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sex & literature

2003-06-10 16:14:53.340339+00 by Dan Lyke 1 comments

A bunch of folks have linked to Dean Kuiper's LA Times essay on the erotic in literature. Notably, over at Section 12, Debra[Wiki] has started to write some long pieces responding to it, first praising him for starting the conversation, and then (and maybe I'm reading into this) taking him to task for ignoring a large American tradition.

The essay suffers from two assumptions: that what is generally recognized as "modern literature" isn't just another genre (or set of genres), and that genre fiction doesn't have strong things to teach us about humanity.

Awkward word constructions and archaic vocabulary do not literature make. In the rush to worship "intelligence", as so often happens we've mistaken correlated measurable attributes for the thing. But just because someone can ace the vocabulary section of the SAT doesn't give them particular insight into human behavior, and good vocabulary doesn't necessarily mean good communication. For better examples of that than I can offer here, I strongly recommend The Reader's Manifesto.

Neither does having a good idea of what the story will be destroy the insights into desires and needs that the story can contain. Genre fiction is successful because it has an effect. In the rush to escape from various genre ghettos, what we far too often see in modern literature is writing which strives to be intellectual rather than emotional, and in so doing becomes a collection of pompous tricks.

The good literature has always come from outside the mainstream. Those who question are a small subset of the market, most people just want their prejudices reaffirmed. A few decades ago this exploration was happening most in "speculative fiction" (or whatever you want to call the "SF" genre), nowadays it's happening in "erotica". That it wil take another few years for the critics to acknowledge this, and then quickly bury the fact as those ideas make it into the mainstream writing, reflects more on the critics than the ideas or the poor marginalized genre.

But stay tuned to Pursed Lips for the next installment, I think she's got deeper and less reactionary insight into the matter than I.

[ related topics: Books Sexual Culture Writing ]

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#Comment made: 2003-06-11 20:49:52.899759+00 by: Dan Lyke

Debra has part 3, and Columbine espouses genres:

Litfic and its community are like a pack of Boston bluebloods who are dying off because their lineage has gotten thin and haemophilic, if you'll pardon my mixed metaphor.

And the Utopia with Cheese readers should rise to the discussion.