Hal Duncan on Pretentiousness

April 29, 2008 § 12 Comments

Although it’s really late for me and I’ll have to wait until the evening to comment at length here and over there, Hal Duncan takes a post of mine from last week and riffs on it, with quite a few conclusions that I can agree with wholeheartedly. At the risk of distorting and overly simplifying his arguments, are not those who cry “pretentious!” at others at risk for self-labelling themselves as “hey, I’m this here dumbfuck who jus’ don’t git it, ya hear?” After all, the “elitist” accusation can bear amusing unintended consequences if one wants to push it a bit further. I know I have never desired to be mediocre or to “be one in a crowd,” as it would seem the opposite of “elitist” would indicate. Best for me to be “out of touch” with that which would suck in my opinion than to embrace a rube’s false egalitarianism. But it’s almost 1:30 AM here and I fear I’ll just ramble on. Feel free to respond, deride, cajole, etc., as I’ll try to respond more coherently and less sarcastically in the evening. But do read Hal’s article closely, as it brings up quite a few points well worth considering.

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§ 12 Responses to Hal Duncan on Pretentiousness

  • Magnus says:

    Nah, when someone cries “pretentious!” they really mean “you are not the right kind — my kind — of pretentious”. Because, really, is there anything more pretentious than accusing others of being pretentious?

  • Larry says:

    True, as it might be pretentious to presume otherwise 😉

  • Fish Monkey says:

    “Pretentious” is another one of those unhelpful criticisms, like ‘self-indulgent’ — inasmuch as the critic tries to judge the writer’s intent and comes up with ‘I don’t know why they did it, so I’ll just assume that there was no purpose besides pissing me off.’ OK, I’ll go read Hal’s article.

  • J M McDermott says:

    Everytime I read Hal’s long blog posts, I feel like I’m not as smart as Hal. This never makes me say, “Hey, Hal is pretentious!” This does often make me say, after careful scrutiny, “Well, now I have learned something. Kudos to smart people like Hal for sharing this knowedge!”I have felt a better definition of pretentious is one who cannot allow for a universe where not all prose is going to be glorious and immortal, and some people just want hot chicks and lasers. Thus, many fine and fun writers are pushed aside when it is certainly just as difficult to write a romping adventure every three months in its own way as it is to strive for immortality every year or two.The opposite is also pretentious, deciding that hot chicks with lasers is the only way to go.But, again, I’m still poring over Hal’s long post, and learning. Who knows what I will learn next?

  • Larry says:

    Kathy, I view “pretentious” and “self-indulgent” in the same light as “worldbuilding” – too often, people sling those terms about, expect for them to hold some sort of universally understood message, while in reality each is fraught with presumptions and logical fallacies. As Gollum might say, I hates it!J.M., Hal’s articles often cause me to have a similar reaction, even if my vast ego rarely admits to feeling less smart than another 😛 As for your definition, it’s pretty similar to mine; I hate pigeonholes, as pigeons remind me of crap and crap I don’t care to handle.

  • John Markley says:

    A possible source of confusion is that, in my experience, people often use the word “pretentious” in reference to people or works by people who they consider to be deluded, rather than dishonest. That is, they use the word to refer not only to people who (in the critic’s opinion) create works that are intended to seem deeper than they really are, but also to people who create works intended to seem profound that the artist mistakenly believes to actually be profound. Merriam –Webster includes this as a legitimate meaning of the word (Definition 1 b: “expressive of affected, unwarranted, or exaggerated importance, worth, or stature.”) “Affected” implies intentional deceit, but “exaggerated” or “unwarranted” don’t.This creates some problems with much of Duncan’s analysis, since many of his comments are based on the assumption that a person who calls a work “pretentious” is accusing that work’s creator of willful deception. Sometimes it’s meant that way, but more often it’s used to mean “pompous” or “full of yourself,” not “putting up a pretense.” This seems to be a common problem in the debate over this issue, actually- “elitism” is often used in different ways, too.

  • Larry says:

    John, since you crossposted this on Hal’s Blog and I’m about to respond over there, I just thought I’d say that my response to you will be over there as well.

  • Trin says:

    An other great post by Hal, he’s a smart guy alright :). Thrinidir agrees (he wrote a review of Duncan’s novelette that he published on the blog – Die!Vampire!Die!)

  • Larry says:

    I need to devote some time later to reading that, but I’ve been quite busy lately, so it might be a while before I get around to reading that story.

  • ninebelow says:

    Who would have thought that a pretentious writer wouldn’t like writers being described as pretentious!Anyway, since this seems like just another retread of his many, many posts on self-indulgence from a couple of years ago I don’t have any particular desire to get into this but I would suggest that Abigail Nussbaum, Duncan’s example, is very far from being at risk of self-labelling herselves as “hey, I’m this here dumbfuck who jus’ don’t git it, ya hear?”

  • Larry says:

    I agree that Abigail is worlds apart from that, as even when she and I don’t agree on a point, she always does her level best to understand what is going on before making any interpretative comments. Not many do that, which is why she’s one of the reviewers whose opinions I respect highly.

  • Traiteur Rabat Regal; Traiteur de ronome au Maroc

    This is my expert

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