In the end I find pleasure, value, stimulation and provocation in stories that take me closer to what it feels like to be alive. Stories that take me closer to the natural wonder and confusion I feel as a kind of baseline reaction to life. I don’t think of this as an addiction to misery, or as a kind of literary ambulance chasing. On the contrary, it is paradoxically comforting to be in the presence of what feels like honesty, even though I know this isn’t exactly the word.
I just think that writing is particularly good at revealing the predicament of mortality, dramatizing or illustrating it. Making it goddamn funny, in fact. Beckett funny. Jane Bowles funny. Flannery O’Connor funny. Writing does this well. Obviously we all enjoy medicating ourselves against the awareness of our mortality. Relishing this kind of writing does not mean we do not love life. It means we love life enough to want to be present to its difficulty and complexity. We experience pleasure when we feel that someone has arrived at something essential… It just seems important to state that there’s a shit-ton of elation to be found in the so-called darker literature, and you’re not a joyless goon if you look to it for entertainment.
- Ben Marcus in Granta
“The question Franzen raises in “Mr. Difficult” dates back at least as far as Henry James’ essay “The Art of Fiction”: Namely, is the novel a popular art, like the ballad or folk opera or television sitcom, or a high art, like poetry, ballet, and conceptual installations in which naked men are nailed to Volkswagens?”
- “Marcus vs Franzen” // Jess Row