Why Do So Many Golden Age SF Writers Look Down On Literature?

Republibot 3.0
Republibot 3.0's picture

Why do so many Golden Age SF authors look down on Literature? Heinlein is the most obvious example, in that he occasionally used the term "Literature" as an insult in his stories. Ayn Rand looked down on it, too, which is a little ironic since she's actually considered Literature these days. So why the deliberately lowbrow stance towards art?

My theory:

First of all, literary critics are, by their definition, critical. It's their job to say "This is a turd" or "Say, this is pretty good!" Secondly, early SF like the main sequence HG Wells stuff was very well regarded. Much of it is actually considered Literature in some circles. (Albeit low-grade entry level stuff) I can cite a bunch of SF works that are considered Literature: Gravity's Rainbow, Ada, Slaughterhouse 5, Fahrenheit 451, etc.

There *IS* definitely a rivalry between genre and Literature, but I think that stems from two different sources:

1) *Most* SF writers, particularly the early ones, couldn't write for sour apples. I mean, seriously, much as I love Smith's "Venus Equilateral" Stories - I'm re-reading 'em now - the guy thinks nothing of stopping the action to go on for pages at a time about how to tune a cathode so as to minimize the erosion of the anode under current. And Smith had a real gift for dialog, which puts him waaaaaaaay above most of his peers. Or take Clarke and Asimov and Heinlein: Clarke never wrapped his brain around the need for a plot, and as Asimov was about as dry as an instruction manual for eating crackers. Heinlein was unquestionably the best in his field for the day, but outside of his field? Come on! 'Tunnel in the Sky,' 'Lolita,' and 'The Return of the King' all came out in 1955. I can cite scores of better writers from his period who *weren't* in the genre. Being a big fish in a small pond doesn't change the fact that there are bigger fish in the sea beyond.

So it's fitting that critics should be critical of this stuff. And it's entirely fitting that SF authors - particularly the early, inartistic ones - should feel looked down upon and oppressed for it, and resentful. I mean, authors of Cowboy novels and Detective fiction feel the same way about Literary criticism.

2) The bigger reason, I think, is a right brain/left brain thing. Again: Take Heinlein, Asimov, and Clarke: All three were engineers. All three were very logical, very rational. Heinlein had no use, whatsoever, for any aspect of society or culture that didn't conform to his rational view of the world. Antithetical to religion, intolerant of politics, dismissive of capitalism as written, and nearly all of his books are written from the point of view that says "Everyone is an idiot except for me." Clarke, likewise, displays a complete lack of understanding of every aspect of normal human life ("There are more television programs now than a person could watch, even if he did nothing but watch all day long!" from Childhood's End). Asimov is an exception, but we clearly know which side of the Spock divide he's on, right?

This isn't a criticism, it's just the way they saw the world, and if they were a little Aspergery, well, I certainly don't fault that. However they were writing pulp of a technobabbly nature, which tended to appeal to other people of an aspergery nature, so early SF tended to be of an very left brained.

Literature, on the other hand, tends to be more intuitive, more artistic, more emotional, more right brained. So conflict is probably unavoidable. "Ew! That stuff is for girls! My mom would like that! Ew!"

It's worth noting that most of the authors who tended to write nontechnical stuff back in the day *also* tended to get looked down upon by the more stalwart fans of Asimov, Clarke, Heinlein, etc. Bradbury, for instance, Dick's early stuff. And as the New Wave really got going in SF, most of the old guard technical writers utterly hated that, and were highly critical of it. So that would seem to bear out my theory.

Conversely, because SF tended to have comparatively poor writing in the early days, with little or no characterization, minimalistic plots, no subtext or subtlety, and tended towards the technical, it was perceived by high-falutin' critics as being the kind of embarrassing stuff that was only read by adolescent compulsive masturbaters, which is why they go to such great lengths to this very day to pretend the SF they like isn't really SF.




Jim Stiles's picture

Asimov was a faculty member of Columbia's Biochemistry Department.

Clarke was an electrical engineer.

I think that Heinlein was a naval engineer.

Niven was a failed physics student.

Benford is a faculty member of UC Irvine's Physics Department and has a specialty in plasma physics,


Jim Stiles's picture

Clarke's writing was probably influenced more by his homosexuality than by his profession.

