Monday, December 10, 2018

So I Asked A Guy This...

Reading Brides Revisited reminds me of what Ive been wondering lately, whether the following is a truism.

Let’s say literature instructs and delights us—I’m thinking of fiction now, whether short or long.

And I’ve been thinking about what does and doesn’t count for the honorific literary.

And before Waugh I’d been reading some Elmore Leonard. Waugh clearly makes the cut, but does Leonard? And if not, why not? 

My thought is that simply telling a story without more, without wanting to explore something about the world, raise paradoxical themes, present moral dilemmas, reflect and illuminate through fiction something profound about the world, and so on, however this serious intent gets formulated, is the demarcation between what’s literary and what isn’t.

Clearly Brideshead Revisited is on one side of the line.

So what about Leonard, or esteemed crime/detective writers like say Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett? For sure Leonard doesn’t want to do more than delight. No instruction there, if instruction is shorthand for that serious intent. And unless I under-read the last two and others of their kind, they also don’t instruct. The question to my mind is whether instruction is a necessary condition of what counts as literary, wanting to be clear that I don’t equate instruction with didacticism. 

Can what solely delights us by way of story be literary?

I’m not sure but tend to think not and am hard put to think of examples showing me wrongheaded about this though I can well believe I am.

Poetry may present a different issue though I tend not think so even as I understand that imagism was meant to be and not to mean. 

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