Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Why we write

Mr. S made the comment below in response to my post about why I go to the theatre.

I thought it was worth its own post.


I don't think any of us write to be liked (I mean, sure, we want people to like what we write, but I don't think it's the over-riding priority). I think we write to engage, to challenge. Engagement relates to the work--being liked relates to the ego. I think we write to create an experience or to share an experience of some depth, not just likeability. A play is a broken-hearted love letter to a lover (the beautiful horrible world) that could care less. That sort of love letter demands attention, demands anger, demands hatred, demands indignation, demands love. Like is the consolation prize.


So, so well put.


Jeff Shattuck said...

I think this is very eloquent, but I would also argue that often we write to entertain, don't we? I admit, I'm not a playwright, but when I think about the good books I've read and the kinds of books I would like to write (but never will) they're all entertaining is some way. Doesn't entertainment count?

malachy walsh said...


Or engagement?

Sometimes they're the same thing. Sometime they're not.

One of the problems I have is when something is only entertaining, I feel like someone who's eaten so much candy that while I'm happy with the taste, I'm also aware of the cavities forming in my head.

These days I feel that we're being "entertained" into nothingness.

Plays, movies and television can be escapes, but they can also be frames through which we see things newly.

Too much of one without the other is a bad thing. BUT if I had to choose one, it wouldn't be entertainment.

Dave Tutin said...

Interesting. I think the issue here is that entertainment is one of those words that has changed its meaning. To some of us at least. Paul Simon once wrote "the music suffers but the music business thrives". Same thing. I get this sinking feeling in my stomach when I hear the word's come to mean 'trivial stuff to fill your time while you're waiting to die'. A bit strong but you get my point.

Anything done, music, tv...can be entertaining while it delivers something of value. Too much "entertainment" today fails to deliver anything of value because it never set out to. Not that everything has be earth-shattering in its profundity - just not 100% disposable. Let's face it, if we want that there's plenty around.

I guess entertaining is a better adjective than entertainment is a noun.

Jeff Shattuck said...

I guess I consider something that's entertaining to be engaging by definition. I'm not entertained by facile, insipid movies that turn to action sequences because the story is so inane. Rather, I'm entertained by things like Pulp Fiction and Serenity and Inconvenient Truth, all of which entertained the hell out of me but also made me think and challenged me -- all in very different ways of course.

Dave Tutin said...

That's your personal definition of entertainment...unfortunately it's not the "entertainment" industry's definition. My personal definition is the same as yours. But that's my point...unless you're talking to someone who you know shares the same definition it has become a troublesome word.

I think this is where Malachy prefers to substitute "engaged" - and I see his point.

malachy walsh said...

I think the definitions below are interesting in their differences - the most glaring (to me) being that the entertainment usually has something to do with being "amusing" or "agreeable" or "diverting".

To engage does not require those things and can actually mean to bring into conflict.

I think the most interesting definition of engage is - "to interlock".

en·ter·tain·ment [en-ter-teyn-muhnt]
1. the act of entertaining; agreeable occupation for the mind; diversion; amusement: Solving the daily crossword puzzle is an entertainment for many.
2. something affording pleasure, diversion, or amusement, esp. a performance of some kind: The highlight of the ball was an elaborate entertainment.
3. hospitable provision for the needs and wants of guests.
4. a divertingly adventurous, comic, or picaresque novel.

en·gage [en-geyj] - verb, -gaged, -gag·ing.
–verb (used with object)
1. to occupy the attention or efforts of (a person or persons): He engaged her in conversation.
2. to secure for aid, employment, use, etc.; hire: to engage a worker; to engage a room.
3. to attract and hold fast: The novel engaged her attention and interest.
4. to attract or please: His good nature engages everyone.
5. to bind, as by pledge, promise, contract, or oath; make liable: He engaged himself to repay his debt within a month.
6. to betroth (usually used in the passive): They were engaged last week.
7. to bring (troops) into conflict; enter into conflict with: Our army engaged the enemy.
8. Mechanics. to cause (gears or the like) to become interlocked; interlock with.
9. to attach or secure.
10. Obsolete. to entangle or involve.
–verb (used without object)
11. to occupy oneself; become involved: to engage in business or politics.
12. to take employment: She engaged in her mother's business.
13. to pledge one's word; assume an obligation: I was unwilling to engage on such terms.
14. to cross weapons; enter into conflict: The armies engaged early in the morning.
15. Mechanics. (of gears or the like) to interlock.

Dave Tutin said...

15 Definitions for one word! No wonder English is such a great language in which to create.

To me, the part of the definition of entertainment that has risen to the top is "diversion". From what? From a boring everyday existence is what. Like I said, the "entertainment industry" sees its role as filling time and space - preferably with something as far removed from the average American's daily routine as possible. And usually something that requires very little thought.

Essentially something can be engaging and therefore be entertaining. But sadly its possible to be entertaining without being engaging. If all you're trying to do is 'divert'.

The fact that serial dramas have faded from TV in favor of full-story-single-episode series like House and CSI would seem to mirror our fading ability to be seriously engaged.