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the night watchman
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PostPosted: 03.16.2004 5:08 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

beltmann wrote:
the night watchman wrote:
I think an author's job, first and foremost, is to tell a story.


I'd say that's a rather limited view of what literature can do as an art form. To me, that's like saying David Lynch, Salvador Dali, Jackson Pollock, or Stan Brakhage are merely gamesmen, simply because story isn't their first concern as an artist.


I've never seen any of Brakhage's films, and while I think paintings can have a narrative, I'm not sure they're quite the same type of narrative I'm talking about. Lynch, on the other hand, I feel puts story up front, which is why, as out-of-the-ordinary as many of his movies are, they remain compelling, even if the viewer is unsure of the meaning.

beltmann wrote:


I'd agree that some scholars wrongly ignore the virtues of storytelling as an art form. But I'm suspicious of any claim that lumps all scholars into one big boat.


Fair enough. I probably shouldn't have over-generalized. But I do tend to find many more examples of scholars dismissing pure storytelling as "pulp" or "escapism" or "hackwork" (as is the case with Stephen King) than defending it.

beltmann wrote:
the night watchman wrote:
A novel that is nothing but an intellectual exercise is a game, not a story.


Again, I'd argue that's a very limited view of the art form. I don't believe that all novels must rely on story to be worthwhile, entertaining, or significant. Some artists choose to focus on plot, and some choose to focus on other, equally valid approaches. We ought to be open to all of them, closed off to none. Why should the written word, as an art form, be tied off at the wrists?


Because, it seems to me, without a story an author is just showing off. I?m all for experimentation and breaking the rules, but the point of fiction, as is the point of all art, is to connect with another person. Elements like grammar, style, and structure, all make a work of fiction comprehensible to the reader. Regardless of how challenging a work is, and no matter how many liberties are taken with these elements and others, the author must at some point allow egress. As a writer, I know that the reader doesn?t owe me any favors. I don?t expect anyone to ?get? my stories if I haven?t opened up any points of access to them. Art is an endeavor to express oneself within a form or a medium. Since all forms and mediums are, by their nature, limited, some sort of constant must be applied. And story, it seems to me, is the backbone on which everything else rests.

But maybe I?m missing something. Without story, what else is there to hang a novel on? What are some examples of a ?storyless? novel?
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beltmann
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PostPosted: 03.16.2004 12:51 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

the night watchman wrote:
use, it seems to me, without a story an author is just showing off. I?m all for experimentation and breaking the rules, but the point of fiction, as is the point of all art, is to connect with another person.


But is story the only way to connect, for either a writer or a reader? I certainly agree that it is the most common method--and perhaps even the most useful--but I'm not willing to say it's the only possible backbone of an entire art form.

Eric
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Fred C. Dobbs
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PostPosted: 03.16.2004 1:23 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Film Theory and Analysis - Independent Study

Driver's Ed

U.S. History

American Literature
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The Ringbearer
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PostPosted: 03.26.2004 6:21 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Japanese as a language

Japanese History

Japanese Arts





. . . I'm Spanish. Very Happy
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beltmann
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PostPosted: 05.14.2004 10:18 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

the night watchman wrote:
beltmann wrote:
the night watchman wrote:
A novel that is nothing but an intellectual exercise is a game, not a story.




Again, I'd argue that's a very limited view of the art form. I don't believe that all novels must rely on story to be worthwhile, entertaining, or significant. Some artists choose to focus on plot, and some choose to focus on other, equally valid approaches. We ought to be open to all of them, closed off to none. Why should the written word, as an art form, be tied off at the wrists?




Because, it seems to me, without a story an author is just showing off. I?m all for experimentation and breaking the rules, but the point of fiction, as is the point of all art, is to connect with another person. Elements like grammar, style, and structure, all make a work of fiction comprehensible to the reader.


I think we're confusing fiction with literature. All fiction might be literature, but not all literature is fiction.



Eric
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beltmann
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PostPosted: 05.14.2004 10:38 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Tooky Cat wrote:
A good piece can be interpreted a variety of ways, depending on the reader. I'm so sick of teachers telling me what I'm supposed to get out of books!


Essentially I agree with you, Matt. One of the great things about literature--or any art form--is that we can connect with it in multiple and personal ways. Books can have many equally valid interpretations.



At school, though, the goal is sometimes quite different. Usually books are taught not to impose a specific "message" upon students, but to instead expose them to new literary techniques they may not be familiar with. In other words, the goal is to help them develop into more sophisticated readers.



For example, one can read The Red Badge of Courage and comprehend it in many ways. I use it in order to approach the subjects of figurative language, color symbolism, religious imagery, and, to a lesser degree, the concepts of "coming-of-age" and irony. Is it possible to enjoy and understand the novel without noticing any of that? Of course, and it's even possible to notice many other qualities, too.



Yet the truth is that virtually zero of my students ever notice such things, and I'd argue that if you don't notice what an artist is doing, then you haven't really read the book; you've only looked at the words. It's my job to help them to become more sophisticated readers, if they are willing to accept that challenge and grow. It's my job to introduce students to new ways of reading, and new ways of thinking about literature as an art form.



If those same students are convinced that Red Badge should be read a different way, that's okay by me. But at least they have now heard of color symbolism and religious imagery, and while they may not want to apply it to Crane, perhaps they will notice it in other works in the future--hopefully without having to think about it too much. A lot of what students call "overanalysis" is actually just skilled reading, and with enough practice it becomes perfectly natural.



It's kind of like reading subtitles. It might be hard work the first few times you try it, but then it becomes so simple and easy you forget you're even doing it.



Eric
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Erickson
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PostPosted: 05.21.2004 3:34 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Favorite Subject this year= Graphics
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stefanieduckwitz
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PostPosted: 05.21.2004 1:24 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Yeah, I took that freshman year. It rocked.
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the night watchman
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PostPosted: 05.23.2004 9:02 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

As a sidebar, I?ve always wondered what exactly was the difference between Literature and that which is not considered Literature. I?ve never found a clear definition, or an explanation of what is require of a work of fiction to be considered Literature, and admit I?ve always sort of suspected (maybe in a paranoid sort of way) that Literature is only what academics subjectively deem Literature, the only real requirement being that the work must be as far away as possible from the bestseller lists.



But I?m reading The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre, by Tzvetan Todorov, and in the first chapter he takes time to define what precisely he means by ?genre,? and what he means by designating something to be of a fictional ?genre.? Using biological evolution as an analogy, he says of individual organisms that ?the appearance of a new example does not necessarily modify the characteristic of the species [...].? He then continues as follows:



The same is not the case in the realm of art or of science. Here evolution operates with an altogether different rhythm: every work modifies the sum of possible works, each new example alters the species. We might say that in art we are dealing with a language of which every utterance is agrammatical at the moment of its performance. More exactly, we grant a text the right to figure in the history of literature or of science only insofar as it produces a change in our previous notion of the one activity or the other. Texts that do not fulfill this condition automatically pass into another category: that of so-called ?popular? or ?mass? literature in the one case; in the other, that of the academic exercise or unoriginal experiment. (Hence the unavoidable comparison of the artisanal product, the unique example, on the one hand, and of mass production, the mechanical stereotype, the other.) To return to our subject, only ?popular? literature (detective stories, serialized novels, science fiction, etc.) would approach fulfilling the requirements of genre in the sense the word has in natural science; for the notion of genre in that sense would be inapplicable to strictly literary texts.



The passage that struck me was ?we grant a text the right to figure in the history of literature ... only insofar as it produces a change in our previous notion [of literature].? Here Todorov finally provides a requirement that is reasonable, approachable, and -- most importantly -- egalitarian.



I have no further comments; I just thought I?d share my epiphany.
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beltmann
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PostPosted: 05.23.2004 2:46 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I largely agree with Todorov, primarily because, as you pointed out, it strives to be more inclusive than most definitions. Still, I'd go further. I've always defined literature as "any writing containing a personal imprint" of some kind. For me, virtually every example of something written--especially in prose or verse--qualifies as literature. The question isn't whether it is literature; the question is whether it is good or bad literature.



I recognize that my definition is perhaps too egalitarian, but I prefer that rather than one that limits the field according to essentially arbitrary standards. We could expect literature to be exceptionally creative or imaginative, but certainly those qualities exist even in journalism, technical writing, criticism, etc. (Anyone who has read Pauline Kael, or even Jonathan Alter, knows good literature exists in media writing; besides, how can we scientifically, unerringly quantify "creativity"?) We could expect literature to have enduring value, but that allows social factors an unreasonable sway--certainly the size of an audience often has more to do with money, influence, scholarly bias, and luck than with literary merit. (Would Dickinson's poems not qualify as literature if her sister had never opened that drawer?)



If literature is first and foremost an art form--and I think we agree that it is--then my definition must not exclude a single example that might offer what any artwork might, regardless of the size or subjectivity of the gift.



Eric
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the night watchman
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PostPosted: 05.23.2004 5:49 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

beltmann wrote:
how can we scientifically, unerringly quantify "creativity?"




It's not completely clear in the paragraph I reproduced, but Todorov is comparing the natural sciences to literature -- in that an element can change how the whole is understood -- not recommending that the natural sciences should be applied to literature. That's just crazy talk.
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beltmann
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PostPosted: 05.23.2004 6:14 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

the night watchman wrote:
Todorov is comparing the natural sciences to literature -- in that an element can change how the whole is understood.


Yeah, I grasped that and think it's a reasonable comparison; I've always felt that what makes some of the best literature so great is that it expands our notion of what literature can or should achieve. Still, there are abstract variables that exist in artistic circles that don't exist in the natural sciences--for example, for a book to "change how the whole of literature is understood," it must be widely read (or at least read), and I disagree that an audience or its response is relevant to whether a work qualifies as literature. A book can be ignored, misunderstood, later discovered, rediscovered, reinterpreted, or never even found in the first place, but the book never changes. It must be considered literature under any of those circumstances, primarily because it always possesses the potential of altering "how the whole is understood," even long after the initial writing/publication.



That Todorov book sounds fascinating. Is it widely available?



Eric
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matt header
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PostPosted: 05.24.2004 1:04 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I don't really have anything major to add to this argument, but I would like to think literature encompasses all forms of creative expression, even the less-sophisticated stuff. I would agree with Eric's theory that any writing with a personal impression counts as literature; indeed, I think the dichotomy between "mainstream" escapism novels and literature is often pointless, slogans used by haughty critics to deride popular writing when they're not sure how else to criticize it. Of course, this is not always true; sometimes popular writing really is pointless claptrap, and in that case, I think it's fairer to call it a paid commission than literature.
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beltmann
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PostPosted: 05.24.2004 1:38 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

matt header wrote:
Sometimes popular writing really is pointless claptrap, and in that case, I think it's fairer to call it a paid commission than literature.


For me, the relevant question is whether that same claptrap would read differently had another writer been commissioned. If so--and of course it would--then that work indeed has a unique, personal imprint. To me, that qualifies it as literature... really really poor literature, perhaps, but literature nevertheless.



Eric
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the night watchman
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PostPosted: 05.24.2004 1:59 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

beltmann wrote:




That Todorov book sounds fascinating. Is it widely available?







Yep. Got it from amazon.com. Here's the link.
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