Thursday, March 25, 2010

Comedy versus Tragedy

Once again I haven't been blogging here. Partly it's because I've been working on a new publication, a reissue of my first novel The Birth Machine, which has taken up much of the time and headspace left over from any actual writing I've managed to do. But partly, too, I have to admit there's the loss of impetus which others have reported, connected to the rise of Facebook and Twitter. As Tania Hershman says, on social networking sites you can get instant feedback and have instant conversations - and without having to write whole mini-essays - and reach a wider audience than just the blogging fraternity. Another thing which has struck me is that by the time you get around to blogging about an issue, on Twitter or Fb things have moved on, and it's become old hat.

But that, precisely, is the value of blogs. The reason that sometimes one doesn't instantly get around to blogging about an issue is that blogs can take a commitment of time, and the reason they do us that is that they can also take a commitment of thought. A blog, it seems to me, is an excellent vehicle for contemplating nuances which can easily be submerged in instant discussions. Take for instance the recent issue of Orange Prize Chair Daisy Goodwin's plea for women writers to lighten up. I've been mulling this for some time, and wondering why I didn't want to join in the discussions, and why something about it all has worried me. Once I had a moment free from retrieving files from old computers and reading proofs, it struck me.

I know there were one or two more subtle voices, but the general thrust of the conversation on the web seemed to fall into bald either-or arguments: there were those who believed that women were too miserable and those who didn't and thought men were just as bad; there were those who were for comedy and those who weren't. Even the intelligent article by Erica Wagner in The Times arguing that comedy is harder to do than tragedy (comedy requires a particularly incisive verbal facility) seemed to imply that comedy is therefore better.

Why does one have to be better than the other? Aren't they simply different sides of the coin of human nature, expressions of different but equally valid individual and social states of mind? Sometimes comedy answers our emotional needs, sometimes tragedy does. Why, as artists, can't we do both? (I certainly like to.)

I'm troubled by this thrust towards either/or and black-and-white thinking, and not just as a writer fighting the culture of branding.
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