Friday, January 11, 2019

'As Much First-Rate Bosh as We Want'

Americans seldom say bosh, except when imitating the way we think a sniffy upper-class Englishman speaks. We’re likelier to say nonsense or, increasingly, crap or its well-known one-syllable synonym. The OED tells us the word derives from the Turkish boş, meaning “empty, worthless.” It entered English by way of a popular novel, Ayesha (1834), by James Justinian Morier. By 1854, when Dickens used it in Bleak House, bosh was still new and au courant. How pleasing: a prime exhibit of bosh – a trashy novel -- gave us bosh. Desmond MacCarthy explains in “Bosh” (Experience, 1935):

“There are books which belong entirely to that day-dream world into which it is often restful to nestle down, away from reality — and away from literature. For literature and indeed genuine art in any form, even when its theme is most remote from reality, has an odd way of seeming real — of making us feel more alive. We do not turn to it when we want to fade out.”

MacCarthy identifies a species of published matter labeled “Good Bad Books” a decade later by Orwell (with a nod to Chesterton). He calls it bosh:

“Anyone with the habit of self-observation, when searching his shelves, must have often caught himself avoiding not only masterpieces, but even the works of any writer who has a position in literature. There are moods when we want to read bosh. With some people this is the only mood in which they ever open a book, and this is their misfortune; but we all feel that there is not as much first-rate bosh as we want.”

In fact there is and it’s called movies. I’m not tempted to read bosh – science fiction or thrillers – but I happily watch less-than-stellar films, stuff I would never consume in printed form. My bosh is movies, some of them primo cheese. MacCarthy continues:

“Next to the writers who have created beauty, and fired and renewed our love of it, or have recorded their own sense of the meaning of life, next to these, the prime entertainers should be ranked as benefactors of mankind. They are always handsomely rewarded as far as money is concerned, but they are too little esteemed. A fairer sense of proportion would give them more respect than the majority of the almost-artists, for they provide something which men genuinely need.”

MacCarthy means writers. Substitute films and filmmakers, none of them non-artists: Laurel and Hardy, Rio Bravo, The Godfather, The Rules of the Game, W.C. Fields, Double Indemnity, The Wild Bunch and so on. MacCarthy says, “For my part, I think it fair (and possible) to be as critical of bosh as of literature. It is no use comparing them, because the test is different, but each within its own category can be as rigorously tested.” Not all bosh is bosh.

1 comment:

Faze said...

Reading Christopher Wren's "Beau Geste" now. Utter bosh. Full of morally repellent assumptions. But I can't wait to get back to it.