Wednesday, March 3, 2010

What's Wrong With the World

Here's a fun quote from Mark Twain, useful to use against the complainers of the world if you stare off majestically into space and deliver deliberately:

"Nothing so needs reforming like other people's habits."

That's the ironic version of G.K. Chesterton's response to an essay request by The Times on "What's Wrong With the World":

Dear sirs,
I am.
Sincerely yours,
G.K. Chesterton

I recently attended a rather highbrow Literary Conference in Kentucky ("The Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture since 1900") . The two cardinal rules seemed to be, "Don't admit that you don't know", and "Thou shalt be more pretentious than thy neighbor". This left very little room for laughter, or creativity - such as the creativity of the authors actually under discussion. The inverse relationship between (a) the amount of time separating author from public and (b) the clarity of understanding said author's work, didn't seem to impede (c) the lecturers' confidence about their assertions of what the author was 'trying to say'. (Conveniently, the authors were not around to argue.) After hearing discussion on such topics as "The Look of Flowers That Are Looked At: Auratic Distance and Eliot's Eyebeam", it was necessary to haul off to a nearby pub and drink some serious mead with friends to get all that taste of 5-syllable words off of my tongue. We had much more fun 'discussing' the relative merits and demerits of such classic films as "Far and Away" and telling amusing animal stories - and I dare say that we learned more.

So, in criticism of the critics, I merely say - stop taking yourselves so darned seriously.