Not signed in (Sign In)

Categories

Vanilla 1.1.8 is a product of Lussumo. More Information: Documentation, Community Support.

Welcome Guest!
Want to take part in these discussions? If you have an account, sign in now.
If you don't have an account, apply for one now.
    • CommentAuthorDarkRaven
    • CommentTimeDec 26th 2010
     

    Is literary fiction just another excuse for elitism or is there anything else to it? This article in the Guardian seems to think that it is inherently better than “genre fiction”.

    Can someone explain to me in non elitist terms what this guy is getting at? I’ve always been more than a little vague on how literary magazines justify excluding fantasy and science fiction novels, for instance.

  1.  

    Thank you for this topic! I agree with you. They let very little SciFi and fantasy in. I think what that article is talking about is books that are constrained by a genre and are formulaic about what is supposed to happen in a genre novel. Most books span genres and are just sorted into the dominant one. I really don’t understand what makes something “literary” either. And the guy who wrote the article didn’t explain it well and seemed very elitist to me. Also, about the Swedish book, I’ve never read it, but maybe it is better written in Swedish. translations sometimes lose the stine good writing, retaining the story.

  2.  

    I found an article that explains it better. It sounds better to me anyway.

    •  
      CommentAuthorArtimaeus
    • CommentTimeDec 26th 2010 edited
     

    If I had to summarize the article in a sentence, the author of this article seems to be criticizing genre fiction for being formulaic and uninspired.“There are conventions and these limit the material.” It’s a bit of a generalization, but it’s not baseless either, if you look at the authors like Dan Brown. If you’re looking for literary merit, you don’t want the some pseudo-intellectual page turner that has practically zero characterization and contrived plot twists. I think the article isn’t directed so much at Science Fiction or Fantasy (genres which are defined by their setting more than anything else) but at Thriller, Romance, and Mystery novels, whose genres are defined by a formula.

    The problems is that literary snobs tend to lump all stories that have magic or spaceships together as formulaic schlock. It’s very hypocritical, because they are creating for “literary fiction” the very thing they criticize in genre fiction: limiting conventions. It seems silly to say that the freest, most expressive authors write only about disillusioned young men trying to find their place in the modern world.

    • CommentAuthorDanielle
    • CommentTimeDec 26th 2010
     

    Just for fun, I Googled the writer of the article, Edward Docx. I also checked out some of the authors he recommended in the last paragraph—Proulx, Ishiguro, etc. Pretty much all of them are “literary” writers—and Docx seems to be more of a literary writer himself. Not that I don’t agree with him on Dan Brown; his writing could definitely use some work. But it bugs me when people point to literary fiction as the Almighty Standard That Every Writer Should Aspire To.

    I’ve read some literary fiction. I found it rambling, pretentious, boring and unnecessarily filthy, with a few flashes of brilliance here and there. Niffengger seemed to mistake verbosity for eloquence in The Time Traveler’s Wife, and her constant use of four-letter words reminded me of that one annoying kid who sits at your table in the cafeteria and uses cuss words because he thinks it’ll make him look cool. And in E. L. Doctorow’s Ragtime, he characterized everyone through their sex lives. Why bother letting your characters’ dialogue speak for them when you can just show the guy’s thoughts when he sees fully clothed Eskimos having sex on a boat?

    Basically, I think the guy was complaining that “No one reads quality fiction (read: my work) anymore! They all just read bad genre fiction when literary fiction is so much better!” Geez, dude, you want some cheese with that whine?

  3.  

    Niffengger seemed to mistake verbosity for eloquence in The Time Traveler’s Wife

    Yeah, I was surprised to find her on there. I liked The Time Traveler’s Wife, but I wouldn’t have thought it was literary. I liked the interesting premise and got tired of all the sex. Don’t Clare and Henry do anything else ever?

    he characterized everyone through their sex lives.

    Oh, I get it now! In literary fiction, there is tons of sex, and all the characters’ defining traits have to do with sex.

    Or maybe that’s just modern literary fiction.

  4.  

    He’s got something of a point, but he puts too much stock in his rigid definitions. I don’t think he’s wrong that most genre fiction contains little actual literary value, because let’s be honest, most of them don’t have anything sincere to say about larger topics. If they’ve got a message, it’s typically something rote like “discrimination is bad” and gets implemented with heavy fists of ham.

    That’s not to say it’s impossible. The Wire is at least nominally a police procedural, but has more literary value than it knows what to do with.

  5.  

    This might be a hackneyed thing to say, but the terms ‘literary’ and ‘genre’ fiction seem constrictive rather than constructive. Nathan Bransford’s definition was interesting, what with the internal vs. external, but it’s still pretty much useless when it comes to the really good fiction. Crime And Punishment is psychological, but there’s still an external plot, and yet it is considered to be literary, not a crime novel or a murder mystery (although we know all the time who did it). There are few who wouldn’t say that Perdido Street Station isn’t sci-fi/fantasy, but it manages to combine an engaging plot with deeper emotional and moral questions.What about Gabriel Garcia Marquez and other authors of magic realism? As far as I know, they are not considered ‘fantasy’ authors but rather ‘literary’ authors though they write about magic as do Tolkien, Le Guin, Rowling and others. To a certain extent, labels can be arbitrary.

    •  
      CommentAuthorArtimaeus
    • CommentTimeDec 27th 2010
     

    Oh, I get it now! In literary fiction, there is tons of sex, and all the characters’ defining traits have to do with sex.

    Yea, it’s willing to “go there”.

    To a certain extent, labels can be arbitrary.

    This. It’s fine criticize formulaic writing, especially in bestsellers, you can’t say that all “genre fiction” is formulaic, at least without completely revising what “genre fiction” actually is.

    • CommentAuthorDeborah
    • CommentTimeDec 27th 2010
     

    I always hate it when people talk about ‘literary fiction’ like that. It just sounds pretentious and snooty.
    And for the Eskimos. . . Brain Bleach now!

    • CommentAuthorDanielle
    • CommentTimeDec 27th 2010
     

    And for the Eskimos. . . Brain Bleach now!

    Just be glad I didn’t go into greater detail…..like the author did. shudders I drank much brain bleach that day….

    Or maybe that’s just modern literary fiction.

    Well, back in Twain and Poe’s day, there was no such thing as “literary” fiction. There was good fiction, and there was bad fiction. And what I find funny is that, when advising the literary aspirant, authors tell them to read as many classics—Twain, Hemingway, etc.—as they can and then imitate their style. Well, Twain and Hemingway were both journalists, and the first thing your editor will tell you is to tell him the story in as few words as possible. That’s what Twain and Hemingway did—with their articles as well as their stories. By today’s standards, Twain was rather wordy, but by 1870s standards, he was pretty succinct. Granted, he was wordier than Hemingway, but still. I find it frustrating that verbosity is considered eloquence while quick, lean writing is reserved for “genre” authors.

    What I find most literary pieces have in common is that they hammer their issues home. And their issues are always what those in the publishing industry find important: AIDS awareness, acceptance of homosexuality, racism, classism, sexism….basically, if it’s wordy, there’s an “ism” and the main characters wonder if there really is a God, it will have a better chance of becoming “literary” than “genre.”

    •  
      CommentAuthorArtimaeus
    • CommentTimeDec 27th 2010
     

    the main characters wonder if there really is a God, it will have a better chance of becoming “literary” than “genre.”

    I guess Literary fiction does tend to hit hotbutton social issues, but then again, Eragon also wonders if there is a god…

    • CommentAuthorDanielle
    • CommentTimeDec 27th 2010
     

    but then again, Eragon also wonders if there is a god…

    Yes, but there aren’t nearly enough sex scenes to qualify it as “literary.” :P

    • CommentAuthorDeborah
    • CommentTimeDec 27th 2010
     

    I guess Roran and Katrina don’t count. . .

  6.  

    you can’t say that all “genre fiction” is formulaic, at least without completely revising what “genre fiction” actually is

    I think that was the problem with the original article posted.

    • CommentAuthorDanielle
    • CommentTimeDec 27th 2010
     

    I guess Roran and Katrina don’t count. . .

    Well, the sex scene in Eldest was so poorly written I didn’t even know they were “doing it” until I read it again. I didn’t read Brisingr; did it have more?

    I think that was the problem with the original article posted.

