Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The End

This is my final post, and I really think I have said pretty much everything that I wanted to say, so I guess I will keep this brief.

Thank you to everyone who actually read my blog. I had way more readers than I ever anticipated (one post had over 250 page views!!) and I am thoroughly shocked and flattered that people found my random Twilight musings interesting enough to not only read, but to keep reading.

I have had so many people come up to me in the last few months, many of whom I hadn't spoken to since orientation week, saying that they read my Twilight blog, and almost everybody has had a different opinion about it. Some think it's a ridiculous idea (truly "Brown" in its intent), some think it's hilarious (also "Brown," but possibly said with a smile and not a grimace). Still others share my genuine interest in the subject, and many of the conversations I had with these people inspired some of my posts.

Also surprising is that many people have actually agreed with me on my opinions about the Twilight series. Almost all of my friends who are pro-Twilight admit that it is not good literature, and almost all of my friends who are anti-Twilight admit (perhaps slightly less grudgingly now than they would have a few months ago) that they enjoyed reading it.

If nothing else, by blogging this semester, I learned that the best time to post things to Facebook that you actually want to be read is around 11:00 PM, because that's when the most people are online. I learned that if I want people to read what I write, I need a catchy picture and title if they are going to be drawn in (don't judge a book by its cover, my foot!).

I think through all of this I have gained quite a bit of respect for Stephenie Meyer's writing abilities. It is a hard thing to do to create such strong emotions from people, positive or negative. No matter what, Twilight has become a part of our culture and everyone, Twi-hard or otherwise, has an opinion about it. So I guess what I'm trying to say is that if I have one take-away from this project, it's that I should maintain a general awareness of why I enjoy what I enjoy. Whether I'm reading literature or pulp, if I get pleasure out of it, I should try to figure out why I get pleasure. Especially if I ever hope to emulate it.

I guess that's it! Have a good summer, everybody! I look forward to reading a lot this summer, and if the mood so strikes me, maybe I'll start another blog!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Point, Counterpoint

This is my penultimate post, so I am going to do something a little bit different before my wrap-up post on Monday. In every post so far I have chosen one channel from which people may derive pleasure from Twilight and argued as to why it should be considered a Pleasure with a capital P.

But today I want to play devil's advocate and counter some of the arguments I have made. Today I am going to argue against Twilight as a real Pleasure.

Humans have a few animalistic, primitive needs, among which are the desires for sex and companionship, food and nourishment, sleep and relaxation. While no one would deny the pleasure that humans get from satisfying these desires (having sex, eating a cheeseburger, taking a nap), no one would consider the vehicles with which we satisfy these desires as art forms.

Humans are more evolved than other animals. We have the unique capacity to create and appreciate art. The desire for higher entertainment is one which demonstrates no clear evolutionary advantage. An Lamarckian oversimplification: We get pleasure from eating because we need the energy we get from food to care for our young, we get pleasure from sleep because our bodies need time to rebuild themselves, and we get pleasure from sex because we need to reproduce. But why then do we get pleasure from art?

Numerous hypotheses have been put forth: art can emulate life; art can foster relationships between people; art is a status symbol representing a surplus of time and/or money. Perhaps some of these are true, perhaps all of them are true. But the point remains that we are the only species that can appreciate art, and not the only one that can appreciate food, sex, and rest.

So a book that simulates the pleasure we get from food, sex, and rest (Although I suppose food is not really relevant to Twilight) is merely preying on our animalistic senses of pleasure. But a Pleasure is something that appeals to something beyond those animalistic urges.

James Joyce gives us Pleasure because we enjoy the challenge of unraveling a complicated narrative with a complicated plot and complicated characters. Romeo And Juliet gives us Pleasure because we enjoy the intricacies of the dialogue and the interwoven story lines. Pride And Prejudice gives us Pleasure because we enjoy reading the elaborate descriptions. And in all of these there is heavy symbolism, something which we enjoy parsing and interpreting.

But Twilight provides a fantasy, a relatable teenage drama, a simulated relationship, a relaxing break from stress, a ecstasy-like addiction. None of these pleasures appeal to anything other than our primitive desires for food, sex, and rest. And this means that these are the types of things that any animal could theoretically enjoy (if we could teach them to read, of course).

But Pleasure is something that is unique to humans. It's a higher, evolved, sophisticated pleasure. One that transcends logical, evolutionary justification (or at least obvious justification). And in the genre of Pleasure, Twilight falls flat.

Monday, May 7, 2012

"Different Strokes"

I want to post a reaction to a comment that was made on Thursday about simplicity being necessary for relaxation. In the commenter's experience, he would rather challenge his brain (not put it to sleep) when unwinding from a hard day.

I started to think about the different things that I actually do to relax (not just in theory, like I wrote about in my last post), and I think in many ways I agree with the comment. On my list of things I do to relax are crossword puzzles (making and solving), playing games with friends (Catan, pool, go), playing video games (O Ocarina Of Time, how I must beat you...), and, of course, reading and writing.

