(plus a “review” of Arrow’s mid-season finale) This column came about because Psycho Drive-In’s Editor-in-Chief, Paul McCoy, asked if I would be interested in writing for the site. To entice me into accepting his offer, Paul said I could have “free rein” to do what I wanted (while writing about television and movies, of course). I’ve had two previous offers from other Websites about writing a weekly column. The first (roughly 14 years ago) was withdrawn when the owner of that site decided that a column written by an English professor taking an academic look at pop culture would be too “highbrow.” As he was (understandably) concerned with the number of unique Internet visitors who would click into the column. You see, the higher the click-through rate of unique users, the higher the advertising revenue that is generated from ads on the site — so he was skeptical that I could bring in enough revenue to offset the bandwidth my highbrow material would use (even though I would have been writing the column without getting paid for my work). Thus, when Paul asked me to write a column for Psycho Drive-In, I told him that he would likely encounter the same problem if I were to write a column for him: I don’t know if you really want me to have “free rein.” Surely, the number of visitors and advertising revenue are a concern for you, but I will only be happy if I can write the column in whatever form my writing takes from one piece to the next. Paul told me he did not care how much advertising revenue my column generated; he just wanted a column from me. Thus, “Spontaneous Quixote” was born as Psycho Drive-In’s latest weekly column. As for the name of the column: When working on the first draft of a piece, I try to write in a spontaneous stream-of-consciousness style that I might then edit to some extent by smoothing out tangled sentences, placing brackets and italics in places to give the piece some sense of structure, deleting text that doesn’t work the way I wanted, and inserting additional text as needed. You might then ask, “Doesn’t that just mean you write down your initial thoughts and then edit them into shape?” Yes, it probably does to some extent—but I try to adhere to the spontaneous technique developed by Jack Kerouac — particularly his directives in “Essentials of Spontaneous Prose.” Respectively, Kerouac’s first, seventh, and eighth essentials are the three I use the most: Set Up: The object is set before the mind, either in reality, as in sketching (before a landscape or teacup or old face), or is set in the memory wherein it becomes the sketching from memory of a definite image-object. ——————————————————— Center of Interest: Begin not from preconceived idea of what to say about image but from jewel center of interest in subject of image at moment of writing, and write outwards swimming in sea of language to peripheral release and exhaustion — Do not afterthink except for poetic or P. S. reasons. Never afterthink to “improve” or defray impressions, as the best writing is always the most painful personal wrung-out tossed from cradle warm protective mind — tap from yourself the song of yourself, blow! — now! — your way is your only way — ”good” — or “bad” — always honest (“ludi-crous”), spontaneous, “confessionals interesting, because not “crafted.” ——————————————————— Mental State: If possible write “without consciousness” in semi-trance . . . allowing subconscious to admit in own uninhibited interesting necessary and so “modern” language what conscious art would censor, and write excitedly, swiftly, with writing-or-typing-cramps, in accordance (as from center to periphery) with laws of orgasm, Reich’s “beclouding of consciousness.” Come from within, out-to relaxed and said. Of those three directives, the second one (“Center of Interest”) has an instruction that I tend to particularly agree with: “the best writing is always the most painful personal wrung-out tossed from cradle warm protective mind.” Which is why there are times when you might read my work and think, “Did he really just tell us about that?” Reading Kerouac put me in touch with the literary sub-genre known as confessional literature — such as Kerouac’s The Subterraneans, Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground, John Updike’s A Month of Sundays, et cetera. Of course, confessional literature does not have to be “true”; it can be either partially or fully fictionalized. However, even my nonfiction writing (such as I will be doing for Psycho Drive-In) will often slip into a confessional mode. Getting “confessional” can be embarrassing because people don’t “confess” the good deeds and good thoughts they have. The notion is to confess “sins” (whatever the word sin may mean beyond a strict Judeo-Christian-Islamic concept). When I do get confessional in my non-fiction writing, I tend to either not name other people or give them pseudonyms to protect their feelings and/or privacy. So, with Kerouac’s method in mind, I wrote a “review” of the mid-season finale of Arrow (episode 3.9, “The Climb”). The “Set Up” was my memory of watching the episode and the emotional turmoil I experienced while watching it — with the “Center of Interest” being the specific anxiety I felt. With those two essentials in mind, I wrote the following piece about the episode. It isn’t as “free form” as my writing can get at times (see my upcoming column on A Clockwork Orange for example). Due to my emotional state, I expected this “review” of Arrow to emerge from my mind as a formless mess. Instead, it essentially came out as I’m presenting it here: An Arrow through My Gut: A Reader Response Critique of Arrow’s Mid-Season Finale Reader Response Criticism is somewhat akin to the old philosophical question, “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there does it make a sound?” The