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Should the speculative genre (science-fiction/fantasy) be considered as literature?

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22 minutes ago, larrytheimp said:

With a belief as ignorant as that, it's going to be difficult to have much of discussion about what you want to discuss.  

You will have to substantiate your opinion. I already explained why I think they scorn artistic merit. 

Attempting to write an analytical work centered around one determinant truth is at odds with aesthetic value. 

You can have one, but you can't have both.  

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Posted (edited)
36 minutes ago, butterweedstrover said:

You will have to substantiate your opinion. I already explained why I think they scorn artistic merit. 

Attempting to write an analytical work centered around one determinant truth is at odds with aesthetic value. 

You can have one, but you can't have both.  

Can you give some examples?  I think this quickly gets into the weeds of whether or not a particular work is attempting to be centered on "one determinant truth".  I think if you go down that road you'll quickly find much "literature" quickly ceases to be literature, or else you're going to be arguing that the scope of particular works is less centered and more universal than others are reading it.  

eta: I edited my previous response to actually engage a bit.

edit2: For the record, I think genre distinctions in fiction are mostly superficial and result of marketing rather than content or value.  I think a book like The Wings of a Falcon by Cynthia Voight, which would be labelled both YA fiction and fantasy, deals more with "universal human truths" and contains more aesthetic beauty (in quotation marks because I'm not sure how universal may things assumed to be universal actually are) that anything Hemingway or Fitzgerald ever wrote.  

Edited by larrytheimp

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I've gotta say I think OP would be staggered by how analytical the creation of much of art- and I'm not talking just literature, but every form, music, painting, video games, cinema etc- actually is. 

 

 

 

In any case even if you accept the lead-in concept that something has to be purely emotional to be art- which I think is errant nonsense anyway- the idea that analysis and emotion are opposing and incompatible forces is just... I mean it's just not true. That's basically you deciding that if you spot a smidge of analysis or rationalisation you can't fully emotionally connect with the work. But that's a you problem, not a 'the art' problem.  



 

Since I mentioned Wolfe earlier he's one that makes that argument fall apart quite well, because while New Sun is unquestionably somewhat analytical, being in part an exploration of Catholic beliefs, dogmas, traditions, teachings and structures, it doesn't do that in anything like a prescriptive, give-you-the-answers way, and Wolfe is equally if not more concerned with hitting his readers with pure experience - you don't have to know anything about Catholicism to enjoy or understand the surface level or several of the deeper levels and if you go in knowing nothing about Catholicism you won't, off-hand, learn anything new or learn how Wolfe thinks it should be approached from it.

He also undercuts the stance on a need for worldbuilding being why SFF writers avoid 'artistic merit', since Wolfe has clearly built a detailed world but he uses it for emotional or aesthetic effect, with the actual details barely revealed except through context and character reactions to them. What he drops his readers into is an experience of the other end of deep time, where he knows the rules but we do not because we do not need to. 



All this is somewhat of an aside- I don't think your boundaries for what constitutes a work of artistic merit make any kind of sense. But even if one accepts them, Wolfe tramples all over the idea that common SFF focuses and tropes aren't compatible with those boundaries. 
 

 

 

 

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Posted (edited)
14 minutes ago, polishgenius said:

 

I've gotta say I think OP would be staggered by how analytical the creation of much of art- and I'm not talking just literature, but every form, music, painting, video games, cinema etc- actually is. 

 

 

 

In any case even if you accept the lead-in concept that something has to be purely emotional to be art- which I think is errant nonsense anyway- the idea that analysis and emotion are opposing and incompatible forces is just... I mean it's just not true. That's basically you deciding that if you spot a smidge of analysis or rationalisation you can't fully emotionally connect with the work. But that's a you problem, not a 'the art' problem.  



 

Since I mentioned Wolfe earlier he's one that makes that argument fall apart quite well, because while New Sun is unquestionably somewhat analytical, being in part an exploration of Catholic beliefs, dogmas, traditions, teachings and structures, it doesn't do that in anything like a prescriptive, give-you-the-answers way, and Wolfe is equally if not more concerned with hitting his readers with pure experience - you don't have to know anything about Catholicism to enjoy or understand the surface level or several of the deeper levels and if you go in knowing nothing about Catholicism you won't, off-hand, learn anything new or learn how Wolfe thinks it should be approached from it.

He also undercuts the stance on a need for worldbuilding being why SFF writers avoid 'artistic merit', since Wolfe has clearly built a detailed world but he uses it for emotional or aesthetic effect, with the actual details barely revealed except through context and character reactions to them. What he drops his readers into is an experience of the other end of deep time, where he knows the rules but we do not because we do not need to. 



All this is somewhat of an aside- I don't think your boundaries for what constitutes a work of artistic merit make any kind of sense. But even if one accepts them, Wolfe tramples all over the idea that common SFF focuses and tropes aren't compatible with those boundaries. 
 

