Discussion in 'Fantasy / Horror' started by Davis Ashura, Aug 29, 2010.
Can there be such a thing as objectivity in art? I don't think so. Others disagree.
Roland, when I think of objectivity, I think of something outside of the purview of the witness. When you use objectivity in art, obviously that can't be what you have in mind. Art without someone to appreciate it is meaningless. So, what do you mean by objective? I know you wrote some of it in the Goodkind thread with examples and such, but do you have a more succinct definition?
To me its fairly simple could anyone look at Michael Angelo's David and a picture done by a dog - we've all seen them right - and honestly say I feel the picture is the better work of art. I would say not without lying, now maybe a dog would feel differently - which I suppose might render my argument void.
Ok, I'm reposting my last comments from the SoT topic, with bold for the objectivity part. I am guessing it's as good a start for this discussion as any.
Ok, once more with feeling
What people in general care or don't care about is completely irrelevant to my point. Whether they'll care or not, the effect does not change, and neither does the method of its inception. As for B, a work of fiction does stray from the author's intentions sometimes, but that is usually less than the "genius creator of art" cliche would like us to think. Also, writers - especially writers of books that people debate - usually tend to express their intentions, be it in essays, articles, interviews, you name it. Besides, there is a level of professionalism and craftsmanship that - when reached - just doesn't leave too much to chance.
Uhm, I severely doubt Joyce started writing with the intention to write a "good" book. He wanted to express something, to do something with the medium of literature, and I don't think it mattered too much to him what people would think of it. Again, you talk to me of the way a work is received, as if popularity (even among critics) is a measure of quality. Obviously a writer can't know how "good" his book would be. So? What does that prove? How is this an argument against objectivity in art? A writer cannot intentionally write a "good" story, but that is mainly because "good" is just as general and meaningless as "best" (I'll talk about that later). He could, however, intentionally write with precise language (that does not mean "simple" btw), he could intentionally go into detail in his character building. He could intentionally decide to put sensory perceptions and innuendos, instead of writing "IT WAS SO VERY SAD!!!" when trying to express emotions. There are a thousand different ways in which a writer can intentionally do something, which in the end would make his work better than others. Objectively.
Not true. Because it does matter who is doing the judging. The average Joe Reader is the kind of guy we've witnessed in this topic - The "WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE, SAYING THAT SOMETHING IS BETTER THAN OTHER! WHY SHOULD YOUR OPINION BE MORE VALID THAN MINE, IT IS ALL SUBJECTIVE, AND I WANT MY RIGHT OF FREE SPEECH!!!" knee-jerker person who - in most cases - has never read a single line about the process of writing fiction, has no particular interest in said process, and thus usually can't recognize the elements of what he reads. If you don't know why you like or dislike something, you are obviously not qualified to judge anything literature-related, outside of just stating your preferences.
However, if you DO know why you like or dislike something, you can also weigh it against other elements of the work in question, as well as its goals, the writer's historical background in terms of place and literature field (if he is from another age), etc. etc. In the end, you have a clear picture of the work which has almost nothing to do with your likes or dislikes. I've said this often - "good" and "bad" should not equal "like" and "don't like". I've disliked objectively good books, and I've loved some pretty crappy ones.
I can give you a solid argument which doesn't prove the existence of objectivity in art, but it does weigh in its favor. It is from my own field - professional music. No matter how many different schools in how many different ages you see, and if you take into consideration the general evolution of technique, the instruments and sensibility, it is astonishing how close opinions are on so many matters of style, phrasing and technique. No matter the personal quirks of the great musicians, there is a sh*tload of stuff they ALL agree on. And this area of "they all agree on" is what I call objectivity. It is not the same as scientific objectivity, nor could it be. But for the purpose of art, it is no less valid and stable. It's just harder to see, prove and accept, if you lack the apparatus.
There is a rule, written in the laws of physics, that does say, in point of fact, that out of tune tone-producing IS irritating. It is particularly irritating for people with perfect pitch, but even for those with relative pitch, it is jarring. Many of the rules in music theory and acoustics just *are*, but they are axiomatic. Of course, being out of tune doesn't absolutely exclude being "good", as it could be intentional. Or it could be very slight, and the music could have other redeeming qualities that outweigh it. Makes it no less worse than being IN tune, unless it's some very special kind of music that actually requires you to be out of tune (and yes, there are such cases, especially in late XX and XXI century music). I mean, it might be irritating, but this irritation could be intentional and it could serve a purpose. Although with singing it is WICKED hard to sing out of tune if you hear yourself being out of tune...