Benford has a much more artistic style and he is a physicist.


kelloggs2066's picture

I saw a biography of Clarke a few months back. They made no mention of any homosexuality. They did mention a brief marriage to a woman, but nothing was said about men.

I realize there were a couple passages in "Imperial Earth" (I think?) where he hinted at relationships between the main characters, but I was always under the impression that Clarke was more Asexual than homosexual.

Some Aspergery type folks I've known have a tendancy to be asexual. (See Jim Parson's portrayal of Sheldon Cooper on The Big Bang Theory.)

Is there more evidence one way or the other that I'm unaware of?

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The Future's So Bright You Gotta Wear Shades

Gay as a French horn!

Republibot 3.0's picture

Yeah, Clarke was gay as a french horn. It was also rumored that he was a pedophile, which is why he lived in Ceylon, *however* the people who made those accusations have not been able to produce the tapes they claim as evidence, so that much is likely not true.

And yes, my bad: Asimov was a biochemist, not an engineer. Sorry. Thanks for pointing that out to me.

"Asexuality" is one aspect that some folks with Aspergers can have, but it's far, far, far more common for them to get exposed to, and obsessed with it. A neighbor kid with aspergers found some awful Japanese porn a year ago, and now it's all he'll talk about, look at, think about. It's a mess. The old "GIGO" thing is doubly true of folks with forms of Autism.

The Artist Formerly Known As Republibot 3.0

Hate because of being hated

neorandomizer's picture

Not all golden age sci-fi is pigeon holed into pulp Clarke'e Childhood's End was hailed as a literary work from before it was published. But R3 you do have a point that most hard sci-fi is thrown into the pulp category so most writers of hard sci-fi reject before they get rejected.

And then there are people like Fritz Leiber who could write but rejected lit because the people who flock around it are such bores. He also enjoyed writing dark fantasy and sci-fi over mundane literary subjects.

JRRT and "literature"

Tolkien was frequently in the habit of writing "literature" with quotation marks around it, as the word had been abused in his presence so often that he could no longer take it seriously. He came out of an academic environment that, rather unhealthily, pitted literary studies against philology and the study of language, and as a result he was highly skeptical of where anyone else (ESPECIALLY his fellow dons) drew the line between 'literature' and mere 'stuff that we are capable of reading'.

His famous 1936 essay on Beowulf was so groundbreaking particularly because it argued in favor of the old poem's inherent value as literature, and NOT as a mere relic of historical interest only -- which was how most surviving Old English material had in fact been viewed up till that point.

And I think it's not unlikely that the critical mindset that rejected Beowulf as worthless, and the mindset that condemns The Lord of the Rings (and ALL fantasy & SF) as escapist trash, are in fact one and the same. In either case, you've got some arrogant ass of a self-appointed gatekeeper superciliously shaking his head and saying, "I don't know, is this really literature?" Such people do exist, and Tolkien definitely bore a grudge against them.

"They don't like me, therefore they're subhuman"

Republibot 3.0's picture

>>But R3 you do have a point that most hard sci-fi is thrown into the pulp category so most writers of hard sci-fi reject before they get rejected.<<

I've been asking around elsewhere, and it seems there's a lot of sour grapes involved in all this. In Heinlein's case in particular, he published "The Green Hills of Earth" in an actual literary magazine alongside real authors, and got a critical drubbing for it. (Dunno if it was deserved or not. I'd have to read the issue for context) From that point on, he was evidently fanatically opposed to criticism, and it's not hard to figure out that it wasn't a rational argument, just a 'they gave me a bloody nose and I hate 'em' thing.

This bit here from Fred Phol is interesting in that it shows (A) Heinlein's increasing paranoia and hatred and (B) how an astute critic can actually spot a lot of stuff in the text that the author didn't realize was there.


The Artist Formerly Known As Republibot 3.0

Not without legitimate complaint

Republibot 3.0's picture

>>I think it's not unlikely that the critical mindset that rejected Beowulf as worthless, and the mindset that condemns The Lord of the Rings (and ALL fantasy & SF) as escapist trash, are in fact one and the same. In either case, you've got some arrogant ass of a self-appointed gatekeeper superciliously shaking his head and saying, "I don't know, is this really literature?" Such people do exist, and Tolkien definitely bore a grudge against them.<<

I think there's legitimate room for complaint there. I also think that *much* (But nowhere near all) of this complaint is half a century or more out of date. Lit Crit used to be a much more stolid field than it is now, and in fact it's been increasingly flexible since the end of WWII when the US became the unquestioned dominant force in international entertainment, England was relegated to 2nd--->3rd--->4th--->and on down-->rate status, and the doors kinda' got blown off what was and wasn't considered acceptable writing. When I ask Fen what they think literature is, they're generally talking about 700-page English novels about upper class British fops debating whether or not to have affairs with milkmaids, then deciding not to, or rambling thousand-page novels about an Irish family failing to triumph over adversity.

