April 24, 2007

Follow-up: Violence to compensate for lack of talent.

Someone named Albert posted a long essay dissecting Seung Cho's bad plays on my April 18th "literary review." I responded below, but mostly what I meant was, don't look too closely at the perceived symbolism, any "symbolism" in this case or foreshadowing of violence is inflicted by the critic, the plays have zero depth. As for reading a lot of racial tension into Cho's life & work, even in his manifesto, he states his "revenge" was more driven by class than by his insecurities about his name & heritage.

Anyway, I feel vindicated by Stephen King, who came to some similar conclusions about Cho's artistic merit. I'll reprint his short essay for Entertainment Weekly here in full:

I've thought about it, of course. Certainly in this sensitized day and age, my own college writing — including a short story called ''Cain Rose Up'' and the novel RAGE — would have raised red flags, and I'm certain someone would have tabbed me as mentally ill because of them, even though I interacted in class, never took pictures of girls' legs with my cell phone [...], and never signed my work with a ?.

As a teacher, I had one student — I will call him George — who raised red flags galore in my own mind: stories about flaying women alive, dismemberment, and, the capper, ''getting back at THEM.'' George was very quiet, and verbally inarticulate. It was only in his written work that he spewed these relentless scenes of gore and torture. His job was in the University Bookstore, and when I inquired about him once, I was told he was a good worker, but ''quiet.'' I thought, ''Whoa, if some kid is ever gonna blow, it'll be this one.'' He never did. But that was in the days before a gun-totin' serial killer could get top billing on the Nightly News and possibly the covers of national magazines.

For most creative people, the imagination serves as an excretory channel for violence: We visualize what we will never actually do (James Patterson, for instance, a nice man who has all too often worked the street that my old friend George used to work). Cho doesn't strike me as in the least creative, however. Dude was crazy. Dude was, in the memorable phrasing of Nikki Giovanni, ''just mean.'' Essentially there's no story here, except for a paranoid a--hole who went DEFCON-1. He may have been inspired by Columbine, but only because he was too dim to think up such a scenario on his own.

On the whole, I don't think you can pick these guys out based on their work, unless you look for violence unenlivened by any real talent.

I also think it's relevant to bring back up a controversy from ten years ago. I just remember Peter Schickele lambasting on his radio show a feminist music critic who claimed Beethoven was a "suppressed rapist" who took out his violent sexual longings on his music instead of on women. Schickele said that if that's the case, we should be giving manuscript paper to inmates. Beethoven either was a rapist or he wasn't (he wasn't), he may have been a tad crazy, but violent music is uncomparable to repressed violent urges. Many artists go to some pretty dark places to illuminate the human condition - Cho had more human condition than he did illumination.

No comments: