Author Topic: Literature or genre fiction?  (Read 568 times)

Literature or genre fiction?
« on: June 22, 2019, 02:45:04 AM »
Who decides what is literature and what is genre fiction? Is one better than the other? Does the classification change over time?

Twit 2

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Re: Literature or genre fiction?
« Reply #1 on: June 22, 2019, 10:30:08 PM »
1. The reader.
2. The former.
3. Yes

Captain Crunch

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Re: Literature or genre fiction?
« Reply #2 on: June 23, 2019, 01:52:41 PM »

zomgmouse

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Re: Literature or genre fiction?
« Reply #3 on: June 23, 2019, 03:26:18 PM »
Literature is only literature if it's about real things, not fantasy, and told in a real way, not too exaggerated. That's what the Lord of Literature decided at the Literature Academy and that's the end of the debate. Thank you.

Inspector Norse

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Re: Literature or genre fiction?
« Reply #4 on: June 23, 2019, 06:37:59 PM »
Who decides what is literature and what is genre fiction? Is one better than the other? Does the classification change over time?

Booksellers, publishers, the industry, maybe.

There was a bit of hoo-hah [/Al Pacino] a while ago about "serious" literary authors denying their work was sci-fi, wasn't there? Ian McEwan tried it with his new book, but the reviews seemed to suggest that actually what it was was simply bad sci-fi. But people like Margaret Atwood have done whatever they can to avoid ending up on those slightly gloomy shelves in the back corner where the Warhammer people browse.
I suppose that apart from the general sniffiness toward sci-fi (side question: is there a hipness ranking of genres? There's plenty of crime fiction that has a hot literary rep, Elroy etc, for example) it's just a prestige thing, that LITERATURE is more important and writers of LITERATURE are automatically better-regarded and -rewarded, in terms of reputation, at least. Genres are conversely where the chance of making big money is.

Re: Literature or genre fiction?
« Reply #5 on: June 23, 2019, 06:45:54 PM »
Literature is only literature if it's about real things, not fantasy, and told in a real way, not too exaggerated. That's what the Lord of Literature decided at the Literature Academy and that's the end of the debate. Thank you.

Doesn't David Mitchell write literature? Handmaid's Tale? Dracula?

Howj Begg

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Re: Literature or genre fiction?
« Reply #6 on: June 23, 2019, 09:10:40 PM »
Simple rule. Anything published in Penguin Classics is literature. Which means Ayn Rand and Morrissey.

Re: Literature or genre fiction?
« Reply #7 on: June 23, 2019, 09:30:35 PM »
The canon is always being shaped and contested and contains lots of "genre" fiction and there are a lot of writers who would happily take sci-fi convention dollar despite being writers of real worth.

Firstly, literary doesn't automatically connote quality nor genre connote trash (or vice-versa). It's a bunk measure for quality. Even though I am not a poptimist or someone who has the very liberal "everything has merit! it's ok to like what you like!" idea running around in their head, there's a quite sick economy of distinction around the idea of what is the literary that is essentially classist, sexist, racist, etc.

Beyond that - for me - there needs to be some distance. Literature can't be new because literary suggests something more eternal. I'd be as strict as to say 50 years or older and you can be considered. A book must stand some of the winnowing of time and stand away from its marketing and place in the zeitgeist. It must be argued for and defended, and encompass other arguments and disciplines.

Ian McEwen isn't literature yet, he may be one day: right now he is middlebrow fiction serving a particular type of reader.

The academy shapes literature as generally literary journals uphold interest and standard in such things, though some books just retain the public interest quite naturally. The internet holds influence over the short- and medium-term horizons of a book and its reception but literature, I think, is meant to rise above the here and now.

zomgmouse

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Re: Literature or genre fiction?
« Reply #8 on: June 24, 2019, 07:48:12 AM »
Doesn't David Mitchell write literature? Handmaid's Tale? Dracula?

David Mitchell writes fantasy. The Handmaid's Tale is dystopian sci-fi. Dracula is horror. These are definitely not literature. Such is decreed by The Literature Board.

Please do not ask me about Kurt Vonnegut or Doris Lessing as they are highly contentious in The Literature Board committee meetings and thus there is currently no answer.

Mister Six

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Re: Literature or genre fiction?
« Reply #9 on: June 24, 2019, 01:27:39 PM »
The internet holds influence over the short- and medium-term horizons of a book and its reception but literature, I think, is meant to rise above the here and now.