That's a pretty dated (But again, not entirely unreasonable) view of Literature, but it completely ignores the role that novels like "Finnegan's Wake" and "Pale Fire" and "1984" and "Gravity's Rainbow" and "Slaughterhouse 5" and a zillion other great novels have played in the development of Literature. Heinlein and Rand's complaints may have been valid at the time (Right after WWII, before the wheels of the new had really got traction), though I think they're probably a bit overstated even if they are, but they're really dated now. Tolkein's reactions are, I think, far more valid, but also of a very different sort. Vonnegut, I think, put it best when he said 'science fiction' was what they called it when nobody paid attention to his books, and 'literature' was what they called it when they did, but he, himself, never did anything different, he just wrote stories that admitted machines existed, which no serious writer was doing at the time.

Anyway: I think a lot of our righteous fen indignation at LitCrit is just an ossified reflex. I mean, 'cmon: SLaughterhouse, Rainbow, 1984, those are *ALL* considered "Literature" and they're all clearly SF. We've won. So what's to get pissy about?

and we *all* do it. We read books, we talk about 'em. "Did you read this? Did you like it? Here's where I feel it fell short, and here's what I liked about it." "Well, have you read this other book? If you compare the two, you'll see how this one hits the same ideas with more economy, but less style..." and so on. We all rate books as better or worse with our friends, with ourselves. Likewise, we've *ALL* read some amazing book that is just astounding, and really, really, really needs to be singled out for high praise. That's what Literary Criticism is: singling out books that are more than the sum of their parts. "Crime and Punishment" is simply another murder mystery, but it rises above being merely genre stuff, and becomes something superlative. That's what we're looking for here: stuff that transcends genre, but, y'know, in a good way.

The problem is that there's no objective method to rate books, since art is inherently subjective. So whatcha' do is: you get a bunch of people together in a room who've read the same thing, and they discuss it and come up with a consensus of its merits/demerits, and where it stands in the grand scheme of things.

This is where the system falls apart a bit: it *IS* subject to ego, particularly if they're talking about books written by themselves or their friends, or people they want to be their friends, or if they have a particular bias against something ("On wings of song" has too much homosexuality in it!) or a bias towards something ("On wings of song" doesn't have enough homosexuality in it!") or whatever. HOWEVER consensus is inherently democratic (In the nonpolitical sense of the word) and a broad enough base of readers' opinions should offset that pretty easily, even if it only offsets it in favor of the trends of the time. And *THIS* should itself be easily offset by periodically re-reviewing sacred cows every couple generations, to see if they still fit. ("Moby Dick" still belongs on the list, but "Billy Budd?" Probably not. And I'm sure we can remove "Bartleby the Scrivener.")

The Artist Formerly Known As Republibot 3.0

Force feeding vs. snacking

Mama Fisi's picture

Literature is what some tenth-grade English teacher has to put a gun to your head to get you to read.

And usually the only way it ever gets read, is when tenth-grade teachers of English force their students to do so.

(I had a copy of "Hitchhiker's Guide" inside my edition of "Silas Marner." My prof had no idea why I was giggling so much over some unfortunate guy with catatonia.)

Masquerading as a normal person day after day is exhausting.
Magpie House Comics

No, it's more like sour grapes

Republibot 3.0's picture

In my experience, it's more like sour grapes. Yeah, you're gonna' have fops and phone-it-in pretentious teachers, but the reaction we're talking about here is from authors, not from clock-punching school teachers. We dont' say "Math is stupid" because we got a crap teacher, or "Science is dumb" because the guy who taught the class smelled bad and hit on the boys after class. We can separate the inept messenger from the message, even if the messenger has more control over which message to give than he really should. But throw "Literature" in there, and all us Fen go ballistic. *PARTICULARLY* those of us with writerly delusions, like myself.

