7.22.2005

Interesting discussions elsewhere regarding the "Literary"

I was initially bummed by Dan Green's literary excursions of late probably because I mistakenly viewed his aestheticism to be one where the reader was to admire only the form, which I found bizarre and off-putting. Two posts recently allayed my unfounded fears:

On Form vs. Content:
I, for one, am not the kind of aesthete who wants to "disavow the obvious content of the work." (Although I would maintain that, more often than not, the content is not quite so "obvious" as we think.) What I do want to insist upon, however, is that the aesthetic response should be the initial response. Otherwise why bother with the "art" at all? Why fool around with the formal manipulations and the fancy writing in the first place when we can just leap headlong into the "content"? If the aesthetic is a "peculiar mode of appreciation," why not demand that the artist stop tempting us with it?

On Genres (i.e. the thriller):
[I]f you categorize as "thriller" the sort of thing written by, say, James M. Cain or Jim Thompson, as opposed to the sort of thing written by Tom Clancy, I'd say that thrillers can be very good indeed.

[W]hat gives a critic... the moral authority to wag a finger at writers in this way?

Does Green include genre as a part of form? I certainly do, and it is this that troubles me about developments in genre privileging one form over another--without tongue in cheek, that is. I believe Green sees genre as I--requiring certain "rules" to satisfy which do not necessarily exclude literary artifice:
I felt that Case Histories, the ultimate selection, failed to satisfy as a detective novel, that it appropriated the form associated with detective/mystery fiction for purposes the form did not support very well because they were inessential to it. I thought the author had chosen the form for arbitrary reasons, and thus her novel couldn't be judged a successful novel of its kind. Could she have written a good detective novel, even one that satisfied both the criteria usually applied to detective fiction and those that should be applied to all fiction? I think so. I don't see why these need to be, a priori, mutuallly exclusive standards.

Sherwood Smith also took on the tenor at Mumpsimus of indoctrinating youngsters into "Good Literature." Having been a teacher herself (as is Matt), she recognized that it requires a good reader to read good literature. It is another matter entirely to get non-readers to read more than Harry Potter:

There were [in the Mumpsimus comment box] some sneery dismissals of 'trashy' books, which got me to thinking that they were all missing the point. If you want kids to read, then give them something fun, easy to sink into, paced fast, with plenty of action, humor, and touching on the sorts of plot points that they enjoy in their other genres. Like the McHale books, which I mentioned before--those seem to have been winning reluctant readers over, particularly males at that difficult age of 12-14, in droves. So those books would be at the top of my recco list. Doesn't matter what I think of them, what matters is what the kids say about them....

Reading has got to be fun to get kids to come back to the work of parsing symbols on a page in a world where graphics of whatever form are all around us. Sophistication can come later--just as it does with these other art forms.

The whole thread is fascinating, touching on where the politics of a work is more important than its pleasure. (This, incidentally, is one of Green's pet lambasting projects.) How curious that the open-minded sometimes find themselves just as closed.
I once had a peculiar conversation with someone who was recommending the Pullmans as the perfect children's lit, and almost in the same breath scorning Narnia etc. When I pointed out that whatever one thinks of the Narnia message, the characters appeal to kids, where the Pullman ones really don't appeal strongly (especially in the third one, when they are reduced to cardboard in order to really, really hammer the message home) she dismissed my objections, saying in effect, "Yes, but the Pullman trilogy is anti-Christian!"

"And you don't find that preachy?" I asked, thinking especially of the third book.

"Narnia is preachy. Pullman tells the truth!"