Re: RARA-AVIS: The definition of literature

From: Michael Robison (
Date: 02 Nov 2007

Mario wrote:

The question of lasting value is slippery... and impossible to know when you read a recent book. Each generation makes its literary icons, many of whom are later thrown out by later generations. The question of lasting value is also immaterial to the reader, isn't it?

************* Wonderful comments, Mario. This is getting to the heart of the matter. It's important to know what one is talking about when referring to a particular term, but beyond that discussing definitions isn't overly productive. Since "classic" is the desired terminology here, I'll use it. No problem. It is the concept which is important, not the word used to refer to it.

The question of lasting value is slippery, but it's worthwhile. It is not only possible but probable that the elements which give classics an enduring quality reflect something intrinsically important about people. We are talking about literature which transcends mere period pieces to become classics. They have something in them which resonates down through the ages. What those elements are is not a hopeless quest, either. There's a buttload of classics out there to examine and compare. And by comparing elements in existing classics to contemporary ones it is possible that one could predict whether it will become a classic. It might not be simple, but I don't see it as the impossible task you claim it to be.

Although the above is generic, it has a direct and specific bearing on the subject of hardboiled and noir. For example, "What are the elements in I, The Jury which will make it a classic?" Or the flip side,
"What is the novel lacking that will eventually make it a forgotten period piece?"

That brings me to your closing question. The answer as to whether lasting value is immaterial to the reader, is a resounding "no," at least not to this reader.


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