Thursday, December 18, 2008

Kid Stuff

Children's literature? I'll admit I found the topic, initially, less than compelling. R.R. Reno recently interviewed Jody Bottum regarding his article, Children's Books, Lost and Found, where Bottum suggests that we are now living in a golden age of the genre. Reno offers that this may be because themes of good and evil - less welcome in cutting edge literature - have been pushed into the children or adolescent bracket. Consider, for example, the moral seriousness, the flashing fluorescent line between good and evil drawn straight down the middle of the Harry Potter franchise.

Then consider that the novel one might typically reference to illustrate the metaphysical fog of contemporary fiction - David Foster Wallace's phonebook-sized Infinite Jest - may be less an example of such moral abdication in contemporary literature as the exposure of the same. A novelist like Wallace both proves Reno's helpful point and subverts it. In one of the more prescient articles I've read in a good while, Mark Hemingway explains:
What Wallace wrought in Infinite Jest and elsewherer wasn't just brilliant writing in the vein of a previous generation of postmodernists (think Gaddis, Pynchon, Barth, DeLillo) so much as a response to them.
Wallace was clever enough to "adeptly mimick nearly every major postmodern writer - solely for the purpose of exposing the limitations of their cleverness..." Because of the sort of serious advice Wallace offered in his famous Kenyon College commencement speech, Hemingway insists it is "hard not to see his writing as something of a cri de couer against many of his immediate literary forebears." Hemingway even places Wallace's suicide within this interpretive framework.
If he hated solipsism, that hatred might well have been a result of hating the thing he feared the most - that he would give in to his own demons. Which, in the end, is exactly what he did.
But back to children. Wallace aside, if contemporary letters has ceded to the striplings the epic struggle between good and evil, a similar phenomenon is afoot in film. I've tried to make the case previously that Horton Hears a Who bears nearly as much theological weight as an Andrei Tarkovsky film. But what Horton does for the objective theological project, Bolt does for the theology's subjective aspect. I can't explain myself without giving too much away, but let's just say Bolt does everything The Truman Show tried to do, the difference being that Bolt actually succeeds.

Today, characters in award winning films literally roll in the meaningless mud (award prediction, by the way, confirmed), but an even grittier nihilism is on offer in something like the Sex in City film. Ross Douthat, in a very effective review, encapsulates the series telos in this way:
All that they [Carrie and Mr. Big] have, post-courtship is that he likes to buy things for her and she likes to accept them. Near the end of the movie, Big e-mails her passages from famous love letters, but he'd be better off quoting Nietzsche: He's about to marry the Last Woman.
Meanwhile, however, we have the animated Nicene Creed (Horton) and a refutation of the sociological critique of religion through 3-D glasses (Bolt), so suffer the little children's genre to come unto me.