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What makes literature good? Academics and the value of art

OremLKOremLK Registered User regular
edited January 2009 in Debate and/or Discourse
Split off from Wheel of Time Thread. TL;DR: We're discussing what makes literature great--the value of accessibility, the relation between accessibility and quality, and the role of academic elites in all of this.
Bogart wrote: »
I don't know how you can find language, which, aside from paper and ink, is what books are made of irrelevant.

Language is a tool for communication. It is quite valuable, as such, but it is still a means to an end. The end is the ideas you are communicating. Those are what make literature great. I will accept that some people can use language in really beautiful ways, but to me, it will always be more of a surface thing. Nice to have. Pretty. Not at all the point of a story.

Different people do appreciate different things. But I will say this: I've never been changed by language. I don't internalize language in terms of how I view things and how I live my life. Stories, though, the substance you are communicating with language... Oh yes. Those have changed me.
great literature is often not financially lucrative, often because it's only recognized after its time

Considering that it's only fairly recently that art became quite so much of a capitalistic endeavor, and in the past, many classic, highly respected, and influential artists were very popular in their time. (Or at least their art was.)

Great literature is usually hard work for the reader, and has limited popular appeal until its greatness is more widely recognized. Faulkner is brilliant, but he is difficult. Obviously there are exceptions - some truly great literature is easier, or at least accessible on an easier level and still enjoyable or worthwhile, and some great authors do well from the start.

The simple fact is that the more accessible something is, the more chance it has of being immediately popular and successful, and it's very hard to do something "great" with art and maintain accessibility. Some authors manage it, but they are exceptions. I would not call Faulkner accessible (mostly), but I would call him great. His greatest work is definitely not easily accessible, and his most accessible work is definitely not his greatest.

Could you explain what you mean by "great", and why you think it is usually hard work for the reader? I'm still not getting the why here.

And I think if you look back before the 19th century or so, most classic writers of literature did write in an accessible fashion. I mean, shit--look at Shakespeare. He is probably the most-hailed author, thought of by many as the best writer of all time, and he wrote for regular people at playhouses. Homer's work was entirely carried by the oral traditions of regular people. I would argue that, when it comes to storytelling, it's only recently that we've started to associate inaccessibility with greatness.
OremLK wrote: »
I get frustrated with your definition of "good" literature because it causes authors to value narrowing their focus to a small, elite group of people.

Let's look at a different field, then. In physics, one could argue that quantum "studies" are the most interesting and groundbreaking area where a physicist could work. The comprehension and mental ability for this field is greater than that for astronomy. Quantum physics are for a small, elite group who can understand the work. It is a field that is important and meaningful, but is not understandable by the "layman."

I think that one thing to keep in mind is that we're both (and everyone involved in this conversation) not the "laymen" that we have been speaking of. We're all of above-average intelligence. I see no reason why a quantum physicist would benefit from addressing the work to a common level of comprehension. The language used to communicate imperfect ideas of quantum mechanics could be made accessible, but the concepts themselves remain out of reach to the "average" American.

Again, I don't like this comparison at all. Quantum physics is not literature. It shares few, if any of the same purposes. I suppose to have this discussion we do need to talk about what the purposes of literature are, but I think it's safe to say that literature is (and should be) much more in touch with overall society than quantum physics.
Good literature should be accessible, but inaccessibility isn't a devil in disguise. Anyone can read Portrait of the Artist and understand the basic story, but in order to understand Portrait it requires greater intelligence and harder work.

I just get sick to death of people who argue that we need to make art and literature "accessible" to "average" men and women. These "average" readers don't care about Ulysses, and would have trouble getting much more than plot out of even a Dan Brown novel. No one is writing actual literature for the "common man" they're writing it for reader who are already of above-average intelligence and who have "elite" training or instruction already.

I mean, accessible and inaccessible lit exist. My hesitation is that statements like "all art should be accessible to be successful" drags those who would create masterful and difficult work to "dumb" it down for the illusory prick who won't read the work, anyway. And that prick has his novels and could even get through "difficult" work if they wanted to put in the effort. I don't see any reason why we need to exist under the illusion that art should be fully understandable by everyone. Asking that we maintain a high academic standard from our authors doesn't seem to be a damaging request to art.

It isn't elitism, it's asking that people put some work in of their own before expecting metaphysical enlightenment.

