Re: transcendence (was Re: Fwd: RARA-AVIS: JDM)

Date: 16 Jun 2006


I only used the word literature, not literary, wheras you overlap the two. I think of literary as a set of stylistic devices that have come to signal literature. But style alone does not literature make. In addition, those devices change with time. One era's literary devices can become another era's set of cliches.

Big L Literature, on the other hand, is as much distinguished by a set of concerns as the language used to dramatize them. I'm with you that Big L Literature is simply another genre, with its own conventions and expectations (looks at the human condition, character's life must change, etc.), which is one reason I added the somewhat mocking "Big L." For instance, we all know the (apocryphal or true? the only place I've read it is in jacket copy) story that Cain's Postman inspired Camus's Stranger. These two books clearly have different purposes. One may or may not be better than the other, and we may not agree which is better if one is, but they are different.

And, in our culture, most, even without reading them, would say Camus's was better than Cain's, that Camus had transcended his lowly inspiration. Literature is perceived by most as higher than crime fiction or science fiction, etc. It's the canon, what's taught in universities. Sure, genre fiction has now been taught for a few decades, too, but as electives, or in Popular Culture or American Studies programs, where it is engaged more on a sociological than an aesthetic basis. Bringing it full circle, there are clearly class presumptions in what we see as real vs. trash literature. Taste is as much a socio-demographic construct as an aesthetic one.


ps -- in his recent What Good Are the Arts?, John Carey does a great job of tearing apart the commonly held belief that consumers get more from high art than from low art, or other, non-artistic pursuits, for that matter.

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