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robertogreco : stephenking   2

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 [ ]. Exactly. Exactly."

[Compare to Ursula Leguin on “The Critics, the Monsters, and the Fantasists” [.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!’”"

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[Also compare to 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
Big Dumb Object - Wikipedia
"In discussion of science fiction, a Big Dumb Object (BDO) is any mysterious object (usually of extraterrestrial or unknown origin and immense power) in a story which generates an intense sense of wonder just by being there; to a certain extent, the term deliberately deflates this. Probably coined by reviewer Roz Kaveney,[1] the term was not in general use until Peter Nicholls included it in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction as a joke.[2]

Big Dumb Objects often exhibit extreme or unusual properties, or a total absence of expected properties:

• The object discovered in Quatermass and the Pit was made of a material of extreme hardness, such that diamond-tipped drills and acetylene torches would not damage it. At the same time nothing would adhere to it.

• In the movie based on Michael Crichton's novel Sphere, the eponymous object would reflect everything in its presence except people. If it did reflect someone, he was alone, and the individual was accepted as worthy to harness the device's power.

• In Iain M. Banks' novel Against a Dark Background, the Lazy Guns have a lot of mass and yet little weight, and weigh three times as much upside-down as upright.

• The eponymous Dome from the Stephen King novel and television show. The dome is large and transparent unless touched by a person; it gives a slight electric shock when touched for the first time by someone, but not afterwards. It cannot be penetrated, even by a MOAB, and is seemingly causing a lot of mysterious things in Chester's Mill, the town that the dome is enclosing, including causing all electronic devices near it to explode, visions, and, in one character, premature birth. Such unexpected properties are usually used to rule out conventional origins for the BDO and increase the sense of mystery, and even fear, for the characters interacting with it."

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objects  scifi  sciencefiction  bigdumbobject  iainbanks  stephenking  michaelcrichton 
august 2014 by robertogreco

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