Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Chalk Line Between Provocation & Amusement

I have no idea how academics see or explain the difference between provocative and amusing, because I am not one of them. But, believe me, there is a difference, a big, big difference; though this epiphany only just came to me through some recent reads.

First off, do you remember how in past rants, I so smugly insisted that the reason so many relationships fail is because, after the nuptials, too many women think that daily life will now be a flurry of fun. And their partner, for the next forty years, will continue to amuse them as adeptly as they did during the courtship interlude.

And, I have also insisted this is ridiculous. It won’t happen. Cause, the truth of the matter is that each person makes or breaks their own day by choosing to make or break it, and that this parasitic dependence on the other is neither fair, right, or just.

Now, if you can just keep that thought in mind, let me discuss, if you will, what I have been reading of late.

I have no new books to read, and with all my reading materials so sadly depleted, the only thing I could find that I hadn’t read before, was a Literature text published in October, 1930. And in reading it, I immediately felt unbounded sympathy for students of that day who were expected to develop a love and respect of literature by reading that crap.

It differed considerably from today’s Lit in that there were quite a few Biblical references. And yes, there were small excerpts from Shakespeare’s works. But beyond that it was bor-or-ing.

Dull. Big time. Though admittedly, I did applaud the worth of the frequent references to personal loyalty, honour, honesty, and respect for others.

Nevertheless, through all the dullness, I languished in a bitter state of mind until I came across an essay titled “A Piece of Chalk”. That perked up my hopes and my spirits.

Neat title. Does that not sound as if this could be a truly fascinating story? Perhaps about a common yet mystical notion, that is rock-solid one day and completely irrelevant the next?

But, oh no. Titles can be so deceiving. No magic or mystic stuff here. Only a long-winded geological essay about the history of chalk and its derivation from a deep-buried ravine in Valentia (?) — whereever that may be.

That was almost enough disappointment, but then the author carried on with the foolish assumption that anyone who read the story was as well acquainted with that particular strand in the earth’s strat, as they are acquainted with the reflection of their own face in a mirror. I ground my teeth with frustration.

I finished the book, nonetheless, to satisfy my mind that it really was crap and moved to another high school English text published in 1980. This book I read once before a very long time ago, and remember thinking how puzzling and incomplete the stories seemed to be. As if each of the contributing authors planned a grand and polished opening scenario and then, unable to bring the story to conclusion, just killed or maimed someone, to make the ending rise to a point of impact (climax), as stories are supposed to do. I was not amused.

This time, however, when I sat down to re-read the book, I did what I so often don’t do. I read the introduction.

And that is when I discovered something about the book and about myself. All my life, I have had the notion that a good story must first and foremost be amusing. But now I find out these stories were not written to amuse.

They were written to encourage students to quest for meaning and examine several possible interpretations. The stories were meant to be provocative, which is quite different from amusing. Amusing rants provide laughter and hilarity. Provocative rants, on the other hand, are meant to be stimulating. Perhaps, even confrontational.

And so, I continued reading, and found myself extracting the most amazing things from what I was reading, having erased the Chalk Line in my own mind that heavily marked my lifelong expectation that literary prose, in order to be worthwhile, must amuse!

And in taking this new enlightenment to heart, i.e. the understanding that all stories are not necessarily meant to amuse, I found remarkable the things that surface when one reads with an expectation of provocation.

And with that came another realization that it is amazing how delightful life can be when it is lived with a balance of provocation and amusement. Kind of like our appreciation for the beauty of sunshine, only because we have been in shadows. Yet each has a sweet value, shade for its coolness, and sunshine for its warmth.

But are we losing the value of provocation? I don’t watch a lot of movies but are any of the current ones put out there for provocation, or is the mandate forever and always, simply amusement. And is all that we read meant to be amusing, rather than provocative?

In fact, are we a society that wants no part of social engagements unless they are amusing (NOTE: Informative venues are not a part of this particular discussion). Do we consider conversations a waste of time if they are not amusing? Have we, for the most part, utterly forgotten the value of provocation? I certainly had never for one moment thought it could be a part of valued reading.

I would be amiss if I did not tell you the other thing I learned in all of this. I am fond of Hub and always have been. And up until now, I thought it was because he is so amusing. But now, only just now, I realize I appreciate in some oblique, yet endearing way, the provocative part of him as well.

But then, in retrospect, right from the get-go, after the nuptials, I didn’t expect provocation, while at the same time, I didn’t expect him to amuse me every day either. But this latest epiphany has revealed to me there is worth in provocation.

And so, on television, I watch news stories, investigative stories, crime stories, and comedy stories, and I only see one of two things — amuse, or violate. That’s all. Seems like ‘provocative writ’ some time ago quietly slipped away when no one was looking.


Pauline said...

glad you are no longer sneering at provocation! there's a lot to be learned when one discards one's prejudices, yes? now i'm going to have to see if I can find a copy of A Piece of Chalk!

Roberta S said...

Oh, Pauline, Dear Pauline. That is not something you want to read. But if you find it, and if you read it, please come back so we can commiserate together about what a dreadful piece of literature it is.

joared said...

I particularly enjoy provocatively amusing stories as much as I enjoy amusing provocative stories over bor-or-ing ones any day. Huh? What did I say???

Perhaps a successful marriage is one in which the spouses continue to learn something new about each other, or are interested enough to do so.

Roberta S said...

Thanks for visiting, joared. Good and provocative points as always.