The Final Emotions

25 02 2010

Was just reading through old entries on Tao Lin’s website, and this entry, in which he examines the work of Lorrie Moore, is very illuminating. He admires Lorrie, but wonders aloud why her story about a mother’s child having cancer, “People Like That Are the Only People Here,” is praised over her other stories. He makes (to me) a very important point when he concludes the following:

people generally like it (deem it acceptable and ‘important’) when problems are concrete, like cancer or immigration, but do not like it (call it self-indulgent, unimportant, and selfish) when problems are complex, like feeling sad or strange or doomed for no easily explainable reason

but why do people feel depressed?

not because of one single thing like cancer or immigration and not because of being self-indulgent or weak-minded, but because of the cumulative effect of the following, all of which are real things
that we will all die one day, that time moves in one direction and we only get one chance to get things right, that we are conscious things and so are conscious that other people are thinking things that we will never truly understand, that we do not choose to be born and that that first event of birth is the cause to every effect of our lives, so that we probably do not have free-will, that in a world of electrons and protons and neutrons, each particle the same, we are required to arbitrarily differientiate, that… about a million more things
which is more universal, less simplified and maybe ‘more important,’ (i’m writing now from the point-of-view of people who go around saying that ‘stories matter’ and that ‘tea-towel’ fiction, stories where ‘nothing happens,’ is not as ‘important’ as ‘immigration’ stories or ‘political’ stories) than for example cancer stories or stories about being confused of your identity, if you are ‘hispanic’ or ‘white’ or ‘asian’ or ‘asian-american’

so one argument could say that writing about feeling depressed, about ‘nothing,’ is writing about life itself while writing about cancer (or race-issues or whatever) is writing about the distraction that is sitting there, in front of life itself, distracting people, people like editors of literary magazines, people like award-givers, who forget about that list of things i listed above

because after cancer and after you resolve your cultural identity issues then there are still the other problems i listed above

(though maybe writing about cancer is being more specific, picking one thing to use to talk about it all, yes i am aware of this argument, i’m just thinking things through in this post, not saying that i’m right, not even making a point either, but probably just defending ‘tea-towel’ fiction)

Now, I actually think people like that particular story of Lorrie Moore’s for more reasons than the cancer aspects. I for one HATE stories about cancer set in hospitals, and yet when I read that story in my college writing workshop, after having read several of Lorrie Moore’s sassy early stories, I finally understood why she was supposed to be significant. And it wasn’t the subject matter, the seriousness of the story that did it. It was her passion. In fact, what really sold me is the ending when, after a long, exhausting emotional journey, she ostensibly slams her writer fist down on the desk, and sort of gestures at the autobiographical nature of the story when she writes something like, “Those are the facts. Now where’s the money!” There’s this rupture of the ordinary world of the short story where events are held at a distance and described calmly and plainly.

Nonetheless, if only more of the book world agreed with Tao that there’s nothing wrong with examining the imaginative truth of emotions-as-they-are, detached from politics and identity, because these emotions—loneliness, fear, longing—are the deepest, the final emotions. No one can escape them.

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