For Monday, November 16, 2015:
“Good fiction’s job is to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.”
David Foster Wallace
Given the state of the world today, this seems particularly apropos, and it makes me think of such fiction as Animal Farm, 1984, Lord of the Flies, Satanic Verses, and many others that have disturbed the comfortable collective. I think, too, of the books that have comforted me, but I suspect those are much more subjective and personal. Your ‘comfort books’ are likely different from mine — we may not be familiar with each other’s list. I think I can almost guarantee, though, that most people have heard of the titles above, even if they haven’t read them.
When I was privileged and blessed to preach in church for 20 years or so, a mentor told me of an axiom many preachers kept in mind that is remarkably similar to Foster Wallace’s statement. The paraphrased version is that the job of a preacher is to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable. It’s worth considering how and why the fiction writer — though I suggest this applies to writers of any genre — and the preacher can claim directives that are so alike.
If I were younger and more energetic, I would push for a political action of some kind among writers, one where we would commit en masse to works that disturb and afflict the comfortable that also comfort those who are afflicted. I know individuals are already doing that, both writers and visual artists, and they are making a difference.
However many participate, it’s a slow process because it’s such a big world and so many issues need to be addressed. I don’t know about you, but I am always comforted, at least a little bit, every time I see or read even one person’s heartfelt and thoughtful work on behalf of those who are afflicted.
May we all have the same determination and courage, and let it begin with me.