"Woe unto him who seeks to please rather than apall."
-- Herman Melville
The writer's role is to spit snot into your face and make you think that by the time it trickles down your face and touches your lips you're tasting taffy. Or, put more delicately, the author's responsibility is to pour fountains of Mountain Dew over your head on the hottest day of the year, and gradually make you realize that the sweet, piercing goodness that tantalizes your tongue is also slowly, intently dehyrdating you of your spiritual essence.
Either definition will suffice.
The problem becomes that our essential nature as human beings is that we are not defiant. We long for comprehension. We seek the simple solution because that is the most palatable one. Perhaps the neurological railway routes that line the grey and fleshy pockets of our brain tissue are physically built that way, inborn. The easiest way to comprehend is by finding a way to agree. Oh, to be certain, we are rebels; that is our novice, initial reaction. However, after a moment, a month, a year, a decade, a life, we acquiesce. (Giving way is so much more conducive to relaxation than uprising against invisible, ultimately unimportant ideological foes.) Somebody hands us a pamphlet. We nibble on an extra-spicy chicken, ignore the saucy red drool dripping down our chin, and eventually decide that whoever wrote this baby had a pretty good point. Fold it, trash it, back to the tube.
The novelist's role is to light off tiny little cherry bombs inside of our skulls and patiently stick around to see if, and when, they do their little damage. This does not mean that provocation is an end in and of itself; rather, that tiny expolosions of disturbance, couched in insight, eventually can lead to a bigger bang of comprehension. We read to escape loneliness and instead are faced with a greater threat than mere solitude. The larger issue becomes: We are alone, and not only are you not correct in your assumptions, but the answers are nowhere to be found, and your friends cannot help you, and may, in fact, be the true source of your isolation.
Such is one means of assault.
The other tactics employed by the most skillfull of scribblers are ones that would be not unwelcome in the most dingy of massage parlours, those places where rubs and smacks are but preludes to a longer, seedier embrace. You are coddled and made to feel enveloped by means of tactile, fleshy fingers that probe and pinch. (And what can more be heartening and alienating than the hug of a stranger?) The world is nasty, yes, but a refuge is to be found, such hands seem to be saying: You can stop here. You may rest here. The universe is aligned only with you and your psychic pain, and for that I have a cure. No unwelcome shocks or lightly tossed grenades.
And so one is gradually seduced into a view of the world that reaffirms one's own sense of self. A chaotic, uncertain realm still lies mere metres outside the oriental curtain, but an order to one's body has been restored. One can face the world head-on, like a wrestler entering the ring, confident of success because the end result has been preordained long before the lights have been raised and the great gates opened. [
It is only later, at home, resting in bed, remembering strange hands touching familiar places, that a certain pain sets in. An ache here. A sting there. One has become acquainted with physical discomforts that emerged only from the most tender of touches. Pain and pleasure are intermingled to such a degree that one can not discern which is stronger, or more likely to last well into the night.
That need to comprehend, to relax, to crash out on the couch, has been subverted in the most clever of ways, by means of an insincere sincerity, or a sincere insincerity, I'm not sure which. We are either exploded into another level of comprehension, or eased into a supple state that hides a firmer, creakier truth.
When I read a book and don't know what to make of it, or feel a strong sense of unease at the pit of my stomach, where last night's dinner waits to arise, or think thoughts that make me wonder if know anything at all, or ever will, I feel oddly elated and disgusted, and long for such a reaction again, always, forever.