Comparison: my stuff are like little pop songs, and literature is like a symphony. False modesty aside, I'm a pretty good writer, but it took me 25 years to get here, and I know where my limitations lie: Short Stories and Novelettes are about as far as I can go. My attempts to write novels have all been dismal failures. I'm cool with this, because I *LIKE* short stories, and most people don't write 'em anymore. I have interest in other stuff, I keep poking away at it, and maybe in another 25 years I'll be good at that too, but basically I write the equivalent of 3-minute bubblegum rock and the occasionally 7-minute prog rock piece. And there ain't nothin' wrong with that. Nothing at all.

However there are a lot of people - a lot, even some who get paid for this kind of thing - who decide "Well, I wrote 'Sugar Sugar,' and this jackass is telling me that Beethoven's 9th Symphony is better than my song, and that's just wrong, because there's no difference whatsoever, and all art is the same, and this Beethoven guy is nothing special, and what makes this critic the boss of me?

In other words: sour grapes. "I can't (or won't) do what the heavy hitters do, so I insist there are no heavy hitters to save my own ego, and as the critics major job is praising people who are BETTER Than me, I inherently hate them."

I've been in a lot of bands. I've been in bands that want to make the big time with their original songs, and just don't have the chops. They get angry. "They're not doing anything we're not, it's all just a popularity contest!" Well, to some extent, yeah, but that doesn't change the fact that The Beatles or The Art of Noise are better than Republibot 3.0 and the Republibot 3.0 Orchestra, Featuring Republibot 3.0.

That, I think, is the same basic thing. It's also the same basic run-in I have with fanfic writers: "My Beatles tribute band is just as valid and important and real as the Beatles themselves." No, it really isn't. Write me a new album of Beatles-quality material (Like Adrian Belew has done several times over) and we'll talk, but, nope, until then chum, you're not. You're just really not.

The Artist Formerly Known As Republibot 3.0

What is Literature?

kelloggs2066's picture

The question may come across as snarky, but I've never really been able to come up with a good definition of Literature.

The same guys who say that Thomas Kinkade's paintings aren't "Art" are the same ones who decide what is and what isn't literature.

So, what's literature?

I remember being told that "Treasure Island" isn't literature. C.S. Forrester's works aren't literature. But, "Scarlet Letter" and "Crime and Punishment" and Hemingway's writings are?

I can't figure it out.

21st Century Fox
The Future's So Bright You Gotta Wear Shades

Oh, that much is easy

Republibot 3.0's picture

Oh, that much is easy: Literature is storytelling that transcends the confines of any particular genre. That doesn't mean that it doesn't have attributes of that genre, it just means that it's more than the sum of its parts. For instance, Forresters' works *aren't* literature because they're simple seafaring adventure stories, and at the end of the day, that's all they are. Moby Dick *IS* literature because, despite the fact that it's a fairly simple seafaring adventure itself, at the end of the day, it's way more than that. It's a question of man's relationship not with nature, nor even God, but with the concept authority itself. The Whale is the thing that says "You can't" and Ahab is the man driven crazy by the unattainable, and it kills him, and pretty much everyone stupid enough to follow him (Which is pretty much everyone) and still skates away at the end. The book is about the human desire to say "You ain't the boss of me," even when the person/place/thing we're talking to clearly IS, and even when it's just suicidal to push the issue.

"Crime and Punishment" is literature, while "The Erection Set" by Mickey Spillane *isn't* because the latter is merely a crime story with tawdry sex thronw in. A passing thrill of no particular importance. A nooner. The former is about the nature and transformation of man, which uses the basic crime story plot as merely a framework.

Put it a different way: the genre is a trellis, a framework, that's all. Sea adventure, space adventure, romance novel, whatever, it's just a framework for you to tell a story. Now, in *most* genre stuff, the framework is all you get, which is why Clarke can get away with being an author despite not being able to write decent prose at all. In genre, you don't *need* more than that. Literature, however, is like roses and vines and stuff growing *ON* the trellis. The Trellis gives it form, but the ultimate shape and content is far, far, far more than the mere framework. You've heard the expression "The sum is more than the parts?" well, that's what it's all about. "Literature" is more than mere genre entertainment.

Conversely, anything that *isn't* literature *IS* merely genre entertainment. Ain't nothin' wrong with that.

