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  1. #61
    Fulgurous Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gary Wassner View Post
    I don't recall at that point saying whether I agreed or disagreed with the article.
    Yes, but when HE and I objected to the part of the article saying that realistic fiction was unable any longer to offer valuable and philosophical fiction, you disagreed with us and seemed to be arguing in favor of the views of the article. So now I'm confused.

    KatG, I don't truly believe you when you say you feel that all literary criticism is purely subjective and not based upon any tangible or objectifiable criteria.
    Okay, why would you not believe me when I say this? We've been discussing things for four years in these forums. And in that time, I have consistently and repeatedly said that I believe all art and the experience of art to be totally subjective, and that it is impossible to have any sort of objective criteria of it, and further, I have repeatedly supplied proof for why I hold this belief. In fact, we have further proof in this thread -- numerous critics and literary pundits and literature professors, etc., agree with me that The Kite Runner is a very good novel. It's won awards. You, though, feel it is a mediocre novel undeserving of its hype. Are you planning to change your opinion on the grounds that your belief in objectivity requires you to do so? I don't think so, kiddo. Nor should you.

    As for Oprah, I didn't bring her up. You and Foo did. You didn't like that she picked The Road, at least at first. I quoted you and responded to it.

    In what other genre can an author break out into verse and wax poetic about destiny or fate or suffering? In what other genre can we create characters who are not real, not meant to be real, but are symbolic and metaphoric and allegorical all at the same time?
    Um, all of them.

    In what other genre can we use magic and powers that are not real and not meant to be real to discuss cosmological and metaphysical issues? In what other genre can beasts and fantastical beings speak to the earth's problems?
    These, I grant you, are unique to fantasy and I agree with you in general principle. Those who don't see much worth in that consider fantasy's use of magical beasties and such to discuss issues of humanity and meaning to be a bizarre idea, kind of like we're religious zealots.

    I write SFF because I feel I'm unconstrained when I do.
    Okay, got ya. A lot of SFF authors feel this way. For me, the experience is a little different. Working editorially with different types of authors and writing both fantasy and contemporary fiction, there's not as much difference for me between unrealistic and realistic fiction. It's not that I don't see SFF as special -- I wouldn't be trying to write it if I didn't -- but that I don't see it as fundamentally different from the realistic side of the coin.

    The thing to remember, though, is that the article appeared in Wired. That's a bit like praising Asimov in Omni. Preaching to the converted. In Wired, an article about the merits of mainstream fiction would be more interesting.
    Oh that's true. Oh well. Still, if we get a large enough mass pressing on the writing world, it will help, right?

  2. #62
    >:|Angry Beaver|:< Fung Koo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gary Wassner View Post
    In what other genre can an author break out into verse and wax poetic about destiny or fate or suffering? In what other genre can we create characters who are not real, not meant to be real, but are symbolic and metaphoric and allegorical all at the same time? In what other genre can we use magic and powers that are not real and not meant to be real to discuss cosmological and metaphysical issues? In what other genre can beasts and fantastical beings speak to the earth's problems?
    "G." or "Pig Earth" by John Berger. Both fantastic books. Check 'em out.

    ****

    Kat, I'm with Gary on this -- there are clearly objective differences between good and bad writing, good and bad story-telling, etc. It can't be entirely subjective. Otherwise we wouldn't have objective rule sets -- such as Grammar.

    The quality of prose is a little trickier, certainly. Artistic flair and other arty nuances are definitely elements of subjective appreciation. But, don't you find it often to be the case that if you have the proper pre-requisite knowledge/education, you can appreciate something more? Like how knowing what influenced Monet allows you to better understand impressionism. That's an objective process.

    But the extent to which we agree that so-and-so was great, whereas so-and-so was prone to whatever faults is a system of surprisingly widespread concordance. If large groups of people agree that "this guy is particularly talented," to what extent are we using objectively verifiable assessments versus the subjective?

    This is particularly interesting when applied to multi-lingual works. Someone like Haruki Murakami, for example, is widely regarded as good independently of the cultural background of the reader. Granted, I might appreciate some of the elements in his stories more if I were Japanese. But there are qualities to his works which seem to transcend cultural barriers. To me, that means there are objective qualities -- whether that be having a particular kind of background reading experience, or the text carries stand-alone qualities that are generally found in "good" books.

