Value of unimportance

In grad school, one class got into a debate about a published comment that art was meaningless, meaning it was a thing outside commerce and utility. This seemed overly idealistic, or maybe only true in the eyes of the creator. And it seems Jonathan Lethem has stepped into this debate in the Boston Globe with the statement about his latest book “You Don’t Love Me Yet” as being “a profoundly unimportant book.”

Here’s a bit from The Elegant Variation:

According to a Q&A between the Boston Globe and Jonathan Lethem on Sunday, Lethem says You Don’t Love Me Yet is “a profoundly unimportant book.”

What does it mean for a book to be “unimportant”? Surely not “Don’t even bother to read it, it’s that unimportant.” I have a hard time believing he’d have bothered to write it. The interview gestures at a definition of “unimportant” that belongs to Nabokov: literature serves no social function, only provides artistic delight. But that’s a form of importance, right? To me, that’s one of the primal important things. I haven’t read You Don’t Love Me Yet yet, so there’s no insight here, but so what if it’s not original, or educational, or politically conscious. Those aren’t the only requirements for relevancy. If it’s about “language and life and the impulse to make art [and evoke] feeling in the reader — laughter, embarrassment, yearning,” well, those things are important, no? Maybe the quote was cut off. I’d like to believe he said, “It’s a profoundly important book for being a profoundly unimportant book.”


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