Reality Imitating Art

I went to the dentist this morning. As I was lying prone in the chair in pain, I thought of Frank Norris’s novel McTeague, in which the title character is a dentist whose grip is so strong that he is able to extract teeth with his bare hands. Later in the visit, I received a lecture that I’ve been given before about how I should really be using an electronic toothbrush rather than a manual one, and I thought about how the hygienist probably thinks of me as a “difficult” patient for not heeding her advice. This thought reminded me of the Seinfeld episode where Elaine gets labelled “difficult” by her doctor. When she complains, she gets blacklisted by all of the doctors in the area. As I grumpily made my way home after the appointment, the first line of Shel Silverstein’s poem “Hurk” surfaced out of my childhood memories: “I’d rather play tennis than go to the dentist.”

This experience struck me because I realized that I wasn’t using any original thoughts to analyze it, but simply relied on art to do the analysis for me, to tell me how to feel. It is important to see how art relates to real life (whatever that means; as David Shields writes in Reality Hunger: A Manifesto, “reality… is the one word that is meaningless without quotation marks” [4]), but it becomes dangerous when we let art (or, more broadly, the simulated reality of pop culture) mediate all of our experiences for us.

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