Of scripture and sculpture

Time for another one of my rants. (First of all, by “scripture” I mean the art of writing. Had I meant the more common meaning I would have written it as “Scripture.”)

I don’t like figurative sculpture if it is too literal. I’ve seen bronzes that reproduce such minute detail you can see the stitching in the pocket of the figure’s blue jeans. While that is a testament to the sculptor’s technical skill, it seems to me in most cases to be giving away far too much. Such sculptures give you all that you need to understand the single meaning behind them. It is all there, and dammit, there is nothing more to it. What bugs me about this kind of sculpture is that it does not require the viewer to bring anything to it. The work means the same thing to you as it does to your auto mechanic and to your philosophy professor from college. (This is not to say that mechanics can’t be excellent philosophers, as many are, but merely to suggest a range of people.) Not only do these sculptures mean the same thing to all people, but they are not allowed to mean anything else. To me they are a waste of good bronze and scarce public space.

The same kind of thing can be said for my view of fiction. Now, I realize that commercial and literary fiction operate in mostly separate universes, serving different needs in readers, but I don’t think each side must operate with animosity for the other.

One writer of crime fiction is on record as saying that he doesn’t know what a metaphor is, much less that he would ever employ one in his stories. (I’m sure he meant his statement as hyperbole.) He wrote this with a disdain for the concept that surprised me. I’ve seen other bloggers sneer at “literary fiction” as though it was for poseurs and dillettantes and not for meat-and-potatoes writers. I don’t see this same kind of contempt for genre fiction by literary writers, and I don’t know quite why it should exist.

Readers come to fiction for all sorts of reasons, and they take away from it all sorts of perfectly legitimate appreciation. If someone reads only for plot and never notices the nuances of character development, that’s fine with me. If someone wants thrills and glosses over the metaphor or deeper literary references the writer slipped in, that’s okay too. I certainly don’t think that I appreciate half of what a writer is doing in a good piece of fiction (whether “literary” or not), and it’s part of the reason I think I really can’t begin to understand a novel until I’ve read it at least twice (re-reading being another “indulgence” I’ve seen mocked by some bloggers).

I think that writers who only skip along the surface of story telling produce fiction that is ephemeral. They will come and have their moments of glory and then be forgotten in a generation. Okay, that’s legitimate, and it’s still vastly more than most people will ever achieve in their lives. The part I don’t get, though, is the animosity these writers direct toward fiction that attempts to do more.

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2 Comments on “Of scripture and sculpture”

  1. msedano Says:

    A sculpture should mean, not be? Seems to me even the most “literal” sculpture is a metaphor for the thing represented. The a whole community should come to its meaning as one strikes me as a good thing. Just observing.

    mvs

  2. paullamb Says:

    MVS – I think we all bring or impose meaning (or at least interpretation) on the art we see. The work may stand independent of our experience, but we do not.


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