RARA-AVIS: Re: The definition of literature

From: JIM DOHERTY ( jimdohertyjr@yahoo.com)
Date: 06 Nov 2007


Re your responses to comments of mine"

"There are a few 'academics,' official & not, who read
& contribute to this list; I am one. There must be some way for you to make your points other than by attacking & insulting all of us, I would think."

Nope. Sorry. Can't be done. I despise all of you to the length and breadth and depth and marrow of my sould and I hate everything you all stand for with the heat of a thousand suns.

(All of this notwithstanding the fact that I'm now at least a "semi-official" academic since I've taught literature courses on the 'Net, and will be teaching courses on film and true crime at a local college come 2008 [presuming enough people sign up for the courses]).

"2) While EW's shortcomings are well-documented (see his contretemps with Nabokov over Eugene Onegin), & his equivocation here may indeed be silly,
'transcending genre' is neither a difficult concept nor a particularly disputed one, & is often quite convenient in separating rote genre exercises from more literary efforts. We use the concept on this list constantly, although without straight utterance of the cliche of which you're so dismissive."

The implication of the phrase is that the "genre" is something that has to be escaped from, which is insulting to the genre and condescending to the specific piece.

A typical Rare Bird, on the other hand, might say that a particular novel or story is far better than the run of the mill, but few would say, either implictily or explictly, that a piece's higher quality make it something other than a genre piece.

Few here would suggest, for example, that THE MALTESE FALCON or THE BIG SLEEP are examples of something separate and distinct from a private eye novel, that THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD is something other than a spy novel, or that THE NEW CENTURIONS is something other than a cop novel. We'd probably be more likely to say that they very good examples of the form precisely because they've plumbed the novelistic possibilities of the form that most others miss or don't even try for.


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