by Stuart Brown
I thought that, a few months ago, I had made the nature of the Art myth clear: that it is a bullshitty nineteenth-century dogma arising from a Rousseauian sweet-toothed hero-worship of the creative individual, adapted using spurious pseudo-objectivist claims to function as a bulwark with which the privileged elites, long accustomed to defining culture according to their tastes but now threatened by post-Enlightenment democratization and egalitarianism, sought—and regrettably still seek—to defend their subjective views as somehow qualitatively superior in order to avoid having to face the otherwise obvious reality that taste is just taste, that no-one’s taste is better or worse than anyone else’s, and that to attempt to hoard all of the cultural resources of our society in order to reflect the proclivities of a tiny proportion of the populace is inconsistent with the principles of egalitarianism. Thus was invented Art, Literature, Greatness, and other such unsupportable and nonsensical concepts: all of them labels designed to give this veneer of objective superiority to the particular objects of elite adoration, so that these elites could continue to dominate culture at their pleasure.
Apparently some of you weren’t listening, and in particular the Guardian: a newspaper which generally I like, but sometimes despair of for the inconsistency between the pluralism and democratism of the politics they espouse, and the smug intellectual presumptuousness of a great deal of its arts and social commentary.
And so we come to this hideous little piece, published on their website, in which the author bemoans the fact that a popular author was popular; that when a popular public figure dies a great many people are sad about that; and that when a less popular person dies, less people are sad. (I will give him the benefit of ignorance, and allow that he was not aware that Pratchett had bravely and openly discussed his horrible condition, and that many of those who expressed their sorrow may not have read a single word of his books, but been touched by a man who had used his own personal disaster to contribute to breaking the prejudice and stigmas that surround dementia.)
This is what I was talking about, dear readers, this is precisely what I was talking about. Jonathan Jones, the author of the piece, is perfectly entitled to his literary opinions, and I don’t even take issue with his decision not to read any Pratchett. We all know our personal preferences and make exclusionary decisions based upon them; indeed I have not read Mansfield Park, though unlike Mr Jones I feel a complete lack of guilt for this omission, and have the intellectual honesty to declare that my neglect of it—and indeed, the entirety of Austin’s oeuvre—is founded upon my dislike of nineteenth-century fiction, an wholly subjective view which I feel no need to dress up in the ugly rags of claims of about what is and isn’t “literature” in order to justify.
This piece is a crystalline example of the Art myth in action: he has not a single argument to wield, whether persuasive (which is fine, try to persuade people of your taste by all means) or claiming the status of objective reason (which we could then, at least, take down piece by piece). No, Mr Jones merely delivers statements of his opinion as incontrovertible fact, and these purported facts are presented with all the élan of an automated phone-answering system.
For this is what really has me almost retching with ire over this arrogant little piece of drivel: for a man who sneers at Pratchett’s prose as “ordinary”, as part of a “middlebrow cult” (sweet Jeebus, as another popular figure Mr Jones no doubt holds in contempt would say, we musn’t only sneer at the lowbrow: even the middlebrow is contemptible), his own writing is clunkingly dull: his unoriginal and unimaginative opinions set forth with clichéd and turgid turns of phrase, which rise to an apotheosis of nonsense with “They enrich the very fabric of reality”, at which utterly meaningless and pompous locution I actually spat out my gin and tonic in nauseated fury.
Mr Jones contends that “life is too short to waste on ordinary potboilers.” Does he really suppose that his own little gem has not wasted precious minutes of mine (and—I apologize—now yours), spewing forth in colourless cadences the same facile, presumptive nonsense about Art and Greatness that one could get for free from any first-year arts undergraduate; all underlined by an ill-concealed spite towards the success of a man who brought pleasure to millions?