Posted on 12/5/2007 by Amy Fung
Promoting his new book, A 20th Century Shirt, which he carefully explains to be a flip book of a novel and an essay, Yann Martel weaved through what can only be described as an infomercial for his new illustrated copy of Man Booker winner 'Life of Pi' before moving onto his digression on how the Holocaust is not fictionalized enough. There is certainly a gap between event and representation, but the denominator of experience was glossed over by examples of fiction versus non fiction, which Martel aims to conjoin once again--and rightly so. Only fiction takes liberties with a lived experience that non fiction can only investiage, and in applying that approach to the Holocaust, Martel seems oblivious to the problematic nature of fictionalizing an event that is simultaneously denied by some, never to be forgotten by others, and completely unimaginable to many of his fellow humankind.
A famed and celebrated author, Martel is undeniably a gifted wordsmith: intellectual, insightful, but ultimately and unfortunately he is also an extreme elitist. His push for reading as a path to wisdom and greater experience may be fair enough to believe, but his idealistic vision only reaches the converted, and even then, has the ability to alienate. Poignant and patronizing, his outlandish and at times outrageous insinuations of PM Harper left many laughing, but his asinine approach left others reeling at the dumbfounded assumptions of art's role in society. Art in all its levels whether it is pure entertainment of low brow nature or challenging experimental works from a prestigious canon co-exist together and should be acknowledged in equal weight for different audiences. One is not greater than the other, perhaps more accessible or stimulating, but both should be proudly consumed. Prefacing his nonchalant admiration for mindless entertainment art and dividing art against itself for the sake of elitism (and not even merit), Martel and similiar thinkers are only further marginalizing culture from our already-unsatisfied society. Quipping that the mindless art of television or thrillers as samples of childhood shame and are today ingested as "candy," Martel implicates high esoteric art as the equivalent of brocoli, condenscending the issue to extremes. Simply needed to achieve balance, Art in its many formations needs to be consumed in order to expand the palette. Feeling shame or guilty as Martel admits when enjoying "moronic" entertainment does not expand the dialogue. Rather, this perspective only creates a greater divide between who should enjoy Art and who can enjoy Art.
Martel beautifully captures the notion that "life is interpretation" -- that art can help us explore life and its capabilities, and that sentiment was important to share in a city like Edmonton, a city experiencing tremendous growth and transition and not enough reflection of where this boom is taking us as a community. Edmonton is still quite young, and our sense of legacy is dwindling with the grab for fast and easy cash, but once we realize the need to invest in our own legacy will we begin to invest in the arts. Edmonton needs art to reflect our changing city and culture, and the only real stipulation is that the art being created be interpreative and reflective of the real lives that are happening, and be challenging, pushing all of our boundaries, and be more than just intellectually satisfying, but a creation that reflects a grain of shared experience.