Tuesday, December 11, 2018

So I Say Back To The Guy (See Below)

Wodehouse is a good exception to what I proposed. The brilliance of what he does, which delights but doesn’t instruct, is what, the exception that proves the rule or maybe decimates the rule? 

I’m not sure what you mean when you say that “literary as an honorific is new.” Literary has this dictionary meaning:

...concerning the writing, study, or content of literature, especially of the kind valued for quality of form.

"the great literary works of the nineteenth century"...

So, in one of its big meanings, it applies to works of quality and so we might say to good or great works as distinct from mediocre works or, to take an extreme example, doggerel in poetry. What I’m trying to get at, if possible, is a way of understanding in fiction what might distinguish between the literary and the non literary, between what is valued as great or good and what isn’t, like, for an another extreme example, a Jacqueline Susann from a Jane Austen. What, if anything, are, as Don might put it, maybe he wouldn’t, the necessary and sufficient conditions of the literary.

I wouldn’t have thought that what literary critics do has any bearing on what might constitute literary as an adjective of quality. That might be confusing literature as standing for what’s written—....Literature, most generically, is any body of written works...and literary as an honorific. I make the same point, by now it’s redundant, in response to your note in your second paragraph as to what “literature” at its most capacious can encompass

Aren’t you as well taking my notion of “instruct” too literally? I tried when I first wrote my note to you to be clear that I didn’t mean anything didactic or pedagogic by “instruct.” I’d wanted to be clear that it stood for the kind of exploration in fiction that goes beyond simply entertaining readers with a good story. (Didn’t Wordsworth mean by it something like sublimity for the soul, something deeper than a lesson? I’m not holding “instruct” to that high standard but illustrating how far from the didactic I am in using it as shorthand for a range of effects beyond being entertained.)   

So Animal Farm is one kind of instruction, and a literary one, on a spectrum that might range from making a point to dramatizing a powerful vision of, say, the desolate nature of things—Lear. And Lear exemplifies, to me, in the deepest sense the deepest sense of your use of “profound.” 

Middlemarch presents us with a panoramic view of life in a community itself ranging from high to low with philosophic depth and penetrating psychological acuity. Certainly it instructs. 

All these works are modes of instruction in the way I mean it. Which one might be more pleasurable than another is both subjective to a point and past that point, arguably, indicative of a dented sensibility. If someone were to compare Animal Farm to The Brothers Karamazov and say, “I get greater pleasure from Orwell’s than I do from Dostoyevsky’s,” we’d either have to drill down on the meaning of pleasure to get at exactly what he meant or conclude he was “out of it.”

This all goes, I think, to the arguable difference between instruct and delight on one hand and only delight on the other, in the way I’m using meaning these terms. But if there’s anything to my point, it seems to be only the most meagre beginning. The varieties of instruction may be taxonomically challenging. And then, say with Wodehouse, there is the sheer brilliance of the delight, the artfulness of it, without, it seems, any instruction, without, that is to say, saying something about the world. But it is surely literary the way, say, Kiss Me Deadly, seems not to be. So is heightened artfulness without apparent instruction literary; which is to ask, as I did, do its instances prove the rule as exceptions or do they collapse the rule into meaninglessness? I can see the latter and I’m not married to the rule. I’m only trying to road test it. 

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