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robertogreco : genres   2

Hilton Als on writing – The Creative Independent
"Your essays frequently defy traditional genre. You play around with the notions of what an essay can be, what criticism can be, or how we are supposed to think and write about our own lives.

You don’t have to do it any one way. You can just invent a way. Also, who’s to tell you how to write anything? It’s like that wonderful thing Virginia Woolf said. She was just writing one day and she said, “I can write anything.” And you really can. It’s such a remarkable thing to remind yourself of. If you’re listening to any other voice than your own, then you’re doing it wrong. And don’t.

The way that I write is because of the way my brain works. I couldn’t fit it into fiction; I couldn’t fit it into non-fiction. I just had to kind of mix up the genres because of who I was. I myself was a mixture of things, too. Right? I just never had those partitions in my brain, and I think I would’ve been a much more fiscally successful person if could do it that way. But I don’t know how to do it any other way, so I’m not a fiscally successful person. [laughs]

[an aside in italics:

"I was struck by this quote:

“I believe that one reason I began writing essays—a form without a form, until you make it—was this: you didn’t have to borrow from an emotionally and visually upsetting past, as one did in fiction, apparently, to write your story. In an essay, your story could include your actual story and even more stories; you could collapse time and chronology and introduce other voices. In short, the essay is not about the empirical “I” but about the collective—all the voices that made your “I.”"]

Do people ever ask you about writing a novel?

No. I could try, but It feels like a very big, weird monolith to talk about your consciousness as an “I” without being interrupted by other things. That’s what I don’t understand. That it’s just “I” and the world as I see it, when there are a zillion other things coming in. Fictional things that I’ve written I’ve not been satisfied with because I didn’t put in the real life stuff, too. So maybe I should just go back and do that. But I don’t think that one exists without the other for me. Fictional worlds are interesting, but real life is impossible to ignore."
hiltonals  writing  fiction  boundaries  genre  genres  criticism  format  invention  howwewrite  virginiawoolf  words  nonfiction  storytelling  emotions  breakingform  form 
february 2018 by robertogreco
more than 95 theses - Michiko Kakutani, who writes reviews for The New...
""Michiko Kakutani, who writes reviews for The New York Times, is the same way. She’ll review a book like David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks, which is one of the best novels of the year. It’s as good as Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, has the same kind of deep literary resonance. But because it has elements of fantasy and science fiction, Kakutani doesn’t want to understand it. In that sense, Bloom and Kakutani and a number of gray eminences in literary criticism are like children who say, ‘I can’t possibly eat this meal because the different kinds of food are touching on the plate!’"

— Stephen King: The Rolling Stone Interview [http://www.rollingstone.com/culture/features/stephen-king-the-rolling-stone-interview-20141031?page=6 ]. Exactly. Exactly."

[Compare to Ursula Leguin on “The Critics, the Monsters, and the Fantasists” [.pdf]: http://www.rc.umd.edu/sites/default/files/imported/reference/wcircle/leguin.pdf

"The modernists are largely to blame. Edmund Wilson and his generation left a tradition of criticism that is, in its way, quite a little monster. In this school for anti-wizards, no fiction is to be taken seriously except various forms of realism, which are labeled “serious.” The rest of narrative fiction is labeled “genre” and is dismissed unread.

Following this rule, the universities have taught generations of students to shun all “genres,” including fantasy (unless it was written before 1900, wasn’t written in English, and/ or can be labeled magical realism). Students of literature are also taught to flee most children’s books, or books that appeal to both children and adults, as if they were ripe buboes. Academic professionalism is at stake — possibly tenure. To touch genre is to be defiled. Reviewers in the popular journals, most of whom come out of the universities, obey the rule. If the reality of what people read forces a periodical to review mysteries or science fiction, they do it in separate columns, coyly titled, at the back of the journal — in purdah.

To declare one genre, realism, to be above genre, and all the rest of fiction not literature because it isn’t realism, is rather as if judges at the State Fair should give blue ribbons only to pigs, declaring horses, cattle, and poultry not animals because they’re not pigs. Foolishness breeds ignorance, and ignorance loves to be told it doesn’t have to learn something. But nobody can rightly judge a novel without some knowledge of the standards, expectations, devices, tropes, and his- tory of its genre (or genres, for increasingly they mix and interbreed). The knowledge and craft a writer brings to writing fantasy, the expectations and skills a reader brings to reading it, differ significantly from those they bring to realis- tic fiction. Or to science fiction, or the thriller, or the mys- tery, or the western, or the romance, or the picture book, or the chapter-book for kids, or the novel for young adults.

There are of course broad standards of competence in narrative; it would be interesting to identify those that span all genres, to help us see what it is that Jane Austen and Patrick O’Brian have in common (arguably a great deal). But distinction is essential to criticism, and the critic should know when a standard is inappropriate to a genre.

