Ray Bradbury

 You’ve got to be able to look at your thoughts on paper and discover what a fool you were.
Ray Bradbury, Salon.com Interview (29 August 2001)

I find I share Melissa McEwan’s gripe about Ray Bradbury, without sharing her enthusiasm for him. She focuses on his flawed critique of “political correctnessFahrenheit 451. I agree with her criticism but at the same time think the problem with Bradbury is more broad and systemic.

Milan Kundera, in The Curtain, talks about two kinds of people who write novels. The first kind had a point of view, a philosophy, and they wrote novels as a way of demonstrating and arguing for their particular world view. Sartre is a good example of this kind of writer. He developed his existentialist philosophy and uses his novels and plays to clarify and popularize these ideas.

The second kind of writer lacks didactic motivation but writes because he wants to see what happens. What happens when I put several people together who have different points of view or expectations or personalities? This writer is not interested in clearly expressed ideas that are eventually resolved but rather delights in ‘a carnival of separate truths.’

I always thought that Bradbury shared traits of both kinds of writers, but mostly their faults. I think he sets out to be the first kind of writer. His books and stories seem to be didactic, even to the point of being dogmatic. There is not a lot of subtlety: this is good, that is bad.

At the same time what he has in common with the second type is that his ideas are ambiguous or contradicting. The don‘t seem clearly thought out. This may work well in the ‘carnival’ style novel but fares badly in a didactic novel. I feel Bradbury is simultaneously both pedantic and unclear.

For example, in his novel Fahrenheit 451, we know that something is evil, but is that evil television or loud music or advertising or state censorship? He calls out against intolerance yet he himself seems intolerant of others. He does not want restrictions on his freedom of expression but doesn’t like it when minorities or special interests speak out. His vision of a white, male, suburban utopia is threatened by women, minorities, young people and cold war paranoia.

Perhaps some of this could be overlooked if he was a great prose stylist and he was able to express himself in ways that were poetic, witty, clever, ironic or particularly moving. But I find that he is none of those. I guess what people like about him most is what Melissa McEwan found in his writing. She found “its wrongness worked on me, and challenged me to figure out why it was wrong. It made me more sensitive. It helped me build my argument against careless rants about “political correctness” delivered by people of privilege who specialize in willful ignorance.”

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~ by severalfourmany on February 13, 2013.

One Response to “Ray Bradbury”

  1. […] Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 (Several, Four, Many) […]

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