, we are a culture of mainstream, listen-to-the-lowest-common-denominator and can we please stop listening to stupid people who don’t agree with us now?

First, I agree that the lowest common denominator is not likely to have the best quality work—because that’s really what it’s for, is marketing. 

Second, as a passionate reader who quite frequently loathes books even when the literary world loves them, I disagree most vehemently. 

Corollary: I absolutely do not distrust my literary tastes, and quite frequently literary people write stupid books. Terribly books.

But I am a passionate reader, and because I am, I like to share my opinions. Frequently I do so on the internet. Even more frequently, as anyone I know will tell you, I’ll share it in person. When a book offends me, from style, character or theme, I will tell people. Even in writing, where the poor dear author might see it and get his or her feelings hurt. Quite honestly, I don’t care.

Well, I would, should some author ever actually read one of my reviews and find them hurtful, I would empathize with that pain. I wouldn’t remove the review. I wouldn’t edit the review. It doesn’t feel like truth to me to do so. I do my best to make sure I am comfortable with absolutely everything I put online, ever. Some of it is horribly embarrassing and makes me blush to think of it. It’s still there (no links, though). It’s nothing to ruin my life. It’s truthful to who I was and what I wanted to say at the time. 

Now that I’ve completed NaNoWriMo some three times, I can tell you, all of those are awful. Shame on me for actually letting my friends read the first one, but that’s mostly because a rough draft written in such short time with no experience whatsoever might just be actively harmful to the world.(2)

So I would feel badly for an author who was too invested in their book to understand that people have different opinions and this is a fact and not even a right, but that’s just because I am also a human being with a functional empathy brain lobe. Once upon a time, criticism was understood to be a thing that happened. You could rail against it or fight back or ignore it, but you realized it would happen. Now, for all the hand-wringing over the youngest generations being too fragile to face the world after decades of gold stars and self-esteem babble, it seems like the notion has been swallowed wholeheartedly by the the literary community. And the genre community.

You know what happens when other professionals throw fits over mean reviews online? People laugh at them on the internet too. And television. And around the water cooler. 

Dear author, you sold your book. You made money. You are now a professional. Please try to grow a backbone.



(1) Is the literary world elitist?

(2) My friends are also strong-minded people, and do not appear to be damaged.

Everything Sounds Better In Classical

My brother linked me to his Pandora station started from The Piano Guys, and it turns out there’s an entire genre of pop translated to music!

What can I say, I’m a snob.

I like pop as much as the next person, perhaps even more as so many people are convinced they’re too sophisticated for anything suitable for general consumption. As much as I may complain about the low standards of popular culture, or just people in general, I don’t actually object to the so-called low genres.

Actually, I’m not sure anyone actually uses the phrase “low genres”, but I’ve decided it suits my needs.

Genre Model - Interacting Elements

Genre Model – Interacting Elements (Photo credit: Derek Mueller)

Many people object to the idea of anything produced for the middle class: traditionally the largest and greatest commercial drive in the United States. With our Western idealization of the individual, even at the expense of community or society, anything aimed at the largest possible audience can’t be something to use to craft an identity. It’s a terrible sad development in our culture and I’ve already blogged of what comes from that.

But the elite especially despise the middle class: just read any “literary” novel. A great many are written by MFAs who (as far as I can tell) despise the middle class for taking up resources that they, as the battalions of culture, don’t receive.

I’ve got a whole ‘nother post in me about all the reasons I think that devoting those resources to the arts would be a bad idea, as radical as it seems.

Right now, however, I want to clarify that I don’t particularly consider myself better than anyone because of my taste in music. The reasons why anyone likes any kind of music and not another are far beyond my comprehension and aren’t related to intelligence, mental health, or virtue in any way outside of popular perception.  I’ve been reading Snoop, and in a recent chapter, Gosling reference a study saying that music is one of the primary topics people use to get to know each other.

That doesn’t mean it describes anything specific about you, but it can, and I think that has more to do which which music you enjoy, rather than the genre, and how people think of genres: like country music (is it really that bad? I just don’t hear the problem myself). So no need to judge me for being a snob (because I like the instrumental version better) or for being too low brow (because God forbid real musicians from even thinking about those dirty commoners).