    I think it’s funny that when you ask someone for a definition of “literary” fiction, you almost always get a different answer each time. One guy says it’s books with quality writing and interesting characters. Another says it’s one that has a plot, but the plot is buried. Yet another says it’s one that “follows the tradition of the masters,” whatever the heck that means.

    My opinion: it’s just another way for some writers to think they’re better than others. In Writer’s Digest, it’s almost smug, the way the fiction advice columnists do it: “Genre fiction can get away with settling for mediocre characters and recycled plots. But we literary writers should aspire to more.” Gah.

    •  
      CommentAuthorTakuGifian
    • CommentTimeDec 27th 2010
     

    The way I see it, formulaic writing can occur in any genre, but literary fiction is a fancy way of talking about writing that doesn’t conform to a formula. Therefore, in my eyes, the “rift” between genre fiction and literary fiction actually includes a wide scope for overlap.

    There can be literary fantasy, and there can be formulaic memoirs. Application or avoidance of formula doesn’t indicate the use of genre-specific elements. One can use elves or robots or Fabio without adhering to a particular plot/characterisation formula, especially in today’s writing scene where cross-genre and boundary-blurring creative work is more and more common,

    • CommentAuthorDeborah
    • CommentTimeDec 28th 2010
     

    Exactly.

    •  
      CommentAuthorArtimaeus
    • CommentTimeDec 28th 2010
     

    •  
      CommentAuthorTakuGifian
    • CommentTimeDec 28th 2010
     

    • CommentAuthorDanielle
    • CommentTimeDec 28th 2010
     

    •  
      CommentAuthorThea
    • CommentTimeDec 28th 2010
     

    The way I see it, formulaic writing can occur in any genre, but literary fiction is a fancy way of talking about writing that doesn’t conform to a formula. Therefore, in my eyes, the “rift” between genre fiction and literary fiction actually includes a wide scope for overlap.

    That’s what aggravated me about Docx’s article. Because frankly, I agreed with most of his arguments and even most of his definitions. I could not agree with his elitism—he reminds me of Andrew Keen, who hates the internet because rich white men can’t control the media. In fact he was so extreme I was compelled to write a blog post in response that remains my favorite one ever.

    Anywho, what Docx doesn’t really seem to acknowledge is that “literary” fiction is itself a genre. “Genres” are essentially meaningless as labels because they function primarily as marketing tools for the publishers. Sub-genres, like the “cozy” mystery or Blaze Harlequin romances are constrained by character and even, generally, style. Even that doesn’t mean they can’t produce decent works of “art” (because I’ve been working on my own definition of what ‘art’ means, and I’m far more generous with it); letting the story legitimately arise from the character’s decisions (or at least appear that way). You could complain about series fiction too, whatever genre it’s classified in, because so often it constrains permanent character development; but Terry Pratchett is always on the fantasy shelves of Barnes&Noble, but Vimes has one of the best character arcs I’ve ever read, which actually a friend of mine pointed out first.

    Finally, I think it odd to assume one sets out to write a genre novel, but that a ‘literary’ novel just spontaneously erupts from the literary author’s innate skill. Or something. A literary novel is no less crafted than a genre novel (never mind that literary is itself a genre, if only one that just means “whatever didn’t fit in the named genres”) and often more so. I confess, recently I don’t trust genre fiction as much, simply because there is a lot there that is so carelessly formulaic. But reading from only general fiction section doesn’t help much either, because some novels are so self-consciously literary they lose all honesty.

    Like when I was talking about Mister Pip and the purple prose. The prose isn’t purple because it’s bad or even because there’s too much of it. It’s probably not even bad. But it’s purple because it doesn’t fit. Even within the ultimate ‘frame’ of the novel (which is itself problematic as a storytelling device for this story) it doesn’t belong in the narrator’s point of view and it isn’t used to support the story, even if it does paint a lovely picture. It’s not a genre novel, so therefore it is literary, and therefore must show off the author’s skill with language frills. That’s my issue with the literary novel.

    •  
      CommentAuthorswenson
    • CommentTimeJan 1st 2011
     

    As a diehard sci-fi and fantasy fan, I tend to be staunchly anti-literary fiction because proponents of it tend to be so elitist. Yes, I know I’m being elitist in return, but… a book is not without value simply because it’s not “literary”! The Odyssey is mythology and fantasy; does that make it any less of an epic?

    However, I do have to admit that yeah, I’m just being elitist. I’m sure there’s great writing out there that Docx (or whoever) would categorize as “literary”, just like I have to recognize there’s an awful lot of terrible writing that is “genre fiction”. But to say that one is automatically better than the other… I dunno. I can’t agree with that.

    If I were to define the two terms, I think I’d agree more with the second article. “Literary” fiction tends to be more about the internal, while “genre” fiction is about the external. But as has been pointed out, even this isn’t a very good definition, as there’s plenty of books that fall in a clearly defined genre that are about internal struggles and plenty of literary books with external action as well. So… I guess my conclusion is that there is really no such thing as literary fiction. There’s simply fiction, some of which is better than others, some of which focuses on the internal, and some of which is all about psychology or the human experience or whatever.

    If I did have to define literary fiction, though, I’d say it was primarily introspective books that don’t fall neatly into predefined categories that are considered better because their struggle is about the protagonist’s relationship with their abusive father instead of Captain Zog blowing up an alien spaceship.

    • CommentAuthorDanielle
    • CommentTimeJan 1st 2011
     

    If I did have to define literary fiction, though, I’d say it was primarily introspective books that don’t fall neatly into predefined categories that are considered better because their struggle is about the protagonist’s relationship with their abusive father instead of Captain Zog blowing up an alien spaceship.

    I agree, and I’d also add that so-called “literary” fiction is considered better because it doesn’t “conform to traditional forms of literature”—in other words, sad or ambiguous endings are more common in literary fiction than they are in genre fiction. I’d also say that literary fiction is more likely to be either melancholy or straight-up angsty throughout, while I’ve noticed that genre writers tend to write happier endings. There are exceptions; John Grisham, for example, is just as likely to write an ambiguous or sad ending as he is to write a happy one. But with a lot of literary writers, their thinking seems to be: “I want to make this as realistic as possible. Life sucks, so my ending will suck, too.” Like I said, there are exceptions, but I’ve noticed that a lot of literary fiction has sad endings.

    •  
      CommentAuthorBrink
    • CommentTimeJan 1st 2011
     

    I’m of the camp that believes that there is good fiction and bad fiction, genre nonwithstanding. Like Thea said, literary is a genre as well.

    Docx is unbelievably condescending, and I’ll make a point to avoid his works.

    •  
      CommentAuthorThea
    • CommentTimeJan 1st 2011
     

    Docx is unbelievably condescending, and I’ll make a point to avoid his works.

    Indeed.

    If I did have to define literary fiction, though, I’d say it was primarily introspective books that don’t fall neatly into predefined categories that are considered better because their struggle is about the protagonist’s relationship with their abusive father instead of Captain Zog blowing up an alien spaceship.

    And yet, why couldn’t Captain Zog’s blowing up an alien spaceship bring up his feelings about his abusive father? Even in ‘literary’ works, there (generally) has to be an exterior impetus to start the story. So maybe when Zog plans on blowing up the alien spaceship, he tries to get back in contact with his father knowing he might not make it back alive, but his father genuinely doesn’t care, and Zog has to struggle with going off to a possibly sacrificial battle thinking no one will care whether or not he makes it back alive.

    That would count as literary. Or maybe even “serious” fiction, as my creative writing professor called it.

    • CommentAuthorDanielle
    • CommentTimeJan 2nd 2011 edited
     

    That would count as literary. Or maybe even “serious” fiction, as my creative writing professor called it.

    And that’s what most bugs me about “literary” fiction. Exchanging the terms “literary” and “serious,” as many professors and literary writers do, implies that all other fiction isn’t “serious.” It implies that literary is the only form that can possibly touch on serious issues in today’s society or examine the human condition with any finesse. Which I tend to disagree with.

    What about John Grisham’s questioning of the death penalty in The Confession? Or Francine Rivers’ comparison of ancient Rome to modern America in her Mark of the Lion trilogy? The Harry Potter series tackles racism and classism, and Alan Moore’s Watchmen questions everything from heroism to philosophy. To quote Laurell K. Hamilton….

