The Scales Fall From my Eyes
Okay, I give in. I’ve had a conversion experience. I’ve recognized the error of my ways. All these people who have been telling me what a horrible elitist I am have worn me down. I’m convinced. It’s true, I am an elitist, and that makes me a terrible person, so I have to stop. Okay. I’ll stop. I’ll become a better person. I won’t like anything that is not extremely popular, and I won’t dislike anything that is extremely popular. (God, for instance.) I won’t do anything that lots of people don’t do, and I won’t refrain from doing anything that lots of people do. I’ll become as humble and modest and unassertive as the people who tell me what a horrible elitist I am – and they are very modest and humble and unassertive indeed, and never do anything at all that a majority of their fellow humans don’t also do. From this moment I shall take such people as my role model, and be just like them.
So the first thing I have to do – even before I give away all my books and replace them with different ones (but perhaps I shouldn’t give them away? Perhaps that would only be passing the corruption on to other people, encouraging them to be elitist in my place? Perhaps I should simply throw them all in the bin?) – is stop making judgments between good and bad. Because that’s where the harm lies, I’m told. That’s where it gets me, that’s what makes an elitist a terrible person – it’s this business of making judgments. At least in aesthetic matters, and the like. In areas where judgments can’t be grounded. It’s okay (I take it) to say one hammer is better than another, because you can show that it does the job better (pounding the nail in, breaking the window, whatever). But you can’t say one poem or play or song or concerto is better than another because none of those things can pound nails or break windows – you can’t show a job that a good one can do better than a bad one, therefore when you say one is better than another you’re just hand-waving. Except you’re not just hand-waving, it’s worse than that, and that’s where the terrible person thing comes in. I’m told.
Here’s how the argument goes, if I understand it correctly. Judgments of quality in aesthetic matters cannot be grounded, therefore they are simply rhetoric – there is nothing else they can be; therefore they are necessarily power plays. So, if that’s right, every time I say or even think that, say, Keats’ ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ or Marvell’s ‘To His Coy Mistress’ is better as poetry than, say, Pinter’s anti-war poem, I’m making a power play and nothing else.
Now, I’ll admit, I resisted that idea at first. I thought it was wrong. In fact I was sure it was, because, if nothing else, of my own inner experience of the matter. Naturally that can’t be conclusive to anyone else, on account of how my mind is my mind and not anyone else’s, but it was convincing to me. My sense of the difference between poetry I think good and poetry I don’t think good doesn’t feel like a power play, it feels like something to do with thinking about the poetry as poetry. The truth is, it seemed to me that the act of telling me that my opinions are elitist power plays itself looked far more like a power play than my opinions do. In fact it kind of felt like a power play in the same way that a full-scale invasion by an army would, or a loud knock on the door at 3 a.m. followed by shouts of ‘Police! Open up!’ would. I felt quite skeptical that my mere opinions or reading habits could have quite the same effect.
But that was then. As I say, I’ve had a conversion experience. I’ve realized that all this resistance and disbelief of mine is just a sign of how thoroughly corrupt all my thinking is. I’m considering entering a convent. But in the meantime there is much that I can do, starting, as I said, with ceasing to make judgments between good and bad.
Of course, this will result in something of a change in the nature of B&W. I’ve realized it will mean I’ll have to stop writing these N&Cs, for one thing. That may seem a little drastic, but it’s not – because what I’ve realized is that it is quite impossible to write at all without constantly making an endless series of tiny imperceptible sub-aware judgments of quality. It’s obvious if you think about it. I mean, what else am I doing every time I use one word rather than another? Eh? I’m making a judgment! Oh, shit! Think of it! With every single word I type, I’m rejecting tens of thousands of other words I don’t write! Godalmighty – why have I never thought of this before? I’m so ashamed. All those hurt feelings, all those tens of thousands of words turning sobbing to their pillows every single time I type a word. Oh noooo – I’m so sorry guys. I’ll stop. I’ll just finish this one and then I’ll stop.
And the words are just the beginning. There are ideas, thoughts, links; there’s organization, paragraph breaks, punctuation. One judgment after another. So you can see: N&C is quite impossible. And then News links will be different, because I will have to just pick them at random. And Articles will be different, because I won’t read them, I’ll just accept everything sight unseen, and of course I won’t do any editing or proofreading, because what does that involve other than judgments? Well I suppose I could proofread, because there are some rules one can follow. That needn’t be entirely subjective. But could I do it in a purely objective way? Could I do it without any element of judgment (and thus, remember, power play) creeping in? I’m not at all sure. Especially since I now realize I’m an almost insanely judgmental person. No, it’s too risky, I can’t proofread, and I certainly can’t edit. So Articles will just be whatever turns up in the Inbox. In Focus – I think I’d better just delete the whole of In Focus, because it’s completely corrupt, and I don’t see how I could do any new ones.
And then there’s other editing work I do, which is also suffused with aesthetic judgments. I guess I’ll have to stop doing that too. And as for writing books – ! Well it’s obvious how hopeless that is. Okay…let’s see. I could be a janitor (and have in the past, so that’s cool). I could do yard work. No gardening, because that’s full of aesthetic judgments too, but I could cut grass. There are a lot of lawn-service outfits around here, I’ll just try one of them.
I’m becoming less terrible already, I think. Hope you guys don’t mind too much about the changes to B&W. I’ll do it after work – will be much quicker now, without all that judging to do.