Emotional Lit vs. Neutral Lit

[The following originally appeared as a blog post]

(This is sort of a reply to Ben Latini about whether online lit is too "dead-pan.")

In my brain, there are two main styles in which a person can write – one is overtly emotional, while the other is neutral (or “dead-pan”).

Here is the difference between the two styles: if an emotional writer wants to write about a sunset, they will say something like, “Conn’s face was bathed in the deep, dynamically-shifting fiery glow of the life-giving, untouchable solar body, as, all the while, the northern wind caressed his skin.” but a neutral writer would say something more like, “the earth rotated so that the sun was no longer visible to Conn.”

The difference is that the emotional writer continuously makes moral and qualitative judgments about what they are describing, whereas the neutral writer only expresses what actually happens, without including their own judgments.

So, when writing about the sunset, the emotional writer seems to be trying to say, “sunsets are more beautiful than other things, they bring happiness, and if you do not feel happy after seeing a sunset, then you are not normal.” the neutral writer, however, realises that there is no single “correct” opinion about sunsets, because all people have different emotional and moral responses based on their past experiences. the neutral writer, as such, seems to be saying, “the sun set, and you can find it beautiful or poignant or depressing or funny or disgusting, or whatever you want, but your response will not be the ‘correct’ response, and other people will have different responses to you which are equally valid.”

Going on from this, i see emotional writing as a sort of propaganda, because emotional writers use emotions as a way to manipulate readers into thinking in ways that are not rational and as such, do not allow people to see things “as they really exist.” like, some writers use 9/11 and the war on Iraq as tropes. tropes are things which allow a writer to elicit a certain response in a reader without the reader actually processing what they have read. so, as soon as you mention the war on Iraq, some people automatically feel sad or angry, for no reason at all. you could walk up to somebody and say “you caused the war on Iraq, you bastard!” and they would probably feel guilty automatically. emotional writers do this, too. they might be writing something and then slip something in like, “later on, Lucille was killed in the concentration camps” and people will think, “holy shit, Lucille was killed by the Nazis, she must have been a good person, that is so sad.” And then the reader will automatically be “on Lucille's side”, and feel empathy for Lucille. That is stupid - Lucille should be judged (if at all) on the things that she did during her life. but emotional writers who use tropes want to bypass this sort of rational judgment of people and things. it is like that movie “reign on me” where Adam Sandler played a man whose wife died in 9/11, the whole movie was propaganda, because it told the viewers, “you have to feel sad for this man, it is the only possible emotional response you can have.”

So, this means that people who write in an emotional way scare me because i know that they have an agenda beyond merely “showing the world as it is.” their agenda is to make me think that some things are “good” and some things are “bad” and that some things cause happiness and some things cause sadness for every single person in the world.

But people who write in a “dead-pan” way do not scare me. i can tell that in real life these writers must be open-minded and accepting, because these sorts of writers realise that all things are arbitrary and as such, they do not privilege one thing over another. These sorts of writers would not say, “oh my god, this restaurant is fantastic!” or “i love this book so much, i read it cover-to-cover, the author is a genius!” or “that person is such an arsehole, i hate him.” why not? Because these things are not concrete. you can’t say that somebody is a “genius” unless you can explain why they are a genius and you can’t say that a restaurant is “fantastic” unless you can explain what aspects of the restaurant make it appeal to you. people who are “dead-pan” make everything concrete, which is “good” because it links everything to something specific that exists, which makes it impossible to lie. so, a “dean-pan” person would not say “this restaurant is fantastic!” but would say “this restaurant has organic vegetarian food, and I have enjoyed most of the meals on the menu”, and they would not say, “that person is an arsehole”, but would instead say “that person stood me up on a date” or something more specific. The “dead-pan” person (or writer) does not express things using exaggerative adjectives, but expresses things by using descriptions that are tangible.

Neutral writers say, “everything in the universe is made from atoms and atoms are morally and qualitatively neutral, so your brain can think a horse shit is the most beautiful thing ever if it wants to, who cares?”