    What about Shakespeare? A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a fantasy. Macbeth doesn’t work without the witches and Hamlet doesn’t work without the ghosts. What about Dickens? A Christmas Carol is a ghost story.

    Fun fact about the above quote: She asked those questions of her creative writing professor just before she got kicked out of the program—for getting the class to join her in writing genre fiction.

    •  
      CommentAuthorswenson
    • CommentTimeJan 2nd 2011
     

    For some reason this whole thing kept bugging me last night and this morning, and I think I’ve changed my definition a little bit. Maybe literary/genre aren’t so much genres of writing as they are styles of writing. Because obviously “literary” fiction falls into some genre too, it’s just usually “modern day realistic fiction” or something. If we look at it that way, then I’m much more accepting of people talking about “literary fiction”, because then any genre can technically be “literary”, it would just mean a more serious piece of writing intended to have a message rather than just something for entertainment (and it doesn’t necessarily imply one style is better than the other).

    Unfortunately, I highly doubt most people mean “serious vs. entertainment value” when they talk about literary vs. genre fiction any more than they can accept that books for entertainment can be as serious as “serious” ones (or that serious ones can be as entertaining as ones purely for entertainment value!)

    •  
      CommentAuthorThea
    • CommentTimeJan 3rd 2011
     

    I think you’ve pretty much articulated how I think of “literary” fiction, swenson.

    Unfortunately, I highly doubt most people mean “serious vs. entertainment value” when they talk about literary vs. genre fiction any more than they can accept that books for entertainment can be as serious as “serious” ones (or that serious ones can be as entertaining as ones purely for entertainment value!)

    Shakespeare was not writing for the intellectuals, neither was Chaucer—both are brilliant, and because of scholarship, less accessible than they should be (IMO). And Dickens and Twain weren’t writing “literary” fiction either. Although Nathanial Hawthorne was, I suppose….

    • CommentAuthorDeborah
    • CommentTimeFeb 9th 2011
     

    That’s true. . . a lot of people you read today that are thought of as ‘classic authors’ were writing for average people. I actually read a letter by Mark Twain where he specifically said that was what he was doing.

    • CommentAuthorMnemone
    • CommentTimeNov 30th 2011
     
    I do dearly love books by Kazuo Ishiguro and Annie Proulx. Jonathan Franzen is good too. Sometimes I connect with those books' characters in my gut in a way I would when reading a book like THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO.

    You've got to have both kinds of books -- society and culture cannot exist without them.

    I also think this conflict extends to the theatre -- everything being produced, it seems, is either a cornball mega production or depressing minimalist works about how people are evil and life is meaningless. Where can we find the balance? How can we produce shows that are both not stupid and also not depressing depressing angst angst suffering suffering suffering? Where can we find shows that are good and exciting, but also meaningful in a way that doesn't involve all the characters ending up dead or in misery?
    •  
      CommentAuthorWiseWillow
    • CommentTimeNov 30th 2011
     

    Where can we find the balance? How can we produce shows that are both not stupid and also not depressing depressing angst angst suffering suffering suffering? Where can we find shows that are good and exciting, but also meaningful in a way that doesn’t involve all the characters ending up dead or in misery?

    THIS. You can join the club Inkblot and I founded. It begs for that kind of balance.

  7.  

    We should make up a slogan and have t-shirts!

    It’s sad, so many of the books in AP Lit seem completely uninteresting to me. Maybe they’re wonderfully written, but a lot of them seem kind of boring and similar, honestly. I might change my mind if I actually read those books, though…

    •  
      CommentAuthorInkblot
    • CommentTimeNov 30th 2011
     

    Join the club, Mnemone! We’re super cool and upbeat and always have cookies on hand!

    On literary fiction:

    I think the comment on how Shakespeare, Chaucer, Dickens, etc wrote to the masses is a reflection mostly on how much better educated their masses were than ours…
    wry grin

    I use the phrase as more of a useful dividing line between works with deep philosophical/psychological undertones, and works that are more just …adventure or whatever, and apply that across genres.

    For instance, Jules Verne’s Mysterious Island is not “lit fic”. It’s a straight-up comic book adventure with action, danger, science, brave men conquering inhospitable wilderness, and there’s a pretty crazy plot twist right near the end. But the adventures of the cast are not an analogy/trigger for exploration of deeper, more metaphysical issues.

    Another example would be Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, where the book is really an exploration of humanity, personality, alienation, isolation, and what “person” really means, dug in underneath a pretty cool SF story. That’s lit fic. Starship Troopers is not – it’s jut a shoot-em-up space opera. I happen to prefer Starship Troopers, but I might not in a similar pair like this – I just use lit fic as a useful boundary between what explores more metaphysical problems and issues and what does not.

    •  
      CommentAuthorInkblot
    • CommentTimeNov 30th 2011 edited
     

    On the subject of the rebellion against postmodernism I’m trying to start –

    Of course everyone knows that life is hard. Princess Bride told us so. In my universes, though, there’s always the possibility of redemption, there’s always a hint at there being something beyond mere existential nihilism. Sure, people’s lives are generally fractured and ruined when I find them, and yes, I’m probably going to make them worse. If they want to get out of the rut they’ve stuck themselves in, they’re going to have to fight for it – but if they do fight, they’ll eventually make it out on top.

    I like to think I’m a somewhat more benevolent god than most. :D

    If you’ll excuse me going on a somewhat poetic tangent –

    All these postmodern, angry, bitter authors whose works we dislike are wandering in the wilderness, lost amid the fractured ruins of the halls of thought that were slowly shaken apart by their fathers. I have ascended to the altar in that house, on which lies a box opened a long time ago, now thrown open, empty and ignored. I have desperately searched that box for an answer, for something overlooked, scouring every inch of the battered wood, and I have seen written in tiny letters down in the bottom –

    Here lies Hope.

    • CommentAuthorRocky
    • CommentTimeNov 30th 2011 edited
     
    I'm with Mnemone. I like to see characters _do_ something. Too often, they're vapid vehicles for relieving the harshness of reality or reminding us that life sucks, and then you die. I feel almost juvenile for even mentioning this, since this is a thread about literature. But my largest area of fictional exposure these days is in film and, in line with this discussion, is one of the reasons I still love _Batman Begins_. Consider the depressing: people are murdered, kids are orphaned, cops are corrupt, terrorist plots are drawn, the value of human life is seen by some as merely contextual. You could stop right there. But amid all that, you have a protagonist that _does_ something about both it and himself. He trains. He learns. He builds. He assembles. He combats. He pursues. And through his particular world of ashes, he rises and triumphs.

    _That's_ the sort of fiction I want to read.
    • CommentAuthorDanielle
    • CommentTimeNov 30th 2011
     

    All these postmodern, angry, bitter authors whose works we dislike are wandering in the wilderness, lost amid the fractured ruins of the halls of thought that were slowly shaken apart by their fathers. I have ascended to the altar in that house, on which lies a box opened a long time ago, now thrown open, empty and ignored. I have desperately searched that box for an answer, for something overlooked, scouring every inch of the battered wood, and I have seen written in tiny letters down in the bottom –

    Here lies Hope.

    That reminded me of A Canticle for Leibowitz, for some reason. Which is a book that all of you Anti-Postmodernist Club joiners should read. Even though it’s about the collapse of civilazation after nuclear war, and all of the problems that go with it, it’s quite beautiful and manages to end on a hopeful note. Not only that, but it’s obvious Miller (the author) doesn’t hate his characters.

    •  
      CommentAuthorFalling
    • CommentTimeNov 30th 2011 edited
     
    One thing I've never understood is the separation of literary fiction from genre fiction as though it was an entity unto itself. The entire idea of genre is simply categorization. So the entire notion that literary fiction is beyond catergorization seems nonsensical. It may be it's own category that is fairly wide in scope, but I don't how it can move beyond a category. Because in reality a lot 'genre' authors see genre classification as simply a way of the bookstores needing a way place books together and so that like-minded readers can find their books. But a lot of authors struggle with getting their books pigeon holed either by genre or by age category. It's just that literary fictionists have controlled the debate by defining the terms that best suit their own interests.

