The Fascination of What's Difficult

minnow at minnow at
Mon Feb 16 19:11:22 EST 2004

I rashly rushed out onto a limb and hung there swaying in the breeze with
the words:

>People who inflict their technical challenges
>> on the public very often have that effect on me: I am singularly
>> unimpressed by things being done merely because they are difficult, and I
>> don't generally give a tinker's cuss about the motive, I am interested by
>> the results.

And Charlie (ever pacific, never atlantic) wrote:

>Moving on from Haddon, about whom we clearly shan't agree or maybe even
>disagree in a particularly interesting way, this question of technical
>challenges intrigues me. Being difficult for the sake of it cetainly isn't
>an endearing quality, and neither is presenting to the public the results of
>a technical challenge one has failed miserably to rise to.

Even if one has risen to it, the results may be incomprehensible outside a
very limited group of people who have the expertise to grasp them fully,
I'd add.  So broadcasting it may be a somewhat futile effort, in effect.

>And some
>challenges are just pointless - like that French writer (who was it?) who
>wrote a book without using the letter 'e', and was hailed as a genius for so
>doing - my ars (poetica)!

"Very clever" and "genius" not being the same thing, as it were?  It is
certainly clever to do that, and in French must have been very limiting,
since one couldn't have anything masculine in the text, but I can't believe
that it improved the transfer of information from author to reader by much!

"To paint all the turnpikes from London to Barnet a beautiful scarlet" is
presented as a challenge to a character in a book I have just read --
certainly a difficult feat.  I tend to agree with his reply: "Folly!"  :-)
Though it might be quite fun to do, I would be disinclined to greet it as a
work of Great Art, anyhow.

>On the other hand, DWJ is a writer who continually
>sets herself technical challenges - and when they come off (as they mostly
>do, with her) I usually feel that these challenges (e.g. writing a person
>with more than one set of memories in F&H, or the sheer complexity of times,
>plots, etc that is Hexwood) has helped the book. Not because it's clever in
>itself - though it is - but because it's acted as a catalyst to lead her
>(and hence us) on to other insights, or at least woken us a little from the
>'fascination of habit', to look at the world otherwise.

I wonder whether it is that she sets herself a technical challenge, or
whether it is that when she has the idea for whatever it is that she wants
to tell, it presents itself in a way that needs to be done *thus* and no
other how, as it were, and the challenge is secondary to the thing.  I
suppose I'm wondering "which is cause and which is effect", really.


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