“Is This the Five Minute Argument or the Full Half-hour?”

The Ghost WarThe subject came up for me because I got briefly involved in an online discussion, which on the surface was about Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea trilogy. The instigator of the discussion readily admitted that the books were classics, but by implication wondered why they were classics. After all, there was very little overt action, the pacing was slow, and thus the books weren’t that entertaining. My first reaction was something along the lines of WTF??? After I picked my jaw up off the floor, I had to think about that for a bit.

I’m not going to get into a discussion of reading protocols. I’m not qualified, for one thing. However, there is something I have known for a long time, and the ancients knew long before I did—and so I shouldn’t have been at all surprised by that reader’s reaction to a series I did and still do think is brilliant. The proper response is not “What the hell is wrong with you?” The proper response is to shrug and remember “De gustibus non est disputandum.” More or less, “You can’t argue matters of taste.”

Of course, people can and do argue matters of taste. All the time. People like to argue, and for people who do like to argue, matters of taste are simply perfect. For as humanity has understood for a long time and the Romans expressed so succinctly, it’s a completely and utterly pointless exercise. There’s no logic to express, no preponderance of evidence to introduce, no real case to be made. Every such argument starts with one basic position by both (or all) disputants, and that is “Why don’t you like what I like?” The simple and obvious answer does nothing to derail the argument. It’s pointless, but only if you don’t realize that the argument itself is the point. Nothing is settled and no one is persuaded. Arguing in its purest and most honest form.

The thing is, we never read the same books, see the same plays, hear the same music, because we can’t. In order for me to do that, I would have to be you. And frankly, I have more than enough on my plate just trying to be me. My perspective and experience are not yours, and vice versa. If someone says the Earthsea books are slow paced, I would say they are thoughtful. If someone says that there’s no overt action, I would say that most of the conflict is internal but expressed beautifully in the text. If someone says that nothing really happens I’d say nothing but an entire world changing in front of our eyes. And whoever that theoretical someone was, we’d both be right.

Sometimes I think the real miracle is that we ever agree on anything.

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