Posted by: dougery | February 22, 2011

A Big Mess

L says she knows what kind of art I like. She says that I like novels that are “big messes.” That I prefer movies that are “huge trainwrecks.” The music I listen to is noisy and full of bleeps and bloops and growling.

This is more or less accurate but kind of misleading.

Yes, I like it when an artist goes for broke. has an idea that might not fly, puts everything behind it, and what results isn’t perfect by any stretch but is damn brilliant at times. I enjoy hanging plot threads and casually abandoned narrative avenues. As if the author has envisioned such a big world that there’s no way in hell we’re gonna glimpse it all and instead we’re left with passing glances, like when you walk by an interesting person in town and realize that you will never see them again and instead of worrying about your big meeting or what to get for dinner you start to wonder where they are going, what they might be doing, even if it’s sitting on the couch, playing scrabble, or petting their cat.

L likes everything in it’s right place, I know this, you probably know this. She likes a tightly plotted story, no superfluous characters, no pathways to nowhere. In her fiction she ruthlessly kills off anyone who disobeys her, anyone who the reader might get the slightest idea is non-essential. In her world, Pynchon is the Antichrist.

I can see her point, and to be fair I’ve enjoyed the restraint of novels like Plainsong and Housekeeping, or films like the Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (although these stories evidently are too drawn in as L says they are boring) but I’ll take the panoply of rogues in Gravity’s Rainbow, the crew of addicts and teen dreams in Infinite Jest. Which is kind of odd because I am the exact opposite of this in Real Life. At a party surrounded by people I do not know, I will hunker down and chat with you, my friends, and avoid meeting new people, instantly forgetting faces and names of those whose hands I’ve shaken. In Real Life my world is purposefully small, and if you are included in it, well, you are either damn lucky (look at me the egoist!) or damn awesome (probably the latter.)

But in fiction… in film… in music…

I want a guy who falls in love with a tree and spends a third of a movie meditating in floating in a space bubble and another third trying to cure cancer and another third battling priests with flaming swords. I want madness, the larger than life leer of Daniel Plainview (and his barely murmured ‘these people’). I want Strangelove and Apocalypse Now! and the Wizard of Fucking Oz. I want the musical bombast of Lightning Bolt and the bizarre histrionic Rock Opera that is Blueberry Boat.

It’s like watching something so unruly that it will fall apart all by itself rather than be picked to pieces by the mind’s eye. Here’s to the that.

Listening to: the King of Limbs



  1. Man do I love “The Fountain.” The space bubble scenes towards the end were so beautiful I nearly cried, which is saying something as I neither have tear ducts nor feel emotions other than “rage” and “super rage.”

    Great post and interesting thoughts. I tend to go back and forth on this. As a writer, I’m certainly of the L-school, as you know. Like L’s The Legend, I shall abide no weakness, no dead weight, no lollygagging or goggylolling. The weak and useless shall be fed to monsters. But as a reader, I do love sprawling books, too.

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