Saturday 8 January 2022

Do I like this?

Art Objects: Essays on Ecstasy and Effrontery Art Objects is a book for readers who relish language, its rhythm and its sounds. In other words, the art of the written word. In it Jeanette Winterson explores the idea of literature as art in a series of essays, using examples of the literature which she admires: the modernists, especially Virginia Woolf and Gertrude Stein.

I did wonder if I'd get much out of the book, since the only reading I have in common with Winterson is Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway, Winterson's own books, and Shakespeare. But I didn't let it put me off, and neither should you. This is a book that oozes love of literature.

There are plenty of ideas to take away and digest, foremost that in analysing one's reaction to a text: "the question ‘Do I like this?’ will have to be the opening question and not the final judgement". 'Liking' the modernists' work is something that needs to be worked at. We're talking about James Joyce, who "is difficult. Woolf is difficult. Eliot is difficult. A poet’s method, because it works towards exactness, is exacting on the reader". You have to persist with difficult texts in order to find their value.

Winterson is probably preaching to the converted here. I enjoy a challenge, especially if the language an author uses is beautiful, but it "is difficult when the writer is serious and the reader is not".

However, I don't fully agree that the printed word is more pleasurable than the digital, that "the pleasure in a book is, or should be, sensuous as well as aesthetic, visceral as well as intellectual". That's not to say that I shun 'hard copy', but can't there be joy in the beauty of an electronic device too? My hands delight in the smooth, cool corners of my iPad as much as they do in handling paper. I like the way the light catches along the silver edges. And above all I value the practicality of being able to alter the font size for my aging eyes, the ability to prop the device on a cushion without the need to hold the pages open, not to mention being able to carry a vast collection of reading material with me on holiday. The two formats are not mutually exclusive.

The last essay, A Work of My Own, gives some insight into Winterson's writing process and provides inspiration for would-be writers.

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