naive v. ironic distinction is… just annoying

Sorry for the hiatus.  In a flash of nostalgia for my previous life in Spain, I ran a google search for “Sherlock Holmes Madrid,” not expecting to find something so relevant to our class.  It’s funny to see “Jack the Ripper” translated as Juanito el Charcutero, which literally means Johnny (which is, I guess, a way of saying Jack) the Pork Butcher.  But anyway, I found a dismally reviewed, for-profit Sherlock Holmes movie… from Spain.  It’s called Holmes and Watson, Madrid Days, and it follows Holmes and Watson as they hunt down Jack the Ripper in Madrid.  I don’t understand why the title is in English,  when all the dialogue is in Spanish.  The film garnered a 4.2 rating on IMDB, and received at least one pretty bad review.  Don’t understand Spanish?  Don’t worry; “lamentable” in Spanish means… “lamentable.”  And that’s the description that the critic gave the trailer, at least.  From what I can see, the movie seems just an excuse to show shots of the Buen Retiro Park (incidentally, last year I used to live just about five minutes away from here).  Another funny review has a title that can be translated into “Holmes Discovers [the classic regional] Stew of Madrid.” And indeed, check out the hilarious trailer, in which the men, for some inexplicable reason, are sitting in a candle-lit Turkish bath with a towel across their loins (~0:47).

Aside from that funny tidbit, for this week’s blogpost, I am going to rant a little.  A lot of things irritated me about Michael Saler’s article, “‘Clap if you Believe in Sherlock Holes’: Mass Culture and the Re-Enchantment of Modernity.” I got the overall message of the article loud and clear, since Saler seems to repeat his main point over and over and over and over again: Sherlock Holmes’s appeal lies in his ability to use the rationale stressed by modernity to find enchantment in every day life, which we readers are all capable of doing as well.  This resonates just fine with me, as it syncs quite nicely with the way I live my own life.  Except my version of finding enchantment in reality specifically involves people, which means that I will use (and have used) my detective skills to figure out certain details about the people who intrigue me, so that I can figure out the way to best amuse myself with this information…

Anyway.  Aside from my Holmes-like ability to deduct information about the people in my life, I am also a big-time reader, as you might have gathered from my previous posts.  That’s not to say that I read a lot, but mostly that I stake my identity on being a reader.  And while I do stake an enormous portion of my identity as a reader, I just cannot understand or stand the readers featured in Saler’s article.

First and foremost, I do not understand the easy distinction that Saler creates between “naive” and “ironic” believers of Sherlock Holmes.  It is very obvious to me which of the two Saler values more.  According to the scholar, the “naive” reader of Homes “genuinely believed that Holmes and Watson were real” (609) — how laughable!!!  So these were the types of folks that would write letters to a Mr. Sherlock Holmes for help with various things, including financial assistance.  Saler tells us of the trends in publishing that might have led “less sophisticated” (611) readers, largely from working class backgrounds, that would lead to such a phenomenon.  Just because layers and layers of authorship are involved — after all, Doyle writes in the voice of Watson, who relates his experiences with Holmes in a supposed private diary, that readers finally see — I can see how readers might believe that Watson’s diary is a true account of interactions with a true Holmes.  So these people believe that a living, breathing, needle-marked Holmes walked the streets of London.  Okay.  Fine.

But Saler talks again and again of the “ironic” believers.  And I don’t understand this notion.  What does it mean to be an “ironic” believer?  Either you believe, or you don’t.  You either believe in the existence of Sherlock Holmes, or you don’t.  You believe that he is a living, breathing person, walking down the streets of London — or you don’t.  Do I believe in Santa Claus?  No.  Do I wish he existed?  Sure.  Can I pretend that he does?  Okay.  Does that make me an “ironic believer” of Santa Claus?  No — it makes me a sad, wishful person.
The “ironic” readers, according to Saler, “pretended that Holmes was real — but for whom this pretence was so earnest that the uninitiated might not recognize it as pretence. . . . But the tenor of ironists’ writings changed over time, from outright parodies to more solemn, quasi-scholarly investigations.”  Key word in Saler’s definition is “pretend.”  These folks — who are clearly more educated and have more leisure time than the aforementioned “naive” readers — go around pretending, and they pretend so much that other people become confused.
While Saler seems to value the latter type of reader, I’d rather side with the “naive” type.  Because at least the naive readers do not go around making other people feel bad. The ironic readers are disrespectful!  Towards the author of the character they love so dearly, in fact.  As we learn in this article, Doyle-as-author is so neglected by these Sherlock Holmes devotees, that when Doyle’s son, Denis, attended a Baker Street Irregulars dinner in 1940, he was alarmed to see that his father’s name was not mentioned even once at this Sherlock Holmes Lovers Fest, as the members spoke of Holmes instead as a real man.  But Denis was reassured by a member that “this was the highest compliment an author could obtain: not even Shakespeare created characters that were seen as more real than their creator.” (617)
Really?  Readers like these are why people hate English majors.

2 thoughts on “naive v. ironic distinction is… just annoying

  1. I like this, mostly because as I was reading I felt that Sherlockians were really sort of off, but I couldn’t point to a particular reason why. I have to be careful,though, because I have a friend who’s a Sherlockian….

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