Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Another Gem, Courtesy of Chuck Wendig

I was reading Terrible Minds and I found a link to this article by Edward Docx and Chuck Wendig's response. While the debate rages on on Terrible Minds, I thought I'd put my own opinions up here, since, well, I'm a DevCo writer first - and I've already posted two rather long comments on Mr. Wendig's blog.

*Warning: reading Docx's article may lead to fits of rage, swearing, smacking the desk and late night exclamations of "This is bullshit!"*

Usually, I feel that I shouldn't respond to these kinds of things, because any response legitimizes the arguments being put forth and all that. In this case, though, I feel like I have to stick up for myself and my fellow genre writers.

This debate is strange to me, in part because I'm not sure that anyone really has a clear definition of either genre fiction or literary fiction in their head. Wikipedia (ok, not the most reliable source, but the best I could find) says:
Genre fiction, also known as popular fiction, is a term for fictional works (novels, short stories) written with the intent of fitting into a specific literary genre in order
to appeal to readers and fans already familiar with that genre.
Huh. Maybe I don't write genre. Ok, yeah, I do.

Literary fiction is a term that has come into common usage since around
1960, principally to distinguish "serious fiction" (that is, work with claims to literary merit) from the many types of genre fiction and popular fiction (i.e., paraliterature).

Which makes me wonder what constitutes literary merit.
Literary merit is a quality of written work, generally applied to the genre of literary fiction. A work is said to have literary merit (to be a work of art) if it is a work of quality, that is if it has some aesthetic value. The concept of "literary merit" is impossible to define, and it is hard to see how such an idea can be used with any precision or consistency by policy makers, magistrates or judges. A common response to this criticism is that, while the process of establishing literary merit is difficult, fraught with dangers, and often subjective, it is the only method currently available to separate work that has significant cultural value from work that is ephemeral.

I actually love this definition a little. In the first line, it points out that literary merit is a concept that's caught in some cyclical reference to literary fiction and hence is essentially meaningless, and in the last, says, "Well, yeah, it is kind of meaningless, but we don't have anything better".

Which I think sums up this argument nicely, actually. I mean, I write genre fiction, which is definitionally only genre fiction because it doesn't qualify as literary fiction, and nobody knows what literary fiction actually is, because it's defined in its own terms... but really, let's all sit down and try to figure out which one is better.

I hate all of this highbrow/lowbrow stuff. How about, good fiction/bad fiction? or better yet, how about, fiction that I, personally, like/fiction I don't? Why do some writers, like Docx, feel it necessary to write long articles championing their kind of fiction (I wonder if other literary authors would consider his work to posses literary merit), degrading others and cramming more pomp into one web page than has any business floating around the Internet in general? Did no one ever tell him, if you don't have something nice to say...

But who knows? Maybe that kind of posturing is necessary, if you're afraid your work won't stand on its own.

Now, that wasn't fair. See? This kind of bile-driven, mindless putting down of other writers is contagious.


Rhiannon said...

I never pay much attention to genre, personally. I mean, I like Sci-Fi, and Fantasy, but my favourite stories have always been those that incorporate elements from everything.

Really, they're like any other sort of category, and can be ignored at the discretion of whoever wants to do the ignoring.

And Mr. Whatsit who wrote that article can bloody well lump it.

E said...

It amuses me that I couldn't read all of Mr. Word File Format's article because it was so dry and unbearably boring. The Da Vinci Code might have been awful, but at the very least it held my interest.

Also, comment #4 on Terrible Minds is one of the most beautiful things I've ever read. (And the word verification thingie for me was 'mocklen'. Pity Word File Format's first name isn't Len, or this would have been beautiful.)

A rootdigger said...

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