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The Amateur Writer - The Motive Center — LiveJournal
September 11th, 2004
10:52 pm

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The Amateur Writer

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From:stevekelner
Date:November 19th, 2004 08:25 pm (UTC)

Re: Escapism and Community

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Actually, I did get pushed pretty hard for suggesting that fanfic could be a precursor to publication instead of a goal in itself, but I'm pushing back--I'm studying the phenomenon!

I agree, incidentally, that most headhunters don't have this training--EZI is exceptional, in that (1) we train everyone on a rigorous technique developed at the University of Michigan anchored in the best methodologies, (2) everyone does both search and executive assessment (what we call "management appraisal") using it, and (3) a core group of thought leaders (including me) are, with the full support of our executive committee, working to raise the bar steadily. I don't believe you need to be a psychologist to do this, but it helps to have one who can explain why it is so good!

Back to art...sure, society makes a distinction now, but will it later? Most enduring artists are popular artists later recognized as fine artists. Shakespeare wrote for the masses. Dickens was paid by the word. Poe and Hemingway wrote for the newspapers. Heinlein commented once that any work that did not acknowledge the impact of technology and science on humanity is in fact out of the mainstream. That may be a little extreme, but it is worth examining the idea, given that the mainstream "novel of character" is approaching two hundred years old, and in many ways hasn't changed significantly since the invention of narrative.

The distinction I often see between "literary" and "popular" fiction makes a couple of assumptions. One is that fine art is inherently less accessible, which by implication means that only educated people really appreciate art. I don't believe this for a minute. There is no question that education can enhance your appreciation of art, but if art requires an audience, then someone who wins a large audience obviously has something going for him/her! This aligns, I think, with your comment about JK Rowling, which I agree with--though I think she's getting progressively smarter every book, and her insight into adolescents astounds me every time I reread her books, not to mention the artistic courage with which she makes her own lead character appropriately unlikeable in OotP.

The other assumption is that literary works are better written. However, this often becomes a circular argument--popular writers are writing down to their audience, which means (falsely) that they are worse. Genre writers are often relying on a large body of known assumptions, practices, conventions, etc., just as a painter must know three-point perspective (whether Picasso chose to use it or not).

Having said that, I am unabashedly elitist in one aspect: I think writing is a skill that must be learned. The great thing about a Chabon, as you say, is that he is a skilled writer in multiple genres. He wrote a terrific little comic book story about the Golden Age Mr. Terrific which was literary in the classic sense but also a good comic story, which has specific artistic constraints (it was in a special issue of the Justice Society of America). James Blish was one of the first SF critics to hold SF writers to "literary" standards, and he was a noted Joyce scholar as well as an SF writer. I'm with him on this--it's not the genre that matters, it's the writer. It is interesting to me that SF and mystery tropes are entering the mainstream, and there are reasons. SF establishes rigorous worlds in which a story can be portrayed to best advantage; mysteries establish rigorous plots in which a story can be portrayed to best advantage, and (to finish the set) romances establish rigorous characters in which a story, etc. The postmodern SF is fascinating to me, be it Chabon or Neal Stephenson. Haven't read Murakami yet, but he's on my list. Sounds as if Effinger's When Gravity Fails may have been in the territory first--and let's not forget Alfie Bester, who was writing modern fiction in SF in the 1950s...

I think we are agreeing violently here, but I'm enjoying the process. I've had a difficult week (brother-in-law burst a blood vessel in his brain, we think; sister-in-law going through family trouble; friend died during a convention he helped organize and we were at last weekend)--things are picking up. Not too much frost yet!
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From:tipgardner
Date:November 19th, 2004 10:10 pm (UTC)

Re: Escapism and Community

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Yes, we are, in reality, pretty much in agreement (never something I thought I would say to a Yank!) on all of these topics.

Of coure, the more copies of an artist's work around, the more likely they are to be considered an important artist later. Look at Marlowe and Shakespeare. In fact your example of Shakespeare is even more broadly correct than your version. Marlowe seems to have been generally accepted as the more artistically successful of the two in their own day, yet he was as widely revived and is not considered to be as imapctful today by many excepting academic circles.

BTW, for your Sci Fi list, perhaps you might start with Huxley or Tolstoy's nephew.
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From:stevekelner
Date:November 20th, 2004 07:10 am (UTC)

Re: Escapism and Community

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Well, I like to think of myself as an American who plays well with others...

Your point is well taken, but Shakespeare's posthumous career went up and down a good deal, and ultimately I think the fact that he survived the ages is indicative. Of course, he also got lucky in having people promoting him. Bach might have been just one more obscure musician had he not been "discovered" by a collector--his children might have been more famous than him! It's also interesting reading contemporaries of Shakespeare, like John Ford's Tis Pity She's a Whore, which blew my mind back in college, as well as Marlowe--to my mind, you can tell why Will passes the cut!

And on the SF front--I've read stories by Aldous and T. H. Huxley (who wrote an SF short story), but Tolstoy's nephew?
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From:tipgardner
Date:November 20th, 2004 07:34 am (UTC)

Re: Escapism and Community

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Yes, patronism, a separate subject well worthy of study (both the motivations therein and the phenomenon). Plus, there are any number of people with money that should be providing greater support to artists and art institutions, but as I say, another topic.

Hm...I wouldn't say that Marlowe or Ford have stood the test of time any less that Shakespeare, they just aren't read as much in high school and such and so are known to fewer Americans. But again, I take your point.

Mmmm...yes, I can't remember his name, but I believe he wrote one of the earliest, "modern" SF novels. I apologise, I don't have a great depth of knowledge of various genres' histories or writers. I tend to read genre fic when I get cast offs or see a catchy cover in an airport.
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From:tipgardner
Date:November 19th, 2004 10:15 pm (UTC)

Re: Escapism and Community

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I wanted to leave the personal stuff for its own response because it sounds as though you've been subjected to a terrible month or so. I'm very sorry to hear that. My brother died this summer and a very close friend's brother-in-law had a psychotic episode and threatened her sister and his children with a gun, so I, quite literally, know where you are at. Again, I'm very sorry.
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From:stevekelner
Date:November 20th, 2004 07:14 am (UTC)

Re: Escapism and Community

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Thank you for your kind words. This all happened in the last week, believe it or not. The good news is that my brother-in-law may be okay, and ultimately my sister-in-law will be better for the events--eventually.

I am truly sorry to hear of your troubles as well. Please accept my sympathies for difficult times.
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From:tipgardner
Date:November 20th, 2004 07:35 am (UTC)

Re: Escapism and Community

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Sadly, we are agreeing to well on this topic as well. Best wishes and much sympathy to you and your family as well.
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