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LOLiterati - Nothing New Under The Sun
(the ARX acta diurna)
bellatrys
bellatrys
LOLiterati
So randwolf mentioned & recced the current issue of Ansible, and I went to see what was going on there, and in the midst of its sober and ponderous commentary (it's not that it's easier to type with a straight face, it's just that on the internet, nobody can tell if you're sporfling) I hit a reference to, and parody inspired by, a piece on SF over at Slate-dot-com.

Now, I have not been so impressed with Slate, altho' sometimes they have good articles, usually it's pretty darn shallow and conventional over there, faux-outrageousness like half-buzzed Great Books majors placing lampshades on their heads in artfully-conscious imitation of that stereotypically-traditional drunken folie (oh yeah, I can do New Yorker style, too, and you should see my Smithsonian imitation, it's a hoot/hit at parties!) and when they replaced regional show Here & Now with the Slate show Day To Day on my NPR commute 2 years ago I was after a very few episodes, piqued, to put it mildly.

This offending bit of clichéd prose snobbery, however, is by someone from The New Republic which is even higher up in the culture-vulture food chain than Slate, which explains much.

So we get this:

Michael Chabon has spent considerable energy trying to drag the decaying corpse of genre fiction out of the shallow grave where writers of serious literature abandoned it. In the rallying cry that served as an introduction to McSweeney's Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales, he professed his boredom with the literary, epiphanic "New Yorker short story," longing for the days when masters such as Edgar Allan Poe, Edith Wharton, and Henry James wrote "ripping yarns" packed with "plot and color." In the "lost genres"—horror, romance, detective, adventure—Chabon saw a tradition of "great writers writing great short stories." Genre fiction, he argued, is simply fun to read, but it also enables a democratic reading experience, a necessity to the public that most contemporary writers have despaired of attaining. [...]

With The Yiddish Policemen's Union, Chabon has finally made the only use of genre fiction that a talented writer should: Rather than forcing his own extraordinarily capacious imagination into its stuffy confines, he makes the genre—more precisely, genres—expand to take him in.


Because fandom is a Very Silly Place, the Big Name response was very much in the cock-a-snook subgenre, whose stuffy confines mandate the use of groanworthy puns, or bizarre juxtoposition, or satirical imitations of the style of the mocked, or all of the above, depending.

Oh noes! We has undead litterchewer!

Of course, I suspect that the person posting as "Ruth Franklin" is actually the revenant Edmund Wilson (not the Ant Guy) who has not let his generation having died and rotted stop him in his tireless battle defending the Readers of America against the Juvenile Unseriousness that is Genre Fiction....

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bellatrys From: bellatrys Date: July 4th, 2007 09:04 am (UTC) (Link)

It's like there's some sort of compulsion to puff themselves up

by picking on SF - they get "Jock Cred" that way, I guess, in the grown-up, post-college version of the jocks vs. the chess club...or the Heathers, establishing their alpha-dominance amongst themselves by mocking the unfashionable.

Since trying to carefully show them how they're being inconsistent (I saw in a recent discussion of some lit crit snobbing again about LOTR, the poster saying that they need to come up with a new rule that will solve all their problems of having to explain why book X is bad despite fitting all their former standards for Great Writing: No book that has Elves can be good, QED) or finding lots of examples of SFF that fit their criterion (doing their homework for them) has obviously not worked these many years, it's time to stop taking them seriously and just snark 'em into submission!
From: deiseach Date: July 4th, 2007 10:58 pm (UTC) (Link)

Good woman yourself, Ursula

And it does no harm at all that it reminds me of Ray Bradbury's "The Emissary".

I had no idea genre fiction was lying in a shallow grave with its head stove in, and I suspect neither did all the writers of detective/crime/horror/fantasy/science fiction/speculative fiction did, either.

