[...] Tolstoy said that the purpose of art was to communicate the idea of Christian brotherhood from man to man and to pass along some sort of message. [...] what fiction and poetry are doing is what they've been trying to do for two thousand years: affect somebody, make somebody feel a certain way, allow them to enter into relationships with ideas and with characters that are not permitted within the cinctures of the ordinary verbal intercourse we're having here, you know: you don't see me, I don't see you. But every two of three generations the world gets vastly different, and the context in which you have to learn how to be a human being, or to have good relationships, or decide whether or not there is a God, or decide whether there's such a thing as love, and whether it's redemptive, becomes vastly different. And the struggles with which you can communicate those dilemmas or have characters struggle with them seem to become appropriate and then inappropriate again and so on. Nothing that's changed right now seems to me to be fundamentally important, and yet a whole lot of stuff is very, very different. [...] I'm the only "postmodernist" you'll ever meet who absolutely worships Leo Tolstoy.
[...] I think it's impossible to spend that many slack-jawed, spittlechinned, formative hours in front of commercial art without internalizing the idea that one of the main goals of art is simply to entertain, give people sheer pleasure. Except to what end, this pleasure-giving? Because, of course, TV's real agenda is to be liked, because if you like what you're seeing, you'll stay tuned. TV is completely unabashed about this; it's its sole raison. And sometimes when I look at my own stuff I feel like I absorbed too much of this raison. I'll catch myself thinking up gags or trying formal stunt-pilotry and see that none of this stuff is really in the service of the story itself; it's serving the rather darker purpose of communicating to the reader "Hey! Look at me! Have a look at what a good writer I am! Like me!"
Now, to an extent there's no way to escape this altogether, because an author needs to demonstrate some sort of skill or merit so that the reader will trust her. There's some weird, delicate, I-trust-you-not-to-fuck-upon-me relationship between the reader and the writer, and both have to sustain it. But there's an unignorable line between demonstrating skill and charm to gain trust for the story vs. simple showing off. It can become an exercise in trying to get the reader to like and admire you instead of an exercise in creative art. I thik TV promulgates the idea that good art is just that art which makes people like and depend on the vehicle that brings them the art. This seems like a poisonous lesson for a would-be artist to grow up with. And one consequence is that if the artist is excessively dependent on simply being liked, so that her true end isn't in the work but in a certain audience's good opinion, she is going to develop a terrific hostility to that audience, simply because she has given all her power away to them. It's the familiar love-hate syndrome of seduction: "I don't really care what it is I say, I care only that you like it. But since your good opinion is the sole arbiter of my success and worth, you have tremendous power over me, and I fear you and hate you for it." This dynamic isn't exclusive to art. But I often think I can see it in myself and in other young writers, this desperate desire to please coupled with a kind of hostility to the reader.
the TV commentary seems even more true now with the advent of streaming services that are making their own shows ... the shareholder justification for that is to keep people subscribed, keep them paying $10 a month
some of the ways this manifests (that he lists later on):
[...] Look, if the contemporary condition is hopelessly shitty, insipid, materialistic, emotionally retarded, sadomasochistic and stupid, then I (or any writer) can get away with slapping together stories with characters who are stupid, vapid, emotionally retarded, which is easy, because these sorts of characters require no development. With descriptions that are simply lists of brand-name consumer products. Where stupid people say insipid stuff to each other. If what's always distinguished bad writing—flat characters, a narrative World that's cliched and not recognizably human, etc.—is also a description of today's world, then bad writing becomes an ingenious mimesis of a bad world, If readers simply believe the world is stupid and shallow and mean, then Ellis can write a mean shallow stupid novel that becomes a mordant deadpan commentary on the badness of everything. Look man, we'd probably most of us agree that these are dark times, and stupid ones, but do we need fiction that does nothing but dramatize how dark and stupid everything is? In dark times, the definition of good art would seem to be art that locates and applies CPR to those elements of what's human and magical that still live and glow despite the times' darkness. Really good fiction could have as dark a worldview as it wished, but it'd find a way both to depict this dark world and to illuminate the possibilities for being alive and human in it. You can defend Psycho as being a sort of performative digest of late-eighties social problems, but it's no more than that.
