Thursday 23 September 2010

Literature and boredom

If I think a swimming pool's going to be cold I sometimes splash cold water on myself first, trying to induce shivering. After that the water feels ok.

In his "Structuralist Poetics" book, Culler mentions that "Criticism usually ignores boredom". It's potentially a useful device - if you bore the reader before giving them a flash of lyricism it'll have a greater effect. You have to hope that they'll not give up reading the book during the boring passage. Having a reputation helps (maybe Beckett knew that).

I remember years ago hearing a review on the radio of a Beuys performance - he was picking little bits of jelly off a ceiling. One critic said she was bored at first but then she became fascinated by the details of the action. Another said that after the fascination phase there's a final phase when you realise that actually it's just boring. I think it's short-sighted to give up when faced with superficial boredom, but there are limits beyond which the artist risks accusations of pretension at the very least.

One option is to use selective deprivation rather than blanket boredom - e.g. keep the narrative going while withdrawing the lyrical descriptions (or dialog, or short paragraphs) for a while.

Jim Murdoch covers this issue much more thoroughly on his blog.

1 comment:

  1. I’m not sure I would use the word boredom but if your speakers are turned up to 11 all the time then where do you go when you want to make a point? Or if you swear constantly how do you express yourself when you’re upset or angry? There need to be peaks and troughs. In Samuel Beckett’s play Rockaby there is one swear word right at the very end of the play and it is so powerful because it is unexpected. Everything is relative. A poetry collection will contain good poems and great poems. You need the good poems to show up the great ones. But let’s say you have enough great poems for a book? Well then, readers will find the really great poems and the rest will just be great.

    ‘Selective deprivation’ is a good expression. Eke out the good stuff in other words.