Saturday, August 11, 2007

Everyone Loves John Sousaphone!

"You've read the new novel by John Sousaphone, right."


"No? Jeez, I thought everyone snapped up his stuff as soon as it came out. You've read everything else by him, right?"

"One novel. It sucked."

"How can you say that? Everyone loves, reveres, admires, worships the novels of John Sousaphone!"

"Not everyone, obviously."

"But how can you not love, revere, etc. his novels? What don't you like about them?"

"The suckitude."

"No seriously. You can't just say that. You have to explain."

"I have to explain why I don't like his writing?"


"Okay. I don't like it because it sucks."

I've actually had conversations rather like this. In the most recent one, the other person got very upset and started using terrible language - words like "minimalism" and "postmodernism". I had to cover my tender, virginal ears. I explained that I considered the works in question to be bad writing because when I tried to read them, my reaction was to say to myself, "This is really bad writing." And that, I said, was the only ism I needed, the ability to recognize suckism. They sucked because they were filled with suckitude.

The Romans understood this. Or at least one of them (Cicero?) did. De gustibus non est disputandum. There is no disputing about tastes. Hear, hear! Why have people forgotten this?

Of course, the above conversation wouldn't happen if I had dismissed the works of, say John Grisham or Dan Brown instead of those of Sousaphone, the darling of the critics. If it had been Grisham or Brown, the other person would probably have agreed right away. "Yeah, he sucks. Terrible writer." But Sousaphone, anointed by those whose job it is to anoint, must be loved, revered, admired, etc. Maybe the other person feels that I'm attacking his taste and judgment when I call Sousaphone a terrible writer, and so he demands justification as a way of defending himself. Or maybe he distrusts his own judgment in comparison to that of the anointers and feels shaken by the dismissal. Or maybe he's simply outraged that anyone can call into question the wonderfulness of a writer whom the anointers have declared to be wonderful. I have no idea. I do know that if I read something and feel that it's bad writing, then it's bad writing, no matter what anyone else's opinion is.

Because it's all subjective. There is no such thing as an objectively justifiable measurement of the worth of art.

But that's another argument.

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