Sunday, December 09, 2007

Good Writing

In all the complaining discussion about "The Golden Compass," based on Pullman's His Dark Materials, the comment keeps surfacing that Pullman is a very good writer, even though a lot of folks don't like his themes.

We know what we mean by that, of course - we mean a person who crafts phrases well, or assembles plot elements in a nifty way. Good writing refers to the technical skill, as a painter or musician might be proficient, though happen to work in a style or genre we don't favor.

Bear in mind that most societies don't make this distinction, and it is a recent idea even in Western Intellectual History. To do a bad thing well has not been admired in most times and places, and we would not grant such a compliment to a person who was a terrible poet with good penmanship. To even think of technical skill apart from theme (and we can't help it now. Once the distinction is made it remains forever) speaks volumes about our view of what art is and what it is for. Statements of style and proficiency are powerful indicators of what we believe artists should be allowed, or at least encouraged, to say.

The movie isn't doing so well, BTW.


David Foster said...

"To do a bad thing well has not been admired in most times and places"...but hasn't it been fairly common to admire the courage of enemy warriors?

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Hmm. Other soldiers certainly do, and even more, despise opposition soldiers who are cheatin' cowards. I'm not sure non-soldiers do so as much.