    Taste is another matter entirely. But I think there has to be some level of objectivity when it comes to quality. How is it that you don't think there is?

  3. #63
    Just Another Philistine Hereford Eye's Avatar
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    Please identify one or more objective characteristics of quality. To assist the process I will offer:
    (1) The best seller list as this identifies a book that lots of people have read and told lots of other people to read and so on indicating some quality of some kind.
    (2) All the major newspaper critics agree that a book is quality as this identifies an educated segment of the population that agrees that a book has some quality.
    (3) A book that remains in publication over time indicating people are still interested enough to continue the purchase of same. For example, I recently bought my third copy of Anton Myryer's "Once An Eagle" - I had mis-placed the previous two or lost them in moves or some relative never returned them..
    Any or all of these could objectively indicate some kind of quality in a book. However, if you noticed, the critics and KatG liked Vellum and I didn't think it was all that great. The book may have some kind of quality and I didn't see it and - despite the objectiveness of the measures cited - I doubt that I'll ever recommend it as a quality read.
    Last edited by Hereford Eye; February 4th, 2008 at 11:12 AM.

  4. #64
    GemQuest Moderator Gary Wassner's Avatar
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    Well that's where taste comes in HE. Honestly though I really do think that what you are saying KatG is crap! Sorry, do you not understand what I mean by 'crap'? Do I need to explain it further since it's a subjective opinion and you don't understand how my evaluation might relate to anything different than saying it's blue instead of red?

    A poorly written book is a poorly written book, no? How in the world could you ever be an editor if you didn't have qualitative standards to judge what you're editing by?

    My agreement with the article is not 100&#37; BTW, but I'm sympathetic to the viewpoint.

    The Kite Runner is a very popular book that is very appealing for many reasons. I didn't dislike it. Is it great literature in my opinion? NO. Categorically NO. It was entertaining and sentimental and sweet and almost sad, and easily turned into a screenplay. (ahem) Will anyone know what it is 20 years from now? I don't think so. I don't think there's anything enduring about it, anything in it that can't be duplicated in another setting, time period etc. just as effectively and marketably. You think it's brilliant? You think it's classic? You would put it up there with Proust and Kafka and Mann and Dostoyevsky and Lawrence and Salinger and Woolf and Hemingway? Or aren't you able to make those distinctions because all literature is basically the same qualitatively?

    It's all just a matter of taste? Nothing to do with intelligence or inspiration or genius. Nothing to do with art or craft?

    If I'm an elitist, you're a philistine!

  5. #65
    >:|Angry Beaver|:< Fung Koo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Hereford Eye View Post
    Please identify one or more objective characteristics of quality.
    Those three are all populist definitions, which conflate audience and text. While I agree that the populist position has value, it only tells part of the story. It doesn't account for "the sleeper hit," or art that isn't immediately appreciated in its own time.

    For the objective quality of the text, I offer Internal Consistency, Consistency/Appropriate Use of Style, Use/Rejection of Convention...

    the critics and KatG liked Vellum and I didn't think it was all that great. The book may have some kind of quality and I didn't see it and - despite the objectiveness of the measures cited - I doubt that I'll ever recommend it as a quality read.
    So really there's always two things to consider: The Audience, and The Text.

    The Audience can be objectively quantified just like the text. Your reader/viewer/etc may not "get" something if they don't approach it with the appropriate background. We sometimes fault the text for failing to fully convey its messages by relying on extra-textual information, but more often than not if we audience members have the required knowledge, we enjoy the work in a greater variety of ways.

    Think of it like playing a game. Without the rules, your approach to the material of the game is phenomenological. You try to deduce what is going on from what information is already available to you, and maybe if you're lucky hit the nail on the head. e.g. Without knowing the rules, try to have a game out of Monopoly. Can you?

    It goes to the specificity of intentionality. Reading is like playing Monopoly. There's a lot to learn before approaching the interactive experience. And, like games, different books have different rules.

