Friday, January 21, 2011

Ray Robertson on Dire Straits, Literature & Literalness

When I was in Grade Five, my first errant rock & roll epiphany came while listening to Billy Joel's It's Still Rock & Roll To Me, from Glass Houses. I remember the AHA!!! moment: so that's what I'd been doing wrong! That and my egg salad and dill pickle sandwiches.

It was a good lesson in not taking music (or literature) too literally.

In today's Globe & Mail, Ray Robertson (Moody Food and this Fall's Why Not?) weighs in on the current Dire Straits/ Money For Nothing censorship stupidity. In Grade Seven, every single one of would have given anything to be that little faggot in the earring and the mink coat. Some of us still would. Sadly, my mink-wearing days are long behind me.

Robertson writes:

Every writer with a new book to peddle knows the drill: put together 10 to 15 minutes of what will work best as spoken-word material in preparation for the readings one will be expected to give while out on the publicity circuit. What works most effectively live, I’ve found, is plenty of dialogue combined with a few choice passages illustrating one’s hopefully unique way with the shaping and saying of the English language. Conversely, what rarely works in front of an audience is irony. Better your chances of charming a skeptical crowd of would-be book buyers with potentially alienating scenes of sex and violence and the repeated use of profane language than to ask one’s listeners to understand that the narrative voice to which they’re listening is not to be taken at all times 100-per-cent literally. And double the prospective trouble if your narrator is even slightly less than wholly reliable.

What most of the recent to-censor or not-to-censor brouhaha surrounding Mark Knopfler’s song Money for Nothing fails to uncover is that humour and its prized offspring, irony, are literature’s primary instruments of genuine exploration. Blunt literalness is fine for schoolchildren, who need to be clearly instructed that race and sexual orientation aren’t how we should identify individuals, but the twin scalpel blades of humour and irony are needed to dissect, for instance, the more adult concern of why this is unfortunately so often not the case.

For the rest of Ray's piece, which ranges through Welty, Twain and Kundera, and pinpoints all of the standard stupidities this mess brings to the surface, please go here.

No comments: