Thursday, February 08, 2007

Light Reading

I feel English literary culture, in sharp contrast to the musical and fine arts culture, has retreated into a safe little Englander mentality, imagining that merely by writing ‘about’ great events and deep subjects you are producing great and deep works of literature.

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I find contemporary works that take themselves terribly seriously a pain, as I’ve said. I’d much rather read a good thriller or a good comic novel than one that is bidding to become a Booker prize-winner (and often succeeding). Unfortunately even thriller writers - especially American ones - these days want to show they are ‘important’ writers, which is a disaster for their work. But there is also a large historical issue. For complex reasons art before the Romantics could be both profound and ‘light’. Homer’s and Shakespeare’s plays are cases in point. After the onset of Romanticism it’s as if depth had to entail solemnity, weightiness. Contrast Mozart and Beethoven, Pope and Wordsworth, Fielding and George Eliot. I love many works written after 1800, but I wish it were lighter. And I can’t stand those great nineteenth century works that take themselves so seriously and try to found a new religion, like Mahler’s symphonies. That’s why I love Stravinsky: for me he has everything: wit, lightness, precision, yet a plangency that is deeply moving...
Gabriel Josipovici, interviewed at Ready Steady Book.

3 comments:

TimT said...

Too bloody right. Nothing worse than a thriller writer who suddenly diverges from the plot to make a lecture about a Big Issue. There are ways of working 'Issues' into a thriller, but the favoured manner - of sticking page-long or chapter-long lectures in the mouths of random characters - really, really sucks. Even C S Lewis fell into this trap.

genevieve said...

Blimey, Tim, I thought that was you mouthing off. I'll have to take it a little more seriously if it's Josipovici, won't I :)

Genevieve said...

He has quoted some nifty books in there. Thanks for the link.