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Against Luminism III

February 10, 2010

Finished How I Became a Famous Novelist this a.m.   after my software testing hit a snag.  Not a bad finish, though it definitely felt “movie scripted” – i.e., the third act downfall and semi-redemption that comforts readers as well as…well, as well as the homily-laced prose which author Steve Hely so effectively denounces throughout most of the book.  The narrator gets his comeuppance at the hands of “Preston Brooks,” the novelist character who represents all that’s wrong with trade paperback fiction, i.e., gnarled hands crafting cornpone in the fading autumn light.  This didn’t work for me since, just before the comeuppance is delivered, Hely gives us a page and a half of the very prose that, ending with a horrible metaphor, proves that Brooks needs a takedown.  I get the idea that Brooks ends up getting a pass because he’s “making an honest try,” i.e, that unlike the narrator, Brooks at least isn’t faking it when he writes.  But that doesn’t cancel the fact that there’s something pernicious in the long run about cornpone, about how it corrupts the reader as much as continued exposure to Thomas Kincaid, “Painter of Light,” and the belief that his work is aesthetically marvelous stuff, corrupts one’s ability to view a masterwork with pleasure and understanding.

I think I need to write a long, comprehensive essay on why Luminism is so pernicious, why “the language” shouldn’t be so fetishized above and beyond the story or the characters.  I’m a huge fan of writers who think big, complex thoughts and write short, clear sentences – Doris Lessing, George Orwell, Gore Vidal.  More and more often these days we are bombed with what I call “thin speech,” the cheap quick slogans designed to push buttons – Stay the Course so Joe the Plumber doesn’t catch Socialism!  Barack Hussein Obama’s Death Panels are going to inject us all with Muslimism!

In thin speech, impact is measured solely by its emotional value, and Luminism in its own way is just as guilty – the “cause” of prose has been sidetracked; the beautiful sentence is now an end rather than a means.  The 19th century novelist’s quest for true things about people, unearthed through long, plot-driven narratives and character development, has been shunted into an aesthetic garden, in which we are supposed to take comfort in painterly descriptions of the poignancy of little moments in which “growth” allegedly occurs because we experience a flutter of sentiment or nostalgia. I know a lot of this has been said by Tom Wolfe and B. R. Myers and others in other contexts about the retreat from big ideas and big emotions and big changes, and I don’t think I’ve got it all thought out yet, but there’s something that someone needs to say against this, because it’s making us stupid.


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