Wednesday, January 08, 2014

My mixed feelings about David Sedaris

David Sedaris is hugely popular, so why don't I like him so much?  And I why did I almost delete that sentence, because I felt like I was being mean to him?

I first encountered his work way, way back when all he had done was appear on NPR and publish a slim collection of essays, or, more accurately, pieces.  And perhaps the "piece" nature of his work is part of what makes me feel that I'm missing something.  Is he funny?  Hilarious.  But does his humor reveal something about us, or even about himself?  To me, the answer to that question is either "no" or "yes, but not anything we really want to know."

But people like him.  They like him because he is so funny that they don't really expect much more from him.  They might even like him, on some level, for the reason I really feel resistant to his supposed charms: his humor comes at the expense of other people.  It comes at the expense of literally everyone he encounters.  He works as an elf and the people he encounters are awful.  He goes to a nudist colony and the people he encounters are crude and ugly.  He takes a job picking apples and his co-workers are unworthy of his company.  Etc.  And while it seems clear that each of these situations are of his own doing, he never bothers to ask any hard questions of himself.  Perhaps that wouldn't be funny.

His work also is clearly, highly, embellished.  Yet somehow, like most humor, it is considered nonfiction.  What is it about the humor category that qualifies the experience as nonfiction?  I've never been able to figure that out.

And yet...we'll be discussing Sedaris's work in my upcoming essay course, because there must be something there, right?  And also because, his work has taken an interesting turn in recent years. The barrier of entertaining us has been dropped, and his work has taken on a deeper quality that I actually do...like.

Here's a recent piece of his from The New Yorker:  "Now We Are Five."

No comments: