The question of high art (superficially)

Via Jezebel, I saw an interview in the WSJ with Twilight screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg, who can’t help but take to heart the violent critical response to the sparkly vampire films, so different from the critical adulation heaped upon the Dexter series, for which she was a head writer and producer. She has a great attitude about the criticism, but she also makes no bones about the fact that it stings.

I point once again to the great paraphrase from the AV Club interview with John Hawkes: “They say an artist is part angel and part prostitute.” I guess the balance must tip depending upon how you feel about a particular project.

In the article, Rosenberg says that Twilight isn’t high art, nor is it trying to be, but who aspires to write crap? I don’t think she does. I think we are all looking for projects that are fulfilling in some way, and if we pour our whole selves into something and it is immediately dismissed, it’s devastating. In response to this phenomenon, Rosenberg suggests the remedy of delusional optimism, aka resilience, which she says is necessary to success.

One thing I dread and fear in my own work is that I pour my whole self into it and it STILL turns out slight and surface-skimming and superficial. Because what does that in turn say about my deepest self? But: this is just the bugaboo of my down days, and if I let it invade my everyday existence, I would get nothing done. So there you go – delusional optimism.

Even at my most delusionally optimistic, though, I know I am not capable of creating high art. It’s not in me. We can’t all be [insert literary giant here]. Nor can we exert much control over the way our work is perceived or interpreted after it’s out in the world [see Roland Barthes]. We don’t choose whether or not our work is revered as the next coming of Faulkner or an embarrassing parody thereof.

For the most part, the author’s intrusion into the critical conversation, no matter how carefully approached, is bound to fall flat. Take, for example, Orson Scott Card’s meticulously self-deprecating defense of his style as present in Ender’s Game, left on the book’s Amazon page in response to reader critique. What happens when people spring to the defensive? On the internet, those people are taken down, and viciously.

Let it go, OSC. There are some things you can’t decide, and unfortunately, your book’s place in the market, let alone the canon, is among them. According to this unpublished novelist, at least…


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