 

 

 

Well said - I think you nailed the false dichotomy of analytical vs emotional, and BotNS is a great rebuttal to that.  

eta: this is posted sort of tongue-in-cheek, but here's Keats on the subject:

“Beauty is truth, truth beauty, —that is all / Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know”

 

Edited by larrytheimp

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1 hour ago, larrytheimp said:

With a belief as ignorant as that, it's going to be difficult to have much of discussion about what you want to discuss.  

edit: to add a bit of substance to my flippant reply:

Are the works that you consider literature devoid of 'political activism'?

Is Faulkner's Wild Palms excluded from "Literature" because it could be read as antiabortion, or for punishing its characters for their sexual behavior?

Is 100 Years of Solitude excluded from "Literature" for examining the human condition through the lens of a remote 19th century Colombian village and the civil warfare that was present at the time?  

Are the words of Wordsworth and Blake diminished by dealing with the problems arising from the industrialization of England? 

Since I quite often use the word 'emotion' I should add this does not simply mean 'melodrama' but also anything that engages with the intuitive knowledge of the brain. All people know of arrogance, vanity, selfishness, love, etc. which is what makes them universal but rather unscientific (science as in the scientific method).  

Anyways, to your point all great literature should have the capacity to be read in a different lens. If there is a meaning one deciphers that is all well and good. The problem arises when that meaning is the primary construction of the narrative. 

In other words if the book applies a definitive 'truth' to its story there are automatic limits set to writing that detract from artistic-merit. 

Using a Colombian village in the 19th century that connects the story to a universal truth is a basis for the narrative, it is like choosing the building material for your sculpture. The quality comes from what you do with it (and what you can do with it). In that same way, Wordsworth used his obsession for nature to worship 'beauty'. He did not however argue the geological or psychological affects of industrialization. That can be implied, but it is not determinant of his poetry. 

Politics can motivate an artist to produce their magnum-opus, but their magnum-opus is still a work of art, not a scientific paper. It persuades people through emotional appeal. That is why I personally differentiate 'propaganda' from political activism. 

Propaganda gains legitimacy from its beauty. Activism gains legitimacy from how realized the argument is. 

To do this analytical writers will use aspects of truth and lies, but they do this all in service of making their argument appear more real or convincing. That is why the focus of many speculative writers is to make their worlds realistic, because the more realistic they seem the more legitimate their argument becomes.      

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Posted (edited)

@butterweedstrover

You might be interested in a book called Godel, Escher and Bach. The idea of art and analysis is explored and portrayed in quite a bit of depth.

I'm not sure why you would want as restrictive a definition of literature as was oringally proposed in this thread, particularly when it can't be clearly and consistently applied. I don't even know what this amorphous "truth" in ambiguity even means.

Edited by IFR

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Posted (edited)
1 hour ago, polishgenius said:

 

I've gotta say I think OP would be staggered by how analytical the creation of much of art- and I'm not talking just literature, but every form, music, painting, video games, cinema etc- actually is. 

 

 

 

In any case even if you accept the lead-in concept that something has to be purely emotional to be art- which I think is errant nonsense anyway- the idea that analysis and emotion are opposing and incompatible forces is just... I mean it's just not true. That's basically you deciding that if you spot a smidge of analysis or rationalisation you can't fully emotionally connect with the work. But that's a you problem, not a 'the art' problem.  



 

Since I mentioned Wolfe earlier he's one that makes that argument fall apart quite well, because while New Sun is unquestionably somewhat analytical, being in part an exploration of Catholic beliefs, dogmas, traditions, teachings and structures, it doesn't do that in anything like a prescriptive, give-you-the-answers way, and Wolfe is equally if not more concerned with hitting his readers with pure experience - you don't have to know anything about Catholicism to enjoy or understand the surface level or several of the deeper levels and if you go in knowing nothing about Catholicism you won't, off-hand, learn anything new or learn how Wolfe thinks it should be approached from it.

He also undercuts the stance on a need for worldbuilding being why SFF writers avoid 'artistic merit', since Wolfe has clearly built a detailed world but he uses it for emotional or aesthetic effect, with the actual details barely revealed except through context and character reactions to them. What he drops his readers into is an experience of the other end of deep time, where he knows the rules but we do not because we do not need to. 



All this is somewhat of an aside- I don't think your boundaries for what constitutes a work of artistic merit make any kind of sense. But even if one accepts them, Wolfe tramples all over the idea that common SFF focuses and tropes aren't compatible with those boundaries. 
 

 

 

 

You can put a smidge of rationalization in art just like you can put put a smidge of poetic luster into a medical report, that does not make one the other. 