Btw, the voice being what it is, the occasional lapse in intonation is not necessarily "singing out of tune". It has to be consistent to merit such a description, and to become really annoying. And neither Cobain, nor Dylan are in that group. But singing, like any music, is WAY beyond just basic intonation, and it is not being in or out of tune that wins audiences.
That's a completely different issue, and it has a lot more to do with traditionalism and closed-mindedness on one side, and conformity and fashion on the other. Of course, quality does play a part, but it's a general rule that - where art and especially music (being the most abstract of the arts, and thus the most emotionally-tied) is concerned - true innovations, unless they are really pleasing (in which case they would hardly be true innovations as innovation requires a noticeable change, but I guess it has happened) are accepted long after their actual creation. It just takes time (and a few open-minded people promoting, building over and imitating it) for any new concept to take root. If it has what it takes to do that, of course. But anyway, this is hardly a matter of objectivity/subjectivity, as there are way too many elements outside the art itself, that play a part in situations such as these.
There is no "best" because there is not ONE "objective quality". You keep talking about objectivity in terms of science. Go back and see the way I've described it in this post here. It is not a single point of judgment, but a web of interconnected points of reference - a lot of them - that vary depending on many different factors. It IS there, but it is not nearly as easy to grasp as 2+2=4.
Even if we only stick to one single genre, it is still completely impossible to find anything "best" there. Ok, so Steven Erikson's magic systems are a lot more flashy than Sanderson's. But Sanderson's are way better structured and a lot more stable in terms of internal logic. So which one is better? Those are both objective facts, but in terms of "better" it only matters what YOU personally like as a reader in your magic - logic or flashiness. But then we find Scott Bakker's magic system. It is not as well structured as Sanderson's, but it is a LOT better structured than Erikson's, and arguably just as flahsy, if not more (even though it happens on rare occasions). What's more - it is a lot more poetically described, with not nearly so much pathos, instead opting for symbolic connotation ("unspeakable" words, "blasphemous" songs, etc.). That makes it more elegant and flowing, which amplifies the emotional effect it has - the flashiness. It is to Erikson's magic what a professional ice skater is to two kids playing at being ballerinas. So, if taken in isolation, it is "objectively" better. Of course, that means nothing in terms of likes or dislikes. For many people the pathos and LARGE APOCALYPSES OF MANY VARIETIES of Erikson would be much more appealing (as they are sometimes to me as well). That is why I say that popularity and/or personal feelings should not be the bigger part (as it is inevitable for them to be a part) of judging a work of art.
I don't want to repeat an entire essay.
An essay of some length examining whether such things as "great novels" exist independent of individual subjective evaluation--which is essentially the same thing as this thread examines--can be found here. It originated (as it details internally) as a friendly opposing response to a min-essay on the literary blog The Grumpy Old Bookman, which acknowledged and commented on it. (Those interested should probably first read the original GOB post, which is linked atop the essay.)
First off, I'm not aware there has ever been a universally held definition of Objectivity even when it's applied to scientific pursuits, much less as it applies to Art. So we need to probably get away from Objectivity in its pure form, as a philosophical debate, and be a little more reasonable about what it means to judge a work of art and have that judgement be conclusive or mostly true.
I am not entirely sure, but I think this was in support of what I say, right?
Not entirely... unless you're saying that there must at least be some mean level by which to judge art, that neither emotions, past experiences, or outside influences plays much of a roll... which is what I think you're saying.
Very difficult premise and argument... because IMO people from both camps, those who believe great art is objective and those who believe their is no objectivity in art, can give very persuasive points.
When I think of this I think of the Great Pyramids of Giza. No one person is going to downplay the remarkable physical achievement that is their structure and construction but if your pov is that of the slaves who died building them... just how "remarkable" are they?
I know thats not the same thing as pertains to this argument but I think my point is we as Human beings aren't objective in things that have no scientific basis. And without some sort of artificial indoctrination... I'm not sure we can.
The art is cool though if there is an author or what have you around to better help explain and build understanding but if that author isnt around and they are nowhere on record of having spoke on it.... well....
out of all the mediums... Poetry is the one that really makes this argument tough though. Its very function is almost totally built upon internal interpretations... and many say poetry is the most artistic.
Uhm, the pyramids are even more remarkable when you consider the lives lost into building them. Their greatness cares nothing for morality. But this is just semantics anyway. As for poetry - I am not too knowledgeable there, but I would think that it is actually easier to recognize bad poetry from good one, as it is a lot more limited than free prose (this is not condescension, it's what makes poetry work). Same as with older music - it's easier to analyze as it follows a lot stricter rules.
