In other words, by forcing you to think, empathize, and assume instead of handing you prototype characters whose actions and personalities can be squarely understood, literary fiction is literally making you a more caring and emotionally intelligent person.
And another study has shown that writing this type of self-serving horseshit on idiotic pop-culture blogs, or being the type of moderately-educated would-be snob who will immediately rush to share the link to such self-serving horseshit with other similarly-described simpletons through social media and thus momentarily validate hizzorher otherwise empty existence, is literally making you a much stupider person. I kid, of course. No one’s gotten around to doing that study yet, though I’m certain my suspicions will be confirmed. In the meantime, here’s Charles McGrath expanding upon the most obvious criticism one could make:
And the disconnect between art and morality goes further than that: not only can a “bad” person write a good novel or paint a good picture, but a good picture or a good novel can depict a very bad thing. Think of Picasso’s Guernica or Nabokov’s Lolita , an exceptionally good novel about the sexual abuse of a minor, described in a way that makes the protagonist seem almost sympathetic.
Yet art, when you experience it, seems ennobling: it inspires and transports us, refines our discriminations, enlarges our understanding and our sympathies. Surely, we imagine, we are better people because of it. And if art does this much for those of us who merely appreciate it, then it must reflect something even better and truer and more inspiring in the lives and character of the people who actually create art. We cling to these notions — especially that art morally improves us — against all evidence to the contrary, for as the critic George Steiner has famously pointed out, the Holocaust contradicts them once and for all. “We know that a man can read Goethe or Rilke in the evening,” Steiner writes, “that he can play Bach and Schubert, and go to his day’s work at Auschwitz in the morning.” Or as Walter Benjamin once wrote: “At the base of every major work of art is a pile of barbarism.”
February 21, 2014 @ 2:59 am
Do you know where the Walter Benjamin quote in Macgrath's article comes from? I've been trying to figure that out, and I haven't had any luck. I'm interested in putting the quote in to context.
February 21, 2014 @ 10:26 am
No, I've never read Benjamin directly, sorry.