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"Literary fiction" - Input Junkie
October 16th, 2011
08:54 am

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"Literary fiction"
In a recent post, I raised the question of whether there were writers with good prose who hated literary fiction, which leads to questions about what people mean when they talk about literary fiction.

From one angle we get How Fiction Works, a book I've only read about half of, and whose title seems overoptimistic. Still, it gives some history of where we got our ideas about what literature ought to be-- for example, that there should be highly detailed visual description, or that characters should change in the course of the book, and offers evidence of highly esteemed fiction which doesn't follow the rules.

From another angle, there's the popular idea of literary fiction-- a pseudo-story of elaborately description of nothing happening. I think it's only in recent years, maybe a decade or so, that the stereotype came to include an adulterous male professor as the main character. I've heard that no literary fiction featuring that main character has been found,

Anyone know of research on the popular idea of literary fiction?

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From:kalimac
Date:October 16th, 2011 03:48 pm (UTC)
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I've heard that no literary fiction featuring that main character has been found.

No adulterous male professor protagonists?

Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon

Changing Places by David Lodge

Those are just two I've read that come to the top of my mind.
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From:captain_button
Date:October 17th, 2011 09:00 am (UTC)
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I've heard that no literary fiction featuring that main character has been found.

So it is like the theoretical good "Adam and Eve" science fiction story?
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From:womzilla
Date:October 18th, 2011 01:04 am (UTC)
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Also, the type (though not those particular examples) was a subject of mockery back when I was first reading Scott Card's anti-literature screeds in the mid-1980s.
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From:richardthinks
Date:October 16th, 2011 10:53 pm (UTC)
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I haven't seen any such research, but I have another possible definition for you: fiction is "literary" if any given critic really ought to know about it when they write their article in, say, the London Review of Books or the Times Literary Supplement. If such a critic refers to a work of fiction expecting their readers to respond "oh well played, sir!" rather than "who?" then that work is lit fic.
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From:nancylebov
Date:October 17th, 2011 11:38 am (UTC)
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That's an interesting angle, and I'm wondering what to call that sort of definition. Functional?

However, I'm curious about how people generally use the phrase. I think they have prototypes.
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From:richardthinks
Date:October 17th, 2011 11:52 am (UTC)
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I expect you're right about prototypes. It took me a while to think of applying my art/architectural history training to the problem - we tend to talk a lot about the formation of canons, mostly in disapproving tones, even though we're uncomfortably aware that the general public expects us to do exactly that (ie select the "good stuff" and promote it).
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From:agrumer
Date:October 17th, 2011 05:30 pm (UTC)
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"Nothing happening" is, of course, subjective. Some people judge stories by how many explosions they contain, others by how many heartbreaks. Plenty of genre fiction contains long descriptive passages of stuff that's only interesting to fans of that genre.

There's something I'm told CS Lewis once wrote --- I just now failed to hunt the passage down in On Stories using Google Books, but I don't know if I had the phrasing right --- about how one kind of reader turns up his nose at clichés, considering the coining of new phrases to be a central pleasure of reading; while another kind of reader considers newly-coined phrasing to be a an annoying distraction that bumps them out of the story. I think that's one useful distinction between literary and non-literary fiction. Note how Gene Wolfe, for example, is considered an example of "literary science fiction".
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