    I furthermore disagree with the idea that 'genre' fiction suffers from contraints while literary fiction does not. I recall a Dave Wolverton essay on the subject, but consider if fantasy and sci fi cannot be literary fiction, then literary ficition is also operating within contraints. Is the world author created? Can't be literary fiction. Constraint on place. Is it in a fictionalized future? Can't be literary fiction. Constraint on time, etc, etc. Every time a literary fictionist defines what can or cannot be literary fiction by anything other than the quality of writing and intellectual thought, it is in fact a constraint that literary fiction is operating on. Again, I contend that the definition of literary fiction has been controlled by those that have vested interest in that sort of writing and can propagate their work to some sympathetic professor in university. We are far too quick to judge what is 'classic' and what isn't as we need time to decide such thing. Shakespeare was very popular in his day and yet is considered a great.

    Even the tendency of literary fiction to be melancoly, depressing or angsty is itself a constraint. This ending is fine, but to write off a joyous ending as being 'unrealistic' and therefore commercial is simply projecting preference or perhaps world view onto what stories should focus on. The end of the world wars produced a very large reaction to horrifying events that unfolded. The majority of writers/ artists that experienced the war felt that as life is miserable, truly realistic/ serious intellectual writing should wallow in this miserableness. In stark contrast, were the reactions of CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien who also experienced the horrors of war. However, they saw the value of stories as a way to experience something else entirely. That there was little need to wallow in miserableness and that stories are by their nature, escapist. Tolkien in particular took issue with critics co-opting the word "escapist" as something bad. “Fantasy is escapist, and that is its glory. If a soldier is imprisioned by the enemy, don't we consider it his duty to escape?. . .If we value the freedom of mind and soul, if we're partisans of liberty, then it's our plain duty to escape, and to take as many people with us as we can!” Elsewhere he writes, do we begrudge a prisoner of war the desire to escape? In any other context, escape is considered a noble goal. Tolkien felt what critics were most concerned about was actually "desertion." That in being taken to another place through story, we should wish to abandon the world to its own devices. Whereas, escapist assumes at its core (from a Christian perspective) that humans do not ultimately belong here and that humans are always looking for an escape from this miserable life that the critics want to wallow in. And Tolkien is not blind to the difficulty of life- it's interesting to look at his characters tackling the issue between hopelessness vs despair. This is a very common theme throughout the Return of the King. However, Tolkien did not believe that escapism, that is being inspired by things greater than ourselves would lead to abandonment of the world, but rather would cause people to engage in the world even more. That escapism pushes humans to see a world for what it could be and could inspire greater efforts in the world. But the decision to focus on the miserableness of life or not is really more of a preference and not a case for literary fiction or not.

    Another thing to look at is his views on industrialization, which although as a Medievalist, didn't particularly like new things, his main critique was not against novel things. (He quite enjoyed recording his poetry.) Rather it was that industrialization inherently had such a voracious appetite that required people to live beyond what they needed. The industrial model would never allow people to live contentedly, there would would always be a push to get more and more and this has a devestating impact on the environment. It really is a very early critique of what has become the consumer economy of disposable goods. This critique can be found within Sharkey's reign in the Shire. I don't think Tolkien thought the Shire as an ideal society- they are quite consistently portrayed as far too insular. However, the Scouring does portray his greater concern that enough is never enough as machines may make things go fasters, but there's only so much grist in the fist place and so, more land will be cleared to satisfy the machines.

    Now granted, the literary fictionist has a certain point in that there is a lot of crappy writers within "genre" fiction. However, that does not mean that no work within it is worthy of critique as a literary work. Many writers play it safe and stick to the formulas, but it is not necessary to do so. I would argue that literary fictionists also stick to their own form of conventions, particularly in limiting events to emotional or intellectual though processes. The problem with this sort of writing, is when done well it is really good, but if done poorly can simply be a lot of navel gazing and prentious writing strung together. Lousy writers are replete in any genre (or non-genre if you you prefer the literary fictionalist's definition.)

    I am reminded of some of Professor Corey Olsen's arguments on Tolkien's writing. Olsen says that no where else in the English department can you get away with dismissing entire works as being trash despite not reading them. And yet professors will happily do so to genres such as fantasy and sci fi. Can you imagine dismissing Chaucer or Shakespeare as hack writers while admitting in the same breath that you've never read them?

    On that note, I will also join an Anti-Postmodernist Club. Screw post-modernism. I've hated it since I became aware of it.
    • CommentAuthorMnemone
    • CommentTimeNov 30th 2011
     
    Plot isn't always important. Look at the Jeeves books. They're almost always variations on the same story, but that doesn't prevent them from being lots of fun to read or well-written prose.
    • CommentAuthorRocky
    • CommentTimeDec 1st 2011
     
    bq. We are far too quick to judge what is 'classic' and what isn't as we need time to decide such thing.

    One reason I hate the term 'instant classic'.
    •  
      CommentAuthorswenson
    • CommentTimeDec 1st 2011 edited
     

    Ugh, yes. It’s a stupid phrase. There’s times when I read or watch or listen to something and think “That’s really, really good” and go on with the expectation that I’m going to go on liking it and that people around me will too. But I would never call it a “classic” right off the bat. You can’t judge things that quickly. You need time and distance to do so.

    It’s like why if a magazine or newspaper does a ranking of, say, Presidents, you can tell it’s a shoddy piece of work if they include the most recent couple of Presidents. Of course you can’t judge them as good or bad yet, you haven’t had the time to see what impact they had on the future. And that’s the sign of a classic, in my mind—something that impacts the future. Shakespeare’s works are classics because they’ve had a huge impact on the English language, the kind of story tropes we like (at the very least, he was often the Trope Codifier for things like star-crossed lovers and whatnot), and again, we still read them today. The Iliad and the Odyssey were classics for similar reasons, and so on for all classics. You have to see their effects before you can say whether or not it’s a classic.

    •  
      CommentAuthorInkblot
    • CommentTimeDec 1st 2011
     

    IF something’s an “instant classic” it’s usually crap, BTW.

    • CommentAuthorRocky
    • CommentTimeDec 1st 2011
     
    It's pretty much predisposed for an 'instant classic' to wash away within a few months. Just like every _other_ fad.
  8.  

    I think people confuse ‘instant classic’ with ‘timeless’. Both involve assumptions that are probably not very solid, but I can think of a particular band that has a sound that is very rooted in elegant classic rock, even though the music was made in the late 90s-early 2000s. It has the kind of atmosphere that isn’t faddish.

    But yeah, the ‘instant classic’ assumption is usually pointless. Anyway, I’m sure that there are a lot of wonderful hidden treasures lost to time.

  9.  

    the wire was and is an instant classic you jerks

    i have also seen multiple football games where the label was appropriate

    dunno if it works for books though

    •  
      CommentAuthorBlueMask
    • CommentTimeDec 1st 2011 edited
     

    bqAnd that’s the sign of a classic, in my mind—something that impacts the future.

    ^This.
    That is absolutely true.
    SNQ: Kings of Leon?

  10.  

    Kings of Leon

    No, the Gathering.

    •  
      CommentAuthorBlueMask
    • CommentTimeDec 1st 2011
     

    Can’t say I’ve heard of them…

    • CommentAuthorDeborah
    • CommentTimeDec 2nd 2011 edited
     

    All these postmodern, angry, bitter authors whose works we dislike are wandering in the wilderness, lost amid the fractured ruins of the halls of thought that were slowly shaken apart by their fathers. I have ascended to the altar in that house, on which lies a box opened a long time ago, now thrown open, empty and ignored. I have desperately searched that box for an answer, for something overlooked, scouring every inch of the battered wood, and I have seen written in tiny letters down in the bottom –

    Here lies Hope.

    I loved that.
    And even about Shakespeare, has anyone ever realized how many fantasy tropes he has? A Midsummer Night’s Dream has fairies. Hamlet, Macbeth, and several others have ghosts. The Tempest has a magician and spirits. If you take the supernatural, ‘fantasy’ elements out of those stories, they completely fall apart. I mean, Hamlet is one of the best-known plays in the English language, but you can’t have it without the ghost.
    And I’ll join your anti-postmodern club!
    I enjoyed the comments about Tolkien, too.

    •  
      CommentAuthorFalling
    • CommentTimeDec 2nd 2011
     
    @ Deborah where is that "Here lies Hope" from? I love it so much.
    •  
      CommentAuthorKyllorac
    • CommentTimeDec 2nd 2011
     

    It’s an old reference to Pandora’s Box.

