Tuesday, February 26, 2019

What's the Agenda?

As a father of a 13-year old, I find it interesting, to discuss books, movies - art in general - with my kid.  I assume the same goes for most parents who have any interest in these particular things. In the case of books or films he likes, I talk to someone who experiences a book or film with the kind of uncluttered enthusiasm you don't often see in adults.  Not that we can blame adults for being, well, adults.  Everyone can remember the intense excitement or absorption you felt as a child with certain books and movies - stories and characters that were new and surprising and changed how you looked at the world.  As you get older, experiences of that intensity don't die away completely (I hope) but become less frequent.  You still love certain books or films, and can be moved immensely by art (I hope), but let's just say that you don't have childlike wonder anymore. You also have more critical tools at your disposal, obviously, and use them to engage with whatever the book or film is.

But beyond all that:

In these fraught times, when it's difficult to say anything about anything without others judging it through a political lens, when one receives, in social media and elsewhere, lectures and admonishments on an hourly basis, I find it enjoyable to talk to someone who likes or dislikes what he likes or dislikes without an agenda attached. That's a prerogative, I suppose, a kid can have. Or you could say (using reading as an example) that a child reads with enough ignorance, with a limited enough view of things, that other things related to the book or story don't matter.  It ties into something Gabino Iglesias said in a Lit Reactor piece recently.  He talks about reading H.P. Lovecraft when younger: "I know Lovecraft was a racist...but I didn't know that back then. His writing made a lasting impression. It showed me what horror could be."  In Lovecraft, as everyone who has read him knows, you can see the racism clearly in some of the tales, but the point is there may be a value, odd as it sounds, in having a time in life when you can read absent of certain knowledge that might otherwise affect how you view what you're reading. There's time enough later for agendas and ideologies to form, or just for your education to fill out the picture of who might be behind the work or what the circumstances were behind the work.  Then you can engage with the work from a more complete perspective, but you will first have engaged with what's only on the page - the words, the sentences, the ideas stated and suggested by those words and sentences - not by what's beyond the page.  

I know I reveal my own biases here.  And I'm not talking about willfully keeping a young reader in the dark. If my kid read and liked, The Sign of the Four by Arthur Conan Doyle, it would be quite fair to get into how Doyle upholds British imperialistic ideas about East Asians, people of color.  If he read, let's say, Ernest Hemingway (he hasn't, but if he did), we could talk misogyny.  We can get into the unexemplary life an artist might have lived or the terrible actions an artist might have done while still producing great art.  My goal, though, is to encourage a young reader to read as broadly as possible, from now or any era in the past, from all types of people from everywhere, and to let those works (with their faults and their flaws and their great and wonderful aspects) speak to him.  That is to say, as much as it's humanly possible, to stress reading works from the inside out and enjoying what you happen to enjoy and letting the works themselves speak to you (agree or disagree with what's in them as you will) without imposing onto them outside agendas and pre-set ideologies. 

If he asked, I guess I'd have to admit that's my agenda. 

"And that is, pop?"
"An agenda that stresses to read with an open yet skeptical mind and beware of any and all agendas."  x

I sound quaint, I know. 

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