Sparrow, I'm not sure I got your last post. I do think that emotions, past experiences and outside influences (especially the last, as my favorite part of objectivity is recognizing authorities in the field) do play a part in judging a work of art. That said, it is the ability to recognize them in your opinion. That is, knowing the darkness that comes before the way you see a specific work of art, and being able to disregard it if it doesn't resonate with what "objective" elements you see (which are - again - partially subjective and vulnerable to the same darkness. It's all very relative and confusing in a charming way )
Did Jules Feiffer live in vain?
A discussion of this sort gets nowhere till there is some general agreement about what the words being used actually mean. Since the thread question is about "objectivity", the first step is to make sure everyone here agrees on what "objectivity" means with respect to art. And it wouldn't hurt to define "art" acceptably.
As a beginning, it is obvious that "art" has no meaning save what humans choose to give the term. Ideas like "mass" or "thought" or "infinity" or "vacuum" are not easy to define in words, however well we may feel our intuition grasps them; but in all cases, they refer to concepts that are independent of human judgement. Mass is mass, no matter how we choose to think about it; art is not art except in how we think about it. Is Andy Warhol's depiction of Campbell's soup cans "art"? There is no answer to that save as some group of humans who have more or less agreed on a definition for a human endeavor may answer. Note that "human endeavor" part: a glorious sunset is not, in any definition likely to gain even a modest subscription, "art", however much a depiction or description of it may be.
Once we accept that "art" is entirely a creation of human conception, even without getting to defining just what it is, the matter of "objectivity" passes from its meaning of being related to objects--that is, things and conditions in the world--to some function of the human mind.
I suggest as a starting point that "objectivity" with relation to "art" must signify qualities that a work of art in a given field can possess that will be recognized by a clear and convincing majority of informed critics of that art as hallmarks of excellence. Or, put more simply, "objectivity" with respect to "art" means separating evaluation of greatness (or meanness) from individual enjoyment. One making an objective evaluation of a given work of art must be able to say things such as "Though I don't myself like/enjoy it, it is clearly a great work" or "Though I like/enjoy it quite a bit, it is actually a rather poor work."
Discuss. (An imperative that is jaw-droppingly arrogant.)
At 1:43 AM this seems a rather reasonable definition to me.
I don't think we need to define "art" though, for the purposes of this topic. I think we can all agree that we use the most large definition of the term as it applies to literature, as we are talking about the structure of the writing process itself. So, for this particular discussion, I'd say that Terry Goodkind is as much "art" as John Updike.
Edit: Funny thing though. I just realized that if we accept your definition, then the topic is pointless, as what you describe clearly does exist. So if we accept it to be "objectivity", then objectivity in art is a fact, and not something debatable...
If I say that Line Segment A is shorter than Line Segment B, and you say "No it isn't," we can pull out a ruler and see who's right.
If I say "David Eddings is a better author than Terry Brooks," and you say "No he isn't," how shall we establish who is correct and who is incorrect?
I'm interested to hear your answer to this question.
OK...now it sounds like you agree with me...???
A) So "good" and "best" are meaningless terms, but "better" is meaningful? Strange argument.
B) You are right that precision of language can be objectively measured (let's work with this one example; the others are just as useful). So, does more precise language make a book "better" than one with less precise language?
And if your answer to (B) is "It depends on the situation," then I refer you to my question at the beginning of this post (the Eddings/Brooks one).
But who will judge the judges? Who decides who is a more qualified judge of quality?
Well, I'd say this is true by definition...
Yes, but how is that "clear picture" useful in any way, to any human being?
What does "validity" mean here?
As for stability, what if aliens showed up and thought Terry Goodkind was Teh Shizznit?
Try biology, hoss. Physics doesn't say much about irritation.
See, your descriptions of "objective quality" keep coming back to things like irritation, which is a purely subjective emotional reaction. I dislike Goodkind, in fact, because he irritates me.
The answer to this question is called the "norm" of the "vector space" of quality.
...and here we have you making my argument for me again...
Not so, because whether objectivity as so defined can or does exist remains open to argument. Personally, as the essay linked upthread demonstrates, I do indeed believe that it "clearly does exist", but Heaven knows that over the years I've run into an awful lot of people who violently disagree (mostly on sf&f-related boards). The Dunning-Kruger effect may come into play here.