    •  
      CommentAuthorBlueMask
    • CommentTimeDec 2nd 2011
     

    Is it from a book, or something?

    •  
      CommentAuthorInkblot
    • CommentTimeDec 2nd 2011
     

    I’m almost positive I made it up, but it may have bled into my consciousness from somewhere or other.

    •  
      CommentAuthorswenson
    • CommentTimeDec 2nd 2011
     

    I really did like that, Inkblot. Regardless of who wrote it, it was good.

    •  
      CommentAuthorFalling
    • CommentTimeDec 2nd 2011
     
    @ Inkblot

    Oh whoops, that was you. (I really don't like the quoting system on this forum)

    Regardless, I love it. It's such a quotable quote.
    •  
      CommentAuthorBlueMask
    • CommentTimeDec 2nd 2011
     

    I’m going to put it one my Noticeboard of Fame, next to Don’t tell the elf and my Keep Calm and Carry On- The Answer is Forty Two poster.

    • CommentAuthorDanielle
    • CommentTimeDec 3rd 2011
     

    Keep Calm and Carry On- The Answer is Forty Two poster.

    My sister drew me something like that, only it’s a picture of Twilight Sparkle in crazy mode with a bird’s nest on her head. The caption says “Keep Calm and Crazy On.”

    But yes, Inky, that’s the best interpretation of Pandora’s box I’ve ever seen. (That’s also sort of what it reminded me of….)

    •  
      CommentAuthorBlueMask
    • CommentTimeDec 3rd 2011
     

    Danielle- ooh, I like that.

  11.  

    If I did have to define literary fiction, though, I’d say it was primarily introspective books that don’t fall neatly into predefined categories that are considered better because their struggle is about the protagonist’s relationship with their abusive father instead of Captain Zog blowing up an alien spaceship.

    Couldn’t have said this better myself.

    sad or ambiguous endings are more common in literary fiction than they are in genre fiction

    Pretty much, yeah.

    I think the comment on how Shakespeare, Chaucer, Dickens, etc wrote to the masses is a reflection mostly on how much better educated their masses were than ours…

    Burn.

    All these postmodern, angry, bitter authors whose works we dislike are wandering in the wilderness, lost amid the fractured ruins of the halls of thought that were slowly shaken apart by their fathers. I have ascended to the altar in that house, on which lies a box opened a long time ago, now thrown open, empty and ignored. I have desperately searched that box for an answer, for something overlooked, scouring every inch of the battered wood, and I have seen written in tiny letters down in the bottom –

    Here lies Hope.

    Beautiful.

    My sister drew me something like that, only it’s a picture of Twilight Sparkle in crazy mode with a bird’s nest on her head. The caption says “Keep Calm and Crazy On.”

    Nice.
    sniff sniff

    • CommentAuthorSen
    • CommentTimeDec 5th 2011 edited
     

    All these postmodern, angry, bitter authors whose works we dislike are wandering in the wilderness, lost amid the fractured ruins of the halls of thought that were slowly shaken apart by their fathers. I have ascended to the altar in that house, on which lies a box opened a long time ago, now thrown open, empty and ignored. I have desperately searched that box for an answer, for something overlooked, scouring every inch of the battered wood, and I have seen written in tiny letters down in the bottom –

    Here lies Hope.

    ...Wow.

    I am stealing this.

    And you can’t stop me :D

    • CommentAuthorDanielle
    • CommentTimeDec 5th 2011
     

    I think the comment on how Shakespeare, Chaucer, Dickens, etc wrote to the masses is a reflection mostly on how much better educated their masses were than ours…

    Although, I think that if we would stop making out the works of those authors to be “elite”—if we would present them to students as enduring works written for the masses, rather than as the pinnacle of literature—our masses might become better educated. Nobody wants to read something that only stodgy old academics study.

    And maybe, just maybe, if we would stop overanalyzing every little thing in those works (“See the symbolism of that one owl in Macbeth? See how it represents chaos, death and night? See it? Do you see it? Write me a 3-page essay on how you can see it!”) then students would enjoy them more. Sure, symbolism is important, but if we teach them to interpret it and then just let them go, ultimately they’ll get more out of literature. I’m currently reading Dante’s Inferno (with Purgatorio and Paradiso due to arrive tomorrow, yay!) and I’m enjoying them more on my own than I think I would have in a classroom setting. I can read at my own pace, and I can interpret things the way I want. I don’t have to be awestruck by certain passages; I can be awestruck by anything I want to be awestruck by.

    TL;DR: If we taught students how to think for themselves, I believe education would improve and they would be better equipped to understand Chaucer, Shakespeare, Dickens, etc.

    •  
      CommentAuthorswenson
    • CommentTimeDec 5th 2011
     

    I have to agree with you on that. There’s several classics (such as the Iliad and some of Shakespeare’s plays) that I read on my own and enjoyed immensely, while I can only imagine reading them in class would be about the most boring thing ever. But I do have to give credit to two of my English teachers in high school, both of whom were incredible teachers. The first did have to teach us some of the symbolism stuff (it was English Honors in tenth grade, I’m fairly certain “very boring symbolism” is on the curriculum) but she at least chosen interesting and good books for us to read, not all of which were centuries old, and for the very last book of the year, she let us choose between several books for us to read. The options were A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Taming of the Shrew, and some more modern book. Most people chose the modern one, of course. But my friend and I read A Midsummer Night’s Dream and a couple of other people read The Taming of the Shrew, and you know what, when people aren’t trying to shove symbolism down your throat, those plays are just plain really, really good!

    The second teacher was my AP Lit teacher my final year of high school, and while yes, we talked a ton about symbolism in there, she encouraged us to find it for ourselves. She wasn’t trying to go “The curtains are blue; this means the writer was depressed and if you disagree you are wrong.” She genuinely wanted to teach us how to study literature on our own. And that’s a much more interesting thing than being forcefed the symbolism.

    • CommentAuthorDanielle
    • CommentTimeDec 5th 2011
     

    I had similar teachers my sophomore and junior years. Sophomore year, my Honors English teacher had to teach us symbolism and whatnot, but she did a good job of interpreting the passages in A Tale of Two Cities that we didn’t understand. (For example, the passage with Monsignor’s hot chocolate was supposed to be satire, but I didn’t realize it until she pointed it out. The language Dickens used was just so remote from what I was used to.) She also had us act out scenes from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and reminded us that it was comedy, so we were free to make it funny.

    Junior year, it was AP English, and my teacher picked good books for us to read. One of them was, of course, The Scarlet Letter, but he didn’t force the symbolism down our throats. He’d just tell us to be on the lookout for it, and to share our findings during class discussions. For Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, he didn’t cover symbolism at all. The questions were more like, “Why do you think the narrator gives the slave women more polished dialogue than the male characters?” or “The narrator takes several opportunities to point out that the average “Southern belle” did not have a happy marriage. Why do you think she did this?” And then he’d let us answer however we liked, and as long as we put some thought into our responses, he’d take it. At the end of the year, he let us choose between Catcher in the Rye and The Great Gatsby. Most of my classmates chose Catcher and loved it, but I chose Gatsby and loved it more.

    • CommentAuthorRocky
    • CommentTimeDec 5th 2011
     
    It's also a dangerous teaching method (specifically referring to Danielle's example), as it encourages burgeoning writers to staple as much "symbolism" to their work as possible in order for it to attain a standard of excellence. They walk out of the academic setting thinking that's what great literature unequivocally _is_, rather than that being examples of what great literature _contains_.
    • CommentAuthorDanielle
    • CommentTimeDec 5th 2011 edited
     

    It’s also a dangerous teaching method (specifically referring to Danielle’s example), as it encourages burgeoning writers to staple as much “symbolism” to their work as possible in order for it to attain a standard of excellence.

    I agree. While I love interpreting symbolism, I think that what makes for good literature, more than anything, is a timeless story. A Christmas Carol is about redemption and transformation. The Scarlet Letter is about the dangers of legalism. Jane Eyre is about equality between the sexes. You can go on and on about the symbolism of Marley’s chains, of Hester’s letter, or of Jane’s name, but the significance of those things is already pretty obvious. Marley says he’s chained because of his wrongdoing. Hester wears her letter as a reminder that she is an adulteress. “Jane” means “strong.” All of those symbols propell the story forward in some way—and none of them take more than thirty seconds to decipher. The less obvious symbolism is fun to detect, but doing so doesn’t really enhance your understanding of the story. Modern writers infuse their stories with layers of symbolism in an attempt to create “classics,” but all they do is make them improbable and predictable. (“His best friend just died. At the funeral, it will be raining, because that reflects his mood and is symbolic of the storms that have visited him lately.”)