It might be an entertaining and mind-broadening exercise in fiction courses to make students discover inappropriateness by practicing it. For example: judge The Lord of the Rings as if it were a late-20th century realistic novel. (Deficient in self-evident relevance, in sexual and erotic components, in individual psychological complexity, in explicit social references. Exercise too easy, has been done a thou- sand times.) Judge Moby Dick as science fiction. (Strong on technological information and on motivation, and when the story moves, it moves; but crippled by the author’s foot-drag- ging and endless self-indulgence in pompous abstractions, fancy language, and rant.) Judge Pride and Prejudice as a Western. (A pretty poor show all round. The women talk. Darcy is a good man and could be a first-rate rancher, even if he does use those fool little pancake saddles, but with a first name like Fitzwilliam, he’ll never make it in Wyoming.)

And to reverse the whole misbegotten procedure: judged by the standards of fantasy, modernist realist fiction, with its narrow focus on daily details of contemporary human affairs, is suffocating and unimaginative, almost unavoidably trivial, and ominously anthropocentric.

The mandarins of modernism, and some of the pundits of postmodernism, were shocked to be told that a fantasy trilogy by a professor of philology is the best-loved English novel of the twentieth century. People are supposed to love realism, not fantasy. But why should they? Until the eighteenth century in Europe, imaginative fiction was fiction. Realism in fiction is a recent literary invention, not much older than the steam engine and probably related to it. Whence the improbable claim that it is the only form of fiction deserving the name of “literature”?

The particular way distinctions are made between factual and fictional narrative is also quite recent, and though useful, inevitably unreliable. As soon as you tell a story, it turns into fiction (or, as Borges put it, all narrative is fiction). It appears that in trying to resist this ineluctable process, or deny it, we of the Scientific West have come to place inordinate value on fiction that pretends to be, or looks awfully like, fact. But in doing so, we’ve forgotten how to read the fiction that fully exploits fictionality.

I’m not saying people don’t read fantasy; a whole lot of us people do; but scholars and critics for the most part don’t read it and don’t know how to read it. I feel shame for them. Sometimes I feel rage. I want to say to the literature teacher who remains willfully, even boastfully ignorant of a major ele- ment of contemporary fiction: “you are incompetent to teach or judge your subject. Readers and students who do know the field, meanwhile, have every right to challenge your igno- rant prejudice. — Rise, undergraduates of the English Departments! You have nothing to lose but your grade on the midterm!”

And to the reviewers, I want to say, “O critic, if you should come upon a fantasy, and it should awaken an atrophied sense of wonder in you, calling with siren voice to your dear little Inner Child, and you should desire to praise its incomparable originality, it would be well to have read in the literature of fantasy, so that you can make some compari- sons, and bring some critical intelligence to bear. Otherwise you’re going to look like a Patent Office employee rushing out into the streets of Washington crying, ‘A discovery, amazing, unheard of! A miraculous invention, which is a circular disc, pierced with an axle, upon which vehicles may roll with incredible ease across the earth!’”"

via: http://designculturelab.org/2014/10/23/three-uncertain-thoughts-or-everything-i-know-i-learned-from-ursula-le-guin/ ]

[Also compare to Sofia Samatar:
http://post45.research.yale.edu/2014/12/interview-sofia-samatar/

"SS: The relationship between fantasy fiction, and the whole African literature thing... So, I get questions a lot, where people ask me why I write this, and I try to answer them as best I can.

Is that an antagonistic question? As in, "why do you write fantasy rather when you should be writing real literature?"

I think it's a little bit antagonistic, but I also think it's genuine. I don't think people are asking it to be confrontational. They honestly want to know. But genre fiction—you know, science fiction, fantasy, Western, romance—all of them are set apart from literary fiction, in the way that our literature is divided. And since literary fiction is generally felt to be realist—which is totally not the case, but it is what people think—the question becomes, well, here is this dominant literature, here is The Novel, we have this idea of the novel as a realist form... That's where the question "why" comes from, the idea that writing fantasy is not a normal thing to do.

One way I address this is to turn things around, and look at how much older fantasy is than realism, how much more widespread in the world. How deeply a part of oral tradition fantasy is—and say, you know, explain to me, "Why write realist fiction?" Because fantasy is not the fringe, really, if you take narrative as a whole. It is the center.

So, there's that answer. But that doesn't work, right? Because we are still looking at things the way they are now, the way literature is divided. So then I go to my other answers. One of them is that I don't know. I wrote my PhD dissertation on the Sudanese writer Tayeb Salih: I wrote it on the uses of the fantastic and the uncanny in his work, plus a comparative piece where I was looking at Ibrahim al-Koni of Libya, Ben Okri of Nigeria, and Bessie Head from South Africa/Botswana. I was looking at how all of these writers are using the fantastic and the uncanny in their work. I did this, in part, to try to figure out why I am drawn to this literature. And I failed! I failed, Aaron. I still don't have a satisfactory answer for my attraction to this kind of literature."
genre  criticism  literature  fantasy  sciencefiction  2014  stephenking  michikokakutani  nytimes  genres  ursulaleguin  narrative  modernism  magicrealism  edmundwilson  postmodernism  realism  sofiasamatar 
november 2014 by robertogreco

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