Today I was browsing through stock image sites, looking for something vaguely surreal that would fit the cover of a collection of Older Son’s short stories we hope to release next week.
I’m having a little difficulty, as I always have with any short story collection — even my own — that doesn’t have a well-defined theme. And there’s the fact that this collection, starting when older son was about 12 and containing twelve years or so of stories, is… odd, because older son writes from abolished and possibly extinguished angles.
So I was trying to figure out something that suggests a surreal reality and is pretty for a cover.
But all the pictures under surreal or strange are what I class as “My eyes, my eyes.”
The best are just subtly unsettling horror, with someone holding eyeballs or something. The worst are seriously bizarre and fall under the principle of “meaty skulls with snakes.” even if that’s not what they actually have on them.
And suddenly I had a moment when there was a scream at the back of my head: “I’m tired of ugly.”
I have no idea why, but in art, be it writing or painting, or whatever you can create, ugly, disturbing and emotionally icky has been considered “cool” and “artistic” and “deep” for as long as I’ve been alive.
Are there disturbing or slightly scary pictures (or books) that are artistic and interesting, but must the majority of art be ugly, off-putting, and suck a little bit of joy out of the world.
And I know the temptation in myself. I had to overcome it, time and again over the years. It was the worst thing that literature classes did to me. Honorable characters straightforward plots, nice settings were all “trite” or “shallow” and you had to deep dive into horrible stuff to make it “Weighty and good and important”.
Look, I’m not talking about not making your characters suffer, as the fear beginning writers have. Of course, they have to go to trials to have the reward, otherwise the story is soup.
I’m talking about having your characters suffer and hurt and strive to something, but then at the last minute have their goal turn to ashes in their mouths, and nothing meant anything anyway. It’s writing the story of a space colony for 80k words, only to kill everyone off in the end. (No, I don’t remember who wrote that, but it was among the very few works of science fiction my professors lauded.)
It’s the character achieving her happily ever after halfway through the book, and then cheat on her husband, ignore her kids, and consider herself empowered.
It is taking something that could maybe be beautiful and make it dark and ugly for no particular reason.
Dark and ugly has a place. There is no full panoply without light AND dark, but why is the dark and twisted valued above the uplifting and interesting and beautiful? What is the point of it? Why should it be considered “better” or “more daring?”
I mean, I know the drive to deconstruct everything that society values, which is partly rooted in the romantics, and partly well, Marxist bullshit, because if they destroy normal society the Marxist paradise will happen, or something.
But how far are we going to let it go? And when will we wake up and say “No. That’s objectively ugly and I’m tired of ugliness?”
It’s time to start.