The Precious Against the Sincere

I've blogged before about my extreme dislike of preciousness in any form, but especially preciousness in art. I think it's important to discuss and differentiate between sincerity and preciousness, though, because I sense that when people write about Sincerity, what they are really arguing against is preciousness.

Preciousness, in these terms, is sincerity taken to a level where the experience of being sincere trumps the actual emotion. In this way, preciousness is a form of kitsch: it is less about the object and more about the experience of the object, the memory of the object, or the audience's relationship to the object.

Take, for example, Precious Moments figurines. These tiny, cherubic children are precious-ized into fat, vaguely sexualized, "adorable" litte figures. The owners of the figurines don't purchase them because they represent real childhood; they represent the adult relationship to childhood as an idealized experience. I mean, if we created figurines that represented childhood as it was lived, there'd be a lot of shitting, nosepicking, black eyes, and worm-eating.

Because poets desperately need to avoid the precious (unless they are employed by Hallmark or a subsidiary), they oftentimes feel obligated to skirt the sincere in favor of something other, a type of armor against the perception of preciousness. It's like I've written about Patrick Donnelly's The Charge—one of my favorite books, but, ultimately, a book full of overly-sincere poems. What do I love about it? The fucking amazing poems where Donnelly pushes the envelope of sincerity and creates at its borders a real, true capture of human emotion and experience. Without the trivialization of that emotion via preciousness.


  1. Charles,
    I agree that sincerity and being precious are not always the same thing. It seems to me that what is precious (figurines, etc) are really objects that allow us to feel self-congratulatory. Helplessly declawed stuffed animals and the like evoke in us a spirit of dominance, a situation in which we are the caretakers of helpless things.
    Meanwhile, something that is sincere is not necessarilly helpless. I think sincerity can be expressed while maintaining autonomy, while being precious is an appeal of dependency toward the perceiver.
    I'd like to see more of this discussion. Best, Ryan

  2. I think being precious is actually something like the opposite of being sincere: that is, it's devoid of sincerity but trying to look like sincerity.

  3. Perhaps it's the difference between being sincere about something superficial and something more complex, or more important. I can sincerely say that I think young kittens are just the cutest thing in the world - but it's not much of a test of my sincerity, is it?

  4. The difficulty comes in not when you're considering figurines, Hallmark cards, etc. (which are pretty overtly precious, wear their preciousness with pride, even), but when you get to poems that seem the pinnacle of sincerity to some and precious to others. Two examples of work I've seen lauded by bloggers: I found Mark Doty's most recent book precious in a lot of instances. I find Mark Strand's "Keeping Things Whole" precious, cute...

  5. Fascinating subject matter, Charles. I enjoyed reading your thoughts.

    I also liked reading the comments by Sisyphus, Steven, Harry, and Emily, especially Sysyphus' thought: "being precious is an appeal of dependency toward the perceiver."

    I agree with everything said.