Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Definition of "Literary Fiction"

So far, I've discovered 3 topics that can turn most writers and editors from logical, reasonable human beings into the most vindictive, pretentious people on the planet. People who seem above arguing on the internet will defend their opinion on these topics with more passion than they will defend the books they have written. These topics are:

1) to self-publish or remain traditional.

2) Number of spaces after a period.

3) The definition of "literary fiction."

I have yet to address this last point, so let's dive into it!

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Since I began seeking places to publish my work, I have struggled to define exactly what "literary fiction" is. It is not "literature"--those great works of the past that have stood the test of time. Literary fiction is not even trying to be like literature, as some people claim.

Every time I read it, I get the feeling the author is imitating the feeling you get when you're trying to remember a dream. It is fiction that uses as many words as possible to say as little as possible. It is fiction that is intentionally written to derail coherence.

I find the wandering, meandering style annoying and unprofessional, the eloquent vagueness pretentious and unreadable, the unnatural dialogue awful and unbelievable. Everything I read that calls itself "literary" has this feel to it. It does not read like it is "about something," or striving to be timeless or rise above the confines of popular, genre writing. It reads like it is being deliberately unclear.

I don't get litfic. I don't get its appeal. I don't get why it is considered more "professional" than anything else. I have talked to other, more established "genre" writers about this. They joke that there really are two major camps in the writing world: the literary one, and the genre one. Those in the genre camp often joke about literary writers. One story I heard was how one literary writer said the story she was writing was about space travel, but oh, it's not genre! As if writing science fiction is an admission of harboring unclean thoughts.

They said it's the fiction the "elites" have declared is "good" writing. It's what colleges teach their students is good writing. It is writing that stresses craft over story. Writing that has been workshopped to death. It's supposed to be the kind of writing that is about something--or strives to be on the same level as fine literature, but it does not do either of those things. Most of it reads like a badly remembered dream, and the stories that don't instead go out of their way to be unclear!

I'm convinced literary fiction exists to ensure college professors have a job. Students reading these books will have no idea what to make of them, which means professors can step in to interpret the story for them. The professors can feed the students whatever interpretation they want, and they feel good about themselves for having reached a conclusion.

This also leaves room open for professors and even students to have differing opinions on the story, to read as many meanings into it as possible, allowing them to divide up into camps and schools of thought regarding what the author meant. Then they can feel superior to others who don't get it. Books like these keep the academics busy. Stories like these make them feel relevant.

But guess what the author meant? He created confusion on purpose in order to invite people to read meaning into it because he knows all he has to do is make academia feel important to achieve immortality.

Since many--if not all of these authors went to esteemed colleges and attended writing workshops themselves, I presume they write their stories specifically for those people to have something to interpret, in the hopes that they will ponder and dissect the story endlessly, because that's what academics like to do. So give them something to interpret. Give them a challenge! Don't be bold and make a point; be vague, so the professors and their students can read whatever meaning into it they please. That's how you achieve immortality. That's how you gain respect in the literary world.

I don't get it. Much of real literature exists to make a point. Most of it wouldn't exist if the author didn't have something to say. Even genre stories can be packed with themes and have important points to make, so the idea of eloquent vagueness calling itself "literary" is completely deceptive, and the argument that this kind of writing strives to be on the same shelf as classic literature is nonsense.

I am of the opinion that prose (if not language itself!) exists to convey clear meaning, and taking this craft of refined thinking and twisting it into deliberate meaninglessness should be considered a crime! I'm not saying writers shouldn't leave anything open to interpretation, or that every story has to make a point, but I dislike vagueness for its own sake. I spent many years in isolation, practicing the craft, trying to get better at expressing myself clearly in words. Why would anyone take that same devotion to do just the opposite?

Nope, literary fiction is not for me, both as a reader and a writer. I'll stick to my genre stuff.

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