I’m currently ankle-deep in the sizable Middlemarch: A Study of Provincial Life, the 1871/72 novel by revered English author Mary Ann Evans. Evans chose to write under the pseudonym “George Eliot” in the belief that her work would be scrutinized with more gravity as a consequence, and while the gender of an author shouldn’t normally have any bearing on the degree to which it is respected, Middlemarch is an exception: the fact it was written by a woman should impact our respect for it – only in opposite fashion from how it did a hundred and forty-four years ago.
It’s as much a scathing critique of patriarchy as any contemporary novel I can name, which is fucking remarkable given the environment in which it was released. The writing is commanding and sagacious, the wit sharp as a tungsten needle, and the narrative reverberations perfectly injuring.
All this said, if the reading lasts long enough I find I have to battle the urge to violently shake its social novel temperaments from myself like a waterlogged malamute…
The truth is, I’ve always been severely selective with ‘social novels’, so-called. Inasmuch as a genre is a roughly-accurate proposal of a kind of experience, my history with this ambrosial branch of fiction is as sparse as it is spotty. Is Middlemarch really a social novel? I’m not sure; I haven’t read enough yet to decide, but if it isn’t one, Evans has me fooled so far, clearly.
And that’s okay, because lately I’ve felt it necessary to gently antagonize my inclinations, if or when the opportunity arises. To verify what one likes sometimes requires verifying what one does not, and one does this by choosing to spend time with the latter as if it were the former.
If you still dislike it, congratulations, your self-perception is right as rain; if you no longer dislike it, or you find you dislike it less, congratulations, the world just became that much pleasanter for you. But the fact that the experiment is largely binary (the “0” is more of a “.5”) isn’t its only comfort: you learn that the nuance of your opposition is more nuanced still. You discover, in other words, the mechanics of your aversion, the little why’s. If you’d given up earlier, hot-eared and steely-gazed, your understanding of that dislike would be blunter by comparison, dumber, a little temperamentally biased, even?
If you stick with it, however, – if you act almost as if against your will, you will learn something, I promise you. The lesson may be limited to “the only reaffirmation needed to never visit attention on Thing again, or Things like it,” but the benefit remains time saved for your future self and a deeper understanding of your present one. I’m inclined to believe that our aversions – our dislikes, disinterests, or hates – are more instructive to our sense of self than our likes and loves because they’re tried on every encounter, whereas some likes/loves can prosper eternally unquestioned.
How often do you scrutinize your tastes in media? What are the why’s of your aversions?
Earlier this year, during episode eight, season five of HBO’s Game of Thrones, titled “Hardhome“, I couldn’t help but think that an aversion to ‘fantasy’ is an almost irrelevant excuse to wall oneself off from such a redolent world as Westeros, Essos, Sothoryos and Ulthos comprise. Season Five was perhaps the most dividing of the series, but to my mind it was the most rapt tempest of salts and exalts since season one.
Though I’m still personally wound up (if with a little more reserve now than at the start), I can understand why the escalations of “genre” – stone men, white walkers, women giving birth to demonic shadows – would be flat notes for the disinclined. Because, as with the ‘social novel’, I’m selective – and admittedly a bit too strict – in what Fantasy I digest, and I should make more of a sincere effort at investigation, rather than continue to lazily rely on the rage, so to speak, which guarantees nadda and is every bit the dice-roll.
Still, ignorance becomes obnoxious the minute it’s chosen, and I have no sympathy for those who choose to never do the fieldwork of testing their partialities. Getting “set in one’s ways” isn’t a result of being hardened, and therefore wisened, by experience; it’s choosing the comfort of the familiar before the overtures of the unfamiliar, which is the instructive of the two – the lone path toward maturation. The familiar keeps us grounded when we need to be, as we often do need to be, but it also precludes motion.
If I have any acute source of embarrassment here, it is my aversion to long-form non-fiction. For some reason it takes an extra dose of discipline and cerebral wherewithal for me to take such books up. Sometimes the content itself is a barrier, if grave enough, as it lacks that poetic quality of “escapade” that even the gravest fiction consents to.
I’ve had John Vaillant’s The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival in close proximity for a couple of years now, and because tigers have been my favourite animal since the age of two, and because I find their predicament as a species as illustrative and debilitating as any other, I haven’t been able to flip further than the title page where Vaillant himself kindly left his signature and wished me “good luck with (or on, it’s hard to tell) the writing.” More accurate would have been to say ” the reading.”
I’ve also been interested in Vaillant’s The Golden Spruce: A True Story of Myth, Madness and Greed, the unbelievable account of “an ex-logger turned messianic environmentalist who toppled the famous tree—the only one of its kind—to protest the destruction of British Columbia’s old-growth forest.” The story of someone, then, whose intuition went directly against his own inclinations and instinct; the resulting act of which was a sacrifice of self (justified or not), and thankfully of a magnitude which will never be required to just get over it already, whatever “it” is, and read a fucking book. Or, for fuck’s sake, try.