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Le Guin vs. literary awards - Input Junkie
December 29th, 2011
02:04 pm


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Le Guin vs. literary awards
Huge quantities of good sense.....
Voting is the dangerous but essential tool of democracy. In art, voting is dangerous without being essential. Often it’s not even appropriate. In art, even given a carefully selected jury of peers, there’s no way to guarantee that a vote reflects informed, unprejudiced judgment not influenced by fashion, faction, or mere personal quirk. Anybody who’s juried an award, or just argued about a book, knows that.All canons of art are overly restrictive. And all of them are out of date before they are declared.

Used with great caution and suspicion, a literary canon, a list-of-the-best, may have some use in guiding and informing inexperienced readers, but I think probably it’s far more useful as a target of intelligent argument and dissent.

Literary awards are useless for guiding and informing and don’t even make good targets. In declaring a book as “the best,” a literary award serves that book. It does not serve literature. On the contrary, it does literature a considerable disservice.

I'm not sure it's as much of a winner take all system as Le Guin says, but she knows the field better than I do.

Three things that point in the direction of people not needing as much competition as we've got. One of my friends was in the Peace Corps in Kazakhstan, and when he was trying to explain Americans, he said we'd turn anything into a competition. I've heard that traditional Japanese bonsai doesn't include awards. The trees are just displayed for people to look at. I've also heard that read medieval tourneys didn't have an overall winner. It was just a chance to watch various sorts of fighting.

I'm also reminded of a bit from Russ' How to Suppress Women's Writing to the effect that when you hear the word good, you should ask "Good for who? Good for what?". The same should apply to "best".

Link thanks to sartorias.

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[User Picture]
Date:December 29th, 2011 08:29 pm (UTC)
The Hugos are an entertaining show, but I hope no one places them above the recommendations of people they trust in deciding what to read. (Full disclosure: I have a few volumes of The Hugo Winners in my library.)
[User Picture]
Date:December 29th, 2011 09:22 pm (UTC)
I'll take both. I saw Gaiman's Holmes/Cthulhu crossover several years earlier than I would have done because it was on the Hugo ballot. (And because it won the Hugo, you can find it without my having to look up the title.)
[User Picture]
Date:December 29th, 2011 09:34 pm (UTC)
She's saying that a list - from the "Great Works of Western Culture" to the Newberry - is winner-take-all; not literature as a whole (although it can become so; think of Suzette Hayden Elgin's At the Seventh Level). And they are; either your book has the Hugo or it doesn't. (There's a runner-up status for the Newberry; but it has the same problems.)

As Orwell summarized Hayek: The trouble with competitions is that somebody wins them. And once won, they stay won.

(The idiot spellcheck doesn't like Elgin - it knows Elgar though; or Hayek or Newberry. How about the Marbles, guys?)
[User Picture]
Date:December 29th, 2011 10:01 pm (UTC)
Kazakhs are always looking for who to blame.

OK, actually that's Turkmens. Every Kazakh has a grandmother who's tougher than you. I've spent so many years working against canons, I've almost come around to believing in them again.
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