Re: RARA-AVIS: letting time sort it out

From: Al Guthrie (
Date: 22 Jun 2006

I'm confused by this 'timeless' definition of literature. I have some questions.

Are some books 'literature' in the UK and not in the US because they're out of print in one country and not in the other? Is a book considered 'literature' when it's reprinted but not while it's out of print? Since accountants and commissioning editors largely decide what gets into print and what stays in print, does that mean they determine what we call literature? If an author's estate wants a larger advance than an editor is prepared to pay, does the novel which might have been bought cease to be 'literature' on account of the estate holding out for more cash?



  ----- Original Message -----
  Sent: Thursday, June 22, 2006 10:06 PM
  Subject: Re: RARA-AVIS: letting time sort it out

  Piggybacking on Kerry:

  "So, I'm suggesting that historically, by and large, successful artists
  created works to suit the taste of established, wealthy patrons- mostly
  the church and royalty."

  Which is why there was a major shift in subject matter with the
  renaissance, from religion to private, as the bourgeiosie gathered
  enough money to want to show off their wealth through the ownership of
  art. This is why there were so many landscapes and flattering portraits
  that showed ownership of the same.

  "Anyway, part of my point was going to be that public literacy is a
  relatively new thing, and that a popular, or pulp, or dime-novel
  publishing form, where average folks read words from the page (as
  opposed to having words read to them, as in the case of Shakespeare's
  plays) was exceptional, . . ."

  Which is why the novel form was initially railed against for diluting
  literature. Asserting the consequent, it was reasoned that it the
  masses liked it, it couldn't possibly be art, it must be pandering.
  This is where the popular becomeing high class literature argument does
  work well, with works by Stern, Trollope, Austen, the Brontes, etc.

  ". . . and short, and was eclipsed when technology brought performance
  into the home."

  So we're in a post-literate age, now? And we're all Luddites here for
  continuing to turn pages? Maybe.

  "Not that book=literature, but did Melville have a popular audience of,
  say ordinary farm workers, or even stevedores and whalers? How many of
  them could read in Melville's time?"

  As I recall from long ago lit classes, I think Melville was somewhat
  popular for his "whaling tales," but nowhere near a Stevenson, for

  "If a bit of art is here in the present, however it got to be here, then
  I guess it has to be better than whatever art is not here in the present
  and so cannot be evaluated at all, making Miker right, sort of."

  But better by what standards? By contemporary standards. The works are
  judged by how they relate to current standards. So it is quite possible
  that during shifts of aesthetics and the ideologies with which they are
  allied (ideologies in the big sense, not specific political parties
  sense), all sorts of great (along with the not so great) works have
  drifted off, never to be read again, for failing to fit in with the
  times, failing to continue to move and/or entertain readers. And they
  remain lost, even if times may have or may in the future shift to a more
  sympathetic mindset.

  So I am perfectly willing to believe that what survives is some of the
  best of the past, but I have trouble believing it's all of the best. I
  always wonder about the masterpieces that are lost forever, either
  because no one later checked out a book that fell out of favor (no, I'm
  not volunteering to do the literary dumpster diving to find these) or
  because it was never published because it, to quote Brian Wilson, "just
  wasn't made for these times."

  Luckily, there are still far more good books than I will ever get a
  chance to read, relegating all of the above to a tangential academic
  argument. I really have little reason to complain.



[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]

------------------------ Yahoo! Groups Sponsor --------------------~--> Check out the new improvements in Yahoo! Groups email.

RARA-AVIS home page:
  Yahoo! Groups Links

<*> To visit your group on the web, go to:

<*> To unsubscribe from this group, send an email to:

<*> Your use of Yahoo! Groups is subject to:

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 22 Jun 2006 EDT