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No, of course I'm not thinking of anyone in particular - Input Junkie
October 4th, 2011
06:37 am

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No, of course I'm not thinking of anyone in particular
Are there any writers who are emphatically opposed to literary fiction (no plot, no fun) who write decent prose?

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From:kgbooklog
Date:October 4th, 2011 12:18 pm (UTC)
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Praising an author's prose pretty much guarantees I won't find anything of interest in the work. There are authors where I love how they put words together, but you never hear anyone praising the prose of Pratchett or Brust.
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From:nancylebov
Date:October 5th, 2011 01:10 am (UTC)
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That's interesting. I have no idea whether there's a critical apparatus for talking about what Pratchett or Brust gets right.
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From:richardthinks
Date:October 4th, 2011 12:47 pm (UTC)
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Alas, now I've read this brief article on what constitutes lit fic I've gone from feeling ignorantly and contingently unable to define it to definitively and clearly sure that I cannot define it.

It seems to mean "good writing," AFAICT, and if you're opposed to it I guess you might be self-consciously identifying as a genre writer? In which case you might deliberately eschew stylistic flourishes?

Who is emphatically opposed to literary fiction? Are they opposed to classics, or just to lit fic being written right now? Perhaps there is a narrow, mannered group of writers who are the true targets of this opposition?
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From:nancylebov
Date:October 5th, 2011 01:05 am (UTC)
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I will tentatively assume that the people quoted in the article have imprinted on the literary fiction they like. There isn't a single underlying concept there to be understood. Or if there is a concept, it's that (successful?) literary fiction has more surprise to it than most fiction. There are a lot of ways of being surprising.

You might be interested in How Fiction Works. The title is an exaggeration, but it's got a lot about how the current concept of literary fiction happened, and whether a good bit of it is nonsense-- for example, some of the most compelling characters are monomaniacs who don't change in the course of the story.

Lewis' An Experiment in Fiction is excellent-- he suggests that books should be judged by whether people want to reread them rather than judging readers by which books they like.

And if you want something that has the official Lebovitz Imprimatur as LITERARY FICTION, try Gilman's Moonwise, fantasy's answer to James Joyce. It isn't as tough as Joyce, but it's the only time I've been impressed with a mainstream publisher having the guts to print something.
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From:richardthinks
Date:October 4th, 2011 12:58 pm (UTC)
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...I do have one thought, though, which is that visual artists who think of themselves as "fine" artists often have a broader range than those who have trained from the start as "commercial" or "illustrators." That is, commercial artists may master certain techniques to an unparalleled degree but they tend not to ask themselves what technique to use when beginning some new project (I guess this is the point about being experimental).

It's a vague and waffly point: lots of commercial artists are perfectly capable of the same mental dexterity as the most thoughtful fine artists and lots of fine artists are frankly stupid. But there's something about fine art "training" - that it ought to prepare you for a wide range of adaptability and experimentation and help you keep an open mind. Maybe this is the point with the literary writer: they ought to be able to have a stab at whatever genre - understand its conventions, say something with it or about it - while the genre writer might be able to function perfectly well in their genre without the skills to step outside it.
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From:agrumer
Date:October 4th, 2011 07:00 pm (UTC)
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In the visual arts, there's also the editorial process to take into account.

An illustrator who works with art editors will generally be hired on the basis of past work, with the expectation that he or she will turn in something similar to that past work.

In the fine arts, generally you make what you want, and then look for someone to buy it. (Not always, but generally.)
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From:richardthinks
Date:October 4th, 2011 09:02 pm (UTC)
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In the fine arts, generally you make what you want, and then look for someone to buy it