    Symbolism is, I think, terriffic in fantasy. Fantasy at its best holds up a mirror to our world and shows it in a way that is remote from what we would see through a window, but somehow clearer. Adding symbolism can get the reader thinking about what they’re really reading—but again, there’s a fine line. I read one story where a character saw the villain kill a family pet, which was supposed to parallel the danger the character was in. The ever-helpful narrator actually mentioned how his mother saw “the symbolism of the bird’s death.” No. Just….no. Bad writer. Bad, bad writer. Stop trying to be smart and just write a good story.

    • CommentAuthorDeborah
    • CommentTimeDec 5th 2011
     

    Well, I can say that I had little appreciation for Hamlet until I studied it my first semester in college. I didn’t really understand it very well, but the professor in that class helped me understand more of the plot. And once I understood it, I saw that it was great. He used to read it aloud, in different voices for the different characters. My favorite was probably his stuffy Polonius voice. (He also pointed out that it was ironic for Polonius to say ‘brevity is the soul of wit’, when he likes to ramble on so much; and how what he thought were the most romantic lines in the play were spoken by Claudius.)
    One of the great things about being homeschooled is that I could choose what literature I wanted to read. I would read a certain amount of related books, and we would group them together and call it a course. I got to read stuff like Plato’s Republic, the Iliad , the Odyssey, and Virgil’s Aeneid and Georgics. And on the rare occasions when we were actually doing a curriculum, I could opt out of doing certain books if I really hated them. One time I got assigned Babbitt while studying the 1920s and was being bored out of my mind, so I struck a bargain with my mother that I could read another author from that era instead. So I got to read Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, which I actually enjoyed.

    • CommentAuthorRocky
    • CommentTimeDec 5th 2011 edited
     
    I think symbolism really works best when it has contextual foundation, and lots of it. Not only does it defeat the purpose of the symbolism when the author bloody TELLS you what it means (whether that's through the prose or a character's out-of-place insight), but it also robs the potential for that symbolism to build. Rather than saying, "Here's my symbolic whatever, now watch me stack crap on top of it", one can take the reader through the story and then bring the threads together.

    Better the reader say, "Aha!" than the writer say, "Watch this!"

    bq. Stop trying to be smart and just write a good story.

    That should be the first day of Creative Writing 101. It would stop so many problems before they even start.
    • CommentAuthorDanielle
    • CommentTimeDec 5th 2011
     

    Homeschoolers unite! High five!

    Unlike you, I wasn’t lucky enough to have a course like that. Instead, my parents bought course books from Christian schools, and so my English course would consist of stories with such obvious morals that if you didn’t get them, you were probably comatose. And there was very little fantasy, so when Mom would take my brother and I to the library, we’d stock up on as much fantasy as we could.

    But my parents helped us learn to draw meaning from stories anyway. We’d watch Star Trek as a family, and they’d comment on what the characters were doing: “Why do you think he killed that guy?” “Because he was being held prisoner by him.” “Still, could he have found another way out?” “Yeah, probably.” As we got older, the questions got more involved: “What was this episode really about?” “Euthanasia?” “Yes. And what was the writer’s view of euthanasia?” “That it’s right.” “Do you agree or disagree?” Best critical thinking course by far. I think that’s what schools should do, instead of jamming symbolism down our throats.

    • CommentAuthorDanielle
    • CommentTimeDec 5th 2011
     

    Better the reader say, “Aha!” than the writer say, “Watch this!”

    Rocky, that should be taught in every creative writing course in the world.

    •  
      CommentAuthorInkblot
    • CommentTimeDec 6th 2011
     

    High five, Danielle!

    Someone said that old stories should not be presented as stodgy and boring. Excellent point. If you really give classic literature a fresh chance, you’d be amazed at how readable and entertaining they are. Those guys knew how to spin a yarn, whatever their faults.

    I touched on this in my latest article, briefly, but I firmly believe symbolism is NOT INTENTIONAL. The classics are so because their authors were brilliant, well-read men and women who were so in tune with human nature and so firmly grasping of the cliches and stock situations of the storyteller that they worked them in SUBCONSCIOUSLY. And it’s silly and a crime that people are being made to think, by the super-organized nature of literary analysis, that symbolism needs to be practiced, thought about. No. The best symbolism is that which comes naturally, unconsciously. You write in the owls or the ravens because it just seems right, and then later someone can figure out exactly why it’s right.

    • CommentAuthorDanielle
    • CommentTimeDec 6th 2011
     

    I touched on this in my latest article, briefly, but I firmly believe symbolism is NOT INTENTIONAL. The classics are so because their authors were brilliant, well-read men and women who were so in tune with human nature and so firmly grasping of the cliches and stock situations of the storyteller that they worked them in SUBCONSCIOUSLY. And it’s silly and a crime that people are being made to think, by the super-organized nature of literary analysis, that symbolism needs to be practiced, thought about. No. The best symbolism is that which comes naturally, unconsciously. You write in the owls or the ravens because it just seems right, and then later someone can figure out exactly why it’s right.

    You know, I always wondered about that. I remember reading one book in elementary school called Medallion that was heavy on the symbolism. It was really obvious that the author was using symbolism to tell an explicitly Christian story—and after a while, it just got so predictable that the story stopped drawing me in. I remember enjoying it the first time around, but when it was over, I didn’t feel that immense satisfaction that comes with a truly awesome story. I just thought, “Oh, how nice,” instead of, “Wow. That was incredible.”

    Yet you look at the symbolism in Dante’s Inferno, and it’s just so perfect. You have the Wood, a metaphor for the wandering soul; the serpents in the den of thieves—it all fits so well. Even having the thieves being punished in a den feels right. You hear it again, and you think of how Jesus called the temple a den of thieves, and you go “Aha!” Yet you can’t picture Dante sitting at his desk, sucking on his quill and saying, “You know, I think I’ll make it a den of thieves. It will remind the reader of when Jesus trashed the temple, and it will make me seem educated.” You more imagine him saying, “Hm…..where should the thieves be…..I know! A den! That seems right.”

    That’s how I always imagined good symbolism until I went to public school. Then I had teachers tell me how Shakespeare was so brilliant that he knew exactly what the owl represented, and that’s why he put it in Macbeth. Only recently have I begun to unravel that way of thinking, simply because it’s so easy to tell forced symbolism from subconcious symbolism.

    •  
      CommentAuthorFalling
    • CommentTimeDec 6th 2011
     
    Hm, interesting thoughts on symbolism. I wonder if that's true that it is subconscious. Maybe I don't know how to write symbolism, but whenever I sit down and say, 'Right, I'm going to make my writing more deep and add symbolism." But I can't bring myself to think that way. It feels too arbitrary, too forced, and too clunky. Whereas as I've written, I've found certain themes and ideas have developed, which I can bring out a little more upon revision.

    I definitely think there is a place for analysis and critique. However, I can't help thinking that sometimes that "he that breaks the thing to find out what it is, has left the path of wisdom." That the sum of the story is what is most important. That we are still experiencing the stories as stories. Analysis allows us to see why the story as a whole is so great. However, I don't think the individual parts are the totatilty of what the author wants the reader to experience. It's probably a matter of extremes and that right now, high school English tends to focus entirely on the bark of an individual tree, while missing the forest itself.

    But maybe I'm just bad at symbolism.
    • CommentAuthorDanielle
    • CommentTimeDec 6th 2011 edited
     

    I doubt it. See, every time I’ve tried my hand at Deep Writing with loads of Symbolism, it has always felt forced, and has come across clumsy and ham-handed. Yet when I just focus on the characters and the story, the symbolism develops naturally.

    I liked what you said about bringing symbolism out through revision. I think that’s what should happen, in the best of circumstances—the symbolism is there, like a diamond waiting to be cut and polished; and when you revise, you’re going through that cutting and polishing process.