common sense answer is, “Of course it makes a sound even if no one is there.” However, the more technically correct answer ties into British Empiricism and the notion that experience is the essential element for knowledge or understanding. Thus, if a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, then it does not make a sound because a sound requires a receiver–a person who is present to experience the sound waves with an auditory device (an ear)–which means if a tree falls in the forest and only a deaf person is there, the tree does not make a sound. Reader Response Criticism works along a somewhat similar premise. If a work of art is produced but no audience encounters it, does it have meaning? Here the answer is a bit more complicated because someone obviously produced the work of art. Thus, it has meaning to the person who produced it. However, if we take art to be a form of symbolic cultural communication within a society, then creators who produce works only for themselves are not “artists” because they are not communicating within the society through their creations. On the other hand, when an artist produces a work and various members of the society receive it, then that work will have various meanings. The creator and each audience member will each have his or her own unique experience with the work. The work will thus have multiple meanings–though those meanings will undoubtedly have overlapping points of contact. The reason I’m giving this critical theory lecture as an introduction to a “review” of a comic-book melodrama on The CW network has to do with me having an experience with this particular episode of Arrow that gave it a unique meaning to me that the majority of the audience will not have had. In the case of such a personal reaction to a work, is such a “review” as this one of any use in the world other than as a document of a particular person’s experienced interpretation of external phenomena? Does my “review” of Arrow have any meaning as a symbolic cultural communication within a society, or am I merely writing this piece for myself? Such debates were common behind-the-scene discussions when I worked for www.ComicsBulletin.com–with me maintaining that reviews must be free of spoilers but provide information that will help the audience determine whether to spend time and money on a particular work. I learned that approach by following the model of my favorite reviews published in The Comics Journal during that magazine’s heyday. However, several of my colleagues maintained that readers did not actually read reviews to determine whether they should spend time and money on the works being reviewed. Rather, my colleagues believed reviews are primarily read after the audience has already experienced the work. The review is then read as a means of validating each reader’s own experience and interpretation–with the reader becoming either pleased or upset if the review was either in favor with or in opposition to his or her own response to the work. I understood the reasoning behind my colleagues’ view, but I was bothered by the notion that people have become so solipsistic that the only interest they have in what they read, watch, or listen to is on how their own worldviews either are or are not justified. This solipsism in society is also the foundation of MIT professor Sherry Turkle’s research on human-technology interaction–such as her view that such social media apps as Twitter and Facebook have replaced human-to-human interaction with human-to-technology interaction. Essentially, we Tweet our feelings or post our status updates on Facebook not as a means of interacting with other human beings, but as a way of seeing whether our feelings and status updates will be validated by messages coming in through cyberspace from avatars that we view as “friends.” Again, you ask, what does any of this have to do with the mid-season finale of Arrow? Here’s your answer: I watched the mid-season finale with my daughter. We each sat quietly in separate corners of a darkened room and watched electronic images of actors playing fictional characters whose fictional lives were in torment due to fictional deceptions. In other words, we watched empty avatars on the TV screen interacting with other empty avatars about symbolic circumstances contrived by writers and show runners. In this particular episode, Oliver Queen learned that his sister, Thea Queen, had lied to him about being in Starling City on the night that Sara Lance was murdered–and Oliver then learned that Thea was the one who murdered Sara (albeit unwittingly through some sort of mind-control drug administered to her by her biological father, Malcolm Merlin). Rather than attaining the height of a Shakespearean tragedy with its motifs of deception and turmoil, this episode of Arrow had the complexity of a contemporary daytime soap opera–which is essentially what it is (albeit at night). My usual reaction to such material is one of limited emotional or intellectual investment. Arrow is a well-acted and well-written melodrama of no real consequence, but it kills an hour of my time on the weekends while providing some vicarious excitement through its action sequences. Additionally, the various comic book-based programs on television (Arrow, The Flash, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Constantine, et cetera) evoke something akin to, but not identical to, nostalgia in me as the characters in the melodrama are based on characters that entertained me immeasurably in my childhood–and which I hope are entertaining my daughter in a similar fashion in her current childhood. However, the third season’s mid-season finale of Arrow affected me in a strange and melancholy way that left me contemplating my life due to a dull pain of apprehension that I suddenly felt