But more to your argument, it is entirely possible Gene Wolfe accomplishes what you describe. But then you are also right that literature and art is incredibly analytical (deliberate) in its construction. 

When a sculpture is making a statue, they use many mathematical tools to transform a block of marble into a Greek God. 

But when the artwork is finish they do not also staple on all the mathematic calculations, angles, and degrees that this work is made up of, nor do they display the chiseling tools. In the same way a work of literature could in its construction benefit from a fully realized world, but enumerating those specific details into the body of published text is at odds with aesthetic value.  

And unless I can find convincing evidence to the contrary I don't believe that such details provide the necessary ambiguity to the topic at hand. Tackling issues like Christianity or Traditions does not mean a work is literature or not literature, it is more of a question of how the issue is observed (artistically or academically?).  

Edited by butterweedstrover

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3 minutes ago, IFR said:

@butterweedstrover

You might be interested in a book called Godel, Escher and Bach. The idea of art and analysis is explored and portrayed in quite a bit of depth.

I'm not sure why you would want as restrictive a definition of literature as was oringally proposed in this thread, particularly when it can't be clearly and consistently applied. I don't even know what this amorphous "truth" in ambiguity even means.

Thanks, I will check it out. 

As for why I restricted the definition of literature to artistic-merit, then I could only say it allows for greater debate on the value of aesthetic in philosophical/political debates and the direction of the speculative genre (modern) as a whole. 

It can only be consistently applied through debate. One person can argue this book is literature, and another can say no. And then through the veracity of these arguments literature evolves. My stated belief is that the focus on realism in speculative fiction and the role of a definitive philosophy puts it at odds with literary quality. 

One person used Wolfe as a counter-example. These are good discussions because even if we don't agree we can look to the example given and see where it succeeds and if it does so despite the constraints of the genre of because of them.  

Aesthetic truth can be found in yourself but it requires ambiguity in the main theme of the narrative.  

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Posted (edited)
1 hour ago, butterweedstrover said:

Since I quite often use the word 'emotion' I should add this does not simply mean 'melodrama' but also anything that engages with the intuitive knowledge of the brain. All people know of arrogance, vanity, selfishness, love, etc. which is what makes them universal but rather unscientific (science as in the scientific method).  

Anyways, to your point all great literature should have the capacity to be read in a different lens. If there is a meaning one deciphers that is all well and good. The problem arises when that meaning is the primary construction of the narrative. 

In other words if the book applies a definitive 'truth' to its story there are automatic limits set to writing that detract from artistic-merit. 

Using a Colombian village in the 19th century that connects the story to a universal truth is a basis for the narrative, it is like choosing the building material for your sculpture. The quality comes from what you do with it (and what you can do with it). In that same way, Wordsworth used his obsession for nature to worship 'beauty'. He did not however argue the geological or psychological affects of industrialization. That can be implied, but it is not determinant of his poetry

Politics can motivate an artist to produce their magnum-opus, but their magnum-opus is still a work of art, not a scientific paper. It persuades people through emotional appeal. That is why I personally differentiate 'propaganda' from political activism. 

Propaganda gains legitimacy from its beauty. Activism gains legitimacy from how realized the argument is. 

To do this analytical writers will use aspects of truth and lies, but they do this all in service of making their argument appear more real or convincing. That is why the focus of many speculative writers is to make their worlds realistic, because the more realistic they seem the more legitimate their argument becomes.      

How do you separate the two?  It seems this bifurcation would heavily rely on what intent a reader would ascribe to the author.

Re: bolded -  you could easily make the same argument for much of what falls under the sci-fi label.  Out of curiosity, not meant as a gotcha, but have you read any Wolfe?

*plus I think you're quite wrong that Wordsworth didn't have some point to make about the psychological (as much as that could have been a thing at the time) effects of industrialization.  Also not entirely random that Ichose someone close to the bridge between the Enlightenment and the Romantic period.

Edited by larrytheimp

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Any book of fiction is, basically, literature. Granted, most are bad literature, but still literature. If we begin to restrict it any tiny bit, then it means that the bulk of pre-modern literature, be it Chinese, Sanskrit, Greek, can be discarded as "not really literature".

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Another way to look at it:  Literature doesn't exist.  

It's like indigo in the rainbow.  We all talk like it's there, but it isn't.  

There's no rigorous definition that includes all that which is "literature" and excludes everything that that isn't, so all we're left with is a metanarrative about relative social status through history.

Without also saying who's permitted to assign status and why, it's a literally meaningless question.  And once you've said who is and isn't permitted to decide on what stories matter and what stories don't, you're talking about a lot of things that aren't intrinsic to the stories anymore.

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8 hours ago, butterweedstrover said:

Morality and ethics are isolated from the human experience when books attempt to argue their point. Rather than the story being about a human experience, it is about using characterization to reveal some single truth about philosophy or whatever. Erikson does this in his work a lot, he uses narrative paint to mask some philosophical opinion. But that is not the greatest affect of this medium or its purpose as an artform.

