Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Being earnest upon unimportance.

I awoke today with a curious thought: Is there "important" Sherlockiana?

I mean, must-read, Sherlockian 101, "if you haven't read this non-Canon work you're missing key points," in-everybody's-library, life-changing IMPORTANT Sherlockiana. Something you could even show to a non-Sherlockian and get confirmation that, "Yes, this is a thing of importance."

And then I wondered, "Is it the unimportance of Sherlockiana that really makes it great?" And, "Or am I just feeling old and crabby this morning?" So I started randomly pulling down books and looking for something that might give me guidance. And soon, I found something that made me go, "Oh . . . that . . . ."

Not something of importance, but someone writing about things they found important. An essay called "Requiem for the Game" by David Hammer, published in the 1995 U of M volume Sherlock Holmes: The Detective and the Collector. In a volume celebrating one of our great Sherlockian enthusiasts, Hammer writes a definitely unenthusiastic article. But he even hits on enthusiasm:

"I am not suggesting that Sherlockian scholarship will, or should perish, only that it is already attenuated -- through enthusiasm still runs high. While enthusiasm is laudable, it is not scholarship and may not produce good writing. I suspect that the next waves of writing will be generated solely by enthusiasm, for we are now writing about the Writings about the Writings. Sadly, the Great Game is over."

Hammer obviously found some older Sherlockian works important. Unmatchably important. Like many a Sherlockian of his generation, he felt like he missed the bus for a "good old days" of Sherlockiana that he didn't get to be a part of, a time when Sherlockian giants strode the Earth. And as I remember hearing many times back in the 1990s, from more than one elder Sherlockian of that day, none of our fellow current Sherlockians would ever be as great as those who came before.

Because those guys were important. To some Sherlockians.

When the waves of BBC Sherlock love signaled the start of a rising tide of Sherlockiana, we saw a few similar speeches about how all this new enthusiasm was ephemeral fannish faddery. Nothing important would come out of it. Silly, silly people.

Do you know why we can't make another violin that sounds like a Stradivarius? Because someone somewhere decided that a Stradivarius is what a violin should sound like and all other violins got measured against that goal. A Stradivarius is not, objectively, a perfect violin. Just a chosen subjective standard. Someone claimed authority on the subject, others went along. The Strad became important.

But musical instrument development did not stop with the Stradivarius.

Sherlockiana has its violins, and it also has its guitars. And electric guitars. The music produced, as a whole, is important, but while individual songs might have importance to individual people, as a culture, I don't think we can cite works that touched every single Sherlockian life -- we have some great Sherlockians coming from entirely new directions these days.

And can anyone seriously propose that the Sherlockian works of Morley and Starrett were more "important" than the Sherlockian works of Moffat and Gatiss? We can puff up and dismiss television as being of lesser stature than the literary print as a medium, but who affected more lives? Who brought more people back to the original Doyle? And most importantly, do those questions even matter?

You can't have fun when things are important, and Sherlockiana, at its very core, is about fun. Unimportance is what keeps it fun, and whenever we see importance creeping in, someone is usually about to get very crabby. Play any game too long and you get a little bored with it. You might even make rules about how it was played back when it was fun for you and try to foist them upon the new players . . . even though you've lost the fun . . . because your past fun is important to you. To you.

Importance, really, is just a pain in the ass, and I'd probably have been happier if I had awoken with a different word on the tip of my brain this morning. But I still haven't had breakfast yet, and that's the most important meal of the day, so I'd best get to it. Or maybe I should just have fun with toast.

1 comment:

  1. Bravo! What we do, after all, is called "The Game" and the fellow who is said to have started it all did so as a way to make fun of something really serious, the then-current Biblical scholarship. One can have fun by being ultra-serious about trifles, but they do remain trifles. And trifles, as the master himself noted, have real importance.