So there's a YouTube user who apparently saw that they were now allowing ten-hour videos and thought, "I am going to make ten-hour loops of Mario climbing a vine, and such." Then this person did exactly that. And, in spite of seven years of higher education, I am currently watching the video. Or rather, I'm listening to the Mario theme on loop while the video plays in another tab. Every now and then I click over to that tab and watch Mario climb the vine for a little while. And that really is all that happens: Mario's music plays, he climbs the vine. I'd like to say I'm doing this out of appreciation for the absurdist sense of humor that led to such a video, but while that's playing a small role, I think the truth is I can't believe anyone would make a ten-hour video that wasn't brilliant. I know how this person made the video: he hit copy and paste a lot of times. Or maybe it was even simpler. Maybe he told iMovie, or whatever program, "Waste ten hours," and then it did. Maybe there's a button for creating idiotic loops. I But somehow, even though I should know better and in fact I do know better, it seems terribly ambitious, a sort of Dada masterpiece.
Mark O'Connell wrote a thing a while back comparing our relationships with long novels to Stockhom Syndrome. I felt an immediate sense of recognition and at the same time I thought it war sort of ridiculous. Which is probably how a kidnapping victim feels when someone points out his or her own unhealthy attachment to the perpetrator. I guess I like to look at it differently. When I read a big or even an interminable book, I am being optimistic. I am choosing to believe in the author: to believe that there are still ambitious things worth doing. To be sure, it is fallacious to equate bigness with ambition, and the obvious pun (it is "phallacious" as well) has some truth in it. I am a man who wants to be a Big Man who wants to believe there is such a thing as a Big Man, who has fetishized bigness for its own sake, I am sure. I can find such motivations in everything I do, which suggests I'm either a hopeless retrograde sex addict, a human being, or both.
These days I mostly read long novels when I'm given a choice, which means that the indie lit crowd and I are often reading different books. Small presses generally focus on small books, for a mixture of financial reasons (it costs more to print more, after all), reasons of fashion (the general rule of literary magazines today is to shrink rather than grow), and for other reasons also. I guess I find the financial origins of these small books a little frustrating, not least because I tend to write long books: too long for most small presses. Again, it's not that longer books are actually better, but that they seem to project a certain self-confidence, a certain quantity of daring: they are brave enough to demand our time, our money, our strength (we have to hold the suckers up). I like to invest my time as a reader in writing that believes in itself. And while O'Connell wrote mostly about dull, pretentious time-sucks, I am reading David Mitchell, who often writes long books, and whose long books are as tight, lovely, and entertaining as any short novel could hope to be, but moreso, because there's more. And really, as someone who loves reading, that may be all I'm really asking.
But then I think about the ten-hour mario video still running in my other tab, and it makes me wonder why I read what I do. Am I more interested in the idea of big, ambitious art than I am in actually experiencing beauty? Sometimes, maybe, yes. And all I can say in my defense is this: