Thursday, September 22, 2016

notetaking. comments elsewhere. old wine/new bottles.
Literary fiction at its best is not cerebral. It's immersive, while simultaneously keeping you aware of the tricks that are sucking you in. It seduces you and tells you you're being seduced. Some people find the ambiguity pleasurable.

"Literary" fiction fucks with your head. It's the description in the first person before, during, and after a priest's drunken night with a drag queen, or the time you shot your best friend in the face. The only "pulp" that get much respect by this model is detective fiction, which pulls you in to imagining morally awkward situations that usually are never fully resolved.

Science fiction, the fiction of economists, philosophers, and engineers, is the fiction of propositions and resolutions, problem solving, fiction for geeks, for preadolescent boys and those who prefer the time of precocious youth, before the discovery of the moral reality of other people, sex and death. Engineers are optimists. Humanists are pessimists.

"Literary fiction" is descriptive as a form and as a term. It's not prescriptive. Any text that functions in the way I've described has "literary" value. Reading Weber for the self-description of a man with a "shell as hard as steel" a brilliant but still petty bureaucrat, is reading Weber as "literature".

Socratic irony is the irony of contempt for others. Literary irony is ironic self-awareness even if it's damning. It's the irony of Euripides.

Pretty basic stuff unless you're a geek.

Literary fiction is whatever ages well. If it's still read 200 years after it's published it's read as literature and not as artifact. If Jewish secular socialists write about Michelangelo it's not out of some loyalty to Rome.
Some people try for art and produce artifacts. Others do the reverse: they enjoy producing what they think is garbage but it lasts.

Anti-intellectualism is not a good answer to pretension. When someone tells me art is nothing but subjective I ask them to define Justice.

Until the last few decades with the rise of geek and tech culture, lit departments looked down on speculative and science fiction.
Academic fans of speculative fiction come from the fields I listed above, fields that see themselves as dealing in truths etc. Philosophers have always looked down on "fiction". and internet culture especially in the anglosphere self-selects for tech.

"works survive, or don't, for all sorts of reasons that might have nothing to do with any intrinsic worth."
No more or less for fiction than for history or philosophy. 
Speculative fiction is a modern invention, continuing from theological and philosophical interests as opposed to "merely" literary ones.

I wish I could embed the ngram for "literary fiction". It first appears in the digitized record as of now, around 1800, and goes through the roof after 1960.  

To visitors from Language Log

My last comment, deleted by Mark Liberman:

- Link to the OUP Press Blog on experiments showing that the more you look at bad art the less you like it and that the reverse is true for good art.

- Link to Gambetta and Hertog on engineers and political extremism.

- Quote from John von Neumann:"If you say why not bomb them tomorrow, I say why not today? If you say today at 5 o'clock, I say why not one o'clock?"

- Engineering was the model of Modernist intellectualism. it failed.
- Exposure to complex stimuli makes you smarter. They should redo the experiment.
- Chomsky's "poverty of the stimulus" is bullshit.

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