I think it all comes down to how the individual processes input and if when asked to, can they become objective for a short time... and this requires that a person have a certain level of knowledge both concerning the subject matter at hand, and a more global "worldly" knowledge at large.
I remember when our daughter was very young and we took her to her first circus performance... Cirque du Soleil, no less. She was sort of overwhelmed by the experience and as it turned out wasn't as thrilled as we might have expected. But when the American style circus rolled into town she loved it!.. there is no accounting for taste. When the tiny car raced out to center ring and clown after clown after clown gets out, she was mesmerized.
I remember one Saturday morning while I was washing my car I let our not quite three year old rinse off the soapy water. I went around the corner and kinked the hose off and on... and then off. She soon went around the corner to let me know the water had stopped, and whilst caught red-handed with kinked house in hand, I unkinked it and she was instantly soaking wet.
She had just gained some great practical knowledge of cause and effect. And soon she had mommy outside rinsing the car off so she could pull the same joke on her. Later that night when we were all sat down watching tv I wondered where our daughter had gotten to... she was in the dining room playing with the table lamp electrical cord, kinking and unkinking it!
Putting it lightly, I was horrified.
She had taken her experiences from earlier in the day and objectively applied them to something else in a totally inappropriate (and dangerous) manner. I think this is something that we all do without really understanding to what extent we do it.
But yes, I think we can be reasonably objective for very short periods of time, and only with considerable effort.
I don't think you can judge art objectively in a macro sense, art more than anything is about perspective and with perspective comes each individual. You can, for yourself, judge something objectively, but the conclusions you draw will only really hold valid for yourself and those of like-mind. It doesn't set any universal truths, which truthfully is what objectivity is more or less about.
With that said, there are certain elements you can judge objectively to some extent, but judging the whole of what makes a book and by extension compare it to other books in a universal panel just can't be done. That there are disagreements, even among experts in the field, of X book being better than Y book, that W author is better than Z author, should automatically tell us that art is not something to be judged fully objectively. Just a portion of it, but when the whole is concerned, when intentions come into play, when intended audience comes into play, it's simply delusional to think that art can be honestly objectively judged other than for an individual or selective group of like-minded people. But even then, it doesn't set any universal truths, and without that, can one say it's really objective?
No. End of thread?
I'd say that "objectivity" in art is something like "shared informed subjectivity". Because yes, you are right that even among experts there are arguments about specific books, but generally ALL experts agree on certain aspects of writing.
That is why I was trying to talk about elements, and not "books" in general, and I think this is where nquixote doesn't get my point.
You miss my point. Like I said repeatedly, you can't judge with such generalizations when it comes to art. It is NOT science, and it is NOT one single solid object to be "better" or "worse" than another object in its entirity. So, if you told me that Eddings is better than Brooks, I'd ask you "in what regard, for which audience, and can you support your opinion with examples?" And then we would have a base to start arguing on.
As a side note - I hate it that the board doesn't do quotes inside quotes. So anyway, talking about "better" being meaningless - no, I do not agree with you. I just say - as implied by the answer to the previous quote - that to be able to objectively compare two works, we need to go into smaller detail than the whole work. A book can, of course, be better than another, but for the purposes of a real argument, you can't prove that if you don't go into the elements of both it, and the one you compare it to.
"Good" and "best" are lazy generalizations, and so would be "better" if it were applied to a book in general. It must always be "better how". You focused on the word and disregarded the rest of what you quoted.
If all other elements are equal, then yes, it would undoubtedly be better. That is, unless the lack of precision is somehow intentional AND the idea it serves has any real merit and produces an interesting enough effect. But if we compare two works with similar themes, that share more or less equal elements, and if one of them is clearer in its use of language, then how could it not be better? And, to go into the previous quote, would that mean it is "good"? No. But it would mean that its use of language is, at least where precision is concerned.
Not entirely sure if that is what my answer is. It only depends on whether the two books have enough in common to be compared at all. If they do, then it does not depend on the situation.
Who decides who is a more qualified politician? Who decides who is a more qualified psychologist? Nobody in particular, and everybody in general. Obviously professionals have a more clear understanding of the principles of writing, so someone who has studied writing - be it in academic environment, or as a hobby - would be more qualified than someone who hasn't. Of course, there can be any number of exceptions to this rule, but in general, people who are interested in the process (and knowing something about it, of course, not just vaguely interested) should be considered better judges than those who aren't. Like with everything else ever, yunno
Uh, wut? How is any clear picture useful in any way, to any human being? Why do we seek to know and understand at all? What kind of question was that, dude?
