A friend alerted me to this article in the NYT about sentimentality and literature, or perhaps I should say, sentimentality and life.
Zoë Heller writes:
‘From time to time, a writer rises up to chastise our modern squeamishness about sentimentality. In “A Lover’s Discourse,” Barthes claims we have grown so chilly and clever that we can no longer speak of love without putting the word in mocking quotation marks. Nabokov makes a similar point in his lecture on “Bleak House,” when he warns his students against sneering at Dickens’s descriptions of orphaned children: “I want to submit that people who denounce the sentimental are generally unaware of what sentiment is. . . . Dickens’s great art should not be mistaken for a cockney version of the seat of emotion — it is the real thing.”’
(Read the article here.)
I have to admit that I’m squeamish about sentimentality; perhaps I’ve grown chilly. The question of course is: what do we speak about when we speak about sentimentality?
Sentimentality is when we see the manipulation through the attempts to provoke our feelings.
The adjective “sentimental” means: we notice the tears, but we don’t necessarily believe in them.
Democracy as we know it is utterly sentimental, it is a strange mixture of sentiment, irony and earnestness. Of course most dictatorships are sentimental, but not ironic.
ISIS is neither very ironic nor openly sentimental.
But if you take a closer look you will see that the belief that sheer violence will redeem us, or at least some of us, is utterly sentimental. ISIS bets on us being sentimental.