— Susan Sontag, “Project for a Trip to China”
So I would start out with the dictionary definition of pretense, which would be useful actually, because I feel that many people do not know it, but that would be perceived as pretentious; but then I’ve already made the presumption that many don’t know the meaning of pretense, and thus pretentious and so; in fact, the whole premise of this is totally. An obscure quote? Semi-colons? What an ass, like lifting one cheek. Okay so.
I feel that 99% of the time the word pretentious is used in one very general way: to describe something someone doesn’t understand; either the phrasing of a thing, or the reach, the jargon, whatever. Now you might say, well look Reynard sometimes people are acting the fool and so I call them out when I need to call them out. And I feel you on that (also that is a very polite way to speak to me, thank you). It’s the literary equivalent of honking your horn. Some people honk at white space. I like it. Some people do not enjoy cheese. I can not comprehend their decisions. Why should we agree? Nothing says that anywhere. Some words have such totality, it frightens people. They cannot pry the concept from the object, even if the object does not exist in front of them, which is statistically VERY LIKELY.
The problem is most people use their horn for no reason. Most of the time when they say “pretentious” what people mean is “bombastic.” Bombast is inflated speech, using big words for no real reason, other than to sound smart. If the words are not used incorrectly, because they were culled from some thesaurus with passive regard for the range of their meanings, they are usually used in a way that either adds no greater specificity to the sentence or distracts the reader from the intended meaning. We know all this. So yeah, this is not good. But it is not pretentious either. And you don’t need to use your horn so much.
Then there are those times, like when some jerk doesn’t use his blinker, when a writer’s tone is, in your opinion, pretentious. But look, all tones are affected, even those that come naturally. That’s my opinion anyway. And at a certain point, all of it becomes a matter of opinion. Isn’t everything though? One could try to cite every sentence one writes, but one must eventually face the problem of threes, which is who and how and why? Okay, let’s simmer down a bit. I think I was trying to say something here. Maybe I should have written this essay in a satirical style, so as to deflect whatever criticisms a reader might have into the void of chuckledom and “I have a t-shirt that says I’m with stupid, shall I put it on?” Some people think everything on this site is pretentious. The thing is, those people are right.
To pretend is, of course, the very root of all literary and artistic creation. Were it not for pretense, nothing would get done. No one would tell a single story. Let alone write a poem. All literature is pretentious.
To be against pretense is to be against creation.
(1) I read Maggie Nelson’s Bluets yesterday afternoon. That book is a serious bruiser, and beautiful. “That each blue object could be a kind of burning bush, a secret code meant for a single agent, an X on a map too diffuse ever to be unfolded in entirety but that contains the knowable universe. How could all the shreds of blue garbage bags stuck in brambles, or the bright blue tarps flapping over every shanty and fish stand in the world, be, in essence, the fingerprints of God? I will try to explain this.”
(2) SPD has a few copies of Maldoror and The Complete Works of Comte de Lautremont from Exact Change for almost 50% off. You should really own this book.