A few years ago, I was on a pseudo-date,** and we went to a literary event down at the UT campus. Halfway through the evening, a fancy prizewinning author ascended the stage to torture us with awful prose:
“Blah blah blah blah Linear B. Blah blah blah The Crimean War. As Aristotle says, blah blah blah Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle blah blah blah.” ***
This went on for about 20 minutes, and the whole thing sounded like one of those Boldface Names columns, except instead of dropping famous names, the guy was dropping pretentious intellectual references. The writing was boring and awful, while the string of unnecessarily obscure topics started to make me feel anxious, like I might have to take a final exam before intermission.
I wondered, “How on earth is This Man a famous writer?”
But I finally figured it out: if you want to be hailed as a genius, all you have to do is write a long, turgid, impenetable work. Critics will be afraid of the references they don’t understand, and so to avoid looking stupid, they’ll just praise it in self-defense.
This is how bad novels become “critical masterpieces.” Fear.
**One of those, “I don’t get it — is this a date, or what?” things.
***For the record, I do know what the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle is – or at least, I know it cocktail-party-well, which is all that’s important.