Thursday, September 16, 2010

Ridiculous Norwegian should

I have a generally positive view of Katherine Lanpher - she used to be Al Franken's sidekick when he had his radio show "The Al Franken Show" and she was bright and pleasant. But her professional career is basically being a suck-up to Important People and since we are still recovering from millenia of extreme patriarchy, that means that at least 75% of the time she's sucking up to Important Men.

But I love all things Al Franken-related, so I friended her on Facebook.

She's currently host of "Upstairs at the Square", an interview and performance program taped at Barnes and Noble Union Square, so I wasn't especially surprised when she posted this on FB:
Katherine Lanpher is reminded by a colleague of one of the many great quotes by Per Petterson at Tuesday's Upstairs show: "Fiction should open wounds, not heal them."

If you think about this quote for longer than the time it takes to nod knowingly and moo piously over your Starbucks cappuccino, you will realize it's idiotic.

But that tough vs. soft dichotomy, with tough always winning out over soft, is absolutely unquestioned in the art-lover world.

You really could make it into a kind of mad-libs. For example:

"Fiction should kick you in the butt, not pat you on the head."

"Fiction should yank out your entrails, not resection your colon."

"Fiction should rape your mother, not invent a cure for cancer."

It's so stupid, this idea that true art has to be all macho and tough. And it's so transparently a response to the encroachment of females on the former male bastion of the arts. How is a male author supposed to impress the chicks - and subsequently get laid by them - if there are all these women who are competing against the men for artistic stature? First of all, a woman is less likely to be impressed by an artist if she herself is an artist, and secondly, allowing the once rejected 50% of humanity into the club means there's alot more competition for status - especially groupie-level status.

The solution? Make art MORE MANLY. That'll keep those chicks out of the highest levels of artdom, at least for awhile.

But enough of my socio-political soap box. Let's just look at the statement itself.

First of all - "should" - since when? All art forms these days have virtually no rules at all. Fiction is all over the place - who is this guy to start suddenly dictating the terms?

And really, fiction has always been all over the place. "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" - is that opening wounds or healing? Twain addresses slavery, so I guess you could say opening wounds, and yet Twain writes the story with lots of humor and affection for his boyhood home, and Huck and Jim are friends, and Huck refuses to rat Jim out, declaring instead that he'd rather go to hell. Is that opening wounds? Healing?

What exactly does Per Petterson think is good fiction? Presumably his own. I haven't had a chance to read anything by him, but here's the last paragraph from the review of his "Out Stealing Horses":
This short yet spacious and powerful book — in such contrast to the well-larded garrulity of the bulbous American novel of today — reminds us of the careful and apropos writing of J. M. Coetzee, W. G. Sebald and Uwe Timm. Petterson’s kinship with Knut Hamsun, which he has himself acknowledged, is palpable in Hamsun’s “Pan,” “Victoria” and even the lighthearted “Dreamers.” But nothing should suggest that his superb novel is so embedded in its sources as to be less than a gripping account of such originality as to expand the reader’s own experience of life.

EXPAND the reader's own experience of life??? That sure sounds alot more healing than wounding to me. Sounds like he doesn't follow his own imperious declaration.

But since the healing/wounding dichotomy is a stupid unworkable metaphor in the first place, I won't hold it against him.

Instead I have a should for him - he should stick to writing fiction and stop with the lame-ass aphorisms about what fiction should be.