    • CommentAuthorRocky
    • CommentTimeDec 7th 2011 edited
     
    It's really going to start with your characters and what you want them to learn. Conflict demands either retreat or application, regardless whether that conflict is enforced upon or projected from the character. Symbolism can really spring from that, based on that character's perceptions, how those perceptions are skewed due to the problem, and what the symbolic element forces that character to reassess his/her perspective (and to what degree).

    I agree with Falling. There's a massive subconscious effect, and that doesn't even apply specifically to symbolism. Look into any author's work, from JRR Tolkien to Bill Watterson, and you'll find philosophical and personal bias that finds its way out of their minds and onto the page, sometimes intentionally, but most times unintentionally. I think it works similarly with symbolism, but rather than connect the reader to the author, it's a way of connecting the reader to the character. Symbolism works when you can peel through it without knowing, and when you get to the core, you look back at the path you've trod and realize the metaphoric significance of it all.

  12.  

    No, I get what you mean, Rocky.

    I’d just like to jump on the bandwagon and agree that emphasizing symbolism as the key to good writing isn’t a good idea at all. I remember being disgusted when I had to write a story in 9th grade English with a symbol and a lesson in it. I didn’t do very well, and I felt awful because I thought it meant I was a bad writer. :P

    Personally, when I write, I don’t really think in terms of ‘AND THIS IS SYMBOLIC, I hope the readers catch it or otherwise they will not understand anything mwahahahhahaha’. To be honest, I don’t even think about that stuff at a rough-draft level, and that’s about as far as I’ve ever gotten in anything large scale. For me, it’s more of a private easter-egg kind of thing, or when I think something fits. I tend to make metaphorical connections IRL, and I might allude to them, but that’s not really what I dwell on, which is pretty much Danielle’s point. I’m convinced that people will find meaning in absolutely everything, whether there is supposed to be or not. I think that it’s fascinating and just adds to the joy and entertainment of reading- like a puzzle. However, symbolism is not the be-all and end-all of writing. You don’t need to explicitly write it for it to turn up.

    This is a really interesting discussion. I’m glad this thread got resurrected.

    • CommentAuthorRocky
    • CommentTimeDec 7th 2011
     
    I'm certainly enjoying it. Haven't taken part in a discussion on writing mechanics in quite a while.
    •  
      CommentAuthorsansafro187
    • CommentTimeDec 7th 2011 edited
     

    my story has symbolism out the ass but most of it is pretty boilerplate i think and i dont think any of it is necessary to follow the story itself

    if you dont notice the male lead is only ever wounded on the left side of his body or if you notice and dont understand what it means i dont think it would detract from the rest of it

    • CommentAuthorDanielle
    • CommentTimeDec 7th 2011
     

    Me too! And this is one of the better discussions I’ve been a part of :)

    Going off what SWQ was saying, I agree that symbolism isn’t the end-all, be-all. But I also don’t think that schools should teach kids the different “literary devices” and say that the best writers are the best because they employed these intentionally. To quote my teacher:

    Steinbeck used devices quite frequently and judiciously. Just look at that sentence structure—the man knew what he was doing. That’s why he was so brilliant, because he knew when to use polysyndeton and other devices like it.

    Now, I liked this teacher. But I HAD to mentally call BS on that. I doubt Steinbeck sat at his desk, saying to himself, “Hmm….this passage doesn’t have enough asyndeton, and that one has too much chiasmus. I’ll have to fix that.” I believe that watching writers like him work would have been more like listening to a musician with perfect pitch compose a piece. No talk of mechanics or anything; just playing music, over and over, until it’s perfect. And that, to my mind, is what good writing is. If I feel like I’m working, I feel as though I’m doing it wrong. There has to be a rhythm there.

  13.  

    Have any of you ever heard of ‘The Writer’s Toolbox’? It’s basically about using all kinds of devices knowingly and effectively. I’ve read snippets (for example, the significance of lists with one, two, three, or more items), and it’s quite good. I want to get my hands on the whole book.

    Steinbeck used devices quite frequently and judiciously.

    I think you misunderstood what your teacher meant. It wasn’t that he calculated when he would need to use one device over another. It’s like a musician (as you pointed out) feeling for the right note. As with symbolism, it’s a matter of what feels right. If you read books like ‘The Writer’s Toolbox’, you might better understand why some device feels right, or your ability to feel things out may improve.

    Hopefully, that made sense.

    • CommentAuthorRocky
    • CommentTimeDec 7th 2011 edited
     
    bq. It’s like a musician (as you pointed out) feeling for the right note. As with symbolism, it’s a matter of what _feels_ right.

    That's exactly what happened to me just recently, and I agree 100%. It's a vague element you're chasing that, through revision and reconstruction (and sometimes, discouragingly, deconstruction), clicks into place. Then you can't help but laugh at what you almost accidentally created.
    • CommentAuthorDanielle
    • CommentTimeDec 8th 2011
     

    I think you misunderstood what your teacher meant. It wasn’t that he calculated when he would need to use one device over another. It’s like a musician (as you pointed out) feeling for the right note.

    Eh, maybe I did. But the way he phrased it, that’s what it sounded like. He made it sound as though all great writers memorize the literary devices by name, and use them accordingly. And that was my point: that whether he meant to or not, he made these literary devices out to be less of things we can spot in literature and attribute to a writer as part of his or her style, and more of a box of tricks that writers use constantly, intentionally, by name. Maybe he should have said “Such-and-such device is a trademark of Steinbeck’s style,” instead of “Steinbeck was a brilliant writer because he used such-and-such device so often.” It would have made his point a little clearer.

    • CommentAuthorMnemone
    • CommentTimeJan 11th 2012
     
    For the article in the OP, I would offer the works of John Le Carre and Elmore Leonard as examples of genre writers of great literary merit -- well-built characters, slick prose, and (particularly in the case of Elmore Leonard) delicious dialogue. Working within a particular genre, even without being subversive to convention, does not depreciate them.
  14.  

    Ah, Elmore Leonard. The patron saint of dialogue writers everywhere.

    •  
      CommentAuthorFalling
    • CommentTimeOct 30th 2012 edited
     

    Ah, I knew I remembered there was a thread on this.

    I was again thinking on ‘literary’ fiction vs ‘genre’ fiction as I stumbled across a couple articles.

    Arthur Krystal
    (stuck behind paywall unfortunately)
    http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/atlarge/2012/05/28/120528crat_atlarge_krystal

    Lev Grossman in reply to Arthur
    http://entertainment.time.com/2012/05/23/genre-fiction-is-disruptive-technology/

    Arthur Krystal in reply to Lev
    http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/books/2012/10/its-genre-fiction-not-that-theres-anything-wrong-with-it.html

    Michael Kardos to both
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-kardos/literary-genre-fiction_b_1857639.html

    One of things that struck me is how the literary genre is supposed to have better writing overall. But what exactly makes it better exactly? From my experience in uni the modern literary genre seems to value opacity. Whereas I value keeping sentences clear and straightforward. Combining clarity with (hopefully) rich imagery. I feel like if I were to write as the books I’ve come across in uni, it would make my writing unnecessarily obscure if not pretentious. At the very least it would feel like I am over-writing to try and match what I see. Is there something I’m not seeing? Is this just a clash of values or do I just prefer pedestrian writing?

    On a side note, it’s interesting that a lot of ‘literary’ genre authors have made forays into so-called genre fiction even if it isn’t called that. (I can’t think what else Handmaid’s Tale and Oryxs and Crake is.)

  15.  

    Wow, what an interesting discussion! A great excuse for procrastination. :)

    •  
      CommentAuthorThea
    • CommentTimeOct 30th 2012
     

    Thanks for all the links to that discussion! Can’t read it all now, since I’m at work—just being here is cheating enough ;)—but I suspect I’ll have to use it to write my own blog post, since I love this topic. I need to at least pretend to think.

    As far as I’ve been able to tell, most of what’s classified as literary fiction just doesn’t fit into any of the traditional genre names, and then, because it’t the one adopted by the academic community, the appropriate the best of genre novels and rename them. It’s all the selling points anyway, since the classification isn’t actually real in any objective sense.

