Monday, December 04, 2006

My musings on fiction and pleasure have produced valuable responses from Eric Selinger and Mark Scroggins, as well as a tip fromo Ray Davis to check out an old essay of his which reframes the debate in terms of science fiction. I'm grateful for all of these interventions, though I feel closest to what Mark has to say in a passage that Eric rejects:
The deus ex machina here is to invoke a political or (which often boils down to the same thing) moral argument: that anti-absorptive work is somehow bbetter for you, or that it somehow works to change the world (not immediately, not directly, not vulgar-Marxistly) by altering the way you or your readers conceive the world.

In my bones I believe that these arguments are more or less right, tho I have yet to see them stated in a way that I find more than temporarily convincing.
For Eric, all pleasure is equally valid and anyone who says otherwise is deluded or a snob. Whatever my moral/psycho-sexual/pathological choices of metaphor, I too tend to look at pleasure as an absolute good—or it would be more accurate to say that I'm extremely suspicious of those who would regulate or prescribe pleasures. But I have no problem being a sort of carnival barker for the pleasures undreamt of by those who've never been properly exposed to more sophisticated pleasures than the McRib of middlebrow fiction and poetry. Come see the Bearded Lady of L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E! Thrill to the feats of daring of the New York School! This, ladies and gentlemen, is a Dark Ride!

Eric is absolutely correct when he says, "Don't think that reading immersive fiction is 'passive'; it only feels that way because the skills it takes come so easily to you, have been so naturalized, that you no longer notice you're deploying them!" But doesn't that suggest an argument based on education: that the anti-absorptive requires the development of a new skill set, one that develops one's critical capacity because it at least potentially resists being so "naturalized"? And wouldn't that be a change in the world, if more people were capable of registering the Other in others and the Other in themselves through cultivating texts that resist "naturalization"? The opposite of the impulse to repeat, "That's just the way it is"? (Cue Bruce Hornsby.) It's certainly changed my world. It feels like an ethical opportunity if not an ethical imperative: a chance to enlarge and develop one's moral senses.

More later if the mood strikes.

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