the writer of the biggest tv show ever made saying "themes are for eighth grade book reports" is the natural end result of the literalist approach to fiction which has grown in influence over the last two decades and is a direct result of the ever-increasing size of media conglomerates and the abandonment of humanities education

i usually blame this on a certain strand of online culture but the truth is that the reddit approach to fiction is a symptom, not a cause

the neoliberal transformation of the education system into a worker-producing machine has turned the humanities into a societal embarrassment, a jumble of bizarre cultural detritus, and the last few generations of schoolchildren have internalised this distaste. the cultural forces which work to undervalue less-profitable pursuits such as art are then internalised by creators and consumers of art

so that the kind of response to art which accommodates its non-productive specificity, responses that acknowledge art's possibility for meaning, responses that are conscious of themselves as participating in the work's creation, are subject to a concentrated form of the stigma that strikes art in general.

while we fall short of the neoliberal ideal of the absence of art as anything other than an object of financial speculation, what encounters we do have with art still bear this system's mark


we come to think of ourselves, whether readers or writers, as technicians rather than creators. we reduce the work of to a set of data, and its analysis to data collection. writers are praised for producing data which is more coherent (without plot holes or inconsistencies), and which stands out - as data - from other data (this is the emphasis on unpredictable twists). good analysis of art in this framework focuses on collecting the data (establishing lore and timeline, rating their coherence)

we have created a way of thinking about art which erases its artfulness. instead of encountering a work of fiction as a work of fiction, we encounter it as a kind of history book for an alternate reality. its very nature *as fiction*, as something which is not and does not pretend to be real, which claims to be neither true nor false, which is outside of our productive world, disappears.

it's been 50 years and 12 days since adorno died

@garfiald what about works of fiction that have "being an AH history book" as a central conceit

@garfiald e.g "For Want of A Nail" being the most famous example, afaict

@a_breakin_glass hmm well it seems to me that those books are lying about that, you see

@a_breakin_glass yes but im not sure you know what i mean. the kind of analysis which focuses exclusively on the coherence of plot and worldbuilding and denies the very possibility of thematic or allegorical meaning to the work treats texts of fiction as statements which are more or less true. which is not what they are.

@garfiald honestly, when it comes to fiction I prefer plot and worldbuilding, but without denying thematic or allegorical meaning. it's more that you can't get by with themes that aren't suppported by wordbuilding or plot.

@a_breakin_glass to give only one example, have you heard of samuel beckett

@garfiald correction: you can, but a. I'm talking about my overall preferences, which are pretty arbitrary b. no-one said the plot had to be coherent ;) c. lucky was godot :^^^)

@garfiald @a_breakin_glass i wouldn't say that allegory is entirely dead — it's just been reduced to a sledge hammer.

similarly, we have a rich set of themes to choose from in modern media: dark, gritty, dark *and* gritty,,

@garfiald somehow i was thinking about adorno at the same minute you posted this.

@policeinchains maybe we're living through an adornian moment... who knows

@policeinchains @garfiald

how did I never know of this person (Wikipedia quote)

"The masses have become conditioned by the culture industry, which makes the impact of standardization much more important. By not realizing the impact of social media and commercial advertising, the individual is caught in a situation where conformity is the norm. 'During consumption the masses become characterized by the commodities which they use and exchange among themselves.'"



I love this thread. It reminded me of this essay about approaches to world building which also wants art, even fantastical art, to be applicable to reality.

@garfiald I've started writing a piece of fiction set in a specific historical era and I'm intentionally incorporating at least one glaring anachronism, and I'm so worried about it being seen as an error or laziness. tbf "they won't get it" is my go-to excuse for abandoning writing projects, but I feel really good about this one and I want to complete it. I feel encouraged by your thread, so thank you.

@tessaracked you should absolutely not let worries of that kind stop you! whatever the anachronism is, the Venn diagram intersection of people who will notice it AND of people who will think it's a mistake is likely to be very small

@garfiald thanks for this! It's giving me life. Is adorno someone who writes stiff like this? Are there other resources? This answers so many problems I didn't realize I had about aesthetics.

@acdw Adorno deals with issues like this, he's probably the most influential marxist writer on aesthetics since Benjamin. His writing is, however, quite inaccessible, so if that sounds like something that might turn you off, I would recommend the work of Sianne Ngai, an Adornian writer on aesthetics who focuses on extremely contemporary issues and works

@garfiald having had some absolutely asinine Reddit-flavoured reviews on my writing lately this is pretty refreshing to read

@garfiald I’m reminded of hbomberguy’s defense of Dark Souls II’s story, where he defended the game against critiques of it not being “efficient storytelling” by reminding the viewer that “efficient” doesn’t always have to be synonymous with “good.” It can just be what it is, and the viewer can be free to react as necessary
Everyone’s entitled to their taste, but limiting that taste to the coherent and quantifiable based on a standard masking itself as “objective?” Seems unfair, even to oneself

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