"Valid" here means "to be considered objective". As for the aliens, I'd ask them to support their argument. When I'm done gaping that is
Yeah, it was a bit of a stretch But it is physics, sort of. It is accoustics, combined with music theory. Music theory loves words like "pleasant" and "irritation" put into scientific-sounding context. That's why I said it's all axiomatic with us
If this subjective reaction ocurs in nine out of ten people, than it becomes an objective fact (objective in the context established by me and Sparrow in this topic, not the scientific one). And you do not dislike Goodkind, because he irritates you. You dislike Goodkind's writing because certain elements of it irritate you, while others are not satisfying enough, etc. etc. And you dislike the person because you disagree with him, because he is pretentious and obnoxious, and not a little demented. Be precise in what you say And don't forget the definition I gave at the beginning of this post - really, "objectivity" in art is just a glorified shared subjectivity
I am really not. Once again, you are not getting specific enough. I gave you an example of two elements that have different purposes and so one can't be "better" than the other. But then I went and gave you a third example - one that has the same goal as one of the first two. Those you can compare.
Well, that certainly exists.
Of course, it goes right out the window when a new group of informed people shows up and tells the old group that the stuff they thought was crappity crap was actually dripping with "objective" quality. Informed people of Bach's day would not have loved Bob Dylan.
OK, well, you're scaling down your argument quite a bit here, but we can talk about that too.
Well, I think you kinda changed your point midstream, but in any case, I agree with this paragraph.
Hmm, this statement seems to directly contradict a statement in the previous paragraph, which I have helpfully highlighted in bold.
So you DO have the notion that Book A can be "better" than Book B in an "objective" sense; simply sum up the qualities of the individual elements in some way, and voila!
Last time I checked, it was the general public...
So, your definition of "objective", when it comes to art, writing, etc., is "a general consensus among people with an interest in the field." To judge the quality of a Terry Goodkind book, simply take the opinions of everyone who has an opinion, weight those opinions by the keenness of each person's interest in fantasy in general (so that people who are very interested in fantasy get more weight), and sum them up somehow, and that's the Goodkind book's "objective" quality...am I getting this right?
Well, knowledge of a wall's existence is useful so that I do not stub my toe on it. It is difficult to see how your notion of "objective" quality is similarly useful, since it won't tell me whether I'm likely to enjoy a book or not (since you explicitly reject mass popularity as a measure of "objective" quality).
And to be "objective" requires something "to be valid and stable," IIRC.
Yay for circular definitions!!
What about eight out of ten?
If yes: What about seventeen out of twenty?
If no: What about seven out of ten?
What is the exact number of people out of ten who are required to define an objective fact?
And what about this notion that informed/interested people should count for more? Wizard's First Rule has a 4.09/5 on Goodreads and a 4/5 on Amazon; does this mean it is high in objective quality?
All of this is true. To be a little more precise, Goodkind is two pounds of puke in a one-pound bag.
OK, if you want to give the word "objectivity" a totally new definition when it comes to art, I suppose I will grumblingly allow this, and no longer smite you with my fearsome Logic Bolts.
But the question of "shared among whom?" is still a question...I find myself feeling strongly that the general public gets a great many things "wrong" (e.g. they like Goodkind), and that the mass of informed educated interested critics also tends to get many things "wrong" (e.g. they like Fahrenheit 451)...thus, either I've made some sort of mistake, or else quality is just something I make up. But I just can't find the mistake.
As a coda, last night my friends and I got together and read passages from Finnegan's Wake out loud to each other. What an amazingly awesome book! I'll leave it up in the air whether "Oh backed von dem zug! Make weg for their tug!" is an example of objectively skillful writing or pure alcohol-induced nonsense...
Sorry to be blunt, but this is the second time you take sentences out of centext from my post and comment on them disregarding everything around them. In half the cases I have given the answers to your questions in my next sentence. I mean, I don't wanna have a quote-sparring with you. If you are going to argue with me, please take complete paragraphs, and not only out-of-context sentences that are easy to contradict. I have already talked about almost everything you are asking me in your last post.
I talked about this already. Yes, that happens. But we don't live in a time-line, we live in the now. And if that is something you need to hear - yes, it means that "objectivity" in art is something that changes through the ages. Not all of it, but parts.
There is NOTHING "simple" about this. Yes, a book can be better than another book, but they have to be pretty similar in most of their aspects to be comparable. And even then, the differences in quality have to be big enough to be undeniable. I mean, is Mistborn better than Empire in Black and Gold? Why? How?