Another way to put it: I've often described "Apocalypse Now" as the best-ever movie about the Vietnam War, that has nothing to do with the Vietnam War. "The Great White Hope" is the best boxing movie ever made, but it's not actually about Boxing at all. "It's A Wonderful Life" is probably the best Christmas movie ever, and far and away the angriest, but it's not really about Christmas at all, is it? All these are superlative films, and none of them are about what they appear to be. The meaning is not the story, the story is simply a way to get us to the meaning.

In fiction, the story is all you get. In literature, there's a meaning that deliberately underpins everything.

So: Literature isn't about the thing it appears to be about.

Howzat? Help at all?

The Artist Formerly Known As Republibot 3.0

See this is where I have problems

kelloggs2066's picture

Unfortunately, I was a smartass way way way back.

I remember writing Literary Analysis, looking for the deeper meanings of things way back in High School. And if I say so myself, I made a Darn Good case for Gilligan's Island being Literature.

Look for the deeper meanings? Sure, that's easy.

Gilligan is the Everyman, surrounded by the conflicting forces of our society as represented by the others. The Professor represents Education and Intellectualism. The Skipper represents Authority. The Howells represent The Establishment and so on.

Or, The Island is merely a metaphor for insanity and the castaways are the inmates in an insane asylum. The Professor is obviously mad, because he's always telling people how the world is about to end. The Skipper suffers from Shell Shock (oh, sorry, PTSD these days). The Howells are obsessed by money. Ginger is obsessed with fame and popularity. Gilligan (their psychoanalyst) was seen as a fool and a klutz because he kept contradicting their version of reality.

Analysis like this is just sophmoric garbage, and I'm not going to go into detail. (But, one could make some really good ones of say, Mr. Ed, or I Dream of Jeannie, or Bewitched.)

But, I can go on like this about anything, and it's a lot easier to find subtle messages in The Wild Wild West than it is say in Tess of the D'urbervilles or The Scarlet Letter or Lord of the Flies.

I'll bet you dollars to doughnuts that there are critical literary analysis pieces out there on Star Trek episodes. I've seen shows on the History Channel attempting to analyze Star Wars.

21st Century Fox
The Future's So Bright You Gotta Wear Shades

No literature

neorandomizer's picture

>>I'll bet you dollars to doughnuts that there are critical literary analysis pieces out there on Star Trek episodes. I've seen shows on the History Channel attempting to analyze Star Wars.<<

I have seen those Star Wars shows and man what a load of BS same as the Star Trek made the world shows are. Both Star Wars and Star Trek are two thirds pulp and one third 30's serial and there is nothing profound in any of it.

As for literature it's what ever you want it to be because it's way to subjective to really mean anything. A literary master piece to you maybe just a boring pretentious book to me. (see John Updike)

Good analysis

Mama Fisi's picture

I like and agree with R3's description of what makes literature (I especially like the trellis metaphor.)

It seems to me that literature is either stories written about real people in realistic situations, or stories that have been around for so long that they've transcended their time and place of origin to become part of our cultural heritage.

Most writers are doing what they do to make money. Dickens was a writing machine, so was Mark Twain. They were making social commentary, but they were also trying to write popular stories in order to sell books, and boy did they ever sell books!

Over the years these guys became literary icons. But who reads Twain or Dickens anymore? OK, Twain's writing ability makes his stuff eminently readable today, but Dickens can bore the life out of a tree sloth. The only Dickens books I've read were "A Christmas Carol" (which is a short story) and "David Copperfield" (which was in a Reader's Digest version.) But there was a time when Dickens was the J.K. Rowling of his day, in terms of eagerly awaited new stories.

There are also lots of authors who were considered literary geiuses, but whose works are in eclipse today, and other authors who were disdained as hacks whose works are taught in college courses.

So I'd say that there's also a fairly subjective aspect as to what makes something "literature" and what makes something "pop fiction."

Masquerading as a normal person day after day is exhausting.
Magpie House Comics


SheldonCooper's picture

>>The only Dickens books I've read were "A Christmas Carol" (which is a short story)<<

A Christmas Carol is a novella, not a short story. Novel, Novella and Short Story are terms with (semi) clear definitions.