[...] Fiction's about what it is to be a fucking human being. If you operate, which most of us do, from the premise that there are things about the contemporary U.S. that make it distinctively hard to be a real human being, then maybe half of fiction's job is to dramatize what it is that makes it tough. The other half is to dramatize the fact that we still are human beings, now. Or can be. This isn't that it's fiction's duty to edify or teach, or to make us good little Christians or Republicans. I'm not trying to line up behind Tolstoy or Gardner. I just think that fiction that isnt exploring what it means to be human today isn't good art. We've got all this "literary" fiction that simply monotones that we're all becoming less and less human, that presents characters with souls or love, characters who really are exhaustively describable in terms of what brands of stuff they wear, and we all buy the books and go like "Golly, what a mordantly effective commentary on contemporary materialism!" But we already all know U.S. culture is materialistic. This diagnosis can be done in about two lines. It doesn't engage anybody. What's engaging and artistically real, is, taking it as axiomatic that the present is grotesquely materialistic, how is it that we as human beings still have the capacity for joy, charity, genuine connections, for stuff that doesn't have a price? And can these capacities be made to thrive? And if so, how, and if not, why not?
[...] My idea in "Westward" was to do with metafiction what Moore's poetry or like DeLillo's Libra had done with other mediated myths. I wanted to get the Armageddon-explosion, the goal metafiction's always been about, I wanted to get it over with, and then out of the rubble reaffirm the idea of art being a living transaction between humans, whether the transaction was erotic or altruistic or sadistic. [...]
the famous justification for Westward
[...] Anyway, what rock 'n' roll did for the multicolored young back in the fifties and sixties, rap seems to be doing for the young black urban community. It's another attempt to break free of precedent and constraint. But there are contradictions in rap that seem perversely to show how, in an era where rebellion itself is a commodity used to sell other commodities, the whole idea of rebelling against white corporate culture is not only impossible but incoherent. Today you've got black rappers who make their reputation rapping about Kill the White Corporate Tools, and are then promptly signed by white-owned record corporations, and not only feel no shame about "selling out" but then release platinum albums about not only Killing White Tools but also about how wealthy the rappers now are after signing their record deal! [...]
[...] I've found the really tricky discipline to writing is trying to play without getting overcome by insecurity or vanity or ego. Showing the reader that you're smart or funny or talented or whatever, trying to be liked, integrity issues aside, this stuff just doesn't have enough motivational calories in it to carry you over the long haul. You've got to discipline yourself to talk out of the part of you that loves the thing, loves what you're working on. [...] it seems like the big distinction between good art and so-so art lies somewhere in the art's heart's purpose, the agenda of the consciousness behind the text. It's got something to do with love. [...] The reader walks away from real art heavier than she came to it. Fuller. All the attention and engagement and work you need to get from the reader can't be for your benefit; it's got to be for hers. [...] Really good work probably comes out of a willingness to disclose yourself, open yourself up in spiritual and emotional ways that risk making you look banal or melodramatic or naive or unhip or sappy, and to ask to reader really to feel something. To be willing to sort of die in order to move the reader, somehow. [...]
If you, the writer, succumb to the idea that the audience is too stupid, then there are two pitfalls. Number one is the avant-garde pitfall, where you have the idea that you're writing for other writers, so you don't worry about making yourself accessible or relevant. You worry about making it structurally and technically cutting edge: involuted in the right ways, making the appropriate intertextual references, making it look smart. Not really caring about whether you're communicating with a reader who cares something about that feeling in the stomach which is why we read. [...]
"I'm interested in religion, only because certain churches seem to be a place where things can be talked about. What does your life mean? Do you believe in something bigger than you? Is there something about gratifying every single desire you have that is harmful? [...]"
[...] Probably all jobs are the same and they're filled with horrible boredom and despair and quiet little bits of fulfillment that are very hard to tell anyone about. That's just a guess.
[...] there is this existential loneliness in the real world. I don't know what you're thinking or what it's like inside you and you don't know what it's like inside me. In fiction I think we can leap over that wall itself in a certain way. But that's just the first level, because the idea of mental or emotional intimacy with a character is a delusion or a contrivance that's set up through art by the writer. There's another level that a piece of fiction is a conversation. There's a relationship set up between the reader and the writer that's very strange and complicated and hard to talk about. A really great piece of fiction for me may or may not take me away and make me forget that I'm sitting in a chair. There's real commercial stuff can do that, and a riveting plot can do that, but it doesn't make me feel less lonely.
There's a kind of Ah-ha! Somebody at least for a moment feels about something or sees something the way that I do. It doesn't happen all the time. It's these brief flashes or flames, but I get that sometimes. I feel unalone--intellectually, emotionally, spiritually. I feel human and unalone and that I'm in a deep, significant conversation with another consciousness in fiction and poetry in a way that I don't with other art.