2 min read

A bunch of writing dichotomies that bother me

In my head live a bunch of writing dichotomies I got from other people, and as roommates these dichotomies suck big time. To name a few of these asshole roommates:

  1. Originality vs. execution. I wonder if originality isn't completely the wrong thing as phrased. Why should originality matter in principle? Art isn't academia. Surely this is just insight porn and novelty-seeking. On the other hand, I too get bored when I see the same tropes deployed in the same way all the time. And it's not a versus, is it? Who came up with that idea? Execution is its own ugly thing because it shades into manipulation and optimizing for a particular reaction. Or maybe execution is just fashion and choosing the right clothing for the occasion. Aaargh!
  2. Art vs. entertainment. I find suspect the idea that art can't or shouldn't be entertaining. I also am suspicious of "art" that is supposed to be boring or frustrating. I'm skeptical and resentful of the idea that if I don't like a piece of 'high art' it must be because I'm not sophisticated enough to understand it. On the other hand, I know well how picking things in a way that optimizes for my chance of liking them tends to produce the very boredom I've described. I pick things that are like what I've picked before and then get upset that they are so similar. I don't know what to do with this. Try bad things, sure, I guess—but that runs into some problems that I'll discuss below, after the list.
  3. High art vs. low art. This is the issue I was getting at last time, I think. I sometimes like and sometimes hate the aesthetic of "high art." I rarely enjoy it. I also rarely find in retrospect that it was a valuable experience. Sometimes it sticks in my head, but in the way that an arrow sticks in the head unless removed, rather than the way a great story sticks in the head.
  4. Genre fiction vs. literary or non-genre fiction, which feels pretty much like the low vs. high art issue. [A lot of these sound like the same person wearing a different hat.]

The thing about applying "try bad things" to "high art" is that I know that I am "supposed to" like them and think they are good. So when I try them, sometimes I will think they are good, and that's great, that works out just fine. But if I think they are bad, then I start to doubt myself. Am I just a philistine? A pretender? Because I don't like the thing that's supposed to be good.

Should I try to find something good about it? Because that seems endlessly frustrating. If I have to find something good about it when I like something that is supposed to be good, even if I hate the stupid thing, that makes it so much more work than reading anything else. I'm going to be inclined to read a lot fewer of these "good things." It seems ridiculous to try to harangue myself into liking or appreciating what I don't like.

Ordinarily, I might take a story I don't like as a lesson: Here's what I don't want to do. But this story is supposed to be good. Surely I shouldn't take it as an anti-lesson. But if I can't take it as an anti-lesson, and I can't take anything from it as a positive lesson, then it's just a frustrating experience. It feels like a waste of time.

This is probably one reason why I don't read much famous literature. I have a few such books, but I'm disinclined to read them because I'm liable to annoy myself about not liking them.

I could annoy myself about any of these topics, though, and probably others too.