The Dark Stuff

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2022-07-24 12:00:00 No comments

A truism that scarcely bears repeating, but seems to be eluding us lately, is how good art does not have to be about Nice People or Healthy Things. Good art can be about Terrible People who are fascinating to watch (GoodFellas, Taxi Driver), or Unhealthy Things that put the rest of life into new perspective (Selby, Dostoevsky). What I dislike, and object to, is not fiction about immoral or even amoral subjects, but fiction that does not cop to the responsibility of being attracted to such material. What I really hate is fiction whose worldview seems limited to displaying these wretched things with a shrug, or worse, a snicker. If you're going to talk about this stuff, have the nerve to own up to why and to what end.

I know all the wholly defensible arguments in favor of art as an amoral enterprise, and I bet most everyone reading these words can barf out that catechism on demand too. Our art and entertainment does not need to be cleaned up and put into conformance with standards for uplift. But a) it should always be conscious of the responsibility that comes with engaging with ugly material, and b) that "art is fundamentally amoral" is not a pre-emptive defense against criticism. A hard subject, badly handled, doesn't get a pass for simply trying.

I think there can be a fascination to be found in ugly, disturbing, depressing things. I do not think ugly, disturbing, depressing things are the best, most profound, most fulfilling way to find a fascination. Something that disturbs us can be profound, but that does not mean disturbance is profundity, or a certain route to same.

As someone else once said: I don't need a novel to tell me that life's hard; I especially don't need a novel to tell me life's shit. I get plenty of that every day without trying. What I do need is a novel that looks at why people think life is hard, or shitty even, and makes sense of that worldview. Not something that gives me excuses for nodding along with the mere assertion; not something that's just a confirmation of my lowest impulses about it all. If you're going to show me the worst of life, at least do it in a way that makes me feel more compassionate for having done so. Not less.

Tags: criticism fiction philosophy