    •  
      CommentAuthorTheArmourer
    • CommentTimeOct 30th 2012 edited
     

    So far as I can tell, literary fiction is a way for college professors and critics to promote thickly worded books with crummy plots and unlikeable characters as realistic, intellectually stimulating, and “Literary.” And I seem to get the sense that, perhaps ironically, these people consider science fiction to be at the bottom of the heap as far as intellectualism goes, below fantasy, or even thriller novels. Which I find just silly. I once read that the definition of Science fiction is a story about “What If?” Well, “What If” seems like it would be just as intellectually stimulating as any thickly prosed “literary” work. But critics consider one to have merit and the other just a pleasure novel.

    Edit to add best comment that I read under one of those articles.

    Great literature is literature that survives its age. Neither Mr. Krystal nor anyone else can confidently predict what books will survive this age. However I for one would be surprised if Ruth Rendell did not. Mr. Krystal thinks that great literature must obey his rules, e.g., it seems the author must be not quite aware of what he’s doing before he does it. Shakespeare may have written Hamlet like that, but I doubt he wrote the majority of his plays that way. In setting down rules for writers, Mr. Krystal goes the way of so many other critics who thought they could define art. Like Hanslick who railed at Wagner for not following the rules.

    •  
      CommentAuthorPryotra
    • CommentTimeOct 30th 2012
     

    So far as I can tell, literary fiction is a way for college professors and critics to promote thickly worded books with crummy plots and unlikeable characters as realistic, intellectually stimulating, and “Literary.” And I seem to get the sense that, perhaps ironically, these people consider science fiction to be at the bottom of the heap as far as intellectualism goes, below fantasy, or even thriller novels. Which I find just silly. I once read that the definition of Science fiction is a story about “What If?” Well, “What If” seems like it would be just as intellectually stimulating as any thickly prosed “literary” work. But critics consider one to have merit and the other just a pleasure novel.

    This. As a literature major myself, I can see that there is a lot of good writing, but so much of it it just writers ignoring basic rules of grammar, having boring stories and having hashed out, predictable plots with stereotypical characters. There are exceptions, and those exceptions are amazing, but once you’ve read about one angry, repressed housewife, all the others just kind of blend in.

    I’m not really sure just why sci-fi is lower on the totem pole than fantasy. It shouldn’t even be the folklore thing (Novels about folklore seem to automatically have some literary merit) since most fantasy writers don’t research much themselves, unless you count Tolkien.
  16.  

    I don’t know if there is a prejudice particularity against Sci-fi. I just know that even for entertainment fiction, that it wasn’t considered “respectable,” even by fiction magazines, until after Andre Norton started writing. And fantasy had LoTR as a sort of example that there can be great fantasy works.

    Also, would these people consider Master and Commander or other Patrick O’Brian works genre fiction? They’re just historical fiction/sea stories right?

    •  
      CommentAuthorPryotra
    • CommentTimeOct 30th 2012
     

    LoTR is a hard one to brush off simply because of Tolkien’s position isn’t something that you can just ignore. Since usually peers or betters judge whether a book is literary or not, and Tolkien didn’t have too many betters in the literary world. Even the editors never changed his work. I believe one of them said that when he put something down, even if you thought it was strange, it was because that was the way he wanted to have it. There hasn’t ever been someone like that for sci-fi. It might be just that because a lot of original sci-fi was written by scientists, we have a rivalry between the humanities and the sciences.

    I’m not sure about O’Brian. I think it would be considered historical fiction, but there is a kind of literariness to it. There are some books like that. The Hornblower series is another. They’re in this position between literary fiction and genre fiction, and most people tend to just ignore them.

    •  
      CommentAuthorWiseWillow
    • CommentTimeOct 30th 2012
     

    HORNBLOWER BOOKS OMFG. I LOVED THOSE.

    •  
      CommentAuthorFalling
    • CommentTimeOct 30th 2012 edited
     

    Hornblower is awesome. There has also been a rise of Tolkien scholarship from Tom Shippey to Corey Olsen among others. I definitely agree that true literature are stories that have stood the test of time.

    But what is it about the writing in literary fiction that is so much better? I hear that fantasy etc is terribly pedestrian and unartistic writing. But most of the literary fiction I’ve come across is terribly dense and somewhat inaccessible. Yet I believe a lot of time has been spent crafting those sentences to be just so. Is it style preference or is it the case that they are better writers and I haven’t figured out what makes it so great? I guess my issue is it seems to be a foreign way of writing to me. And the foreignness bothers me because I don’t get it.

    Perhaps I care partially out of senstivity to the fact that my favourite genres are always being snubbed for poor writing- what then did they want changed? (And would their prescription be any good?)

  17.  

    I tried reading The Corrections because everyone made such a to-do about Franzen, and I just don’t get the appeal. I didn’t get past the first chapter. It really did seem unnecessarily convoluted, but then maybe I’m just not sophisticated enough to read Franzen. :P

    •  
      CommentAuthorThea
    • CommentTimeOct 31st 2012 edited
     

    It’s also self-propagating: critics who read nothing but ‘great’ literature like authors who write fiction that’s not particularly comprehesible because superficially they sound old-fashioned, those literary authors become teacher—the next generation, then, learns to like incomprehensible fiction and become critics and authors who write articles and become teachers for the next generation.

    Science fiction also, I think, suffers from the era of pulp fiction with silly covers. That may be hard for ‘serious’ readers* of a certain age to forget.

    *Why would they read at all if they couldn’t feel superior to others, could they?

    @SWQ: From what I’ve read about Franzen, though I’ve not read anything of his myself, he’s trying to satirize the middle class without being of the middle class and also while he despises the middle class for their supposed anti-intellectualism. Which seemed especially odd to me, since he apparently has a fairly significant commercial success…because of the middle class! I found myself so completely unimpressed with his real life persona, I had no patience for his fiction.

  18.  

    he’s trying to satirize the middle class without being of the middle class and also while he despises the middle class for their supposed anti-intellectualism

    Hm. No wonder I wasn’t so interested. It sounds pompous. :P

    Actually, I think that’s my problem with a lot of ‘literary’ fiction. Fantasy and sci-fi can be pompous too, but at least there’s some sort of joy in sheer creation that goes into that pomposity sometimes. Sometimes I have to wonder why people like writing books like Brokeback Mountain.

    •  
      CommentAuthorswenson
    • CommentTimeOct 31st 2012
     

    Science fiction also, I think, suffers from the era of pulp fiction with silly covers.

    This is a common issue with the “looked down upon” genres or even mediums. Consider comic books—despite things like Watchmen existing (and ending up on Time’s top 100 novels of the 20th century list), they’re still seen as things for children. Whether people realize it or not, we all have biases and ideas about how things are that may or may not actually be true. These biases are hard to get over, quite frankly. If you think of one genre or another as being for children or “pedestrian” or what have you, it’s hard to change that view.

    Which I suppose is probably why I don’t like literary fiction. I’m automatically biased against it because I do like fantasy and science fiction, and therefore have a tendency to assume everybody writing “literary” fiction is a pompous egotist. Logically, I doubt this is true, but it sure feels like it.

  19.  

    bq .I’m automatically biased against it because I do like fantasy and science fiction, and therefore have a tendency to assume everybody writing “literary” fiction is a pompous egotist. Logically, I doubt this is true, but it sure feels like it.

    I know, right?
    I’ve read some of those “pulp fiction” novels. And some of them are actually pretty good.

    •  
      CommentAuthorPryotra
    • CommentTimeOct 31st 2012
     

    Which I suppose is probably why I don’t like literary fiction. I’m automatically biased against it because I do like fantasy and science fiction, and therefore have a tendency to assume everybody writing “literary” fiction is a pompous egotist

    Yeah, and there are enough egotists to enforce it.

    I’ve read one guy who acquainted commercial fiction, as he called it, to prostitution. Seriously.

    •  
      CommentAuthorThea
    • CommentTimeOct 31st 2012
     

    I’ve seen that position. Because the authors consistently hitting the best seller lists tend to be genre books, never mind that it’s not always, or that they only can because they’re entertaining and honest to the reader—oh wait, that’s the problem. Real fiction can’t make sense! That way, everyone would read! <_< But we’re still stuck culturally on the idea that real art never actually makes money, I think.

    •  
      CommentAuthorKyllorac
    • CommentTimeOct 31st 2012
     

    But we’re still stuck culturally on the idea that real art never actually makes money, I think.

    Which is a rather recent and silly notion, historically-speaking.