    The foreknowledge of the reader is something that should be taken into consideration by the author. A good book balances problems of readership with intentions to deliver its point. But that is where the quality of the text serves to agree with the quality of the reader, which is why reading is an interactive, relational experience. There is text, there is the delivery of the text, and there is the recipient of the text, all three of which can be judged with objective measures.

  6. #66
    Master Obfuscator Dawnstorm's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by KatG View Post
    Oh that's true. Oh well. Still, if we get a large enough mass pressing on the writing world, it will help, right?
    Well, if there's a cause, then the article is encouraging in that it shows we've snared another one. But that sounds insidious, somehow, as if we'd fallen from the sky, like the Blob, and grow in the same way.

    As it is, when I was at university almost everyone was interested in SF. I never had problems choosing my topics accordingly. (Except when I did my paper on "Elizabethan and Metaphysical poetry", where I decided against showing how the metaphysical conceit could be considered a prescursor of SF.)

    The problem with SF in the 80ies and SF now is that science itself sounds like SF, these days, so the borders blur, so it's actually fantasy that's more media visible currently, because the trope stand out more - without thinking to much: "wait a minute, is this possible?"

    ***

    So what do you guys think of Bloom's canon?

    I hold a middle ground: there is objectivity in quality to the extent that you can describe the attitude that gives quality to the text. That's why communication is possible, and that's why I can see why Gary likes Thomas Mann, even though he didn't do anything but bore me to death. (I should try him again; tastes change.) And which is why I can defend Rowling as a writer, but not Dan Brown. At the end of the day, even if you do understand what I'm saying you still don't have to agree and that is that.

    Which is why editor and writer have to be compatible; this is something I'm not saying about surgeon and patient, and that is objective, too.

  7. #67
    Just Another Philistine Hereford Eye's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Fung Koo
    Those three are all populist definitions, which conflate audience and text. While I agree that the populist position has value, it only tells part of the story. It doesn't account for "the sleeper hit," or art that isn't immediately appreciated in its own time.
    Quote Originally Posted by Fung Koo
    If large groups of people agree that "this guy is particularly talented," to what extent are we using objectively verifiable assessments versus the subjective.
    Consistancy as a measure of quality?
    The foreknowledge of the reader is something that should be taken into consideration by the author. A good book balances problems of readership with intentions to deliver its point..
    So, the reason I did not appreciate Vellum is that the material is over my head? Well, I an't the brightest light in the world but I ain't the dimmest either. The fact that I thought he was guilty of not delivering on his initial premise/promise and he wasted a whole lot verbiage to not accomplish much in the second half of the book means that I am just insufficiently educated. Well, that explains that.
    Quote Originally Posted by GW
    Will anyone know what it is 20 years from now?
    You got any current sff titles that you think will be remembered 20 years from now?
    Last edited by Hereford Eye; February 4th, 2008 at 02:42 PM.

  8. #68
    GemQuest Moderator Gary Wassner's Avatar
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    Dawn, even Death in Venice bored you?

    I can understand how Magic Mountain can be hard to get into. It certainly takes time to appreciate the pace of the story, the detail, the nuances and the undertones. And none of us are of that era as well. But once you accept the level of detail and expect it to continue, the story itself and the way it unfolds in such a leisurely, almost timeless manner, is mystifying. At the same time it's frustrating in it's pace, and I believe that Mann intended that to be the case. For me, it's masterful.

    Talk about putting someone to sleep, what about Proust? Yet I can still read it and appreciate the genius of it. Is the Wasteland something that grabs you and doesn't let you go?

    I guess all this depends upon what part of ourselves we most want grabbed.

  9. #69
    GemQuest Moderator Gary Wassner's Avatar
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    HE, believe it or not, I do think that Scott's books may very well be read well beyond many of my contemporaries, my own books included. They are very special in many ways, and I'm not sure that everyone who loves them, even appreciates the depth of thought that went into them. That's fine, there are many levels upon which you can appreciate a book. And the story has to be interesting and compelling as well. But his books are philosophicaly driven and they are quite profound in many respects.

    I also think it's different when a book gets as much attention as Kite Runner, and then you ask the question 'will this book be remembered" then when it's a cult and genre favorite like Scott's. When a book sells as many as KR did, it should be remembered. But I don't think it will be. I think it's a MMPB for airports.
    Last edited by Gary Wassner; February 4th, 2008 at 02:49 PM.

  10. #70
    >:|Angry Beaver|:< Fung Koo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Hereford Eye View Post
    Consistancy as a measure of quality?
    Internal consistency, narrative consistency, stylistic consistency are objectively measurable qualities of the text. And a tendency toward agreement amongst readers and critics from multiple backgrounds demonstrates a consistency of opinion which would describe an objective appreciation of quality.

    30 Helen's agree...

    So, the reason I did not appreciate Vellum is that the material is over my head? Well, I an't the brightest light in the world but I ain't the dimmest either.
    I wasn't saying you were dumb! There are some people who pick up a book and just can't grasp some of the things in it because they have no familiarity with the topic, information about the topic, knowledge of how to interpret the writing style, conventions of the genre, etc etc. I also mentioned Taste. Taste, while partly definable under Binet's research as a factor of SES and culture, is also the Great Unaccountable.

    My point was -- looking at that book, can you say to yourself "I see why others like it, but I do not"? Or, is your assessment "I don't understand why anyone likes this"? If it's the former, you've got a good eye for the objective qualities, but the book wasn't your Taste. If your opinion is the latter, then you either are allowing Taste to override your critical thinking skills, or you're referencing objective "quality" to make a general statement that everyone else is crazy.

    The fact that I thought he was guilty of not delivering on his initial premise/promise and he wasted a whole lot verbiage to not accomplish much in the second half of the book means that I am just insufficiently educated. Well, that explains that.
    See, you just referenced all measurable objective qualities as your reasoning. Failure of internal consistency, incomplete conceptual development, wordiness... So you're apparently of the position that the book itself is not of good quality, and that others seeing it as "good" are allowing taste to override objective perception of quality. The alternative is that there is something about the book you don't get because of insufficient background knowledge/interpretive skill/whatever for you to appreciate the quality. Or it's just Taste.

    So was the book good, but not to your taste? Or was it neither good nor your taste? Or was it not good, but is everyone else's taste? Or do you just not get why it's good?

  11. #71
    Just Another Philistine Hereford Eye's Avatar
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    I believe the book is being raved about (a) because it deals with topics that are dealt with by the Left Behind books and turns them upside down which is politically incorrect and therefore an irresistable temptation; and (b) because the time stream in the first half of the book is a tour de force of the gimmick. I've already stated my objections.
    Quote Originally Posted by Me
    he wasted a whole lot verbiage to not accomplish much in the second half of the book
    So, that's objective, huh? Damn, I'm good.
    Last edited by Hereford Eye; February 4th, 2008 at 03:27 PM.

  12. #72
    >:|Angry Beaver|:< Fung Koo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dawnstorm View Post
    So what do you guys think of Bloom's canon?
    I think it's one of those great pains-in-the-ass you need. On the one hand, it focuses the study of literature. There are those who studying everything on the list and everything connected to the list, and it also represents the stuff you aught to know at least pretty well as you delve into the counter-culture and what is not represented.

    Of course, it also generates what is perhaps a false dichotomy. And its premise of influentiality may not be sufficient to steer toward an objectively derived assessment of quality. It is possible, afterall, to write a great book that will make the list without adhering to the requirement of influence from the books on the list.

    But generally, I think the canon is a pretty exhaustive list of great works, but by no means complete, and with no real accounting for taste.

  13. #73
    GemQuest Moderator Gary Wassner's Avatar
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    You don't think it's objective, HE? It might be wrong. You could be misstating your objections, since they refer to certain stylistic and thematic issues, but they certainly are objective in that you made your observations based upon what you felt constituted a good story, a well written story and and entertaining story. You didn't just say, it doesn't appeal to me, or I was bored or it stunk.

    Strangely enough, whenever someone posts a criticism of an author on the main forums here and doesn't qualify them, an admin steps in. Gee. But how? And why?

