Friday, March 21, 2014

Saturday Summary: Week 2

Yes, I know it's actually Friday (or if you're not in the same timezone as Australia, it's probably even still Thursday!) but I'm not going to have a chance to write this up on Saturday, so I'm sending it in early. I've just had a great second week of uni and I can't believe how quickly time is flying by. Here are the things I want to share with you from my classes this week:

Fiction Writing: Story, Structure, and Starting Out
Readings: 'It's Genre. Not that there's anything wrong with it!!' by A Krystal, 'The Circular Ruins' by JL Borges, 'The Second Bakery Attack' by Haruki Murakami, 'Lifelike and Josephine' by P Haines, and 'A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius: A Memoir Based on a True Story' by D Eggers.

This week was focused on the genre fiction vs literary fiction debate, which I personally thing is a silly thing to argue about. Both styles have their pros and cons and if they are executed right, are capable of being just as good as each other. The article we read by A Krystal was offensive to many of the genre-writers in the room and most if not all of us disagreed with what was being said. However, the aim of our class is to create something that falls under the heading of literary fiction. That's not to say we cannot write in a genre if we are writing literary fiction. It just means we have to write something that isn't commercial fiction, as commercial fiction seems to be the more general way of referring to all of the genre categories. The other readings were used as examples of literary fiction and helped us to define the term. A lot of people in the class were only hearing of literary fiction for the first time.

The difference between genre/commercial fiction and literary fiction seems to be that, generally speaking, commercial fiction follows a familiar story-line and the reader knows what to expect from the book, the language and style is simple and straightforward and readers consider it fun, whereas literary fiction supposedly carries deeper and more complex messages, doesn't follow cliche story-lines or use the expected tropes, and the reader starts the book without really knowing what to expect, but the content resonates with real life. Personally, I think this is all bogus. There is genre fiction that has fancy language and complex issues and which resonates with us afterwards, and there is literary fiction that falls flat of that expectation of sweeping us off our feet. But I will share with you a quote from the article by Krystal: "One brings us fun or frightening gifts, the other requires - and repays - observance." What do you think of this? 


Poetry: Making it Strange
Readings: 'Vidal in Furs: Lyric Poetry, Narrative, and Masoch(ism)' by Simon Pender, 'After Peire, Vidal, & Myself' by Ted Berrigan, and 'From Dawn to Dawn: Troubadour Poetry' translated by A.S. Kline.

This week's roll-call question was 'What is the worst threat you ever got', to which I did not have a particularly impressive answer ("I'll tell your mother!" back in primary school?). Anyway, this week's class was about the Troubadours who were popular back in the 11th-12th Centuries in southern France and parts of Spain and Italy. They are supposedly the inventors of love in Western songs. They created the love song (Canso), songs that comment on public things and gossip (Sir Ventes), and songs that were arguments between two Troubadours (Tenso). It was considered an aristocratic pursuit at the time. These people would write songs and poems and learn how to play instruments and then go around to royal courts to perform. The male Troubadours would usually pick a woman from the audience (usually the hostess) and sing as if he was singing to her. The point is that they were seducing someone publicly with their words and their instruments. The Troubadours were replaced by their impersonators the Jongleves, who created the Vido (a short bio of the original creator of the song) and the Razo (an account of the song's composition).

Later in the class, we talked about people who make themselves out of fictions or develop their own madness, Quixotic (kee-oh-tee). And we talked about how when we are writing, we have to remember where we come from (though we don't necessarily have to write about ourselves).


Literature for Children and Young Adults
Readings: 'Little Red Riding Hood' by Charles Perrault, 'Little Red Cap' by the Brothers Grimm, and 'Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf' by Roald Dahl.

If you didn't guess by the reading list, this week we were studying fairy tales, specifically Little Red Riding Hood. The thing about fairy tales is that they were not originally told for children, and what we know as 'fairy tales' today are merely adaptions of stories that were first made for adults. The point of us looking at all three different versions of Little Red Riding Hood listed above was to see how children, specifically little girls, were portrayed over the different periods of time when each of these stories were written.