Of course, we can go into a completely different argument - about "objectively" better ideas, themes, even genres - but I am not sure it is going to lead to anything meaningful, and people are calling me snobish and elitist as it is...
Oh really? Cause last time I checked, it was only those people who actually vote. And that is not even true, as we don't choose most of the actual persons. Their own parties choose them. It all depends on the system in your particular country of course, but in the end, a big part of the "choosing" comes from within the group of politicians. We, the "general public", decide whether any particular group is worth our trust, but we don't get to say whom a party promotes for a some post. And in the end, someone with interest in politics and engaged with current events is a better judge of who is a good politician, and who isn't.
No, you are not. You are close, but you misquote, and use inexact words, thus bastardizing my point Try again.
True enough, but there are two levels in this:
1. First level - you will read my opinion on my blog for example (notice the elegant and subtle way I inserted a shameless plug here), and you will try a book I recommend. You will either like it, or not. If you liked it, you will see if you liked it for the same reasons that I did, and if that is the case, you will trust me more next time I recommend something. If you did not like it, you will see whether you still enjoyed the things that I enjoyed, or whether you think I'm completely off-track. If it's the former, you might decide to try another recommendation of mine, or you might decide not to. If it's the latter, I am probably never going to be an authority to you.
2. Second level - when you've read a lot, when you've formed a solid system of opinions, and most importantly - when you've reached a certain understanding of the writing process itself (you keep talking about general appreciation of literature, while I continuously try to direct the topic toward the process of writing) - you will (and this is a fact, not a hypothesis) realize that your views - while maybe clashing with some authorities - bear a striking resemblance to many, many others. All of which will be considered fair judges of literature, both by their readers and their peers. Then you realize you are on to something, that you probably have deeper understanding of the field than most people. And by the time you reach this realization, you will long ago have been able to appreciate a lot more and subtler nuances in your books.
Yes, art is sucky this way - there is not one objectivity, and it is debatable whether the word itself is appropriate at all - but there is something greater than individual tastes. There is higher truth, even if it is multifaceted and self-contradicting at times. But we can't very well start calling it "better subjectivity", right? I mean, we'd get into Orwell territory, and knee-jerkers would start knee-jerking even more violently than they already do.
Yay for trolling -_- I have given you more than enough material so far for you to accuse me of circular logic...
Yeah, what about them? Oh wait, I forgot - we are dealing with hard science and statistics here. Somehow... Forgive the rudeness, but anybody with any decent pitch would be irritated by out of tune music. And if people lack that rudimentary physical quality, I wouldn't count them at all where music is concerned. Which is the example we started from, if you recall...
No. Your homework now is to tell my why, according to what I've written so far in this topic.
Yeah, cause we have such a clear definition of "objective" right now Do you know, for example, that the "objective" fact "the sun shines on the Earth 24 hours a day" is subjectively false for me about 11 hours of each 24-hour period? Please don't answer that
It's sort of exclusive sect thing, actually. The more knowledgeable you become, the more other knowledgeable people you find out about. Also, opinions change. Do you know the reasons why critics think Fahrenheit 451 is a great book? Have you ever read any intelligently written defense of it?
Cause I had this very interesting experience in my early teens. I'd grown up reading Terry Pratchett's earliest Discworld novels. And then, gradually, he stopped being as "funny" as before, and I stopped liking him. I lacked perspective. Then I read this article about him, explaining the ways he used his writing as a mirror to our own world, how his books were satirical in nature, etc. etc. It wasn't something particularly deep, but it gave me new perspective. Then I reread his later novels, and I was astonished how I could've missed all this before.
Same thing happened recently with Hal Duncan. I tried reading Vellum, and just stopped halfway through. The book made no kind of sense to me, and it was annoying the hell out of me. Then the Bulgarian fanzine I write for took an interview from him. And you know how much the guy likes to talk, so it was HUGE. And he explained a lot of his ideas there, a lot of his concepts for the structure of The Book of All Hours. I said to myself "o rly?", and tried Vellum again. This time it made perfect sense, and it was a glorious experience.
If it has happened to me, it can happen to anyone. It's how we grow as readers. Not everything is readily available for our effortless understanding.
Edit: That is not to say that Fahrenheit 451 is a great book. Critics are people too, they can follow the hype without thinking, they can be conformist, or they can be just plain irrational about it. It's this whole "subjective" thing yesee
Separate names with a comma.