Sunday, November 29, 2015

All That Is Solid Melts Into Air: Dosoevsky and Chernyshevsky

Commentators on the Notes and on the motif of.the Crystal Palace tend to appropriate the Underground Man's virulent invective and, in this case at least, to take it at face value. Thus they pour endless scorn on Chernyshevsky for his lack of spiritual depth: how stupid and banal this man must have been. to think that mankind is rational, that social relations are perfectible; how delightful that the profound Dostoevsky put him in his place. As it happens, Dostoevsky did not share this complacent condescension. In fact, he was virtually the only figure in respectable Russia to speak out, both before and after Chernyshevsky's arrest, in defense of his intellect, his character, even his spirituality. Although he believed Chernyshevsky to be both metaphysically and politically wrong, he could see how his radicalism sprang from "an abundance of life." Those who derided Chernyshevsky "have only succeeded in displaying the depth of your cynicism," which "serves current material interests, often to the detriment of your fellow men." Dostoevsky insisted that "these outcasts at least try to do something; they delve in order to find a way out;. they err and thereby save others; but you" -so he admonished his conservative readers-"you can only grin in a melodramatic posture of unconcern."

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they’ll kill you.
But then the modesty of genius does not consist in what educated speech consists in, the absence of accent and dialect, but rather in speaking with the accent of the matter and in the dialect of its essence. It consists in forgetting modesty and immodesty and getting to the heart of the matter.

Monday, February 16, 2015

On YA lit

SL: There’s been heated discussion lately about the uptick of adults who read literature written for young adults. Recently in Slate, the journalist Ruth Graham declared that adults should be embarrassed if what they are reading was written for children, and that it would be a shame if readers substituted “maudlin teen drama” for the complexity of great adult literature. What are your thoughts?

JF: I don’t care what people read.

SL: You have no opinion on the question of whether or not readers might be cheating themselves if they’re reading YA lit?

JF: If it’s a loss, it’s their loss, not mine.

SL: Well, I guess that’s the point of Graham’s argument, that it is their loss and that it’s perhaps a greater loss, a collective loss, that fewer people would be—

JF: Most of what people read, if you go to the bookshelf in the airport convenience store and look at what’s there, even if it doesn’t have a YA on the spine, is YA in its moral simplicity. People don’t want moral complexity. Moral complexity is a luxury. You might be forced to read it in school, but a lot of people have hard lives. They come home at the end of the day, they feel they’ve been jerked around by the world yet again for another day. The last thing they want to do is read Alice Munro, who is always pointing toward the possibility that you’re not the heroic figure you think of yourself as, that you might be the very dubious figure that other people think of you as. That’s the last thing you’d want if you’ve had a hard day. You want to be told good people are good, bad people are bad, and love conquers all. And love is more important than money. You know, all these schmaltzy tropes. That’s exactly what you want if you’re having a hard life. Who am I to tell people that they need to have their noses rubbed in moral complexity?

SL: That is not the answer I thought you would give.

JF: Good.