Re: RARA-AVIS: Re: Another good online source, and Gentlemen Prefer Cheese

Greg Swan (
Sun, 25 Jan 1998 18:20:55 -0700 Kevin,

I think it's ok to be a logical positivist. In fact, I sometimes wish
they'd succeed. It would be very nice to be able to scientifically
determine what constitutes quality and measure any cultural product anywhere
anytime against this objective standard. Very convenient and certainly

It's hard, though, to explain things like why Jerry Lewis is popular in
France or why the (to us) noise they call Middle Eastern music is really
music, without somehow referring to the people who produce the cultural
products and/or enjoy them. More and more, folks are starting to believe
that cultural goods are best understood in relation to the cultures that
produce and consume them.

Postmodernism adds a fun twist. Suddenly, labels and authority to speak
become important. Pronzini's writing and editing credentials, along with
his ability to convince someone to publish his book, give him authority to
speak. Using his authority, he promotes the label "alternative classics"
for what he conceives of as so-cheesey-it's-fun mystery literature. The
very act of labeling, though, is what creates these alternative classics.
Before they were labeled by a person with authority, they were just stories
people read.

A good back-up position for disillusioned positivists is post-positivism.
The idea here is (sort of) that if enough of the right people argue that
something is good quality, then that's what it probably is.

Which brings me to the subject of critics and criticism and how I figure out
what I might like to read next. I find it most useful to know the critic or
editor. Do I usually like what she likes or is it the opposite -- and under
what circumstances? For instance, Leonard Maltin has a predeliction for
Sci-Fi B movies, which I share. I've yet to pick up a Black Lizard book I
didn't really enjoy. And Lin Carter and I have pretty much the same taste
in old fantasy stories. In any case, once I understand how the critic's or
editor's tastes relate to my own, I've found a critic who can guide my
reading. That's pretty subjectivist, because "quality" only exists in my
relationship with the critic or editor and is more-or-less equal to "what I

Speaking of cultures, I've noticed Rara-Avis does expend some effort
defining what's on topic and what's off. In terms of this list, I think I
may just have gotten off topic. :)



Kevin Smith wrote:
> As for if there are any "really" good or bad books, I'm sorry, but just
> because someone likes a book (or a play or a song or a hamburger) doesn't
> immediately bestow an aura of quality on it. Some kind of objective quality
> must exist, or there ceases to be any reason to seek it, or attempt to
> create it, and if that happens, we might as well roll over and die. If mere
> popularity is a sign of quality, Danielle Steele is a better writer than
> Daly, Hammett and Chandler combined. Democracy is good in politics, lousy
> in art (imagine if Ringo wrote one quarter of the Beatles songs).
> Having gone this far out on the limb, I might as well swing a bit. There's
> also nothing wrong with liking "bad" books. Bill Pronzini calls them
> alternative classics in his Gun in Cheek and Son of Gun in Cheek, I call
> them Cheese. In fact, July is Cheese Month around here. I put away the
> "good" books, grab a few cold ones, hit the hammock, shove a tape in the
> machine, and plow through some so-bad-they're-good no-brain, no-gain Cheese
> Classics. Some of my favorite cheese classics include the Honey West
> series, the Rocky Steele books, Dan Turner stories, some later Mike
> Shaynes, and a whole bunch of one-shot wonders, mostly old bargain bin
> paperbacks with the standard babe and gun on the cover.
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