Before we nosedived into the analysis of these three LRRH stories, we took a look at the conventions of a fairy tale. Settings: forest, castle, cottage, village, etc. Characters: peasants and royalty, magical/mythical folk, talking animals, etc. Iconography: glass slipper, spinning wheel, red apple, red hooded cloak, etc. Narrative elements: minimal detail, flat characters, repetitions (in 3s), happy endings (in the children adaptions) etc. Then of course we have the element of story: a full sequence of events in 'natural' order and duration, and plot: a pattern of events/situations arranged to emphasise (cause and effect) relationships and to evoke certain emotions. We took a look at these conventions in relation to LRRH. The setting inside the forest on her way to grandma's house is a metaphor for danger and we can easily place Red, Grandma, the Big Bad Wolf, and the Huntsman into the six character roles: Giver/receiver, subject/object, and helper/opponent. In fairy tales, there is binary opposition, where everything is set in pairs of opposite and there is no overlapping between good and evil. We also talked about sexism and gender roles in texts like fairy tale; how the women always need saving by men (Little Red and Grandma), and there are two types of men, the ones who save you (the Huntsman) and the ones you need saving from (the Big Bad Wolf). Little Red becomes less helpless (and more violent) in the more recently written versions of the story.


Creative Nonfiction: The Personal Essay
Readings: 'Putting Yourself on the Line: Autobiography, Memoir, and Personal Essay' by P Gerard, 'The Art of the Dumb Question' by H Garner, 'Introduction' by I Glass, and 'Beauty: When the Other Dancer is the Self' by A Walker.

This week was focused on writing about the self. The point of personal essays and memoirs and autobiographies is that we are trying to make what interests us resonate with others. In the words of Philip Gerard, "The best personal essays are usually about the self in relation to a world beyond the self."

When we analysed the readings above, we did so with Huxley's three poles in mind. Huxley's three poles are three different ways of writing: personal and autobiographical; objective, factual, concrete-particular; and abstract-universal. Our goal when we are writing, especially a creative nonfiction personal essay, is to make the transitions between these three types of writing seamless so that it doesn't distract the reader.


That concludes classes for this week. What are your thoughts on the genre vs literary fiction debate? Which class are you most interested in? Have you got any lessons of your own to share? 

- Bonnee.

11 comments:

  1. Literary! Commercial! Commercial! Literary!

    GAAAAAAAH!!!!

    *head explodes.*

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  2. I've never quite understood the fight between genre fiction and literary. There are good and bad examples of both. My favorite fiction is, in fact, a hybrid of the two. I like the fast paced, plot-rich stories of genre fiction best when they employ elevated language and perhaps a reflection or two on life or society. Ideal book for me. :)

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    1. I think I'm much in agreement with you on this one. That does sound like an ideal kind of book, at least in theory. Thanks for sharing this with us.

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  3. I really dislike literary novels that abandon plot, setting, and character in order to try to convey theme. For me, translucent writing reads a lot better than stained glass writing. If I want flowery I'll read poetry. I read for emotion, not for theme or "the human condition." As much as society has tried, the novel is not the best way of expressing a theme or making a comment on society unless the writer is absolutely incredible. Television, music, plays, etc. do a much better job to me. I feel that literary, mainstream, and genre (that's how I always see it broken down) fiction all have their place, I'm just a lot more fond of genre fiction than literary and mainstream. Literary stories tend to be too boring and mainstream stories tend to be too mechanical for me personally.

    Then again, most of the literary fiction I've read is really old, so the category may be improving. For the most part I'm going to stick with genre fiction, since that's what I prefer to read. Literary fiction typically fails to leave me with an emotional response because I don't care enough about the characters. Part of that is voice, which comes back to the whole stained vs translucent concept. Then there's small vs large scope.

    But I digress. I certainly don't think there's anything wrong with reading whichever books you like. However, I do think that genre fiction is underrepresented in the school system (at least in the U.S.) I wrote an essay on the subject that ran in my local newspaper (and I subsequently posted to my blog).