In theory, I want to watch crappy television and read romance novels, but when it comes down to it, that's not what I do with my limited spare time. I, and I think many people, like to challenge their brains for relaxation in addition to giving it a rest.

But I think the two are not mutually exclusive. If I spent the entire day writing/editing a story or paper, I am going to relax with a crossword puzzle and not a blog post. If I spent the entire day solving crosswords at a competition, I am going to want to relax with a book or a game of Catan and not a puzzle. And if I spent the entire day sitting unshowered in my bed watching Friends, I'm going to want to do something productive and mind-bending at night, giving me a "break" from my couch potato day.

What I crave when I am trying to relax is a difference and unrelatedness from my day, not necessarily just simplicity.

But I think that Twilight can fit into that category easily. At the very least, I probably did not spend my day fighting off evil vampires, so Twilight could be a nice break from whatever I did do. And if I did spend my day thinking really hard, the simplicity of Twilight would be a really nice break, not just because it's simple, but because the simplicity is different.

However, all of the things I do with my spare time that I listed above are in some ways very simple. They are all small, consequence-free, contained problems. Whether or not I finish a crossword puzzle has little impact on the quality of the rest of my life. If I win a game of Catan I'll be proud for like an hour, but I'll probably forget that I won within the week.

So the things that I do to relax, while they are mentally challenging, are simple in that they are separate from my life.

Twilight is absolutely separate from life. First of all, it's a book. It's made up. It's a story. What happens to Bella has no real bearing on what happens to the reader, even if the reader has projected herself into her. At the end of the book, the reader's life is exactly the same as it was before she started.

But some books hit too close to home. Sometimes it's hard to get through a book that points out flaws in the reader's character, or problems in the reader's relationships. When we read The Marriage Plot in class, a few of my classmates found the book hard to read because the codependent relationship between Leonard and Madeleine was too familiar.

Twilight has a hard time hitting too close to home in a bad way. The relationship between Bella and Edward, while many find it codependent and irritating, is not portrayed in a bad light. Their love is described as pure and innocent and perfect, not diseased and unhealthy. The love triangle between Jacob, Bella, and Edward (as well as the, like, a hundred randos that are in love with Bella) are not really portrayed as problems, but as awesome things that serve to vicariously inflate the reader's ego.

And at the very least, a reader's "We're just like Romeo and Juliet" relationship does not involve vampires, so no matter what, Twilight is at least that much different from normal life.

This separation from real life gives the reader a consequence-free, contained experience, which is truly what we all crave when we need a break.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

"Easy As Sunday Morning"

Once again, I'm in the middle of crazy finals time (so close, yet, so far...) so this will be another brief post. I want to talk today about the pleasure of easy reading.

After a long day of finals, papers, projects, a six-hour grading meeting, and a fifty-person-long line at my office hours, nothing gives me more pleasure than sitting in my bed and relaxing. Everybody has different ways of relaxing: some watch movies, some read books, some go fishing, some play video games, some knit weird cyclops things:

But one thing that is constant across the board is that people crave simplicity when they're stressed. If I want to watch a movie after a 15-hour day, I'm not going to watch A Fellini flick, I'm going to watch Legally Blonde or Monsters, Inc., or The Hangover. I'm going to watch something fun and lighthearted and simple. Something that will let me turn my brain off after a long day of being on overdrive.

There is an extreme amount of pleasure that is gained from turning our brains off. It's a way of allowing our bodies to recover. Easy reading gives us much of the pleasure of relaxation while at the same time entertaining us and making us feel at least somewhat intellectual (after all, we are reading).

The simplicity of Twilight comes in a few forms. First, the sentences themselves are simple. We do not need to work very hard to understand what is happening. There is none of the Shakespearean intricacies of the dialogue; it's flirty and we get it. There is no complicated sentence structure; we do not have to read sentences multiple times to understand what they're saying. And the plot is linear and straight-forward; we don't need to draw out a character map or a timeline as we would in a book like A Visit From The Goon Squad or a movie like Primer.

The second source of the simplicity comes in the predictability of it all. With the exception of the initial surprise (if the ending hadn't been spoiled for you) of Edward being a vampire, you know what is going to happen. The love triangle doesn't really create any tension because we know Bella and Edward will end up together.

The reading experience is stress-free because we don't have to worry about the ending. We know what is going to happen, so it's easy for us to believe it as we read.

But is relaxation a "real" pleasure?

Among our core desires as human beings, we have the desire for sleep. We enjoy it because we need it. Our body needs time to recover and process what happened during our day.

In fact, many people (teenagers especially, which is interesting, considering who primarily likes Twilight) enjoy sleep so much that they will spend upwards of twelve hours a day doing it! Some people get so much pleasure from sleep that they will do it to the detriment of socializing and even eating.

Easy reading mimics the pleasure of sleep by allowing our bodies and our brains to relax, while still providing us with the more sophisticated pleasures of plot and narrative and escapism that we get from reading a more complicated book.