I feel I have to congratulate Mister Jonathan Jones; writing for the Guardian, he has managed to open a piece of literary criticism with the single worst statement that one could possibly do this with:
It does not matter to me if Terry Pratchett’s final novel is a worthy epitaph or not, or if he wanted it to be pulped by a steamroller. I have never read a single one of his books and I never plan to. Life’s too short.
It’s actually a tad impressive, the way Jones torpedoes his own credibility and ability to say anything meaningful or true in the following article in but three sentences. Most people have to work hard, over entire essays, to so completely disintegrate their chances of being taken seriously. Hats off, truly: the man has set a new benchmark in establishing the utter irrelevancy of a writer. Overblown hacks the world over will marvel at the speed at which Jones lowers himself to the puerile depths and say to themselves, “well, there’s no way I’m ever going to become that intellectually bankrupt that quickly, better throw in the towel.”
I make no secret of the fact that Terry Pratchett is my favorite author, one who I largely attribute my love of writing to, but I’m not saying this as a rabid Pratchett fan out to tear down someone impugning my golden idol, no. Though I’m certainly irritated to see such unkind words leveled at my literary hero, what makes me downright furious is the lax, comfortable position of ignorance in which Jones seems happy to play armchair auteur.
Is this what literary criticism has come to? Writers freely admitting that they’ve never read a single work of those they’ve deemed themselves fit to pass judgment on, proudly wallowing in their willful incomprehension, happy not to know and willing to continue not knowing under the delusion that they already know everything. “Life’s too short”? The man is a literary critic on a self-appointed quest to define what counts as literature and what doesn’t, and “life’s too short” to read a book? This self-styled judge of all that classifies as true written art dismisses the idea of having an informed opinion on a topic before speaking on it, yet has the gall to tell everyone else to “get real”?
The utter, depressing hubris Jones displays is what marks this tone-deaf piece of humble-bragging (let’s not forget that the thrust of this tripe is that Jones feels that the culture at large is celebrating popular mediocrity, while smart guys like him get to be the gatekeepers of True Literature, looking down on us plebs) as true pablum of the highest order, almost to the point of self-destruction. “Life’s too short” to know what you’re talking about apparently, but nevertheless we should all just “get real” and kowtow to Jonathan Jones’ clearly superior opinion; he doesn’t even need to have any experience with what he’s talking about to know better than everyone else, after all.
I can handle criticism of my favorite media, I really can; with Pratchett in particular I have some negative opinions of my own, specifically about his early work and aspects of his later books, I’m not averse to constructive criticism where it’s warranted at all. But what I can’t stand, what’s apt to make me livid, is obviously uninformed criticism of any kind. I’m of the opinion that if you’re going to say something, you owe it to yourself and all your listeners to know as much as you can about what you’re talking about, and you should be open about correcting your errors. Jones, by contrast, proudly proclaims his unwillingness to learn about the things he discusses, and closes himself off completely to the idea of ever correcting himself:
No offence, but Pratchett is so low on my list of books to read before I die that I would have to live a million years before getting round to him.
His petulance runs contrary to the spirit of journalism and, frankly, the spirit of literature itself, and the total lack of self-awareness with which Jones conducts himself is staggering: after smiling his way through his total dismissal of even the possibility of reading a Pratchett novel now or in future, Jones cluelessly extols the virtue of reading for experience, even going so far as to engage in self-deprecation for having missed the book that he approves of- presumably after having, you know, read it:
This summer I finally finished Mansfield Park. How had I managed not to read it up to now? It’s shameful. But at least now it’s part of my life. The structure of Jane Austen’s morally sombre plot, the restrained irony of her style, the sudden opening up of the book as it moves from Mansfield Park to Portsmouth and takes in the complex real social world of regency England – all that’s in me now. Great books become part of your experience. They enrich the very fabric of reality.
If great books become a part of your experience, if they’re so enriching, then doesn’t Jones owe it to himself to at least attempt to read books that are a part of as long and storied a career as Pratchett’s? Rather than, say, presupposing the perfect accuracy of his unthinking first impressions? How many hidden gems has Jones missed completely due to his blithe confidence in the conclusions he leaps to based on nothing? That’s what’s truly shameful.
It’s bad enough that Jones mistakes his uninformed, haughty ramblings for genuine writing, but he goes on in the most insultingly reductive manner possible, not only handwaving any possible disagreement with his airy ignorance as “mental laziness,” but deciding that Pratchett’s work is the entirety of his character:
Thus, if you judge by the emotional outpourings over their deaths, the greatest writers of recent times were Pratchett and Ray Bradbury.
Ah yes, because the only reason one might mourn an author is his work; the human being behind it factors in not a whit. Sadness is only a representation of the quality of Pratchett’s writing, and not at all due to the loss of an actual man who was, by all accounts, gregarious and kind and forward-thinking, easily worthy of instilling inspiration due to his genuine love of his craft, no matter your opinion of his writing… assuming you’re actually bothered to read any before rendering judgment.
I’ve already spent a thousand words on this intellectually bereft pile of nonsense, which is far more than it deserves, but it just makes me so mad to see self-assured cultural vultures like Jonathan Jones being given a platform, allowed to wallow in their ignorance and arrogance so totally that they develop the delusion of being empowered to dictate to everyone else what “real” literature is. As though he can just stomp his foot and demand the artistic canon mold itself to his petulant whim.
I am a fan of Terry Pratchett, and I’ll be composing a post on his last book once I’ve finished reading it I’m sure; it arrived on my doorstep earlier today and I found myself too nervous at the prospect of “New Pratchett writings” as a set dwindling with every word I read to actually crack it open. When I’ve finished The Shepherd’s Crown there will never be another new Pratchett work for me to read, the set will fall to zero, but in the meantime, I have one last question for Jonathan Jones:
But Terry Pratchett? Get real. It’s time we stopped this pretence that mediocrity is equal to genius.
How the hell would you know one way or another, Mister Jones?