because it sounds like some vague literary term, or a pernicious disease

And Then is Heard No More

with 4 comments

Phronk left an interesting comment on my first post about The Sound and The Fury. He introduced me to the idea of cognitive dissonance, and the theory that we enjoy something that much more if it was a challenge to attain it. This interested me very much, and true to my nerd-cred, I took off my pants and googled.

I was intrigued, was my general dislike of the book because I felt like an outsider to the smart kids club due to my not fully understanding the structure of the story? In Aesop’s fable of the Fox and Grapes, the fox is unable to get at a certain bunch of grapes because they are too high for her snotty little fox nose to poke at. As a way of soothing her frustration, she tells herself that the grapes are probably not all that great to begin with and therefore why should she even bother wanting them? Is The Sound and The Fury my bunch of unattainable grapes? Am I the fox? Did I desire something and then criticize it because it seemed unattainable?

See, I wanted to like The Sound and The Fury, I wanted it to be the best bunch of grapes that I have ever eaten, so to speak. I wanted it to live up to the expectations I had of it, I knew it would be a challenge to read, and boy-howdy was it ever, but I wanted to come out the other side feeling as though I was some how wiser, or as though it had imparted some great lesson to me.

Instead I felt as though I had missed something, that I wasn’t as prepared for the puzzle of the literature as I thought I was. And to a certain extent, that yes, it wasn’t that great to begin with, so why should I feel so terrible about not loving it, about not moving Faulkner up the list of my favourite authors ever?

Phronk stated in his comment that it’s uncomfortable to know that we wasted effort on something that sucked. He’s right, it’s terribly uncomfortable, it sent me right into a Faulkner-esque spiral of reflection and self doubt, one that I still haven’t fathomed myself out of yet. Logically, I think that it’s alright that I was disappointed by the book, that I didn’t like it, and that you can’t win them all. Then my romantic, literature loving brain is pitching a right tantrum hollering at me about “BEST BOOK EVER!!! TOP 100!!! CLASSIC!!! MAYBE YOU’RE JUST TOO STUPID TO GET IT!!! UGH I CAN’T BELIEVE I HAVE TO LIVE WITH YOU, YOU UNCULTURED CRETIN!!!”

I have to talk that bitch down all the time.


Written by Lindsey

March 3, 2010 at 9:22 am

4 Responses

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  1. Ah yes, it has been empirically proven that cognitive dissonance manifests as a bitchy tantrum in one’s head.

    I think deciding that the book isn’t actually that great is the easiest way to resolve that dissonance. Like I implied in the other post, maybe the smart kids club doesn’t actually like it much either. They just pretend to, because they’ve put so much effort into trying to get it, and because they value the “classic” status so much.


    March 3, 2010 at 10:25 am

  2. I think the harder something is to understand, the more value it has among those that can understand it. It’s like intellectual currency.

    Math geeks would put down someone for bringing up Pythagoras during a discussion about LaPlace. But that doesn’t mean Pythagoras isn’t as valuable to humanity when you look at them individually.

    There a countless movies that are critically acclaimed but make little sense to most people. However, box office earnings decide which ones are syndicated.

    The Sound and The Fury sounds like a book that’s be carried on the backs of professors and teachers through time. It gives them intellectual currency, and maintains their superiority over their students.

    I read a lot of boring books in English class.


    March 4, 2010 at 10:54 pm

  3. There’s no such thing as a difficult concept. There are, however, those who like to mystify and shroud the plainest of truths in the stickiest of resins.


    April 1, 2010 at 7:53 pm

  4. Good comments here. The book itself has no value beyond that which it can impart to you. If it fails to impart anything to a reasonably intelligent reader, it fails as a book.

    This is where chelch’s intellectual currency comes in. “Genre” writers can slide by on tropes and jargon of the genre so long as they do so accessibly for new readers, however in the science and philosophy non-fiction “genres” this latter is completely thrown out and the tropes and jargon cranked up to eleven. I’ve heard readers completely slam easy to read books in this space as ‘too mundane for them’ even though they say the same things as much more impenetrable fare. To them, reading the cryptic books has more currency with their peers than reading the /better/ book.

    This isn’t to be confused with purely academic books that somewhat rightly require prerequisite reading and knowledge as foundations for their ascendant knowledge. An advanced academic book would be way too large if it included all its antecedent knowledge.

    That said I have no idea what this book is you mentioned. I’ve never heard of it and so I will sleep soundly knowing it doesn’t matter at all to me if it is good, if it sucks, if I would “get it” or not. But in it’s defense, I have seen that sometimes very rich ideas need to be presented in a complex, layered way. If that is the case here, perhaps the writer errantly assumed some foreknowledge or experience of theirs as endemic to all his readers which now serves as a cipher to unlock its understanding. In that case perhaps in time it will click for you.

    That idea of a precedent idea or sensibility accounts for why many, many books, ideas, and theories that are considering essential or revolutionary in the grand scheme of things seem utterly stupid or eclipsed or trivial to the modern observer. For each, we need to consider it in the time and environment that it was produced to really appreciate its impact on our culture.

    —> I probably sound like a douche.


    April 23, 2010 at 11:12 am

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