I'm not sure that's how it works for highly successful fine artists ;)
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From:st_rev
Date:October 4th, 2011 05:38 pm (UTC)
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Jack Vance?
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From:richardthinks
Date:October 4th, 2011 09:04 pm (UTC)
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As his stock rises he's in danger of being reassessed as "literary" though, isn't he? Pretty soon we'll discover that he was really speaking to timeless concerns of the human condition all along.
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From:st_rev
Date:October 4th, 2011 09:07 pm (UTC)
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The contingency is remote!
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From:nancylebov
Date:October 5th, 2011 01:07 am (UTC)
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Trying to get what you want in the face of scary power structures and people who have very odd beliefs about what they need to do is a large part of the human condition.
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From:nancylebov
Date:October 5th, 2011 01:08 am (UTC)
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Did Vance have anything to say about literary fiction?
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From:st_rev
Date:October 5th, 2011 05:11 am (UTC)
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He never seems to have attempted to write any; I don't know if he's on record about his reasons. He's the first name that 'write decent prose' brought to mind.
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From:womzilla
Date:October 13th, 2011 04:16 am (UTC)
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Vance is, was, and probably will be until his death a fierce advocate of literary style. That doesn't mean he's in favor of books where nothing happens, but that's really a straw man. I studied writing with one of the most self-consciously literary writers in the American canon and what he was most interested in was "hook the reader, sell the story, keep it moving, the last sentence has to make them want to read the next thing you write."

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From:captain_button
Date:October 5th, 2011 01:22 am (UTC)
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Digressing I've been reading more Vance lately but am getting irked that so many of his characters are arrogant dicks who seem to succeed just on the basis of being arrogant and intimidating to people who always fold under their threats.

Yes, they are the good guys and they are opposing the bad guys but that doesn't change the above.

Have I just been reading the wrong subset of Vance?
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From:captain_button
Date:October 5th, 2011 01:23 am (UTC)
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Sorry I can't contribute to the original question as I've never gotten clear on what distinguishes literary fiction from the other kind.
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From:nancylebov
Date:October 5th, 2011 02:16 am (UTC)
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Fortunately, answering my question doesn't require you to know what distinguishes literary fiction from the other kind. All that's needed is to know whether an author talks about not writing literary fiction, and to have opinions about whether their prose is good.

I don't know if this will help on the prose front, but Dan Brown is generally considered to write awful prose. Some people either don't notice the prose, or can see that it's bad, but still get involved with the story.

Most people think Bujold's prose is quite good enough, but there are a few people who find some of her habits grating.

When I reread Zenna Henderson as an adult, I was amazed at how good the prose was. When I was a kid, I didn't notice.
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From:nancylebov
Date:October 5th, 2011 02:11 am (UTC)
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I don't know-- I've read very little Vance as an adult, and I used to be much more trusting of the author's point of view. It's also possible-- even plausible-- that Vance was writing for people who'd have fun identifying with people who succeed without being very delicate about it. Vance heroes are presented as clever, I think, but I haven't checked for whether they're actually clever. I suggest asking somewhere that has a wider readership.
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From:st_rev
Date:October 5th, 2011 06:31 am (UTC)
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In Vance's heroic works, the hero is typically the only character that shows any integrity or inner strength; often this is the main character's only notable virtue. All the other characters are scoundrels and fools. This helps drive the plot as you described, but you can also read it as a satire of the heroic ideal in pulp fiction; it's similar to noir in some ways.

In Vance's ironic works, e.g the later Dying Earth, none of the characters have any integrity or inner strength: all of them are scoundrels and fools. This drives the plot in that the characters are in a constant dance of exploiting and being exploited.

I'm not sure this answers your question.
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From:andrewducker
Date:October 4th, 2011 06:56 pm (UTC)
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I think I'd need a list of people who are emphatically opposed to literary fiction, because I can't think of any off-hand.
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From:subnumine
Date:October 5th, 2011 02:14 am (UTC)
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Isaac Asimov.
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From:Michael Vassar
Date:October 5th, 2011 01:38 pm (UTC)
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Eliezer.
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From:nancylebov
Date:October 5th, 2011 02:24 pm (UTC)
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What does he say about literary fiction?
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From:womzilla
Date:October 13th, 2011 04:18 am (UTC)
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Scott Card's early writing, especially in his short stories, was graceful and fluid, and he was back then as monomaniacal about being "anti-literary" as he is today homophobic. His anti-literary bent was so strong that he praised Gene Wolfe as a clear, straightforward, anti-literary writer.

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From:pingback_bot
Date:October 14th, 2011 10:05 am (UTC)

A question for princeofcairo: is alternate history about reviving history?

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User richardthinks referenced to your post from A question for princeofcairo: is alternate history about reviving history? saying: [...] history, on account of pretending to be true. So is the sole problem here that these "literary [...]
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