<skip>

Art is never so direct as to build an argument for or against something. It is elliptical in nature, it appeals to something more intuitive than logic, and as such is ambiguous and open to interpretation.  

Either way, trying to do both is impossible

Universal questions in the context you mention is not so much a universal truth as it is about a situation.    

 

7 hours ago, butterweedstrover said:

That is not to say literature does not have segments with political leanings from the author, but that is never the main focus. Art is, by its own existence as an aesthetic appeal, an emotional work first and foremost. It speaks to people in ways that could be irrational or illogical to describe an elliptical truth open to interpretation. Of course any of these works could have elements that are factual, but the whole of the work is not centered around one political/philosophical lecture. 

 

4 hours ago, butterweedstrover said:

Attempting to write an analytical work centered around one determinant truth is at odds with aesthetic value. 

You can have one, but you can't have both.  

So basically ... La divina commedia is not a work of art or a work of literature by your definition, because it relies heavily on and promotes Christianity in a very obvious way, and because it is tied to one particular worldview (the Christian one), which is not universal?

6 hours ago, butterweedstrover said:

I think one leads to the other. His focus on determinant Christian morality as a theme comes from his obsession with recreating a British mythology. He wanted to recreate the lore of Celtic, Saxon, and the Norse Sagas in an alternative setting in a very analytical way. That same objective led his story to be centered around a singular truth that reinforces the world-building. 

In that way his world-building created his narrative theme so we cannot separate them. Homer's themes created his world building, not vice versa. For Tolkien world-building was primary to his story. 

Okay, so Tolkien was more detail-oriented in his fiction, but how does this fact alone make his work any less artistic, aesthetic, or literary than some other author? This is like saying the works of realism and naturalism of the 19th century as a whole are less artistic than, let's say, expressionist poetry, because they generally describe their characters, places and events in detail.

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The Inferno has popes on the lowest level, stacked in ice. Dante had particular ones in mind. There are so many political allusions that a good translation will fill you in on Florentine politics:) 

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@DanielAbraham

Not thread related, but I like your user name. Abraham is one of my favorites! The Expanse and The Long Price quartet are so fantastically inventive, and pure joy to read.

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Posted (edited)
24 minutes ago, IFR said:

@DanielAbraham

Not thread related, but I like your user name. Abraham is one of my favorites! The Expanse and The Long Price quartet are so fantastically inventive, and pure joy to read.

That is Mr Abraham.

—-

This thread is weird. Like, I’m neither an educated individual or read many of the books commonly considered literature. Yet while reading the replies it reminded of a supper our writing group had with Robert J. Sawyer a decade or so ago. He talked briefly about literature then pronounced it dead, at which point one of the people in our group countered him by saying it couldn’t be true because “J’s writing has a strong lit element.’ Sawyer looked over at me for a few seconds then spent the next minute staring at his plate, which I found somewhat humorous [but didn’t laugh, as that would’ve been rude] Thing is, when Rene said that I wasn’t quite sure what she meant. Like I said, I’m not educated. I don’t write with big sweeping themes or really much of the stuff exhorted up thread as literature-worthy. I just fiddle with language and have evocative prose. 
 

When I read something I admire, craft is definitely a part of it, but not to the exclusion of everything else a good written work should have, ie story, engaging characters, world building/depiction, creativity, logical consistency, etc. Any higher combination of these [much less the rare work that owns all] can still be a very good and thought provoking book, IMO.

/layman

 

Edited by JEORDHl

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1 hour ago, DanielAbraham said:

Another way to look at it:  Literature doesn't exist.  

It's like indigo in the rainbow.  We all talk like it's there, but it isn't.  

There's no rigorous definition that includes all that which is "literature" and excludes everything that that isn't, so all we're left with is a metanarrative about relative social status through history.

Without also saying who's permitted to assign status and why, it's a literally meaningless question.  And once you've said who is and isn't permitted to decide on what stories matter and what stories don't, you're talking about a lot of things that aren't intrinsic to the stories anymore.

Still fun to argue about though!  Especially when you're waiting for the final installment of one of your favorite sci-fi literature series to become available later this year.  

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Just now, larrytheimp said:

Still fun to argue about though!  Especially when you're waiting for the final installment of one of your favorite sci-fi literature series to become available later this year.  

I just checked on that today, actually. Looks like November in Canada. :)

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This thread is a little bit more interesting than I thought it would be.  I just feel that if you're asking the question posed in the OP you're completely missing the point. 

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Hope the OP isn't discouraged.  Obviously has read lots of stuff and was engaging in good faith the entire time.  Takes some chutzpah to throw out a broad challenge and defend your claim against all takers.  

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