Browsing the archives for the Literature category

Literary Fiction

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Art, Culture, Literature

Over at 2Blowhards, Michael Blowhard has a post up on the phenomenon of “Literary Fiction.” Literary Fiction and its general “emptiness” is a common theme at 2Blowhards, and the post is just one of many in a more extended conversation about it.

Quoth Michael:

… despite its intending-to-awe name — “literary fiction” represents nothing more than another shelf in your local bookstore’s Fiction section. It’s one menu option among many, and nothing more.

This is a pretty common but very important realization. It’s rare for me to encounter people outside of my close circle who really enjoy reading frequently — But when I do it’s even rarer to find someone who sees through the cloud of marketing to realize the fiction world’s tastemakers are just glorified advertisers, selling books in a genre whose sole purpose is to be exclusive club. If you’re the right sort of person with the right aesthetic sensibilities, the right opinions, and the right connections you too could join the club.

More Michael:

There’s a problem with thinking of lit fic as a legitimate genre. It’s this: Real fiction-genres arise out of something alive. They’re the result of an informal collaboration between audiences, publishers, and writers. They’re based in live tastes, live markets, live creative urges, and live audience enthusiasm.

They arise semi-naturally, in a word. “Literary fiction” has no such organic basis. It’s a willed creation, one that has been given form from the intellect on down. Its audience is largely made up of students, educated people who attend creative writing classes themselves, and people who are still young and credulous enough to read what the magazines tell them is important. … Lit fic is an artificial world, without any vitality or pulse of its own, and in need of ever-renewed artificial respiration. Which is also to say that it’s constantly on the verge of collapse and annihilation.

There’s some insightful comments to the post itself. A commenter named BTM has this to add:

Now you bookish types know what we painters have had to deal with for the last 100 years. Don’t think for a minute that this artificial distinction will disappear. On the contrary, it will only grow, and the “highbrow” types will continue to heap praise, major prizes, and media coverage on those “serious” writers, at the expense of their far more talented, readable, prolific, and “middle-to-low brow” peers.

I find it a fascinating, and apt, parallel to draw. It goes to show that the same sort of rot that has set in the art world has pervaded literature as well. BTM writes another comment on how the status quo came to be:

A lot of it revolves around money. In the painting world, there is a system of influential galleries, critics, high money collectors and museums, government-funded academics, and so on. Since painting really isn’t popular anymore, public input doesn’t act as a corrective influence. So the insiders tend to pick out who they want to become a big shot, buy the early work, rave it up, award the new big shot prizes, and then sell the early work later for big money. Its really kind of corrupt. Of course, there is always a market for the smaller collectors who really love stuff. But the art market is manipulated to a degree by insiders, like any other. And they use the same modern advertising techniques to get money out of moneyed, but ignorant collectors-the appeal to celebrity, obsessive concern with the “new and improved”, the appeal to supposed “authority”, etc. I don’t think its a coincidence that so-called “modern” art sprang up at around the same time the Industrial Revolution was taking off. Modern advertising was developed to distinguish and sell the surplus goods that were available from mass production. Now the cultural world has the same problem of tons of product, with relatively fewer buyers.

The real question is how to solve this issue. How can it be that we’ve let a country club of self-promoters become the premier cultural authorities for art and literature, and how can we fix it? I’m hoping the internet’s worldwide advertisement will serve as the advertising and distribution mechanism for artists of all stripes, but it strikes me that we’ll never rid ourselves of this art-elite subculture, even if they decline in relevance even further than they already have.

Intentionalist Wars

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Art, Culture, Literature, Politics

For awhile now I’ve been meaning to write about Jeff Goldstein’s dustup with Thersites.

The whole thing started with Jeff’s online publication of an academic paper he wrote. Apparently Thersites is a professor, and he takes offense to Jeff’s insistence on the intention of the author being privileged when interpreting the author’s work. The post series (on Jeff’s site) is here, here, here, here, here, and here. I’m pretty much in agreement with intentionalism as the only coherent way to read a text. Simultaneously, I don’t find intentionalism terribly fulfilling as an interpretive philosophy — It’s a starting point, not an ending point.

This is probably not terribly interesting or engaging unless you’ve been following this issue yourself. Unfortunately I can’t really do justice to the subject matter in short, so it boils down to turning this into a drama between talking heads. The shocking climax of this sordid tale is that things eventually ballooned into Thersites deleting his blog. It’s not often that you see an opponent in an intellectual debate so thoroughly destroyed that he completely abandons his online persona and blog.

Some more thoughts of mine below the fold…

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On A Whitewashed Earthsea

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Culture, Literature

Or, when you realize that things you may like originate from morally bankrupt people.

I was browsing the internets today as I am wont to do, when, by chance, I happened to stumble upon the wikipedia article for The Legend of Earthsea, a subpar Sci-Fi miniseries. Perhaps subpar is not the correct word to describe it — It was on par for Sci-Fi miniseries, which is to say it was cheesy, uninspiring, and generally bad. It was better than some of the other programming on Sci-Fi, but much worse than any episode of Battlestar Galactica.

Down at the bottom of the page you’ll notice an intriguing link: The whitewashing of Earthsea. Now, in the interests of full disclosure, I read the first Earthsea book about a decade ago, so my memory of it is not the clearest, to say the least. I have not read beyond that book. I took a look at the link.

Reading LeGuin’s essay was a real eye-opener for me. While I can sympathize with her outrage over changing the story’s timeline, characters, plot points, LeGuin apparently is most concerned with the decision to depict the main character as white. I find the superficiality of her objections astounding and, not even astounding but repulsive. The vacuousness of her stance on this issue belies a much deeper intellectual corruption. Upon further exploration I found even further disgusting, anachronistic views from LeGuin, such as her commentary that it was only in her fourth book that she grew courageous enough to throw off the shackles of male perspective.

At least now I know never to take anything she has written or said seriously ever again.