Tuesday, December 18, 2007

A skewering

From the comments section of Jessica Zafra's blog is this link from the Atlantic Monthly, 2001, of critic B.R. Myers's article, A Reader's Manifesto, in which he...barbecues...what is today considered 'literary prose'.
Everything written in self-conscious, writerly prose, on the other
hand, is now considered to be "literary fiction"—not necessarily good
literary fiction, mind you, but always worthier of respectful attention
than even the best-written thriller or romance. It is these works that
receive full-page critiques, often one in the Sunday book-review
section and another in the same newspaper during the week. It is these
works, and these works only, that make the annual short lists of award
committees. The "literary" writer need not be an intellectual one.
Jeering at status-conscious consumers, bandying about words like
"ontological" and "nominalism," chanting Red River hokum as if
it were from a lost book of the Old Testament: this is what passes for
profundity in novels these days. Even the most obvious triteness is
acceptable, provided it comes with a postmodern wink.
I suppose it is the unfair treatment of 'genre' fiction that has spurred Filipino writers like Dean Alfar to try to 'elevate' science fiction, magical realism, crime, horror, etc. to the level of the 'literary'. My opinion has always been that these so-called genres are in no need of elevation, that they should stand quite proudly on their own, that they dont need to prove themselves to the snobs. And if Myers's article is correct, the snobs arent wearing any clothes except for a pair of soiled knickers. Read the whole thing. It's quite entertainingly snarky.

Ive always been wary of the 'literary' style. I blogged once that when trying to write a story, and it begins to sound literary in any way, if there is a hint of the poetic in it, or--heaven forbid--art, I kill the sentence. Perhaps I should leave those sentences alone, but it's just not in me. I once wrote in a comment to Resty Odon's blog that if ever--IF ever--I get lucky enough to get published, I would like the readers to think, "What a great story" instead of "What a great writer." The literary style is just too self-absorbed, too "Look at me! Look at me!" for my taste. I just want to disappear as an author.

In blogging about reading Salman Rushdie's Shalimar the Clown I once wrote:
I picked up Shalimar the Clown. And it was everything I expected:
Rushdie at the top of his game. His words flow like liquid poetry. The
narrative just takes you along paths of Rushdie's choosing. He's
erudite, he's funny. Usually, I just go along for the ride, but this
time something was amiss. The rhythm was growing repetitive. It wasnt a
Bollywood musical number anymore. It was a drone. I was drowning in a
sea of metaphors. It was an explosion of figures of speech. Im fine
with figures of speech. In fact I used a couple in this very paragraph.
But to be deluged in it, to be overwhelmed with poetic narrative gone
berserk... I went, For the love of God, Salman. Will you just get on
with telling me what happened?
...and I blamed myself, that something was somehow wrong with me for not liking it, instead of blaming Mr. Rushdie for sucking. Such is the power of the literary. If you dont get it, youre a Philistine unworthy of even handling a second hand copy of the work in Booksale. In the article, Myers recounts that even Oprah isnt immune.
At the 1999 National Book Awards ceremony Oprah Winfrey told of calling
Toni Morrison to say that she had had to puzzle over many of the
latter's sentences. According to Oprah, Morrison's reply was "That, my
dear, is called reading." Sorry, my dear Toni, but it's actually called
bad writing. Great prose isn't always easy, but it's always lucid; no
one of Oprah's intelligence ever had to wonder what Joseph Conrad was
trying to say in a particular sentence. This didn't stop the talk-show host
from quoting her friend's words with approval.
Blek! I daresay no one of my intelligence should ever have to say, "Would you please get on with your damn story?"

(By the way, Banzai Cat did send me a copy of his winning entry to Fully Book's Philippine Graphic/Fiction Awards 2 and I found it absolutely delightful. If youre good, Grifter, youll get the book as a Christmas gift next year.)


Y. Riskas said...

Hilariously true observations!

Oops, that's pa-literary. :p

grifter said...

define good.

Jego said...

Let's keep the definition nebulous. That way I can weasel out of my promise. Nyaahahahahaa!

grifter said...

this early, i'll already call you a lying weasel. lying weasel!