What Is Literary Fiction?
Posted by BigWords on July 13, 2009
Just for fun, lets see what some people cite as the definition of ‘literary’ (The quote is from Wikipedia.):
Literary fiction is a term that has come into common usage since around 1970, 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). In broad terms, literary fiction focuses more on style, psychological depth, and character, whereas mainstream commercial fiction (the page-turner) focuses more on narrative and plot.
Which is an easy way of saying thast the writers of literary fiction are too fucking lazy to come up with a decent story. Added to the thin scope for original ideas, the characters in most literary novels are miserable bastards who I would gladly see suffer more than they already are. I’ll throw out a celebrated example of a literary novel so that you might get a better idea of why the snobbery of a small clique of writers irritates me so much – On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan. It centres on a pair of highly unlikeable individuals whose sexual life is so antiquated that it isn’t even slightly believable.
And the English professors couldn’t wait to get the circle-jerk started. The grubby fingers of quasi-intellectuals are all over this book, staining its’ pages.
I’ve been here before, though the subject was ‘high art’ rather than literary novels. It’s too easy for the book snobs to dismiss something which is ‘commercial’, or ‘popular’, while being completely ignorant of the need for solid A-B-C plotting and fresh ideas. When I started to defend the pop-art movement (including comic-books, graffitti and tattoos) I was rounded on by art snobs (equally as boorish as book snobs) who cited numerous ill-founded grounds for ‘high art’ being better than the more accesable art which permeates our lives.
I’ll re-heat some of that argument here, though not in detail.
Firstly, I’ll look at the hypocrisy which starts up every time a ‘hot’ creator is thrust into the limelight. It could be Damien Hirst or Jack Vettriano, Jamie Hewlett or Banksy, the accusations of ‘cheating’, or ‘being shallow’ crop up sooner or later. Damien Hirst’s use of assistants draws on a long tradition of artists using help. Most of the Old Masters hanging in art galleries across the world have brush-strokes upon their canvases which were placed there by apprentices to the credited artists.
It doesn’t matter that Vettriano may or may not have used an art book as a reference in his painting. All of the great painters traced. Take a look at x-rays of paintings known for their ‘greatness’ and you will see reworkings and sketches underneath, so there is no doubt that the work was done and redone over a period of time. It was a standard way of working, though modern artists are criticised for their adherence to the truth of painting.
Back to books, where this post began, and I’ll lay out the reason why we have fucked up our perception of ‘great works’. It’s all connected, and it’s all down to a change in culture beginning with the advent of mass paperbacks. They needed some titles which held universal appeal, so the publishers picked books they could sell. Seeing certain Victorian writers as being elevated from their contemporaries is a fallacy that has skewed thinking for decades. Dickens was a hack. Conan-Doyle was a hack. The balance has been tilted too far towards the ‘important’, that most people don’t even realize that the shit being peddled as new literary classics have no real depth.
Start looking for a new way of thinking, ’cause the old ideas are all wrong…