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Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Literary Critics Are Morons

What exactly is it about the literary academia that makes literature, in its most basic form, even more inaccessible by the general populace? I'll tell you. Critics are morons. Now, what I mean by this is not that they are just stupid in how they choose good books, but rather that they have no understanding whatsoever what the rest of the country, and most of the world, find to be valuable literature.
Most of us, as in humans, are not literature majors. Taking that into account we have to assume that most of us also are not necessarily prone to having enormous vocabularies or be adept in reading complex, convoluted sentences, the likes of which seem to be prevalent in literary criticism. This is my problem with the literary academia. There is considerable concern over the future of literature and concern in that people, in general and in the majority, are not reading, are not interested, and seemingly don't care. The problem is the literary academia.
I recently was reading one of my literary criticism books for one of my classes and I was marveling over the fact that the way it is written would pretty much put off almost everyone else. The sentences were long, filled with words that most people wouldn't know anyway, and utterly complex. This is not unusual in literary criticism, in fact, it's pretty much the norm. Who exactly reads these books? I certainly don't do it for fun. Why? Because I'm not interested in long-winded, boring analyses (yes, that's the plural). What I'm interested in is the criticism of whatever it is the author is talking about. But the literary world has no concept of market. They cling desperately to books they should clearly let die and completely disregard the books that the overwhelming majority of people favor as something not even literature.
But who is right?
You are. You, the people. You drive the market, and clearly what you are interested in is one thing, while the literary academia is interested in other. They desperately want you to respect books that you have no interest in, and rather than making them easily accessible, they create a mess of confusing books and articles that further drive you away. Most of us would rather read a really entertaining *insert popular author here* book rather than trying to wade our way through something dull and contrived.
Making things even worse, they give awards to books that most people will never touch, and avoid adding credibility to those books which clearly have a place and importance in our society and culture. Look at Harry Potter. The world seems to have embraced it, but still the literary academia refuses to grant it the position in the literary world that it damn well deserves simply because it's a novel of common themes in a fantastic setting.
To add some credibility to this, I am going to ask you a question. Do not do a Google search for it, and certainly don't look it up in a book. Answer honestly. How many of you can name 5 Nobel prize winners for literature?
I can name two: Gunter Grass and Andre Gide. I can only name them because I happen to be reading both authors this semester for my lit classes. Otherwise, I couldn't name any others.
Now I ask this, how many of you can name 5 books that were made into movies?
Probably all of you can, or at least come close to it. Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Children of Men, Great Expectations, The Importance of Being Earnest, etc.
How many of you can name 5 books that were best sellser?
Probably all of you. Da Vinci Code, Harry Potter, anything by Stephen King, etc.
See what I mean? When will we see one of these great novels that the majority of readers have enjoyed given the respect it deserves? I expect never, because like a stubborn old man, the literary academia is clinging desperately to old values and old ideas that have been lost to the winds of time.
Think about might make your head hurt with annoyance.

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  1. Sometimes I think people who consider themselves literary snobs do so just to have a pedestal to put themselves upon. I for one am all for what they would call
    "common" entertainment. Back in the day, Shakespeare was considered someone who was able to relate to the masses and he has lived on. J.K. Rowling may never be considered Shakespeare, but she will live on through Harry Potter for a very very long time. I would rather have that kind of success then be considered a literary darling with no income to speak of.

  2. As an aspiring children's picture book author, I have to say that, I agree. I see some of the things that are published and I think (maybe not objectively...might I add), that, if this crap is getting published then WHY NOT MINE!!!! And the ones that are highly acclaimed and award winning...oy vey!

  3. I agree to a point. But I do think that they have a place. Sure some of that stuff might be hard to read, it's not Harry Potter, as you say, but you can't ignore it. There is great writing out there, great themes and characters and if it takes a Lit Snob to find it and dig it out more power to them. People need to be reading not just the common entertainment but the classics, the great writers of our time. You can't claim to be well read if all you ever read are the bestsellers which are always the same handful of authors, at least it feels like that. Maybe we need more down to earth people writing reviews for the harder lit? People that will make it more accessible, which is what you seem to crying out for. But then again maybe it isn't meant for everyone. You say you are going to school for it, so you must love it; you already know it has its place. Sure they are morons but who else is working on it?

  4. Actually, I'm going to school for literature in general, but I hope to be able to actually place study into speculative genres, if possible. I have a feeling I won't get that opportunity for my BA, but will have to do that when I go for a higher degree. Santa Cruz, unfortunately, seems rather devoid of speculative life, even in regards to the classics (1984, Jules Verne, etc.). This is ironic because UC Santa Cruz actually developed the Heinlein online library with money from Heinlein's foundation.
    I actually dislike most of the stuff that the critics claim are amazing, fascinating works. There have been novels that were more mainstream that I found to have more impact on me and society.
    As much as I would dislike bringing it up, look at Oprah. She has brought to the attention of the masses a lot of books that have been nominated for multiple awards. The Road is I think her first dive into speculative fiction, but that's still a lot of brownie points as far as I'm concerned. Oprah is not a literary snob.
    The literary snobs are probably in a fit over Oprah's pick of The Road, because literary snobs refuse to admit the cultural and societal importance of SF and F and how both genres have had almost, if not more influence on both culture and society than most 'literary canon' works can claim. 1984 has had more of an impact on me than any other non-speculative classic I have ever read.
    And that's the problem. When you look at the literary canon (western canon), all it is are a series of books you would probably only read if forced to. That's not to say that all of them are bad, quite the contrary really. In the grand scheme of things, many books that are unfortunately negatively associated with 'reading as work' are actually amazing books (again, referring to 1984 as a prime example). In any case, many of those books are actually quite good and do have a significant importance in our every day lives. We most likely don't even notice it or realize the effect.
    The problem with the literary academia is they desperately need to broaden their horizons. Is H. G. Wells taken nearly as seriously as Charles Dickens? No, of course not, in fact you might be lucky to ever read H. G. Wells for your college classes unless you happened to get lucky. Why? Both are in the western canon, and obviously both have had a great influence on our world.
    I just severely dislike the literary academia in a lot of ways because they take a very close-minded, literary nazi type stance...