It seems perhaps in poor taste to post today with all of Sandy’s madness, but the way people talk about genre fiction and literary fiction has long been a sore subject for me. In graduate school (though not in my undergraduate program, where the faculty were both more open-minded and more emotionally mature), I struggled with instructors and students for reasons relating to this limp distinction. As a writer trying to make a career for himself, I struggled for a long time to find venues that would not reject my blended approach out of hand, and sometimes I still do.
Don’t cry for me, Argentina: I’m doing just fine, and in the long term I expect to do better. But it never feels good to see the things you love to make, and the things you often love to read, dismissed out of hand. Arthur Krystal thinks he’s being a brave truth-teller when he takes to The New Yorker to restate his opposition to including genre fiction in the category of literature, but he’s not being brave. Instead, he comes off as weirdly incapable of reflection. There have been a thousand articles like Krystal’s, and they always make the same very basic mistake: their conclusion (genre fiction’s inferiority to literary fiction) is also their premise. That is to say, they are begging the question. Click below the fold to see what I mean! READ MORE >
I was talking with Jeremy M. Davies recently (actually, we were on our way to see Drive), and the topic of genre as art came up. Now, Jeremy and I are both huge into genre, in all media. We’re nuts over spy thrillers, sci-fi, and fantasy, for instance—not to mention Batman comics. (Only the good ones, though, natch.)
And of course lots of people in various lit scenes (all over) don’t think that genre fiction can be art. They’re really wedded to that “high art / low art” divide. (Or the “literary fiction / all else” divide, as it’s so commonly called.)
Me and J, we were saying how we don’t get it. How can someone read, for instance, Patricia Highsmith’s Ripliad and not recognize it as total artistic brilliance? Or Philip K. Dick’s VALIS, which is one of the greatest novels of the 20th century, hands down? And of course I’d argue that Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns is one of the finest things published in the 1980s, “despite its being” a comic book. (I didn’t spend all that time analyzing it at Big Other because I thought it was merely cute.)
Anyway, I came to a certain conclusion…
The Guardian says that Scottish literature has been split in two by comments made by James Kelman, who over the weekend attacked “writers of detective fiction or books about some upper middle-class young magician or some crap.” My first reaction to this was “Man, it is apparently super fucking easy to split Scottish literature in two,” but upon further reflection that seems petty. American literature gets split in two pretty much every other week, and usually Oprah Winfrey has something to do with it.
I should refrain from discussing what this whole contretemps might do to Scotland’s collective national psyche, at least until I can fake a better Scottish accent. But it got me thinking about the old “literary fiction” versus “genre fiction” debate, which leads me to this question: Does this debate make you want to (a) shoot yourself in the head, or (b) stab yourself in the face? If someone brings this topic up, do you usually (a) cry, or (b) vomit blood? Either way, it sounds like Scotland is kind of fucked, which is a shame, because I like that “Belle and Sebastian” band. (By the way: Hi! My name is Michael.)