Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Reader's Diary #1747- Stephen Elliott: Sometimes I Think About It

I have so many mixed feelings about Stephen Elliott's Sometimes I Think About It, a collection of essays. The biggest, most nagging question I have is how much do we forgive for art? If the man can write a killer sentence, do I have to like him?

Don't get me wrong, it's not that I walked away from Sometimes I Think About It feeling like I hated Elliott, but I don't think I'd click with him and vice versa. I certainly understand that he had a very traumatic childhood and no doubt his worldview has been shaped by that. He seems pretty liberal and open-minded. I am too.

I was especially put off by his fascination with online videos that show people being humiliated or abused. Worse, his friends try to comfort him over the guilt he's felt about watching such stuff. "And it wasn't like I was downloading child porn," he writes. And yet a few short pages later he writes about a naked high school girl that he's watched being mocked in a locker room. Worse still, he resents that his friends and counselor try to make him feel better about his guilt and I don't buy that it's because he's truly repentant but because he gets off on being judged harshly. Now I resent him  because it put me, as a reader, in a position of either dismissing his abhorrent behaviour or giving him what he wants. It's a clever, evil sort of trick as he likes to make himself out to be a submissive but if he holds the power, doesn't that him the dominant?

And yet. Before I got to that particular essay, I had earmarked a page because I appreciated the writing so much. "I worry that my brother will think I drink too much. Then I worry that maybe I drink too much."

It's two simple sounding sentences but they perfectly capture a mildly neurotic, accurate thought process; the idea of seeing ourselves through others first.

The book is full of such beautifully authentic lines. No flowery language but poetic nonetheless in the concise arrangement of well chosen words.

No one wants to like the art but not the artist and yet, and yet, and yet. Sometimes we have no choice.

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