I never said that art should be fully understandable by everyone; I do value accessibility, but I have no problem with having a niche for highly complex, intellectual work. My problem is more with raising it to an artificial level of importance as academics have done. I believe, again, that in history, the most memorable and important and influential storytellers have been those who made a heavy impact on a wide variety of people, not just the few elites trained to understand it.

Furthermore, I don't see where you're getting this attitude that some kind of "price" must be paid to receive great literature. Why should ideas be hidden and obfuscated and encoded? Why should they require hard work to get at?

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  • Evil MultifariousEvil Multifarious Registered User regular
    edited January 2009
    The question of "what makes literature great" is a fairly large and controversial one.

    But again, using Faulkner. He is great because of the following things, although there is obviously more to it:

    -He evokes ideas about the human condition, what it means to be mortal, fundamentally flawed, etc.
    -He evokes the culture of the South and all its history and mythology, in a way that is genuine, disturbing, and somehow affirming.
    -He challenges standards of behaviour, thought, and judgment; he questions assumptions and shows how they are wrong or flawed.

    That last one is particularly interesting, because it ties to language. Faulkner renovates the way in which prose deals with time. Typically, prose expresses one idea at a time, marching forward in absolute linearity of expression and time, establishing both a rigid order and a hierarchy of expression. This isn't how life works. Faulkner's whole thing is the chaos, the disorder, the messy, rotten, explosive storm of life. The very way he constructs his sentences expresses this. When you read a Faulknerian long sentence, he holds back or deliberately confuses the modifiers that express temporal facts. He writes so many dependent clauses that you must constantly refer back to position yourself in the sentence. He bends grammatical rules to the breaking point. What you are left with is a soup of chaotic, simultaneous impressions, which do not follow the rigid order of proper English sentence composition. Your constant referrals and attempts to position yourself result in an absence of position. This is Faulkner's attempt to allow the sentence to describe reality more honestly and authentically. Reading a Faulknerian sentence is more like experiencing the situation he describes.

    To put it in a PA-ish fashion, English prose is turn based, and Faulkner tries to create a real-time game with a turn-based engine.

    This is why language is important, and can produce brilliance in concordance with ideas; the themes and ideas Faulkner expresses are not just communicated through language, they are experienced in the language itself.

    The importance of language, in this way, is the very basis of poetry, which is evocation through language. Metric poetry, in particular, uses language to duplicate the idea. If you want good examples of this, look at Alexander Pope's iambic pentameter, and the way he varies from the basic structure in accordance with the content of each line.

    These are complex ideas, and it is difficult to really grasp and explore them. It's not that you should pay some kind of price to get at the ideas; it's that the great ideas themselves are essentially complex, and thus essentially difficult. I guess great literature is the expression of great ideas.

    Inquisitor wrote: »
    I fucking hate you Canadians.
  • The Crowing OneThe Crowing One Registered User regular
    edited January 2009
    OremLK wrote: »
    Again, I don't like this comparison at all. Quantum physics is not literature. It shares few, if any of the same purposes. I suppose to have this discussion we do need to talk about what the purposes of literature are, but I think it's safe to say that literature is (and should be) much more in touch with overall society than quantum physics.

    The analogy is that quantum physics require the same sort of work, intelligence and dedication that are shown by many modernist "difficult" authors. Just because everyone can prove gravity exists by dropping a tennis ball doesn't mean that dropping a tennis ball is the only means of proving the existence of gravity, but that the experiment is the accessible means of proving gravity for a layperson. Just because we can write simply doesn't mean that the best interest of the culture is to write everything in a way which will be understood by the common person.

    OremLK wrote: »
    I never said that art should be fully understandable by everyone; I do value accessibility, but I have no problem with having a niche for highly complex, intellectual work. My problem is more with raising it to an artificial level of importance as academics have done. I believe, again, that in history, the most memorable and important and influential storytellers have been those who made a heavy impact on a wide variety of people, not just the few elites trained to understand it.

    Furthermore, I don't see where you're getting this attitude that some kind of "price" must be paid to receive great literature. Why should ideas be hidden and obfuscated and encoded? Why should they require hard work to get at?

    Because the metaphysical "truths" which are the point of serious literature are inherently hidden from view.

