Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Iris Murdoch, Terry Pratchett, over or under the roll, and more

At the end of last month, I asked if anyone had any questions. I've already answered one--about writer's block (a followup to this coming soon)--so I thought I'd tackle some of the others.

"Have you read anything by Iris Murdoch?" (from Barbara Sanchez).

No. I keep thinking I have. Then I keep meaning to pick something up, but I never do. Why? I don't know. Possibly because I've formed the impression that on some level her work is a little cruel. Possibly because most of the titles I've looked at persuade me that they're Serious Works About Anguished People, with a little twisty humour and irony thrown in. No doubt I'm wrong. But tell me what you think of her, and which novel I should start with.

"What, if any, is your favourite conspiracy theory?" (from Jennifer in Pittsburgh)

I like ancient Catholic conspiracies--the stuff of bad novels. Only I wish someone would write a good one. (It's on my list; one of the things I'll get around to if I live to be 120 with all my faculties intact.) Generally speaking, I don't think Grand Conspiracies are common; the human animal is incapable of keeping secrets, organisations doubly so. And the larger the organisation, the less able it is to keep things both organised and secret. When people talk about government conspiracies, I laugh. When people genuinely think that a corporation (like, oh, say, Amazon) is conspiring against a particular group, I laugh. Sometimes I laugh bitterly, but I can't take the notion of coordinated, secret action seriously. Idiotic policy with unexamined prejudices, yes, mistakes, yes, security weaknesses that the Powers That Be wish to collude in hiding, yes. Planned and efficient conspiracy, no.

I tend to think of those who believe in conspiracies are being a little developmentally arrested. It's a teenage thing, a paranoia thing, an untreated schizophrenia thing. But, oooh, if someone wrote a really, really good novel about the Catholic hierarchy keeping an enormous and powerful secret I'd be first in line. The Catholics, after all, really did run the world once upon a time. (And, yes, I read The Da Vinci Code. It sucked. His characters give cardboard a bad name. But I read it, all the way through. I watched the film, too; it was worse.)

"Boxers or briefs? Toilet paper over or under the roll?" (from The Promiscuous Reader)

Let me just say that when Kelley and I started living together resolving the second question was, ah, interesting. I hadn't had to deal with the notion before--which of course made me wonder if it was cultural/national or whether I had simply trampled roughshod over all previous girlfriends without even noticing. I prefer to think it's the former, but sadly am prepared to accept that this time I noticed because Kelley is as determined as I am.

"What do you think of Terry Pratchett?" (from Janine)

I've struggled through the first half of two of his novels. His humour and mine simply do not mesh. His popularity is a puzzle to me.

"Favourite poems that might make a good short film?" (from lonelypond)

Huh. That's a cool question. It makes me think about the difference between literature and film (a novel is about what people think and feel, a film is about what they say and do) and why I hate so many feature films so much--it's because they're trying to do what novels do, which is pointless. If you want your audience to think about what they feel, write a book. A film, in my opinion, is supposed to be a two-hour (or less) rollercoaster ride that is pure sensation. Pure fun. Some really long films work well because I can watch the DVD at home--but I can't sit in a theatre comfortably for much over two hours. And the long films have to be very, very good: Laurence of Arabia, The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Most films these days are Serious Films About Anguished People and, frankly, a load of crap.

I'm not very familiar with short films, except the animated variety (which I like). So it's tricky to consider what kind of poem might make a good one. Poems are moments--emotional and contemplative, rarely action-based. The story behind the poem, or what I imagine to be the story, is what would make the film. What's the story behind Shelley's Ozymandias? What's the story behind many of Sappho's poems? What's behind Masefield's Cargoes, Grahn's Edward the Dyke, Oliver's Geese? I wouldn't mind seeing those on film--gotta be some sex or violence, though, not just bloody angst.


So that's it. Feel free to ask more questions, here in the comments or by sending email to asknicola2 at nicolagriffith dot com. Feel free, too, to suggest conversations we could have in the future.