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  1. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Leguin: commodities versus art

    Discussion in 'Debate Room' started by Steerpike, Jul 27, 2015.

    Her speech from the National Book Foundation in 2014:



    I think it ties into the "rules" debates that often crop up on writing forums. Many of the "rules" and structure bandied about is directed specifically toward writing more or less generic commercial fiction. It is formulaic by definition. Conflicts between people who want to write that, versus people who want to create art in a different way, often arise in the context of rules debates.

    There's nothing wrong with writing generic commercial fiction, if that's what you want to write. There's nothing wrong with putting aside those formulaic concepts in the name of art (in fact, it is good to do so, in my view). The world of literature has plenty of room for both, and for all points in between. However, it seems like the people who advocate a formula approach to writing are less likely to be open to the idea that there are alternative approaches, whereas the people who take a more artistic approach are open to the idea that anything goes (though some of them tend to look down on generic commercial works).
     
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  2. Kingtype
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    Kingtype Always writing or thinking things XD Staff Role Play Moderator Contributor

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    Wait.....

    Is the debate if commercial fiction should more attempt to step outside of a formulaic approach more often? Then I can completely get behind that. We've all debated on entertaiment vs art and which is which and what's the better one or which is more meaningful and on and on and on and on......

    That's an old debate.

    But I think its time they learned from each other.

    There is no reason why commercial fiction can't be smart or make you feel and or break new ground by going outside the formula and by the same token we could do more a job of marketing literary fiction in a more commercial fiction way.

    Obviously don't change the actual work or anything but I think the general public is smarter then we or maybe themselves get credit for. Of course a lot of classics are very popular and there are still popular modern lit books but I do think there can be steps to get the public reading them even more.

    It is great to have discussions on the topic itself but a writer is a writer, perhaps one might be a higher level or write for different reasons but still the same passion. We should learn from one another and break new ground from what our peers have done or something.

    I'm not sure if I read the point correctly but still is good to go outside the lines and be different, write what only you can.

    Don't get bolted down if you don't want to use it or if you want to use it challenge yourself not to.
     
  3. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I think everything you say above is true, @Kingtype. I think LeGuin is talking about what she increasingly sees in traditional publishing as marketing driving the creative process, and I think it's that case that this has taken on a larger dimension in the past couple of decades.

    A lot of the rules you find in books on how to write, and in writing forums, are for putting out fairly formulaic commercial fiction. I don't think the readers of those works are stupid (I read them myself, in addition to more substantive fare), and I don't think there is anything wrong with putting out formulaic fiction if that's your intent.

    If you're inadvertently trapping yourself into a formula because you've been told it has to be that way, I think that's a problem. And I see the adherents of formula as more likely to try to convince someone that it has to be that way, than those who take a more organic or artistic approach to writing.
     
  4. Kingtype
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    Kingtype Always writing or thinking things XD Staff Role Play Moderator Contributor

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    @Steerpike

    I believe I see her point and yours.

    It certainly might be true or well it is, hard to figure out as when you watch writers at work. Just for an example if we got two different writers they would probably do their outlining and or plotting differently also think different and of course just in general have a different method of operation and produce unique works.

    But it seems as though even if it is different it might have a certain similar formula to it that we see in various forms of commercial fiction.

    So the best to be done is perhaps teach multiple ways of going about writing a piece and let the author find his/herself.

    Teach and give advice but don't deadlock on purpose or accident.

    From a marketing stand point I don't think it would hurt sales much (but I'm not that well versed in the market aspect yet) but upon naive analysis it would probably start putting different kinds of books in the public eye perhaps?

    Maybe not different on surface but a book that is not held in a formula as we are calling it. So the idea would to be not to lock younger upcoming authors into a certain way of thinking, right?
     
