It’s hard, in fiction, to write about writing. It’s hard to write about most creative enterprises, because if you write about a character who is a world-renowned contemporary poet, you’ll probably have to write about some of his or her poems. Maybe even include an excerpt. And then you’re essentially calling yourself a world-renowned poet, because you’re the one writing what the poet is writing. When I read young adult novels about characters whose writing was praised by another character, I was always really skeptical, because the writer was essentially complimenting him or herself.
I came to accept, over time, that if you’re an established figure in the industry — if you routinely churn out creative endeavors that critics and consumers deem “good enough” — you have the liberty to write about good writing. Once you’ve cemented the reality of your own “quality,” you can incorporate your judgments of quality into your own writing.
Personally, I find it hard to speak about the quality of anything. If a film or novel has even a trace of redeeming value, I am reluctant to call it either “good” or “bad” or passing any kind of judgment on its quality. It is especially difficult since quality is such a relative, well, qualifier. The experience of art and literature is so subjective and virtually impossible to standardize for the purpose of any type of criticism. How could we impose a system of judging quality on these disciplines without marring the quality of the works themselves?
An even more pressing question, to me, is why we care about quality in the first place. Every thought or idea that will ever exist already exists in some potential form, somewhere in the cloud of human consciousness and history. There are infinite thoughts, functionally infinite combinations of at least the English language, and infinite emotional and contextual inflections that contribute to the slightly varying nature of each of these infinities. The search for quality essentially amounts to sifting through these infinite, arbitrary combinations and determining that some are more semantically or aesthetically pleasing than others.
Of course, our sapience allows us to “create” combinations we think are more likely to satisfy us, but doesn’t that mean that consciousness essentially serves no other purpose than to convince us that it exists? It allows us to take the fact that we don’t have everything figured out and use that fact to convince ourselves that figuring something out or assembling a pleasing, “original” thought makes us special, when human consciousness is really only the incremental discovery of its own limitations. The world of thought is even more infinite than the world of language. It exists independent of us, aside from the fact that we have placed the very thought of thought on a pedestal and touted it as a uniquely human experience. But thought might not be the highest form of “enlightenment” or activity any entity can achieve. Thought has confined thought itself, as well as any other form of enlightenment, to the human experience, and what is impossible for us to contemplate cannot be part of that experience. We’ve created a system — namely, language — that defines the scope of our potential as a measurable infinity of combinations. This can be argued to render any one of these combinations arbitrary. Coincidental. Uninspired. So it’s no wonder that we’ve invented this idea of quality. If we hadn’t, we’d be forced to realize that we have nothing to say.
Or, on the other hand, we have everything to say. And if it ultimately doesn’t matter, let’s throw quality to the wind and make some art out of everything.
Sarah is a sophomore Psychology and Performing & Media Arts major in the College of Arts and Sciences. She likes to exist sometimes, but mostly just recite lines from The Office. Her favorite food is oatmeal raisin cookies dipped in curry sauce, and she can usually be found using the words “film” and “movie” interchangeably, highlighting her favorite words in the dictionary or trying to transcribe feral cat noises into the next groundbreaking Twitter trend. Good Taste Alone appears on Fridays this semester. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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