“I learned to like the music because I heard so much of it there, and because you could just about taste the alcohol in every flatted fifth. Nowadays I go for the music, and what I hear in the blue notes is not so much the booze as all the feelings the drink used to mask.”
In the short-story “The Night and the Music” from the collection “The Night and the Music”
Is that a fact only women read romance novels? I don't buy it. The same way I don’t buy only men read Crime Fiction. If safely exploring the brutal and violent world and the disproportionate threat women apparently face is the motive, perusing academic journals and scientific studies, even TV documentaries, makes more sense than reading stories and literature that feature brutal violence. Is it possible that one of the reasons women (and men for that matter) like reading about human violence and brutality is that it fascinates and even in certain instances titillates? Romance novels sell millions of copies - despite even its fans deriding the atrocious writing. Are the novel's largely female readership using the books as an indirect tool to make sense of (some) women's tendencies to be submissive sexually and willingly degraded by a dominant male? I don't think so. I even conducted a pool on my woman friends, and it’s a “fact”. They bought the book because the content turned them on. I don’t think many people are able to deny this. Likewise, readers of more brutal and violent works, (aka Crime Fiction and Horror) generally read them because the subject matter fascinates or titillates and not because they are conducting indirect sociological research into the nature of rape, murder and violence. There is a genre in Manga (Japanese comics) that features gay males violently raping and murdering each other. As everyone knows, its readership is almost exclusively female (go and read the polls available on the internet, if you doubt me). It is accepted, if still somewhat taboo to mention, that many women and girls have rape fantasies and are sexually excited by male-on-male violence, e.g., boxing, street fights even though logically they abhor both rape and violence against males or females. The internet world of fandom also reveals a side of female attitudes towards sex and violence that surprises and disturbs me. I know I met a few of them eons ago. The human mind is a strange and fascinating beast. That which on one side repulses and frightens can on another side turn on and arouse. Most women are not sexually aroused by reading about women being raped and murdered (although some likely are) but to downplay the fascination violence holds for women and men and claim that female readers of violent literature are doing so primarily to make sense of human depravity doesn't make sense.
I try to analyze my own leanings in terms of fiction, and I also like Crime Fiction. Why? As usual not sure. I think there is something addictive about fear, about pushing your tolerance for darkness to the limits and I also think this is true for many people - women and men.
But I have to admit, I do prefer it when the female victims turn the tables on the attackers, having finally had enough of all the torture and the rape and the violence, turns vigilante and embark on some hatred-fueled murdering, killing all the fu#$%ers. The often contradictory nature of human "nature" makes many people uncomfortable but there you have it. We are a species with one foot rooted in the animal world (we are mammals after all), and one foot stuck in the complex human-only world. Maybe neuroscience could give us some answers. We’re just starting to get an empirical understanding of how the human brain operates and reacts...there is no similar tool that gives us a definitive understanding of the human mind and its many complexities and contradictions. Art is in part an attempt by humans to make sense of human's internal world - a world no scientific equipment can ever measure.
I think that’s the reason we like art and literature to make sense of the human world, but I don't think that is the primary motive driving someone to read a certain genre or work of fiction. Block’s “The Night and the Music” offers insight into, among other things, the nature of guilt and how the human mind tries to rationalise committing a violent act against innocent persons but I doubt most readers of this short-story collection pick up the book with this at the forefront of their minds. I just enjoyed it because I love Matt Scudder putting away all the bad guys in the end, and sometimes with a vindictive streak to go along with it…
I'd love to hear your thoughts on this.