  5. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    Art or popularity is really a false dichotomy, but as LeGuin says it's now as powerful as the Divine Right of Kings once was. I think it is something we are all guilty of, in one form or another. How many times have you seen, even on this site, something like 'I don't read people like (insert literary author here: Pynchon), I'm not clever enough for that literary stuff', or 'Who needs 'good' literature! I just want to have fun!' as if good literature is boring, and I myself am guilty of being condescending to stuff like Harry Potter for being perhaps more popular than it maybe deserves, or loved uncritically which that series certainly does not deserve.

    There is a good book, called Intellectuals and the Masses by John Carey, and I really recommend it if you are interested in this subject. Basically his argument is that Modernist writers, the likes of Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot (fighting in the captain's tower) distinguished themselves from the mass, commercial literature, as a way of separating themselves from the masses. In this way they could still keep up the illusion of the intelligentsia as being the enlightened members of society who have all the answers, and better that the 'truth' become harder than having normal people do something dangerous, like thinking for themselves. If all the people were literate and even reading good books, then the intellectual elite might find themselves a useless relic, suddenly all their learning and hard work is useless not because most people will not like high culture (though there was that danger too) but in fact exactly the opposite, to their horror normal people might actually like high culture given half the chance! Imagine the horror in that!

    So the solution was simple, you change what a 'good book' is, and suddenly it becomes something very densely textual and self-consciously literary, and so you get the incomprehensible writing of Henry James's late career, and end up with The Wasteland. The glory of a poem like The Wasteland lies in it's ability to exclude, and to be an example of refined modern writing that is too good for the hopelessly ignorant masses. Suddenly 'good writing' like The Wasteland became a part of a mini economy of sorts (I'm now using Aaron Jaffe's argument in Modernism and the Culture of Celebrity, which I happen to now be reading luckily enough) that is perpetuated through authorial trust and critics understanding high modernist reputations more than they understand the actual Modernist texts themselves. There is a theory, put forward by Foucault in some interview saying that if a modern critic got a poem like The Wasteland on his desk with no author the critic wouldn't get past the first stanza, who has time for this mad rubbish? But if it had a note attached saying 'Newly discovered manuscript by T.S. Eliot' you couldn't scientifically measure the number of microseconds it would take for that same critic to hail the same poem a blinding work of genius.

    The point is, the name of the author ensures it's quality over the actual quality of the text itself, which is very new. Homer didn't become Homer because he was Homer, Homer became Homer because he became popular and widely read because classical peoples found many great lessons in his poems. It's the same with Shakespeare, who first staged his plays in the rough end of London, where the most numbers of bars and brothels were, and staged his plays to commoners and the court of kings too on occasion for various reasons. Historically the difference between 'good art' and something ordinary people could enjoy wasn't really all that big. Ok, poets like Donne, Herbert, Marvell, Dante and Petrarch saw a lot of circulation in manuscripts among friends, and their books would be printed for the literate, but that is because in their day few people could read. I'm sure if you have a good translation of Dante's Vita Nuova, most people who are half way intelligent could enjoy that book. If you don't understand what Dante means when he hears of Beatrice's death, and describes how the entire city of Florence seemed to mourn her passing with him, I don't know what you are doing reading poetry.

    On the other side, a lot of writers underwrite their stuff, they aren't 'literary' so why bother doing anything other than telling a good story? Well, that's just as damaging as overwriting to the point of pretension to your work. You are writers, damn it, you are writing to be read! Do you think people enjoy books more when they can only be read once, or do they enjoy books they have deep relationships with? Even if most readers only read your book once, is that reason enough to quit on the more thoughtful readers? Robert Frost is a good example of a poet who tried to be literary and common, and you should see the results of that experiment yourself. As is C.S. Lewis I guess, once you pick up on all the Christian stuff a lot of people then go back to read it all over again to see how he did it. You can pull writing for both off well, and any snobs who condescend do you for making it too easy on the surface are frankly morons who also shouldn't be trusted with good literature.
     
    Last edited: Jul 28, 2015
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