“… to misquote the literary essayist Isaac D’Israeli, ‘it seems to me a wretched national compulsion to be gratified by mediocrity when the excellent lies before us’.”

Here’s a great article on genre vs. literary fiction.  Take this paragraph, for example:

We need to be clear-eyed here because although there is much written about this subject, there is also much theatricality to the debate. And this serves to hide (on both sides) a fundamental dishonesty. The proponents of genre fiction are not sincere about the limitations even of the best of what they do while being scathing and disingenuous about literary fiction (there’s no story, nothing happens etc). Meanwhile, the (equally insincere) literary proponents… adopt the posture and tone of bad actors delivering Shakespeare and talk of poetry and profundity without meaning a great deal or convincing anyone. Both positions are bogus and indicative of something (also interesting) about the way we talk of literature and culture more widely.


These are the reasons, too, why a bad thriller or detective novel or murder mystery will feel so much better than a bad literary novel – why it might even thrive. Even in a bad genre book, you’ve still got the curiosity and the reassuring knowledge that the writer will eventually deliver against the conventions. Bad literary fiction, on the other hand, is mostly without such fallback positions and is therefore a whole lot worse.


Here, for example, is Lee Child talking the kind of ersatz machismo bullshit that so confuses the issue: “The thriller concept is why humans invented storytelling, thousands of years ago. [Is it?] The world was perilous and full of misery, so they wanted the vicarious experience of surviving danger. [Did they?] It’s the only real genre and all the other stuff has grown on the side of it like barnacles. [Really? Barnacles?] I could easily write a work of literary fiction. [No you couldn’t.] It would take me three weeks, [No it wouldn’t] sell about 3,000 copies [Doubt it] and be at least as good as the competition. [Absolutely no chance.] But literary authors can’t write thrillers. They try sometimes, but they can never do it. [Crime and Punishment.]”

Personally, I find myself both agreeing and disagreeing with almost everything most people have to say on this issue.

-Norm De Plume

Published in: on December 13, 2010 at 3:30 pm  Leave a Comment  

The URI to TrackBack this entry is: https://cincinnatimercantile.wordpress.com/2010/12/13/to-misquote-the-literary-essayist-isaac-disraeli-it-seems-to-me-a-wretched-national-compulsion-to-be-gratified-by-mediocrity-when-the-excellent-lies-before-us/trackback/

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: