1. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Pretension or Brilliance a fine line?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by peachalulu, Mar 3, 2014.

    I was ordering a book online and came across B. R Myer's A Reader's Manifesto. http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2001/07/a-readers-manifesto/302270/
    I have to admit it was kind of humorous to watch someone ripping apart the prose of writers who are mainly untouchable and also nice to see someone sticking up for genre fiction. ( Even though I can snub it myself, mainly for early, bad reading habits - Sweet Valley High, V.C. Andrews - shudder. )

    It got me to thinking what constitutes pretension? What makes for brilliance? I read somewhere pretension is insincerity but who can judge a writer's sincerity? In another book the author said pretension comes when the author makes the reader pay more attention to the metaphor than the feeling the metaphor is trying to reveal. And in another article discussing the issue a man told how he read that Kafka was kidded by a friend for standing in the Harlequin section of a book store and suddenly found the writer in tears. Moved, by something he read in one of the Harlequins. Can brilliance be something personal even found only in a nugget, something that might not touch anyone else?

    What do you think - What makes for brilliant writing? And what makes for pretentious writing?
     
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  2. Mackers
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    Mackers Contributing Member

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    Hi Peach you've touched on an interesting topic here :)

    Pretension vs brilliance has to have an element of subjectivity imo...I would agree with the point you mentioned about insincerity. I would argue that something is pretentious when the author has an over-bearing sense of his own cleverness, that he includes clever things just for the sake of it, such as using massively long, technical words that no one has ever heard of before. (That's just one example, and is not pretentious in and of itself) I would also argue that pretension is related to arrogance
     
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    Wowzie Member

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    Pretentious writing is only itself, brilliant writing is more than itself, and bad writing is not even itself.

    Maybe.
     
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Pretension and brilliance are in the eyes of the beholder.
     
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  5. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Very true points Mackers - but then Nabokov falls under every one of them. One could call everything Nabokov wrote pretentious especially when you back it up with some of Nabokov's interviews, the man was a tad - lol - arrogant. But maybe that's another thing about pretension - in the dictionary ( or mine anyway ) the word means claiming a title. It doesn't follow up with the possibility of claiming a title one hasn't earned.

    Maybe that's where brilliance comes in - claiming a title you have earned. Nabokov earns it by mastering language, meanwhile take Amanda McKittrick Ros who seems to have been taken hostage by words.

    Wowsie - that's a really interesting thought! -
    Love it.

    Thirdwind - I agree. Some of my favorite books will never get credit as anything special but I always thought they had something, something more than a few Pulitzer prize winners.
     
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  6. Mackers
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    Mackers Contributing Member

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    I was just going to ask funnily enough...Is it possible to be pretentious and brilliant at the same time? :D I wouldn't disagree with anyone if they said to me Nabokov is pretentious, but I also happen to think he is brilliant! (subjectivity cropping up again)

    You could possibly argue there's a diverse meaning of pretentious - one could be associated with success (earning the title of brilliance) and the other failure (irritating/annoying the reader by trying too hard/being ostentatious) I don't know...It's a fine line sometimes, for sure
     
  7. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    You would think from the article that pretension is trying and failing and worst of all leaving it in for the world to see. And perhaps act like the rhinestone will get lost among the diamonds.
    Or maybe that the writer believes the rhinestone to be a diamond.
    He quotes this from Proulx -

    What do you think? Pretentious? The one thing I had trouble with he didn't mention - I though hot intelligence didn't make any sense following the brown feather image. He had a problem with the brown feather on black waters which I thought was interesting but given the context didn't quite work.
     
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    Mackers Contributing Member

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    I'm just reading this article Peach, it's very entertaining!

    I've cringed at all the quotes from Proulx. Whoever she is, she is the type of writer that I would frisbee across the room after five minutes. I couldn't handle a whole book like that

    What about "Strangled, work-driven ways"? lol ..Whatever strangled means in that context :D
     
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  9. JayG
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    JayG Banned Contributor

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    One person's pretension is another's purple prose, and yet to another it's, "brilliant!" But when all three agree on purple prose it's pretension. :eek:
     
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  10. Simpson17866
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    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    If you can understand the sentence, then the fancy words that the writer chose are brilliant.

    If you cannot understand the sentence, then the fancy words that the writer chose are pretentious.
     
    Last edited: Mar 4, 2014
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  11. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    if you can read one sentence, you can certainly read the others... did you really mean 'understand'... or 'make sense of'?
     
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    *facepalm* Thank you for illustrating my point, and I will see if I can edit just edited my previous post to say "understand" instead of "read" so that it's not too pretentious for people to understand :oops:
     
  13. Mackers
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    Mackers Contributing Member

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    Think you're over-simplifying it a bit to say the least...
     
  14. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Actually this brings about an interesting idea - does our understanding and or ability to visualize play a big part in what we deem pretentious or brilliant?

    I can visualize -
    “The heaventree of stars hung with humid nightblue fruit.”
    ― Ulysses

    But I don't understand it.

    This I can't visualize nor do I understand it -

    “Here, and it goes on to appear now, she comes, a peacefugle, a parody's bird, a peri potmother, a pringlpik in the ilandiskippy, with peewee and powwows in beggybaggy on her bickybacky and a flick flask fleckflinging its pixylighting pacts' huemeramybows, picking here, pecking there, pussypussy plunderpussy.”
    - Finnegan's Wake
     
  15. jazzabel
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    I think in order to judge something as pretentious or brilliant, we first have to deal with our own snobbery and ego. To make sure we aren't labelling something 'pretentious' just because we don't understand it, or because it's not 'trending'. Also, lack of understanding can contribute to feeling of 'pretentiousness' in a book, misused metaphors, excessive 'big words' to describe mundane things, overusing certain plot devices in order to appear 'cool' all these are bound to turn off readers who can recognise it. But this is really in the eyes of a beholder, which explains how the most cliched, badly written or pretentious fiction still has fans, and in some cases, lots of them, who probably think that great works of literature are 'pretentious'.
     
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    It also depends on the reader's experience. A person without much reading experience is going to think Ulysses is pretentious. Even then, I'd argue that the person needs to have the right experience (i.e., an understanding of how literature evolved during the 19th and early 20th centuries).
     
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