This is a blog about pretentiousism.
July 8, 2010 § 2 Comments
I’m getting exhausted of these pretentious literaries who think they are writers instead of acknowledging that they are simply only well-read people.
For example, the Twilight Saga. Stephenie Meyer is probably a smart chick and there is no doubt that she is somewhat creative. I mean, knock her all you want but not everyone can create a storyline that can become a national sensation. The thing about Meyer is that she graduated with a degree in English, so of course she knows all the literary definitions and techniques. She’s had to read all the same books I’ve had to read, we’ve both written papers on allegory and satire, teleological plotlines and orientalism. We’ve discussed Hardy’s pink and Hawthorne’s red and Dickens’ cultural approaches to economics and utilitarianism. And after studying so long and so hard and diving far and deep into these books, Meyer has convinced herself she is a writer.
But the difference between a writer and Stephenie Meyer shows through the allusions in their works. In the second book of the Twilight saga, Meyer uses Romeo and Juliet as a cursory analogy to the love of the vampire and the mortal. The parallelism runs shallow, and is mentioned in order to have the reader make obvious connections, but there are no images of the Shakespearean masterpiece, nothing is alluded to but the basic plotline or structure of the play and is thereby forced upon in the book. It’s more like she just wants you to recognize the love between Edward and Bella is just as forbidden as Romeo and Juliet’s, but that nothing else of the Shakespearean tragedy is the same as vampiric obsession. She does this with Wuthering Heights and Jane Austen in other parts of the saga. It’s as if she’s trying—not hard enough—to create parallels and hint at her literary mastermind and to tie in allusions and symbols as great as those works she’s read. But the fact is, Stephenie Meyer is not a writer; she is a well-read storyteller.
Okay, so Louisa May Alcott uses an obvious way of introducing literature in her novel Little Women. The March sisters play “Pilgrim’s Progress,” which, of course, is modeled after Bunyan’s work. However, she’s not trying to create a parallel between the girls’ and their moral struggles; she’s relating a story of young girls’ plays back in the day.
Now John Donne is an allusive master for sure. In his poem The Good-Morrow there are about eighteen allusions in the 21-lines. You can read the poem and understand the basic meaning, but unless you don’t already know what he is alluding to, you’ll never get the full understanding. Like the “seven sleepers’ den” which refers to the Roman martyrology of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus. Or the “two hemispheres” which refers to scholasticism.
I just finished The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger, a professor of English at some university. I admit I read the book after I saw the movie (by which I was not impressed) hoping to gain a little more insight into the world of Henry and Clare DeTamble. However, Niffenegger, too, thought that if she can teach books, if she can be the one to assign the papers on interpreting the binary between Jane Eyre and Bertha or the feminist stereotype in Stoker’s Dracula, then of course she can write a book, too, and be known as one of the greats.
The problem with her book is it mentions all kinds of different writers, although the main one of course is Rilke. (Why is it that when someone wants to write something about love and the power of it they have to always mention Rilke? Is there no one else suitable for this job?) She “alludes” to so many writers and works that there is no single thread, and like the events of the time traveler, everything becomes jumbled up. And since this is a book about love, Niffenegger seems to create this airy sort of elevated ambiance. She’s trying to create this mushy-gushy feelings of love and romance and “me + you 4eva-ness” without being cliché or actually mushy or gushy. Instead, she goes way over the top with all of it.
Her characters are praised for their “emotional depth,” but really, there is no visible line between the voices. In fact, if you’re not careful enough you never know if you’re reading from Henry’s perspective or Clare’s.
Henry is supposed to be well-read, fluent in French and German, quoting Rilke and Proust. He is a librarian, so this seems like all this literary knowledge is warranted. Clare is an artist in sculpture and paper-making, so she seems to have the same sort of way of looking at things such as love and foreverness and being. But she too, is just as well read, quoting the same things, reciting the same languages. But by doing this both characters end up talking in the same voice. She hits on things such as religion and philosophy and the forever type of love, but never expounds upon any of it.
The Time Traveler’s Wife is not about the contemplation of the existence of God or the innerworkings and science of time. It is not about how you can’t change the past or about the chicken vs the egg argument, i.e. if Henry tells Dr. Kendrick that his son is named Colin in the future, is this the reason he names his son Colin? Or was that already pre-destined?
I think Niffenegger knows very well what her storyline is not about, because she’ll hit upon these things every once in a while by way of conversation between Clare and Henry, and she’ll dwell on it for just long enough to make you thing we’re going to get some sort of existential preaching for a bit, and then she’ll suddenly back off. And then you’re left bereft for two reasons: one, you are now curious to what these characters—and by way the author—thinks of these abstract ideas; and two, you are no longer sure what the direction the author is taking the story. Because like the time traveler, who can’t control when and where he goes in time, Niffenegger seems to have no control over the storyline itself. It’s as if she is just as confused as to what the story is about and how she should tell it.
The strength of the story lies in the marriage; at least, this is my own personal opinion. It’s sort of the play on which comes first, does Clare marry Henry because she loves him or does she love him because she knows she’s married to him? Niffenegger says the story is about a love that crosses time, and if this statement is true, it’s not very obviously put in the story, and it gets jumbled up in all the philosophical ideologies of an English major turned professor convinced that if she can teach writing and pick out symbols and allusions then she is of course a writer herself.
Faulkner has a way of creating depth of characters, and funnily enough, a lot of times he doesn’t really allude or mention any other writer or person. Take As I Lay Dying, for example. The characters are barely literate and can hardly speak, but each character has a completely different type of voice and viewpoint from the journey to bury Addie Bundren. And within all these simple voices an entire world layered with love, frustration, wariness, adoration and obsession is created.
And he didn’t even have to quote Shakespeare, Rilke, or Austen to do it.
Because, to be a writer, you have to be more than well-read.
I think this is all for now.