I'd say that's the definition of classic literature (or modern classics). As far as I'm concerned, literature encompasses Dan Brown and Eat Them Alive, just as "art" encompasses third-rate first-year students' output. The only meaningful question is whether it's good literature or art. Everything else is just a marketing pitch.
« Last Edit: June 24, 2019, 01:41:01 PM by Mister Six »

Re: Literature or genre fiction?
« Reply #10 on: June 24, 2019, 01:39:53 PM »
I suppose I am establishing the 'literary' here, literature is probably a better name for all written fiction.

Inspector Norse

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Re: Literature or genre fiction?
« Reply #11 on: June 24, 2019, 09:40:29 PM »
Yeah, as has been alluded to above, I think what you describe as "literature" is what many of us consider "classics". That certainly encompasses 20th-century and post-war texts and I'd argue that there are books as recent as the '80s or perhaps, now, even the '90s that could be referred to as such.
If we're looking at "literature" as a genre, though, maybe we do think of things that have a certain self-seriousness: we can't deny that a Jonathan Franzen or someone really wants to be regarded as LITERATURE. But then what about "non-literary" fiction that doesn't really fall into a genre? If I'm talking about a recent novel that I'm reading that is well-reviewed but isn't easily tagged as "fantasy" or "thriller" or "erotica", what do I call it? Simply "fiction" really does seem too broad a term, doesn't it?

Maybe the whole thing is a load of bollocks and they're all just books, good or bad?

zomgmouse

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Re: Literature or genre fiction?
« Reply #12 on: June 25, 2019, 09:10:16 AM »
anything funny is not literature unless it is also over 65 years old

Re: Literature or genre fiction?
« Reply #13 on: June 25, 2019, 10:12:06 AM »
I've heard and read sci-fi fans complaining about the supposed snobbishness of the elitist literary set a million times, but I have never actually seen a single instance of a literary person, actually saying that sci-fi or crime-fi or horror was inherently trash.  The strength of feeling is way stronger on the genre side of this argument. Take Stephen King's On Writing for example, the level of bitterness he feels at not, as he puts it, being let in to the country club seems completely out of proportion, especially given the fact that his career has not gone that badly. The two main literary  magazines in this country quite often cover genre fiction, and the London Review of Books probably covers it better than they cover contemporary poetry.

purlieu

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Re: Literature or genre fiction?
« Reply #14 on: June 25, 2019, 10:49:28 AM »
I wonder if part of that feeling comes from the fact that, technically, genre writers are writing literature, yet being denied access to the word. There certainly is a snobbishness about it, but I'd imagine it's something that is increasingly irrelevant to actual readers as time goes on.

There are plenty of fantasy, SF and crime novels in the General Fiction section of book shops alongside "proper literature". Murakami is probably one of the most fashionably name-droppable literary writers of the past 40 years and he writes novels about talking cats and alternate realities with two moons. Kate Atkinson writes interesting character studies in a very 'literary' manner, and thus her Jackson Brodie crime series, and Life After Life, about a woman who gets reborn every time she dies until she's fulfilled her destiny, end up there too. The aforementioned David Mitchell and Margaret Atwood are clear examples, as well as Scarlett Thomas and the like. 'Magical Realism' doesn't help things - it exists as a style separate from fantasy, but it's applied to stuff that blatantly is fantasy just so readers don't have to think about fat blokes with beards writing about dragons.

One of the worst things about it is how alienating it makes stuff to genre readers. TV and film adaptations have cast some light on them, but Mitchell and Atwood would certainly appeal to sci-fi readers who might never stumble across their books in a shop. Susan Hill's The Woman in Black might be sub-titled 'A Ghost Story', but anyone looking for ghost stories in the horror section, where you might expect them, won't find it (similarly Michelle Paver's wonderful Dark Matter - is 'Ghost Story' a literary sub-genre of its own now?)

Re: Literature or genre fiction?
« Reply #15 on: June 25, 2019, 05:45:56 PM »
I've heard and read sci-fi fans complaining about the supposed snobbishness of the elitist literary set a million times, but I have never actually seen a single instance of a literary person, actually saying that sci-fi or crime-fi or horror was inherently trash. 

I don't know if I could find you a quote of someone saying "SF is trash" but it is certainly often heavily implied. The formulation is something like "Mr Literary writer's new book may be set in the future but it is a proper book concerned with real issues, it isn't science fiction." Implying that an SF book isn't really proper and can't be concerned with real issues.

David Langford seems to find a quote of that sort every month for Ansible.

I think the problem is more often ignorance than anything else, with his latest book Ian McEwan seemed to think he really was the first person to write about ethical problems posed by artificial inheritance. Philip Roth seemed to think no one had done counter-factual fiction before the Plot Against America.

When the recent McEwan hoo-haa happened I really missed Ursula Le Guin. That sort of thing sent her scatty and she have had some pertinent words about the matter.