Thursday, June 28, 2007

'tastes in the numinous'

Not sure I've ever made this clear enough on this blog, but I'm a Harry Potter Fan. I have decidedly low brow tastes (to act as a foil for my more refined ones) and though I can see the holes in the books clearly enough I love every one of them and have read them all several times.

Which is not to say that I don't see the point in A.S.Byatt's essay when she says there's no place in Potterverse for 'the numinous'; but I also feel vindicated by Berubé (as if one needs a meta-reason to enjoy what one does just because it is not 'literary' enough or does not nourish the soul enough. More thoughts on this after I return from watching Jhoom Barabar Jhoom):

I am charmed by Rowling’s insistence that the world of magic is also a world of petty bureaucracy and qualifying exams, featuring a school in which brilliant professors are hounded from their jobs merely because they are werewolves, and in which students experience the ineffable and the inexplicable while they engage in the routine business of scratching out essays—on parchment, with quills, no less—on the history of magic and the intricacies of herbology, potions, transfiguration, charms, and the “soft” elective, Muggle Studies (which presents nonmagical peoples, muggles, from the muggle point of view). Jamie is charmed by all of this, too, even if he doesn’t understand all the ironies involved in depicting the world of magic as a world like our
own, in which witches and wizards are more likely to cite the statutes of the
Department of International Magical Cooperation or the proper standards for cauldron thickness than a passage from The Tempest. (A. S. Byatt strenuously objected to this aspect of the series, arguing that Rowling’s world “has no place for the numinous” and “speaks to an adult generation that hasn’t known, and doesn’t care about, mystery.” I would reply that there’s simply no accounting for tastes in the numinous, except that in this case I fear Ms. Byatt has merely engaged in the
harmless readerly pastime of Aggressively Missing the Point.)

Read the rest here.[pdf file].

PS: Bérubé's entire article is in the context of his son Jamie, who has Down's syndrome, understanding narrative and concepts that are supposedly too complex for children suffering from the disease.


Cheshire Cat said...

Harry Potter yay! Byatt is such a killjoy.

Falstaff said...

You like all of them? Really? I'm quite fond of numbers 1 and 3 myself, but I thought 4 was bloated and 5 was so tortuously dull it made me give up on the whole series. I find Rowling's attempts to portray adolescent angst insufferable.

Part of the trouble, I think, is that there's a distinction between saying a book is bad (which HP isn't - well, at least the early ones aren't) and between saying it's overhyped (which it is). I find the first few HPs immensely pleasant reads, but then I see the madness that attends every new book release and the way people who read nothing else will make space in their lives for HP and I can't help feeling that Byatt has a point.

Space Bar said...

Cheshire Cat: Byatt does sound a little sour, doesn't she? But it doesn't mean I don't agree with her, like I said in my post. She makes some good points - that Potterverse is a secondary secondary world, largely derivative - but...see below.

Falstaff: Well, not all of them equally, but some things, at least, in every one of them. After GoF she only needed a good, ruthless editor, because every one of the books had the seed of something briliant and long lasting: priori incantatem in GoF, the two-way mirror in OotP (and SPEW; how many children's authors do something like that?); occlumency and leglimency in the last two, and Snape is just brilliant in HBP.

Agree about hype/vs merit, but the point is, even the other three books have merit, if the hype hadn't given her a clout that precluded good editing.

About Byatt: I think she's a little nostalgic for some large, mysterious qualities that clearly come attached with Capital Letters; which is a slightly dangerous longing. See China Mieville's article where he disses Tolkien (I love Tolkien, I hasten to add, but I can see his point). Article here:

What I like about Rowling is precisely the thing that Berube highlights: the ordinariness of a supposedly magical world, but one which is magical nearly always because of the wit with which she invests things - spells, names, situations.

Cheshire Cat said...

I find Mieville's critique unsatisfactory for the same reason that I don't like Philip Pullman's work - it's too political. In politics, everyone is right...

If I have a complaint about Harry Potter, it's that there's an excessive love of mediocrity. I find the Weasley family, and especially Ron, insufferable.

Space Bar said...

Cheshire Cat: love of mediocrity comes with the territory. All boarding schools aspire to the condition of sameness; Hogwarts is no exception.

David Raphael Israel said...

That last line about "Aggressively Missing the Point" is amusing. I'm not an HP fan (indeed, I've made a point of not reading any of it), but I have friends who enjoy the books, and I continue to respect 'em. :-)


ps: kindly note my new film blog, fyi.