Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Literary fiction. What is it?

Interesting debate going on on The Workhouse.

Literary criticism and whether it is useful when you write yourself. I'm not sure it is. I've seen writers deliberately inserting all sorts of things into writing because they've seen it in the work they've analysed. Thinking it's clever to do so.

Well it may be clever on one level, but does it work in their writing, or does it stick out like the proverbial cliched thumb as 'LOOK!!! I'M BEING CLEVER!!!I'M A CLEVER WRITER!!!

Question for me, from a proponent of such insertion, following our reading of a story called The Lottery by Shirley Jackson, in which she makes great play of the name Delacroix, inserting a few lines to point it up, 'notice me... notice me' stuff:

HIM : I'd bet a lot of money that Delacroix was intentional...otherwise, there's no point to the aside about the pronunciation of the name.

And I have to say, V, you seem to champion litfic while labelling the kinds of things people normally associate with litfic as "good old lit crit." I'm kind of baffled by what you think litfic actually is.

Good question. What DO I think literary fiction is? I slept on it.

ME: I think adademic analysis of literature and Creative Writing are extremely uneasy bedfellows. A divorce is advised.

Having said that, I loved the treasure hunt of finding things in Shakespeare, Milton, Donne, when I was studying. Fantastic. You feel so 'clever' when you 'get' allusions, references, etc.

But now, from a writer's perspective I understand that those things probably did not get there consciously, many of them. They came from somewhere other than the top layer of intent. Many, not all. And I also understand from a teacher's perspective that to make a conscious effort to insert things is a sure fire way of killing something free and flowing.

But to answer your question, I have no idea what literary fiction 'is' apart from saying that for this reader, it is work that rises above entertainment while entertaining consummately. There is an element of transcendence in the relationship between the reader and the work, that doesn't exist in genre.

It's easier to say what it is not (for me, again). It is not plot driven, theme free yarns. It is not forgettable. It is most certainly not womaggery. It does not contain cliche-ridden prose, thin stereotypical characters, and does not pander to the market. Although the market sometimes finds it refreshing, I guess, to try to hype it by turning it into mass appeal media often with success too.

(Atonement is a case in point, although the book came in for criticism... cant comment as I haven't read it. I found the film boring.)

Good literary fiction does not explain itself.

For me, an insertion of any explanatory exposition is poor. It jumped out of the page as I read as 'this is not story, this is the writer being patronising.' Although here, it's neatly disguised and most readers wouldn't care. But I do. It's imperfect.

Imperfect. IMPERFECT. It was just that. And had been in The New Yorker, taught in schools, and all that jazz. That doesn't make anything 'perfect'.

We have to strive for something that IS perfect, don't we? Tis a long journey, full of ups and downs and I may never write anything perfect... but I'll keep trying.


Kip de Moll said...

Thanks for trying, I appreciate the respect for literary as opposed to entertaining. I'm looking for literary blogs, ones that tell stories, not just random thoughts.
Any suggestions?

Vanessa G said...

Hello Kip

Thanks for dropping by, and for your thoughts.

What sort of 'stories' are you wanting to read on lit blogs? Not many writers will post their own work as it kills it for publication...

There are stories available on the Internet... classics, Chekhov for example... I'll try to help if I can but I tend not to read much on screen if I can help it.

Chelsey Flood said...

Interesting post V. I totally missed this in the workhouse. It made me think more about what I want to achieve as a writer than what I think lit fic/lit crit is though.
I still have a long way to go for that perfect story...

Vanessa G said...

It was down in the 'debates about publications' area.... and yes, I know what you mean. It makes me look at what I want to do as well... what is worth reaching for and what doesn't interest me.