Is there such a sad figure anywhere as the elitist confronted with reality?


Sacred Profanity

All religions have a sacred place. But a sacred place isn’t necessarily a religious or spiritual place. Sacred is not incompatible with secular concepts. Many consider Jerusalem to be a sacred place. Others find sites like Gettysburg, or even Yellowstone National Park, sacred.

In Buddha or Bust, Perry Garfinkel relates the story of his travels to Bodh Gaya, one of the most sacred sites in Buddhism. It is where, one could very simplistically say—and I will—the Buddha became the Buddha. Siddhartha Guatama struggled with his spirituality, first trying to attain it through deprivation, nearly starving himself. When he realized that he was none the happier for it, he changed tactics. After recovering, he decided to meditate: “he simply notes [his thoughts] without judgment as the focus of this minute attention rises and then, inevitably, fades away.” Kind of a “don’t sweat the small stuff” realization.

After he realizes this, he finds a nice tree and sits under a tree, vowing not to leave until enlightenment. Under the tree, he confronts M­āra, in the Vedic mythology, a god of love…thought the name means death. M­āra tempts him, with the traditional temptations of power, lust and fear. Siddhartha calls upon the earth to testify—which it does. This is not the end of his journey though. To become the Buddha, he continues with his meditation and gains knowledge of his past lives, the “superhuman divine eye” and the Four Noble Truths,” pillars on which he builds the dharma. And then he hangs out at the tree for another several weeks—understandably a bit overwhelmed. The area is known as the Vajrasana.

I didn’t mean to talk quite so much about Buddhist history. But without knowing the history, it’s hard to determine why people consider a site sacred. Especially one from another tradition. But knowing that history, it is clear why Buddhists see Bodh Gaya as such a sacred place.

Like most sacred sites today, though, Bodh Gaya has caught the attention of Tourists. And the place has been overrun. Not just by the tourists, but by those taking advantage of the tourists. As Garfinkel puts it, it’s more of a “spiritual three-ring circus” than simply a spiritual epicenter. There is simply no way, as he discovered, to recreate the Buddha’s experience. And ironically, the attention may have begun to harm the sacred site: the Bodhi Tree had been infested by the mealybug—possibly relating to the activities of the devout.

Garfinkel does not actually say that he sees Bodh Gaya’s “three-ring circus” as a bad thing. When writing of the plans the Indian tourism department has for bypass roads, Garfinkel points out that “Bodh Gaya will have less traffic, less noise and less air pollution—and less character—than when…I was there.” Generally, for the US and journalists, character is considered a virtue. He also points out that people look for distractions from Enlightenment. That’s why the Buddha is so revered. If it was easy, anyone could do it.

Garfinkel calls it “the sense of peace that nonetheless manages to transcend even the chaos here.”

All the while Garfinkel discusses his visit with the tour, he points out how superior he feels to the others with him. He knows how to ignore the beggars, and to rise above the surrounding poverty. He isn’t naïve like that poor rich woman from, and is perfectly aware of social injustices as a fact of life—even when she cannot. Then, when he is in the Mahakala caves, he finds himself confessing to one instance in which he was particularly obnoxious to another traveler. He confesses, and then realizes that he can let the incident go. He doesn’t have to feel guilty, or even superior, any longer.

But in the caves, he’s already pointed out, it still feels to him as though they must be the same as 2,500 years ago. But in letting go of that instance, he also let go of his own expectations. “Bodh Gaya is no place for intellectual nitpicking.”

Because Bodh Gaya wouldn’t be a tourist destination if no one believed in the Buddha and his teachings. People come to the site to connect with their history…or at least the history of their beliefs. They find their own meaning there, not dependant on the outside conditions. If Buddha found his enlightenment there, then not everyone else needs to. He went to teach others his principles so that they could find enlightenment in their own place.

Bodh Gaya is sacred because the believers make it so. That doesn’t mean it isn’t important. Little plastic Buddhas? Well people only like marble because it’s expensive. Let’s not be elitist.

*Another post from my class blog.  I’m not as happy with this one, but not quite ready to edit it. I need to think some more about it.  I’d appreciate feedback though.