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    1. I think I've been pretty lucky in that what I've read of literary fiction has not abandoned plot, setting, and character in order to convey theme. Particularly when I read 'The God of Small Things' last year, I think the literary elements of that book really heightened setting and character, and the plot was interesting although it unfolded slowly and there was a lot of background information, though I don't think it would have had as much of an impact on me any other way. I'll have to disagree with you when you say that the novel is not the best way of expressing themes and making comments on the human condition and society, mostly because I think that's subjective, just like any individual's preference of genre, or preference of genre or literary or mainstream fiction. However, the point of my posts is to start a discussion, so I'm perfectly happy to have opened a can of worms if you care to argue or elaborate or otherwise discuss this. :)

      I remember your post about the stained vs translucent glass concept, I really enjoyed what you had to say on that subject over on your blog.

      I don't know, comparatively, whether or not there is a difference in the Australian and U.S's school system representation (or lack thereof) of genre fiction, but personally I think schools everywhere should give the kids a chance to study all kinds of books.

      Thanks for reading this post and contributing to the discussion, Patrick! :)

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  4. OK, I feel better now, sorry about that.

    As someone who feels like he writes in an area between 'literary' and 'genre', this whole thing has driven me crazy, and I'm sure I'm not the only one. And I've seen plenty of people--editors and agents among them--who say 'literary' is not a genre so much as a style. And what does 'commercial' or 'mainstream' really mean?

    I think it's easier to define some things by what they're not rather than what they are.

    I'd better go; my head feels ready to explode again.

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    1. Jeff, I love what you've got to say here! I have had a leg in the same boat as you as far as writing in the grey area in between 'literary' and 'genre' fiction, specifically while I was writing 'WALLS'. I think it simply comes down to style as well, but I'm not sure if there are other factors to consider.

      And I think those are wise words to remember when trying to define things.

      If you feel like going on a ranty-rant about this, I'm not going to stop or discourage you. Discussions and open cans of worms are welcome here, especially on this subject. If you have more to say, I'd love to hear it. Thanks for visiting! :)

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    2. Bonnee--my exploding head is not from anger, so this is not a 'real' rant, not exactly. It's more confusion than anything, like looking at an Escher drawing.

      For me, I guess I prefer the definition of 'literary' that is not necessarily about dime store words and vivid word pictures, as it is fiction that focuses more on character and character development than plot. Not to say I like books that are plotless, like the stuff Patrick talks about, because I've read more than a few books where I've thought, "But what is actually happening here, and what does it have to do with anything going on with the character?" I like a rollicking good ride as much as anyone, but I generally prefer my books with a bit more introspection, too, which I think is more common with so-called literary.

      I suppose at this point I should add that I don't believe one is 'better' than the other, or more respectable, or more important or significant. Let's keep these worm cans small.

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    3. I think all books should have some sort of plot, for sure. Otherwise, what is the point of the character development? And I'm in agreement with you on that last part. I don't think one is better than the other, etc. :)

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  5. I see that your teachers like Haruki Murakami. You had him also last year. I went to The New Yorker Feb. 2012 and read the article by Arthur Crystal. He admits that his attitude toward genre/commercial fiction is condescending and has the audacity to state near the end that good commercial fiction is inferior to good literary fiction. I strongly disagree with him. The authors of commercial fiction are writing to readers that are not like him. You can't say that literary fiction is better than commercial fiction. Each form of literature has its own group of readers and all groups of readers should be respected equally. If many readers enjoy reading supposedly "lighter" literature, that is a good literature because it captures the mind sand hearts of its readers. I like genre/commercial literature but I respect Arthur Krystal to like literary literature. No point in determining that one is better than the other. I enjoy reading about the conventions of fairy tales. Will your course cover also Picture Books for little Kids? Like the ones by Dr. Seuss. On the surface they seem so easy to write, but apparently they are not. Thanks for the summary of the second week.

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    1. Yeah, Haruki Murakami has been brought up a lot! I love it! We all agreed in the class that Krystal was unashamedly being condescending in his tones and opinions, and not sugarcoating his criticism in the least. But as I might have said somewhere above, I think the literary vs commercial/genre debate is completely subjective to an individual's taste. I strongly hope that if I end up writing literary fiction, I will not forget that genre fiction is just as good. I will be deeply ashamed of myself if I do.

      We are studying a picture book in week 4, but I don't think we're looking into any Dr. Seuss. I look forward to sharing with you nonetheless. :) Thanks for visiting, Giora! :)

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