A while ago I had seen an interview between Cliff Sargent and Damon McMahon, in which they discussed music and books, of course. Now, it is a very interesting thing to learn what kind of content someone is drawn to, and it is telling, especially when they themselves are artists or artistes as it were. Damon’s music, that is, the music of Amen Dunes, is filled with some of the most inane lyrics out there. And what’s more, he knows this to be the case. He actually thinks his music is more raw, or pure, or something, because of this. It’s like he thinks that it wouldn’t cut to the soul enough if he were to actually think through what he was saying, and Cliff remarks that this kind of music is actually another form of literature.
This brings us around to the question, what ‘literature’ influenced such ridiculous nonsense, I mean, lyrical genius? It turns out that it was primarily the duo of William Faulkner and Virginia Woolf. Now, I have not read a lot of either, but considering what I have read, I can see now why Amen Dunes is given to such pretentiousness. His claim that these two are the most mature writers, and stand head and shoulders above everyone, that no one even comes close, well this was just too much. Both of these writers are terrible, and not nearly as well loved as many people suppose. They are the kinds of writers who are forced upon the young, while they go through the rigamarole that is formal education, and the result of this is two-fold: 1) most kids can’t stand their likes, and 2) the reason for this is apparently because kids aren’t smart enough.
And why am I so confident that the reason I don’t appreciate them is not that I lack the brains to comprehend their supposed brilliance? Well, it is very simple, when an author is actually brilliant, they are clearly so. The thing about real genius is that any idiot can recognize it. A good writer communicates depth through their work- lays bare its intellectual content to be explored. Great writing elevates the mind, it does not require you to be smart, it will inevitably be smarter than the typical reader, but insofar as it is comprehensible on the surface, working in the back of the reader’s mind is the rearranging of neurons so that by the end, life takes on new meaning. Perspective shifts.
What happens with Woolf and Faulkner? Well, not much. As far as their work is stimulating- how entertaining, moving and intellectual is it- there is absolutely nothing there. Modernist writing prioritizes experimentation with language more than almost anything else, yet paradoxically these particular modernists write nigh exclusively in clichés. Here is some of the writing-
About here, she thought, dabbling her fingers in the water, a ship had sunk, and she muttered, dreamily half asleep, how we perished, each alone.
A sort of transaction went on between them, in which she was on one side, and life was on another, and she was always trying to get the better of it, as it was of her.
The sigh of all the seas breaking in measure round the isles soothed them; the night wrapped them; nothing broke their sleep, until, the birds beginning and the dawn weaving their thin voices in to its whiteness.
–To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
Clocks slay time… time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels; only when the clock stops does time come to life.
She loved him not only in spite of but because he himself was incapable of love.
Because no battle is ever won he said. They are not even fought. The field only reveals to man his own folly and despair, and victory is an illusion of philosophers and fools.
–The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
I would love to know who the hell could tell them apart? To give some contrast here is some prose I would consider to be good:
Human madness is oftentimes a cunning and most feline thing. When you think it fled, it may have but become transfigured into some still subtler form.
Our souls are like those orphans whose unwedded mothers die in bearing them: the secret of our paternity lies in their grave, and we must there to learn it.
Ahab is for ever Ahab, man. This whole act’s immutably decreed. ‘Twas rehearsed by thee and me a billion years before this ocean rolled. Fool! I am the Fates’ lieutenant, I act under orders.
-Moby Dick by Herman Melville
He lifted the picture for a closer look and saw himself among a group of men, tossing a baseball from bare right hand to gloved left hand. The flight of the ball had always made this photo mysterious to Francis, for the camera had caught the ball clutched in one hand and also in flight, arcing in a blur toward the glove. What the camera had caught was two instants in one: time separated and unified, the ball in two places at once, an eventuation as inexplicable as the Trinity itself. Francis now took the picture to be a Trinitarian talisman (a hand, a glove, a ball) for achieving the impossible: for he had always believed it impossible for him, ravaged man, failed human, to reenter history under this roof. Yet here he was in this acne of reconstitutable time, touching untouchable artifacts of a self that did not yet know it was ruined, just as the ball, in its inanimate ignorance, did not know yet that it was going nowhere, was caught.
But the ball is really not yet caught, except by the camera, which has frozen only its situation in space.
And Francis is not yet ruined, except as an apparency in process.
The ball still flies.
Francis still lives to play another day.
-Ironweed by William Kennedy
Not only can you tell them apart, they are completely unique, because there is nothing trite or inane to reduce the writing to mere playing with words as is the case with the above passages. With Melville and Kennedy, there is actually something there. There is some real insight to be gleaned, rather than the poetic sounding, but intellectually banal gimmickry of Woolf and Faulkner.
Comparing the former to that latter duo is the literary equivalent of comparing a Jackson Pollock to a René Magritte.