And Another Thing

The subject of yesterday’s Comment interests me perhaps out of proportion to its importance…but then again perhaps not. It does involve certain habits of thought and silly ways of arguing (what one might call bad moves) that one finds in a lot of fashionable nonsense. Or to put it another way, there is some fashionable nonsense going on in Colgan’s diatribe.

For one thing there’s the sly business of motive-questioning – which in fact in cases like this surely backfires on the perpetrator. What does it amount to saying, after all? ‘There can’t possibly be a legitimate reason for thinking and writing that my novel is bad, therefore anyone who does think and write so must have some invidious motive.’ Surely the flaw there is all too embarrassingly obvious. ‘Why can there not possibly be a legitimate reason for thinking and writing that your novel is bad? Why is it ruled out in advance that your novel is in fact bad? Because you’re perfect? Because you’ve been given some special dispensation (from whom, by whom?) that prevents you from ever writing anything bad? Or is it just because you’re you? If it is just because you’re you, do you not realise that you are the only person who is you, and that as a result that ‘reason’ has no force whatsoever with anyone else on the face of the earth? Because all the rest of us are ourselves, and don’t put your claims ahead of our own? Life is like that, and you might want to start noticing that about now.’

I once saw Woody Allen make the same embarrassing mistake – definitely a bad move. He was being interviewed on the US tv program ‘Sixty Minutes’, and the interviewer (Morley Safer I believe) remarked in passing, in asking a searching question about Allen’s subject matter, that many of his friends didn’t much like Allen’s movies. Allen ignored the substantive question and instead began urgently asking Safer why his friends didn’t like Allen’s movies. Safer tried to brush that aside and get to the question he asked (he said something like ‘They just don’t, they’re not to their taste,’) but without success, Allen wanted an answer, he wanted to know Why. And then he said what I thought was an extraordinary thing. I’m paraphrasing but not much, he said something very like ‘Since they’re your friends they’re obviously intelligent people with good taste, why don’t they like my movies?’ The brazen flattery was surprising enough, but the assumption behind the question is downright stunning. Intelligent people with good taste like Woody Allen’s movies – always, apparently, according to Allen. Their failure to do so is an anomaly that requires explanation.

Beware, oh beware, turning into a person so confident of her own brilliance that she can’t wrap her mind around the idea that not everyone will love her work. And beware the back to front thinking that results. ‘There can’t be a legitimate reason for criticising my work, therefore there must be an illegitimate one, so I’ll just work out what it is and then announce it.’ No; that is not the best way to approach the subject.

And then another aspect is the guilt-trip one. This business of people ‘looking down their noses’. When you don’t have a good case, resort to political accusation, is apparently the thought. These mean wicked people who dare to say a harsh word about popular novels, they are mocking The People’s pleasures, they are horrible sneering monocle-wearing aristocrats. It’s a useful tactic in a sense, it does often work, but it’s dirty pool all the same.

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