Sunday, September 11, 2005

Bring on the pain

From the comments at Making Light, a typically perceptive perspective on enjoying culture:
There are books, plays, etc., that I adore, recommend to anyone who'll listen, drag people off to, reread until I've memorized, and so on. (Not to name names or anything, but there's a certain poem that portays the personae of Camelot arriving home for Christmas by train, that I like to read out loud - very unusual for me - though never when other people are around, because I invariably burst into tears at the last lines.)

But have you noticed that truly wretched peices of work can also provide years of enjoyment (once you've recovered from the initial trauma) by vilifying them forever after for an appreciative audience?
I agree. It's like a nostalgic analogue to the puzzling tendency we have to taste something awful and then promptly offer it to someone else: "Ew! Try this!" The vividness with which we recall bad experiences, coupled with a certain masochism, can make the experience of bad art strangely compelling. I remember much more about the terrible versions of "The Producers" and "Urban Cowboy" I've seen than I do about any less appalling productions. A truly inept film transcends conventional enjoyment and can become a twisted species of participatory theater during and after the fact. Bad books, which I have much less tolerance for these days, can even provide hours of enjoyment by lending themselves to dissection and "exfoliatory reading."

And some of us simply like to complain. I've griped a lot about some of my books for the 50 Book Challenge, but bashing a bad book is more fun than trying to pin down what makes for greatness in another book, not least because I try to avoid spoilers in reviews of books I recommend but have few compunctions about revealing hilariously bad details. Everyone knows Dubliners is good, but I may have gotten more pleasure out of reading the painfully poor Banewreaker and then singing little songs about it based on a James Bond theme.

Even my gluttony for punishment, though, was insufficient to get me through Lord Foul's Bane.
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