The Cult of Likeability

Jackson Bliss.jpgThe Cult of Likeability (or Why You Should Kill Your Literary Friendships) Craft essay by Jackson Bliss. TriQuarterly.

I’ve noticed a recurring trend in my fiction workshops recently that troubles me, partially because I was once the defendant in the same court of law during my own MFA program: a creative writing student stands up (metaphorically speaking) and then declares almost joyfully that they don’t like a character in the manuscript we’re workshopping or in the novel we’re reading. After I pause and wait for the student to elaborate, I soon realize that their dislike is the critique. I can’t help but wonder if the either/or fallacy of cancel culture I see routinely on social media has in some way reinforced this notion in workshop that unlikeable characters (like people in real life) don’t deserve our attention, which is why we’re allowed to stop considering them at all, once we decide we don’t like them. Frankly, I find this kind of reader response lazy, problematic, ungenerous, and uninsightful, regardless of whether we’re talking about art or people.

…What if the real problem is that, as readers, we’ve become impatient assholes who no longer want to understand the people we’d like to erase, both in literature and in our lives. What if part of the issue here is that, as readers, we now want to cancel the characters that rub us the wrong way (or even worse, who offend us) precisely because we now live in an era where we want to shut up half of those we share the world with.

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