Also, no one will be reading Twain anymore because Mark Twain's work is going to cease to exist as he is constantly rewritten by left-wing PC crazies who think his words belong to another time and have no place in a "modern" world. Yes, they belong to another time, but that doesn't mean they have no place here. They have earned every place here and they aren't going to be Twain's words anymore.

One lab accident away from being a supervillain! Bazinga!

Splitting hairs

Mama Fisi's picture

If you want to get totally pedantic, the word "novella" was not coined until 1942 in he Austrian writer Stefan Zweig's (1881–1942) Die Schachnovelle (1942) (literally, "The Chess Novella") which is an example of a title naming its genre. Although "A Christmas Carol" is given as an example of a novella, the word itself was not in use in England when that story was written (in 1843), and so it is a short story, which happens to be a synonym for "novella."

I will, in the future, try to more thoroughly research my off-the-cuff commentary to insure that all the terms correspond to their proper definitions.

Masquerading as a normal person day after day is exhausting.
Magpie House Comics

Lengths and Tigers and Gilligans, Oh My!

Republibot 3.0's picture

That's funny. I used a similar - but reversed - argument back in the '80s to argue that Shakespeare was *not* literature. My theory was that ol' Wild Bill was the Sherwood Schwarz of his day, and that his plays and whatnot survive for the same reason I Dream of Jeanie and Gilligan's Island survive: simply because they were popular and widespread. Conversely, the really *good* stuff from the Elizabethan Era is lost or forgotten for the same reason "Playhouse 90" is forgotten and entire seasons of "Dr. Who" are lost: nobody cared.

Of course both arguments are inherently disingenuous, and ignore the merits of the work in question simply to shoehorn it into a particular formula. Of course that was probably your point: to show that one can force a ludicrous definition on to anything. In my case, I was just trying to be insulting to my more pretentious friends. Score!

So we've established why most SF writers disdained "Literature." (Sour grapes. They were mostly sucky writers)
We've established what 'literature' is: a) exemplary writing that transcends genre and b) stories that aren't actually about what they appear to be about.
Next Question:

What is it about "Us" that insists on getting pissy about this? I mean, if my friends insist thus-and-such a book is good, I'll probably read it eventually. If they say it's nothing special, then it goes to the bottom of the pile. My opinion, upon reading it, is my own, not theirs. Likewise, if some litcrit fop says that some book is literature, I'm not going to immediately discredit their opinion. I mean, they *read* the book, which means their opinion is automaticaly more valid than mine, and just as *MY* reasonably well-read opinion of SF as a genre is probably more valid than the opinions of some people I know who only ever read "Star Wars" and "Star Trek" novels, their opinion is probably more learned than mine. Which isn't to say it's flawless, and if I read the book, my opinion is ultimately my own.

So why is this a bad thing? Is this egalitarianism taken to a ludicrous extreme ("No one's opinion is any better than mine on any subject whatsoever!") or is the generally awkward American relationship with the arts ("I don't want my tax money spent for anything apart from smoking programs, anti-smoking programs, and Israel" - the Simpsons), is it a strictly an SF thing? Is it fear? What is it?

The "Art" argument is interesting. Charlie talks about it, sorta, here http://republibot2.nfshost.com/content/science-fiction-university-purpos... and it's short and worth a read. He argues that Christians don't really understand the purpose of art. I'd argue that it's not *just* Christians.

Anyway: As to "Novella" and word lengths, regardless of their origins 180 years back, there *are* set definitions for these things now:

*Short Story: 7500 words or less
*Novelette: 7500-17,500 words
*Novella: 17,500-40,000 words
*Novel: 40,000 words or more.

That's the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer's Association definitions. There are others (Generally a novel is assumed to be 50,000 words minimum). The definitions, however, are of no real definition to anyone *UNLESS* you're a writer who wants to put a story in competition, and you need to know what category it fits into. It's like in boxing: Heavyweight/middleweight/featherweight, etc. Not a value judgement, it's just a yardstick. (Or "Meter" as they call a yardstick in Europe. Hey! Europe! Be more gay, whydontcha'? )

The Artist Formerly Known As Republibot 3.0

No one is ever going to stop reading Mark Twain

Republibot 3.0's picture

>>Also, no one will be reading Twain anymore<<<

Nonsense! "Mark Twain's Letters" was an instant best seller two years back. Show me a guy who's been dead for 100 years who can have an instant best seller.

