Re: RARA-AVIS: Re: The definition of literature

Date: 05 Nov 2007

Jim wrote:

"Despite the still-enduring attitude towards genre fiction among a shrinking number of academics, the fact is that the number IS shrinking."

I think it's been a while since you've been on a campus. This attitude HAS shrunk to almost nothing. It's been over 30 years since George Pelecanos took that class on hardbiled detective fiction in the University of Maryland's English Department that later inpired him to write. The professor who taught that class loved to leave a copy of Spillane on his desk to tweak other professors. I doubt it would even raise an eyebrow today (and if it did, it would more likely be for political reasons than literary, not that the two aren't connected).

Of course, convincing the New York Times of the legitimacy of popular culture, and how "transcending the genre" is at least damning with faint praise and at most an insult, may be a whole lot harder.

"Enough academics have been converted that we ought to be able to declare victory and stop worrying about it."

This mention of academics reminds me of something I've been meaning to mention in this "test of time" discussion. "Still being studied' is not the same as "still being read." For instance, someone recently mentioned, rightly, that Spillane will continue to be studied for what ther popularity says about America during the McCarthy era. This is sociological, not literary endurance. I think it's important to distinguish the two aspects. Of course, many works have both sociological and artistic value, and they are not always found in the most artistic (as in striving to be artistic) works. For instance, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, among many others, has long been thought to give great insight into this same era, so it is studied for its sociological and historical representation. However, it also endures as a movie worth seeing that says something about humans beyond its historical origin, which may alsoexplain why it has been remade so many times.

So there are two ways for Spillane to endure, being read as a period piece, boun within its time, and/or being as a book that happens to have been written and set in a particular time. I'm finishing up my first rereading of Maltese Falcon in a few decades. It ain't no academic period piece to me. It retains its vitality.


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