The OF Blog: What is literary fiction, redux

Friday, May 22, 2009

What is literary fiction, redux

Received quite a few comments on my earlier post asking, "What is literary fiction?" Had thought about writing an essay on this, but am uncertain of the time when I'd have the energy to write it (as it stands, I'm waking up in less than 3 hours; naps are dangerous things when they occur in the early evening hours!), so perhaps these bullet points will suffice, at least for now:

  • The term "literary fiction" is almost like a Rorschach Test; every one reveals quite a bit of their attitudes and biases when attempting to define terms such as this.
  • Not surprisingly, most of the comments to date have approached this question from the "genre" side - noting possible oppositions to genre lit characteristics, a presumed decentralization of plot in favor of the elevation of character and prose to paramount status.
  • Very little to nothing has been said of how the audience for lit fic differs from that for various genre lit audiences. This I think is a crucial difference that should be explored more.
  • I suspect there are more lit fic and genre lit readers at this blog, namely because the discussion hasn't been as pejorative towards lit fic as it likely would have been if this question had been posted on a SF/F forum.
  • Related to bullet point #3: For issues of lit journals like Conjunctions that contain genre-related stories (see Conjunctions: 39: The New Wave Fabulists and the just-published Conjunctions: 52: Betwixt the Between: Impossible Realism), it seems internet searches turn up many more reviews written from a genre perspective than from a lit fic perspective. Is the mode of communication different (i.e. more likely the reviews are published in lit journals and not online via blogs and e-mags)?
  • Also, is this mode of communication between writers and intended audience for lit fic in danger?

Perhaps these bullet points will provide more grist for the mill as the weekend fast approaches.


Anonymous said...

I am a writer, yes, but a reader, too, and what I find perplexing about the us versus them idea and the ridiculous assumption that somehow lit fic is always less about plot and that somehow I guess characters don't generate plot because if you say character-driven that means there's less plot...well, anyway, as a reader I read all of this stuff--all of these categories. And some of it is great and some is lousy across all categories. And I tell you, it's a sad and piss poor way to render down the complexity of a book. Genre or literary? Paugh. (Not a reflection on your experiment, which is a good one.)

Lsrry said...

I understand. I've found that when I just pose a question and let the Socratic Method work its way through my readership, there's a much better discussion generated than if I had written some eloquent essay that might cut off some debate. The comments were all worthwhile and perhaps some will reconsider their positions or even better, they'll branch out and read lit fic and genre lit a bit more than usual.

I myself am trying to diversify my readings more and I've found it to be personally rewarding so far, even if I'm not reviewing as much new fiction as I had before.

Matthew Cheney said...

Sorry I'm so horribly late coming back to this good discussion (got busy) -- I just wanted to say you're definitely on to something in terms of how the audience relates to the writers, editors, and publishers, and that may, in fact, be one of the strongest forces differentiating the groups. There aren't "fans" of litfic -- it's not something that exists within a discourse of fandom, whereas SF has, at least in the U.S., been invigorated and delineated by the relationship between fans, writers, editors, and publishers. The first stuff I ever published in genre venues got reviewed -- even really small press stuff -- whereas a friend of mine who published 35 stories before her first novel, most of them in prominent literary journals, some of them winning awards, said one thing she loved about publishing her novel was that for the first time in her career she got to read public reviews of her work. Things have changed a bit with blogs, etc., but not at a foundational level -- there is a different sort of expectation for what we do with a published text depending on what community of writers and readers we identify with.

Add to Technorati Favorites