    I often read admins telling forum members not to just bash an author but to give specific reasons why they might not like that author's work. Reasons? They mean objectifiable reasons? KatG? What do you mean when you make a request like that?

  14. #74
    Fulgurous Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    You're perfectly welcome to disagree with me, Gary. Many people do. Many other people, including academic theorists, agree with me. As I routinely say, pointing out again the complete subjectivity of art, we don't have consensus.

    A poorly written book is a poorly written book, no?
    No. A "poorly written book" is a book that a person or group of persons think is poorly written. Other people may partially agree and others may not agree at all.

    How in the world could you ever be an editor if you didn't have qualitative standards to judge what you're editing by?
    Because editors don't use qualitative standards, Gary. They interpret material according to their preferences and personal experience. They like it, they buy it. They don't like it, they pass and another editor may buy it. (Only talking about acquisitions here.)

    The Kite Runner is a very popular book that is very appealing for many reasons. I didn't dislike it. Is it great literature in my opinion? NO. Categorically NO.
    Yes, and that is your opinion. Your subjective opinion. Others, including literary critics and academics, think that it is and that it will stick around. It's won literary awards. It's considered literary fiction. Will it actually be still studied and in print 20 years from now? Nobody knows. You can say that you think it won't be, but this is again a subjective opinion. History is full of novels that people thought wouldn't last and have, and ones they did think would last but didn't. Books that do last are not by that measure objective quality. If people keep reading a book in which you think the writing is poor, does that mean that you feel compelled to change your mind about it? In universities, it is still being argued whether Hemmingway and Faulkner are literature or not. Will they last? Probably. Does that objectively make them art? Nope. But subjective is good enough for them to be valuable to many, to be part of culture, to be studied and talked about and argued over.

    When I say that all literature is equal, that doesn't mean that I value all books the same. But the books that I don't value as much, subjectively, may be highly valued by others as art. And their experience of that art is equal to my own, even though they don't agree with me. Because I say a book is art does not make it objectively art. And because a university professor says a book is art does not make it art, especially as another university professor is usually there saying that the same book isn't art. Large groups of people saying a book is art does not objectively make it art, but it does make it art to them. Longevity does not objectively make it art, but it does mean that the work has continued to have a subjective value as art to some people through the years.

    I understand your desire to rank works of literature, but there is no objectivity about it. The experience of art is the reaction of the individual person to the intelligence, inspiration and genius he or she sees within a work. Another person looks at that work and sees only dreck. Others may see some craft and value in the work, but not be convinced it's of lasting worth. The saying that art is in the eye of the beholder is reality. And from that reality, we can discuss the differences in how our eyes see things. That discussion -- an exchange of ideas, views and insights -- is immensely valuable, I feel, and is at the heart of the study of literature -- a discussion of interpretation.

    And it is this which makes works of SFF art to some people. To others, they are dreck. To others, a work of SFF may have some craft and value, but is not considered to be of lasting worth.

    And I only called you an elitist about Oprah.

  15. #75
    Fulgurous Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gary Wassner View Post
    Strangely enough, whenever someone posts a criticism of an author on the main forums here and doesn't qualify them, an admin steps in. Gee. But how? And why?

    I often read admins telling forum members not to just bash an author but to give specific reasons why they might not like that author's work. Reasons? They mean objectifiable reasons? KatG? What do you mean when you make a request like that?
    Oops, I missed this part. I'm kind of surprised that you're asking this, though, because you're a moderator, Gary. We step in when the person posting is talking about the author in the form of a personal attack, rather than talking about the author's writing. We ask them to give specific reasons for what they don't like about an author's work, rather than saying the author is a jerk. We are not asking for objective reasons. We're simply asking them to give a subjective opinion about the writing and story, not the author.

    Further, we want discussion -- an exchange of ideas -- not just name-calling. So if a person says, this author is crap, we steer them to talk about the book and why they think the book is crap, rather than go after the author. And if they say this book is crap, we ask them to elaborate on why they think the book is crap, so that we can actually have a discussion and not a flame war or a bunch of boring one sentence posts.

    Of course, we never have to worry about this in your forum.

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