Amateur chauvinist critics nowadays label entertainment without plot to be “self-indulgent.” What they are referring to here is the “slice of life” story, universally met with knee-jerk attacks from our young, impatient reviewers. It is hardly ever analyzed by these people whether or not the lack of plot is due to a lack of talent on behalf of the writer, or a tremendous swelling of talent in his or her endeavors to make the story as mundane and everyday as possible. They are too busy foaming at the mouth with hatred.
Instead, there is merely a smug assumption that no plot equals incompetence or metaphysical forgetfulness, as if the author merely “forgot” to include one in his/her eternally befuddled manner, the silly and stupid befuddled manner which critics frequently assume writers must all posses by nature of seeking the approval of magazines which advertise for phone sex lines.
If these critics had not had their eyes cursed by the sight of such a “boring” and “plotless” work, or better yet been gifted with a better writer to formulate said work, surely then, a plot would have manifested, since as we all know, a lack of plot can by no means be included as part of the overall experience of the work—such a thing is not humanly possible or imaginable.
In between advocating the abortion known as modern art and taking a defibrillator to reactionary art movements such as Surrealism and Cubism (both of which plotted a decades-long coup d’état against Realism for being too proletarian), our young critics managed to skip a generation and “no plot” became a synonym for “bad” in precisely 100% of known cases of the phrase appearing.
The Japanese mastered the “slice of life” story, so did the Irish, but we Americans refused because of these chattering parrots of the free press who were too busy labeling art that the masses do not care for as “abstract” and abducting it for the urban students and petty-bourgeoisie. Realism is too “dirty,” too “low class and depressing” and too “everyday” for the petty-bourgeoisie, after all. So is the “slice of life,” albeit in the opposite form, being described as “too boring” and (irony of all ironies coming from students and petty-bourgeoisie) “self-indulgent!”
Apparently, this is meant to be a criticism of writers.
J.D. Salinger comes to mind as the “original” man who wrote a book with no plot—“Catcher in the Rye”—although that book still has too far much plot for your author’s tastes. For once, the critical reception was good for the work, although his later works such as “Franny and Zooey” were met with public outrage.
An example of this American disdain for story-less stories is The Wall Street Journal’s article by Adam Kirsch, which claims that Salinger’s later work seemed “to become not a way of exploring reality, but a substitute for it” and even worse “more like the gratuitous, self-delighting detail children use when inventing fantasy worlds.”
This is an odd accusation. If Kirsch finds the less-than-heavily-plotted works of Salinger so objectionable, wouldn’t it be a positive turn in his opinion to have him “invent fantasy worlds?” The natural conclusion of this statement is that invention of a world, otherwise known as writing [!] is shallow imitation.
In other words, Kirsch finds imagination to be intolerable and more than that, impossible, and therefore declares war on those on daring to create it—quite a sad and stuffy conclusion. I can only guess that Kirsch’s own life is not filled with imagination or “self-indulgence” and has a definite scope and shape (plot), so he doesn’t desire to be bothered by directionless stories, else I risk accusing Kirsch of having a postmodern existential crisis in the process of his reading (dear lord, would I do that?!).
Since that surely cannot be the case, on the flip side maybe his life is filled with universe-destroying adventures that make his life less “self-indulgent.” He is more than free to write an autobiography that might not be as “gratuitous” as Salinger’s work, although in reality he would be hard-pressed to finish a product not identical to Salinger’s, at least if he is honest.
The real source of this is that “slice of life” is fresh and enchanting with no sense of duty, and views life the way a child might, for lack of a better phrase; precisely what they actually find objectionable. Randomness and rambling musings—the sheer effrontery boggles the mind. The idea of the everyday as marvelous is threatening to reactionaries. Unable to shake off some onion layers, I reckon.