Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Hatred: a poem

I led a First Story creative writing workshop today, and we did the Poetry Machine, which generated some great first lines.

Here’s mine, based on “Hate shields you from the rain.”

Hate shields you from the rain,
When you open it.
Usually, it squats in the hall,
Furled like a bat at roost.
When the darkening skies
Split open, I have to run for the
Bus. There’s a spoke missing.
My hatred flaps.
It makes a space, for sure:
Small, private, empty.
But what it doesn’t do
Is keep the wind out.
You’ll still get battered.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Breaking Bad: A response

Jesse: free at last
Breaking Bad, the TV show which, over five series, charted the Faustian bargain made by chemistry teacher Walter White with the devil, in the form of methamphetamine and the power it gives him, has come to an end. This, naturally, has caused an outpouring of responses on the internet, on social and traditional media; there are some who think the final episode wasn't up to scratch (see Chris Harvey's piece on The Telegraph); and there are others who think that the whole shebang, from start to finish, was ridiculous (see Ed Cumming's piece, also on The Telegraph.)

The episode was, in many respects, a microcosm of the series. There was black humour; there was the sometimes straining attention to detail; there was violence; and there was room for poignancy. But what I think makes it truly good, and a fitting end to the series, is that all the time Walter White was in control. Here was the deposed kingpin, returning from exile to his ravaged kingdom, and crucially not just offering redemption - to his wife, in the form of a series of coordinates she could use as a plea bargain; to his son, by simply not talking to him (and arranging for his financial future in a satisfying manner); to poor Jesse, by giving him his freedom - but achieving self-realisation. He finally admitted his jouissance; his pleasure that results in pain. His final smile as he lay dying, or dead, said it all. The end was an expression of the transgressive pleasure he felt; and also allowed room for the true pleasure his family could now achieve. Incidentally, the simple nod between Walt and Jesse as Jesse flees was all that is needed - what else was there that they could say?

Now, Ed Cumming dismisses Breaking Bad as tedious and unbelievable. That is a critical stance that it is entirely possible to take; it also induces the characteristic response of the article commenter: "everyone's entitled to their opinion." His article, however, goes on to dismiss its fans as credulous, overblown, pretentious and naive. He has made a critical judgment about a work of art, and has than ascribed certain attributes to a set of people who like it simply because of that judgement.

He seems to have forgotten what criticism is, what its purpose is: to dissect, put into context, understand. He has replaced it with a jeering, ad homines attack. He says Breaking Bad fans are like atheists, convinced of their opinions as objective fact. There are certain objective things that you can say about Breaking Bad that are fact and are part of its critical understanding - the cinematography, the ingenuity of its plot - even if you don't agree about its characterisation and so on, which are necessarily subjective. (Let us not even mention his point about convincing relationships - I don't think anybody ever came out of Macbeth and said - "has Shakespeare even ever seen a real marriage?")

To attack those who admire a work of art is to slip into a mode of thinking that is both churlish and puerile. It's drawing a line and saying, "I like marbles and Take That and everyone who doesn't is rubbish." It's a dangerous path to follow: "You like Vettriano, therefore you are stupid and don't understand art." How far, after all, is Cumming's point, inverted though it is, from that?