Suppose someone took it into her head to rank the dying and give awards for best last days or near to last days based on certain well thought out criteria, culminating in lots of sugarplums and press and endless discussion. How would that remove us from the experience? How would it remove us from the immediacy and all it might offer us. How would it remove the dying from it, distracted as they are by the possibility of this last big award? It is a toxic practice. There was a writer in East Germany who wrote there before and after the wall came down. Afterward everyone told her how wonderful that she had the opportunity now for artistic freedom, success, money. She said she had more freedom before the wall came down when she simply wrote, knowing her readership would be there, working in peace, nothing to aspire to. Now she had the great seduction of success, competition, it removed her from the freedom of the work. Suppose you could read books without having the distraction and removal to the level of judging them against each other. Then we would see what was there. Each its own experience because of what it is not because of where it is in the line up. Moving freely from book to book. I will not participate in these Newbery talks again. They are only a chance to say look how smart I am. I can tell you what is good better best. They have nothing to do with the truth. They have nothing to do with the artists' intent. Merry Christmas to all and to all a still night.
I don't know if I can read without judging, or at least comparing to what I've read before. (This got me kicked out of one those human-potential workshops once. The group leader said I was too judgmental. I asked her if she knew what I did for a living. Saved by literature once again!) And while I appreciate that the stakes being set up by prizes, or even reviews, can kill good writing, I also worry about a wafty world where all is "experience," there is no worse or better, each work of art is a distinct expression, la, la, la. Don't we write (or paint, etc.) in the first place to throw into relief those flashes of experience that, for us, are the important ones? Isn't living a process of making distinctions among choices? These are genuine questions, not rhetorical ploys, and I thank She... for bringing them up. Her example of the East German writer reminded me of a friend who was moving from the States to Mexico at a time (late 70s) when the Mexican government was cracking down on press freedoms and political dissent. My friend said "here I can wave my arms and say anything I want but nobody listens. There, at least, political speech matters."