>>Mark Twain's work is going to cease to exist as he is constantly rewritten by left-wing PC crazies who think his words belong to another time and have no place in a "modern" world.<<

This desire for censorship of Twain has consistently worked *against* the PC types. People say "Well, we can't read Twain because he uses the 'N' word and the "I" word, so he's bad, and in 99% of the country, people just roll their eyes and tell 'em to get a life. And where such issues have slipped through (Remember "The Lorax" was a banned book in Oregon through the 70s/80s), they're quickly overturned when they become public knowledge. In most cases. Not all. Let's also not forget that (A) Twain was QUITE liberal in his day (Despite being a former Confederate soldier), so modern liberals like to claim him as one of their own, and tend to smack down the overly PC types themselves, and (B) we're not the only ones that read Twain. He is HUGELY popular through the english-speaking world, he's on the required reading list in several countries, and he's been translated into dozens of other languages as well. He's popular in Russia, he's popular in Germany, he's popular in Japan. The dude is immortal, and no virgin-eared politically correct maiden-aunt type who takes offence at a single coarse word and ignores the story is gonna' be able to change that.

The Artist Formerly Known As Republibot 3.0

Hostility to Genre Fiction

Mister_Blank's picture

I can say from personal experience that there is still a great deal of hostility toward science fiction, fantasy, and other "genre" literature in today's academy. Yes, they will analyze it, but only in the same way that they'll analyze television commercials. As far as they're concerned, popular fiction is deliberately crafted to keep the masses stupid and incapable of class consciousness. They like Vonnegut and Dick because they think they were using the conventions of science fiction in order to be subversive--which is sort of true, but the critics fail to consider that these authors might have genuinely enjoyed science fiction. They only tolerate science fiction that is appropriately soft or abstract, and the only fantasy they tolerate is "magical realism" (Borges et al). Any fiction too concerned with world-building or serious speculation about the future is to be consigned to "popular culture studies."

As Theodore Sturgeon pointed out...

A good ninety percent of science fiction is crap, but that's because a good ninety percent of all literature is crap. I think most SF/F fans' beef is with the critics and academics who gloss over the second half of that proposition.

There's the hypocrisy of it, too. Philip Toynbee once said a truly Good Writer can write about any subject imaginable, "even incestuous dukes in Tierra del Fuego", and it's not up to him to adjust his work for the reading audience -- it's up to the audience to trust him and leap in. But it seems that he wouldn't grant J.R.R. Tolkien the same trust he would give to somebody writing about incestuous dukes in Tierra del Fuego. Why?! Where exactly does one draw the line? "This is literature, this is pop-culture ephemera." Outside looking in, it seems almost arbitrary.

It's not that SF/F is lacking in depth -- the best stuff, when you find it, can be incredibly deep. It isn't, however, the kind of depth that the critics are familiar with; they can't get over the fact that they're being asked to dive in an unfamiliar region of the ocean, despite the fact that it's all the same water down at the bottom.

Here's Michael Drout talking about a mainstream critic's rather unperceptive review of a fantasy piece. Worth a look, as he identifies several points of contention.

Misunderstandings and Points Well Taken

SheldonCooper's picture

>>Nonsense! "Mark Twain's Letters" was an instant best seller two years back. Show me a guy who's been dead for 100 years who can have an instant best seller.<<

I'm a fan. I love Mark Twain. I'm not saying people will stop reading books that have Mr. Clemens' pen name on them. What I was saying was that if these self-righteous liberal pukes keep re-writing Mark Twain to suit their own agendas, then the words contained within those books won't be Mark Twain's anymore. Therefore, what people will be reading will be imposterous mockery.

You do raise a valid point, however, that Mark Twain's talent is sufficient to transcend liberal tampering. I hope you're right.

One lab accident away from being a supervillain! Bazinga!

Tampering with Twain

Mister_Blank's picture

>>What I was saying was that if these self-righteous liberal pukes keep re-writing Mark Twain to suit their own agendas, then the words contained within those books won't be Mark Twain's anymore. Therefore, what people will be reading will be imposterous mockery.<<

If you think, Mark Twain has it bad, look at poor old Joseph Conrad. At least one publishing house has released The N-Word of the 'Narcissus'. Yes, they actually titled it that, which is all the more ridiculous since the first American edition already had a bowdlerized title (The Children of the Sea).