in my gut as I watched. About five minutes into the episode, I received a private message text through Facebook Messenger from a former colleague who had never texted me before, and the text involved a personal question about my life–an aspect of my life that I have never discussed with anyone before. I could not respond to the text at that moment because the message was lost on my phone. However, I also did not know how to respond to the text (or if I even wanted to respond). Nevertheless, from that point on, there was a tension in my intestine due to the question I had been asked–and the apprehension I felt was also tantamount to the fictional apprehension the character Oliver Queen was supposed to be feeling as he interacted with Thea and said “goodbye” to colleagues before going off to possibly die at the hands of Ra’s al Ghul. In other words, my own emotional turmoil that was evoked by a question I received on an electronic device through cyberspace was being somewhat simulated in a melodrama displayed on an electronic device that received digitized information through cable wires. It allowed me to suddenly empathize with (or “feel”) Oliver’s pain and anxiety. It made the melodramatic fiction far more real to me than it had ever been before. Consequently, it was both enjoyable (feeling the show) and painful (feeling my own anxiety). After the episode concluded, I went to my computer and signed onto Facebook to text with my former colleague through Messenger–revealing information in my answers to her initial question and follow-up questions that heretofore had only been information in my mind. It was a communication of deeply private information that was made easier by the fact that I achieved it by merely typing letters on a screen and then hitting the “enter” key. I did not actually have to speak the words, and there was not an actual person in front of me–just a computer screen with a text box. My Facebook “friend” went away feeling as if I had confided something of great importance to her. However, what I communicated was actually of little consequence to me because the most important part of “the real answer” to the implication of her question is something that I did not reveal to her, and will probably never reveal to anyone. The actual, tormenting “secret” remains secure in my mind. Nevertheless, my friend’s questions brought it to the surface of my consciousness–causing me considerable emotional turmoil to keep it suppressed (not from my friend, but from myself). The entire evening was a fascinating experience that allowed me to contemplate my emotions in tranquility–which is the Romantic way favored by William Wordsworth in his poetry. I rather enjoyed it in a gut-wrenching, roller-coaster-ride sort of way. However, if I would have had to experience those emotions through actual human-to-human contact with a real person . . . well, that situation would have been too much for me to bear. Isn’t electronic interaction with electronic “friends” a wonderful thing? It allows us to simulate real human experiences without the messiness of actual human experiences. It also allowed me to feel Oliver Queen’s pain that night–even though he’s just a fictional character from comic books and a contemporary TV series. There, did my review of the episode validate your own response to the mid-season finale of Arrow–or, conversely, did it provide you with information that will help you determine whether you want to spend time watching the episode if you have not already seen it? I hope so. Okay, so if you read that “review” and are still with me, you might well be thinking, “He didn’t actually say much about the episode. How is this type of writing to be of any use to me?” That is an excellent question, and I will leave you to come up with your own answer. However, I will point out that while the above “review” of Arrow isn’t necessarily typical of the pieces I will write for this column, it isn’t necessarily atypical either. If I’m performing correctly, my spontaneous technique should create compositions that come off like some form of improvisational jazz in the way that jazz critic Ted Gioia describes in The Imperfect Art: Jazz improvisation . . . tends towards apparent formlessness towards a breakdown of structural coherence, towards excess. . . . Under the pressure of spontaneous creation, the jazz artist has little opportunity to impose on his music the architectonic sense of order and balance that distinguishes the more leisurely constructed arts. In other words, I don’t know what I will come up with when I write my column each week, as the form will likely change with each piece. However, whatever emerges should be an example of imperfection. Okay, so the Spontaneous part of the column’s name addresses the form. Conversely, the Quixote part of the name is about the content. It comes from the notion that writing this column is some sort of quixotic mission that I am on. The obvious question is, “A quixotic mission to do what exactly?” I have only a vague notion of the “mission” in my head — and, hopefully, the nature of the quixotic mission will emerge as columns start accumulating. However, because I’m terming it a “quixotic mission,” it should be obvious that I intend this column to be some sort of act of rebellion. All acts of rebellion/reform are quixotic in that the rebel/reformer is attempting to destabilize existing institutions and bring about change in society. Consequently, the quixotic individual is often held up to ridicule, and is frequently destroyed. I fully expect to suffer that fate with this column. It could very well be that I will be spontaneously “tilting at windmills” with my writing. If so, then that’s okay. After all, some windmills can put up quite a fight! Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.