Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Okay, so let’s try this one on.

Blechta here and I’m still a little bit ticked from what we were discussing two weeks ago here at Type M, that is: genre fiction is the poor cousin of “literature”. In case you didn’t read our postings and the very worthwhile comments, head back and take a look. It’s worth the read.

So, we write novels that aren’t “elevating”, that aren’t worthy to be discussed in the writers’ classes that Lorna Crozier teaches, that are in effect “bad books”, i.e. not really worthwhile.

There’s been a lot of discussion of this around our dinner table of late, and here’s a bit of a distilled version.

Most of what is objected to by the literary mafia about genre fiction is that it’s formulaic, that it has stultifying conventions and that makes it...wait for it...hackneyed.

Let’s talk about the culmination of the performing arts in the 17th and 18th centuries: opera. There are few who would dispute this. It’s pretty well universally viewed as a fact. Opera brings everything together: drama, music and dance.

Now let’s talk about opera’s expected conventions. If you didn’t have these, then you could not expect your work to be mounted, and if it was, the critics and public alike would have lambasted it unmercifully.

In every opera you had to have a chorus, even if it didn’t make sense to the story. Just throw them in. Somewhere in the middle of the second act, there would be a ballet, even if there was no dramatic reason to have one. The bad guys always had deeper voices. Altos couldn’t be the heroines. The opera would have to start with an overture, presumably using musical material from the coming work. But Rossini, acknowledged to be one of the opera world’s finest composers, occasionally used the same overture with different operas. What? You’re working in the “highest art form” and recycling material?

Hell, I’m going to start using the good bits from my earlier novels and throw them into everything I write! It’ll be lot easier than struggling over new stuff.

So what it comes down to is this: art (and value) is in the eyes (and ears) of the beholder. What the literary mafia can’t seem to get around is that good writing is good writing, regardless of where you find it. To them, if a novel is over in the mystery section of the bookstore or library, it’s only good for entertainment, not deep thinking. It’s just not as worthwhile.

So we’re entertainment — just like the highest art form: opera. That’s why I’ve hedged my bets. My next novel, The Fallen One is about an opera singer. I’m no fool.


John Corrigan said...

You nailed it, Rick. A Pulitzer Prize winner visiting my class told the kids the goals of any literature is to "one, entertain. And, two, maybe have readers learn something." Sounds a lot like Dickens, huh?
Great post!!

Joanna Chociej said...

"To them, if a novel is over in the mystery section of the bookstore or library, it’s only good for entertainment, not deep thinking."

One of the most thought provoking books I ever read was found in the mystery section: G. K. Chesterton's Father Brown stories.

Rick Blechta said...

I guess there are those who just want to feel superior. Yes, a lot of crime fiction is not so hot, but then you could say that about works in any artistic category.

It's only the intellectually challenged, the snobs or the just plain ignorant who feel this way, but a lot of them are in positions where they are the "experts". Boy, I'd love to see the day when a crime novel (or any "genre" novel wins the Man Booker Prize!

Vicki Delany said...

Jian G. was interviewing someone yesterday on the CBC - I never did catch the guy's name - and he said that in countries where his books didn't do well, they were called literary, and in countries where they sold well, they were called popular fiction.