"Well, I didn't buy the object for the glory and drama attached to it. It's not about Thomson hitting the homer. It's about Branca making the pitch. It's all about losing."
"Bad luck," Glassic said, spearing a potato on my plate.
"It's about the mystery of bad luck, the mystery of loss. I don't know. I keep saying I don't know and I don't. But it's the only thing in my life that I absolutely had to own."
People have asked me what Underworld is about, and I find myself somewhat at a loss. To be sure, there are characters, and they interact, but I think the book aspires to something greater.
In some ways, this is irritating. Invariably, when an author sets out to write a "great book," said book reeks of their intent; it's a little embarassing, the authorial desperation. Still, there are certain things that can only be accomplished when character and plot take a back seat to themes and ideas. Whether these things are really merited or whether they're the equivalent of literary masturbation is an entirely different discussion.
I find it interesting that the three books on the list which I have read all deal with loss, are focused on people who have lost, rather than won; the dark side of the American Dream, if you will. And it's not loss in the prettied-up, Hollywood sense; redemption is rare and pyrrhic.
Perhaps this is natural, perhaps all art is inherently concerned with the notion of being outside; outside convention, outside the mainstream, the dark mirror for society. And yet, perhaps it only seems natural because we choose to conceive of art in that fashion, because we are drawn to the archetype of the lone, tortured artist plying his or her trade in an effort to reach out, to communicate, to connect somehow to this monolithic culture which they are unable to touch as an individual, which they can only affect and be affected by through their art. Perhaps much of this comes from artists themselves, so desperate to justify their own existence that they assume postures and personas to lend their art that air of gravitas, which makes it necessary and important.
The saddest thing is that the only true justification for art comes from within; people (and I don't think you need to or should consider yourself an artist by trade to create something) should create whatever they feel the urge to. If they want to write, write, if they want to sing, sing, and so forth. I'm not saying everything anyone creates is good, nor that this is the only reason anyone should have for making any kind of art; simply that this is the only justification that is, in the end, necessary. Whether what you create is any good, whether other people will enjoy it, feel enlightened or touched by it, is a whole other story.