I was born to hustle roses down the avenues of the dead. Charles Bukowski, "Consummation of Grief"
A friend of mine sent an article to me today [months ago now], requesting my feedback. He will be getting a link to this blogpost in reciprocation, and I should mention—for his benefit, primarily—that I take his solicitation of my opinion as a sort of backward compliment. It's not my input he wanted, you see. Not in the least. Rather, I suspect I stand accused of cultural snobbishness. I am supposed to see something of myself in Jonathan Jones, the maligned Guardian writer this piece from the Paris Review takes to task for delighting in the ebullient flexing of his own literary sphincter, employed in an attempt to filter out the noise of "middlebrow" culture misconstrued as genius.
I have not read the offending Jones piece, nor do I care to (this should strike you as "ironic" in a short while and, hopefully, in the spirit of the current fracas). My comments will focus only on the meta-commentary that my friend lobbed like a grenade into my inbox today. In it, Dan Piepenbring mourns Jones's hit piece on Terry Pratchett, in which the latter op-ed scribe bemoans the exaltation of Pratchett as a "literary genius". I've never read Discworld myself, Pratchett's famous and popular science fiction series; neither has Jones, which, Piepenbring says, makes Jones's a purely rhetorical, rather than reasoned, screed. Piepenbring illustrates the phenomenon with this incisive diagnosis of the exhibited cultural malady:
Granted, there’s nothing quiet about Jones’s not-reading. Not all of us, thankfully, have the gall to write a piece blasting our favorite not-reads, but all of us harbor, somewhere, a list of those toward which we feel an inexplicable animus. At the top of my list, ironically enough, is Charles Bukowski, who Jones singles out as “a voice from hell with the talent of an angel.” I have for many years now actively enjoyed not reading Charles Bukowski. I want to say with conviction that Bukowski is not so much a voice from hell as a voice from Hell-Lite™, a kind of flimsy, adolescent imitation of true misanthropy—but I have no evidence to furnish in my case against him. How could I? I’ve never read him. All I know is that I’ve listened to a tepid Modest Mouse song about him; I have spoken to a stranger at a bar who told me she’d “snort his words off the page,” if she could; and I’ve sneered at the cover of Ham on Rye in a Park Slope Barnes and Noble. If you asked me to mount a cogent defense of my antipathy, I’d have to say something pretentious like “I find his role in the culture banal.”
Leaving aside the fact that Piepenbring is undoubtedly right, and wrong, about Charles Bukowski, his comments are spot on, and hardly limited to literature. In the spirit of openness, therefore, here is a short list of selected popular media I will (probably) not consume, for my own irrational and elitist reasons.
- Neil Gaiman
- David Foster Wallace
- Disclosure: I think I may have read "Consider the Lobster", and liked it.
- The Harry Potter series of books
- Ernest Hemingway (DGAF)
- Disclosure: I read "Hills Like White Elephants" and enjoyed it also.
- Mad Men
- Jacques Lacan (I'm pretty sure about this one)
- Jonathan Franzen
- Marvel Universe
- Selected Joss Whedon (minus Firefly)
- Jack Kerouac
- Disclosure: I've read 60 pages of On the Road and 60 pages of Dharma Bums. Not impressed.
- Parks and Recreation
- Bruno Latour
This is not an exhaustive list, and I reserve the right to go back on my word at any time. Notably, I've also kept off those atrocities I have imbibed yet which, despite their being atrocities — or simply not nearly as good as everyone says, e.g., Inception—people seem to regard as watershed achievements of human culture. I'm a little surprised I can't do better than this, to be honest, considering all the shit I get for being a dismissive naysayer.
Life, alas, is too short not to filter mercilessly and pre-emptively. At least, that's one way to rationalize one's own insularity.