Tu me souviens?
I. Audubon Park & Erie Choir Release new full-length Compact Discs. This Friday, November 10, at the Local 506. I mean, we're playing this show, both AP and EC. And Pleasant is also playing. Oh, and so is Viva -- playing records. Mostly significant is just that it'll cost $10 for admission, and admission includes a copy of both these new compact discs -- and being able to watch the show much more closely than if you're out on the street. This way you can see what we're really like. (Q:_____ . A: Celebreality, that's what.) The Erie Choir album has been 'in the works' since 2001, so come with respect. Or... yeah, respect only. The artwork photography captures the essence of one truly forlorn habitat. The album is released by Sean McCrossin's Sit-n-Spin Records (thanks SEAN). Audubon Park's full-length compact disc is released by another local label, Pox World Empire (thanks Zeno, Mark, Maria, Pleasant, Schooner, God). The artwork photography captures one shirtlessly hype man aglow in the presence of all things. Worthwhile lyric-reprinting also included. And secret art. WARNING: I know for a fact that not every song played at the show by either group will be found on the compact discs made available with admission. In other words, please accept our thanks in advance for attending the show, only to be asked to sit through even more self-indulgences, those that you can not 'pause' or 'stop' or 'throw in the garbage' or 'use for a drink coaster,' but ones that you always reserve the right to leave quietly during.
II. WXDU Benefit at the Duke Coffeehouse this Saturday, November 11. The bands are (in the order I presume is last through first to play): Torch Marauder's Grappling Hook, Noncanon, Natasha, Le Weekend, with special guests The Scene of the Crime Rovers. $5. A mouthful, that bill is. Torch has a new band, and I think it's a band type band, like more than him and the television set(s). Noncanon, we just weren't quite sure about the spelling of the name, but Noncanon does seem most clever, so I'll go with that -- this is my next-door-neighbor Rob K on drums and the guy from Mothlight on guitar and singing. I like the band name, that's as much I've got to report on. Natasha will bring the party if you're mood permits. Scene of the Crime Rovers are, I think, a marching type band -- there must be something political about this, right? -- maybe they'll play during a band's set, that'd be cool. But in the key of me is new-band Le Weekend, with Matt Kalb, Bob Wall, Erin Sale, Ben Ridings, and ma'self. It's fun to put "le" in front of any word, but leave that to us. This is a benefit for the Duke Radio station WXDU 88.7. Pour / some / melatonin / on me.
cough cough ______,
DFW: ...Because I liked to read, I probably didn't watch quite as much TV as my friends, but I still got my daily megadose, believe me. And I think it's impossible to spend that many slack-jawed, spittle-chinned, formative hours in front of commercial art without internalizing the idea that one of the main goals of art is simply to "entertain," give people sheer pleasure. Except to what end, this pleasure-giving? Because, of course, TV's "real" agenda is to be "liked," because if you like what you're seeing, you'll stay tuned. TV is completely unabashed about this; it's its sole raison. And sometimes when I look at my own stuff I feel like I absorbed too much of this raison. I'll catch myself thinking up gags or trying formal stunt-pilotry and see that none of this stuff is really in the service of the story itself; it's serving the rather darker purpose of communicating to the reader "Hey! Look at me! Have a look at what a good writer I am! Like me!"
Now, to an extent there's no way to escape this altogether, because an author needs to demonstrate some sort of skill or merit so that the reader will trust her. There's some weird, delicate, I-trust-you-not-to fuck-up-on-me relationship between the reader and writer, and both have to sustain it. But there's an unignorable line between demonstrating skill and charm to gain trust for the story vs. simple showing off. It can become an exercise in trying to get the reader to like and admire you instead of an exercise in creative art. I think TV promulgates the idea that good art is just art which makes people like and depend on the vehicle that brings them the art. This seems like a poisonous lesson for a would-be artist to grow up with. And one consequence is that if the artist is excessively dependent on simply being "liked," so that her true end isn't in the work but in a certain audience's good opinion, she is going to develop a terrific hostility to that audience, simply because she has given all her power away to them. It's the familiar love-hate syndrome of seduction: "I don't really care what it is I say, I care only that you like it. But since your good opinion is the sole arbitrator of my success and worth, you have tremendous power over me, and I fear you and hate you for it." This dynamic isn't exclusive to art. But I often think I can see it in myself and in other young writers, this desperate desire to please coupled with a kind of hostility to the reader.
LM: In your own case, how does this hostility manifest itself?
DFW: Oh, not always, but sometimes in the form of sentences that are syntactically not incorrect but still a real bitch to read. Or bludgeoning the reader with data. Or devoting a lot of energy to creating expectations and then taking pleasure in disappointing them. You can see this clearly in something like Ellis's "American Psycho": it panders shamelessly to the audience's sadism for a while, but by the end it's clear that the sadism's real object is the reader herself.
LM: But at least in the case of "American Psycho" I felt there was something more than just this desire to inflict pain--or that Ellis was being cruel the way you said serious artists need to be willing to be.
DFW: You're just displaying the sort of cynicism that lets readers be manipulated by bad writing. I think it's a kind of black cynicism about today's world that Ellis and certain others depend on for their readership. Look, if the contemporary condition is hopelessly shitty, insipid, materialistic, emotionally retarded, sadomasochistic, and stupid, then I (or any writer) can get away with slapping together stories with characters who are stupid, vapid, emotionally retarded, which is easy, because these sorts of characters require no development. With descriptions that are simply lists of brand-name consumer products. Where stupid people say insipid stuff to each other. If what's always distinguished bad writing--flat characters, a narrative world that's cliched and not recognizably human, etc.--is also a description of today's world, then bad writing becomes an ingenious mimesis of a bad world. If readers simply believe the world is stupid and shallow and mean, then Ellis can write a mean shallow stupid novel that becomes a mordant deadpan commentary on the badness of everything. Look man, we'd probably most of us agree that these are dark times, and stupid ones, but do we need fiction that does nothing but dramatize how dark and stupid everything is? In dark times, the definition of good art would seem to be art that locates and applies CPR to those elements of what's human and magical that still live and glow despite the times' darkness. Really good fiction could have as dark a worldview as it wished, but it'd find a way both to depict this world and to illuminate the possibilities for being alive and human in it. You can defend "Psycho" as being a sort of performative digest of late-eighties social problems, but it's no more than that.