Thursday, 13 January 2011

Literature and boredom

If I think a swimming pool's going to be cold I sometimes splash cold water on myself first, trying to induce shivering. After that the water feels ok.

In his "Structuralist Poetics" book, Culler mentions that "Criticism usually ignores boredom". It's potentially a useful device - if you bore the reader before giving them a flash of lyricism it'll have a greater effect. You have to hope that they'll not give up reading the book during the boring passage. Having a reputation helps (maybe Beckett knew that).

I remember years ago hearing a review on the radio of a Beuys performance - he was picking little bits of jelly off a ceiling. One critic said she was bored at first but then she became fascinated by the details of the action. Another said that after the fascination phase there's a final phase when you realise that actually it's just boring. I think it's short-sighted to give up when faced with superficial boredom, but there are limits beyond which the artist risks accusations of pretension at the very least.

One option is to use selective deprivation rather than blanket boredom - e.g. keep the narrative going while withdrawing the lyrical descriptions (or dialog, or short paragraphs) for a while.

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