Poor Michael Chabon - I bet he feels "with friends like these, who needs enemies?"
fledgist From: fledgist Date: July 5th, 2007 01:56 am (UTC) (Link)
I've never understood the literary types' objections to science fiction and fantasy. There's more than just snobbery going on.
bellatrys From: bellatrys Date: July 5th, 2007 09:16 am (UTC) (Link)

I wonder if part of it isn't the same as Hendrix' hostility

only higher up in the Literary Food Chain: how DARE these upstart yokels show up and outsell us! How DARE they say that the commoners can decide what's good or bad art for themselves, without our permission, without Cardinal Bloom's imprimatur? and how dare they indeed, suggest that maybe our stuff doesn't sell as well because it's lacking in the Storytelling quality, no matter our honing of ironic tropes and obscurantist self-referry? Pah! It MUST be no good, being produced by ink-stained pulpy wretches!

...Only, of course, "We called Dibs! You're taking OUR marketshare!" isn't something THEY can come out and say, either.
fledgist From: fledgist Date: July 5th, 2007 02:06 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: I wonder if part of it isn't the same as Hendrix' hostility

And yet good writing is good writing, whether by Le Guin or Naipaul.
bellatrys From: bellatrys Date: July 5th, 2007 02:26 pm (UTC) (Link)

Wull, yah

but you don't admit your *rivals* are doing just as good work as you, how does that help you get ahead? --Though it's even more weird than that, because it's the whole *secondary* literature thing, these people are (for the most part) not writing original fiction themselves, they make their money *critiquing* other people's writing and telling readers what to buy or not to buy. They're restaurant reviewers, not chefs. So there's got to be a simultaneous element of "We The Elite" going on, as well as "Hey! You're cutting into our profits!" because otherwise (in Libertarianland where everyone makes decisions based on Sound Economic Principles, aka Schlarafenland) they'd just set up shop reviewing and reccing SF and Horror and all, and do it (in their opinion) better and more skilfully with all their highly-trained critical vocabulary. I mean, there are plenty of websites that get a lot of traffic because what they do is review pop culture of all kinds and places - this is something useful to a whole lot more people than the NYRB, around the world.
lyorn From: lyorn Date: July 5th, 2007 10:58 am (UTC) (Link)

"Reality is a crutch for people who can't cope with Science Fiction."

I suspect that it's about "escapism". If it was only genre or sales, mystery would get more contempt than it does, IMO. And though romance does not seem to be an especially respected genre, I'm not sure that it gets the same amount of hostility (though I don't know much about romance as a genre and might be wrong).

It is "Fetishizing the Real", though not of the same kind described here -- the assumption that only "realistic" stories can tell you something worth knowing about the world and about people. Even that begs the question why stories should be measured by how much you learn from them -- it seems a very elementary school teacher attitude. Maybe it's an expression that doing anything for fun is a waste of time and the stealing of resources.

The most annoying thing about it is that many fans of speculative fiction buy into this and believe in the worthlessness of their own reading preferences. When the first LotR and HP movie came out, you could wade hip-deep in clueless newspaper reviews, and those always got linked to fen newsgroups (by regulars, not by trolls) with a line, "as much as we do not like to admit it, it's true, kind of".

No, it's not true. It's clueless, arrogant, uninformed drivel by people who hate what they are writing about, who need to feel superiour to the popular taste (this ties into bellatrys' explanation), and who can't be bothered to do their homework, because they might catch SF cooties. And you, fellow fen, do not "don't like to admit it". You are linking this in a newsgroup and are flagellating yourself in public, because if it hurts enough you might feel less guilty about having unworthy tastes.

Maybe we need some counter-arrogance. Other than libertarianism, that is.
fledgist From: fledgist Date: July 5th, 2007 02:08 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: "Reality is a crutch for people who can't cope with Science Fiction."

YOu make some very good points. I'm not sure that counter-arrogance works, though. Persuading people to read might.
bellatrys From: bellatrys Date: July 5th, 2007 02:18 pm (UTC) (Link)

Also asking them why they're so certain they won't like it

and to defend their prejudices.

"Why?"/"Because--" is the most subversive interaction possible for human beings...
fledgist From: fledgist Date: July 5th, 2007 03:18 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Also asking them why they're so certain they won't like it

That's true.
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