    We're not concerned with what is "popular" or what has the greatest effect on the greatest number of people. We're concerned with moving art and lit to a place which continually breaks new ground and frames human conditions in new and deep ways. This can be accomplished by accessible writing, but it also is accomplished in a more technically refined form when we get complex and dense.

    In the end it comes down to the difference between teaching and explaining a difficult concept and giving a simplified version of the same concept. One is correct in both explanation and mechanization, while the other is correct in explanation but incorrect in method due to the complex math and physics involved and not understood by the untrained layman.
    These are complex ideas, and it is difficult to really grasp and explore them. It's not that you should pay some kind of price to get at the ideas; it's that the great ideas themselves are essentially complex, and thus essentially difficult. I guess great literature is the expression of great ideas.

    This. This is what I'm trying (poorly) to communicate with my analogy to quantum physics.

    3rddocbottom.jpg
  • FeralFeral Who needs a medical license when you've got style? Registered User regular
    edited January 2009
    Disclaimer: I have not read Faulkner.
    Typically, prose expresses one idea at a time, marching forward in absolute linearity of expression and time, establishing both a rigid order and a hierarchy of expression. This isn't how life works. Faulkner's whole thing is the chaos, the disorder, the messy, rotten, explosive storm of life.

    This passage seems to be painting two extremes - life as a hierarchical linear chain of events, or life as a messy explosive storm - and then making a generalization that life is closer to the latter than the former. This runs counter to the way I think most people experience life, which is a lot closer IMO to the former. Life is sometimes disorganized but when people can no longer order the events of our lives in a linear meaningful narrative, they tend to feel confused and alienated. This is why narrative-building is so important in counseling psychology; it seems like the telling of stories - with a linear progression of events, with conflicts leading to resolutions and denouement - is very core to human psychology. That's not to say that non-linearity, circularity, branching, and parallelism aren't part of the human experience as well, but it seems to be a basic function of the human mind to organize those non-linear paths into a larger causal order.
    These are complex ideas, and it is difficult to really grasp and explore them. It's not that you should pay some kind of price to get at the ideas; it's that the great ideas themselves are essentially complex, and thus essentially difficult. I guess great literature is the expression of great ideas.

    I have little patience for literature that is overly obfuscated. It's entirely possible that I just didn't sit down and spend enough time dissecting James Joyce to really get him... but I doubt it. The idea that deep truths require complex language, again, runs counter to what I've seen and learned about the human experience. Humans gravitate towards proverbs, cliches, quotes, metaphors, parables, riddles, koans... these things are basically literary soundbites, expressing a deep metaphysical truth with relatively few words.

    every person who doesn't like an acquired taste always seems to think everyone who likes it is faking it. it should be an official fallacy.
    the "no true scotch, man" fallacy.
  • MedopineMedopine __BANNED USERS
    edited January 2009
    On a different level, great literature contains great writing. Meaning something other than uncreative, stilted, forced, or just plain lazy prose.

    Think Dan Brown vs. Steinbeck

    If your book contains awesome themes and ideas, but is written terribly, it's not great literature.

    Not all great writing is the same. Style and voice are big components. But all great writing shares the characteristic of being not-terrible, I guess.

  • FeralFeral Who needs a medical license when you've got style? Registered User regular
    edited January 2009
    Medopine wrote: »
    On a different level, great literature contains great writing. Meaning something other than uncreative, stilted, forced, or just plain lazy prose.

    Think Dan Brown vs. Steinbeck

    If your book contains awesome themes and ideas, but is written terribly, it's not great literature.

    Not all great writing is the same. Style and voice are big components. But all great writing shares the characteristic of being not-terrible, I guess.

    Wouldn't Dan Brown vs. Umberto Eco be a better comparison?

    I mean, The Da Vinci Code is basically Foucault's Pendulum for Beginners.

    every person who doesn't like an acquired taste always seems to think everyone who likes it is faking it. it should be an official fallacy.
    the "no true scotch, man" fallacy.
  • ElJeffeElJeffe Super Moderator, Moderator, ClubPA mod
    edited January 2009
    Just because we can write simply doesn't mean that the best interest of the culture is to write everything in a way which will be understood by the common person.

    I get what you're saying, and agree to a point. I would argue, though, that the ideal way to communicate an idea is using the simplest language you can that gets the largest chunk of that idea across intact. Of these two sentences:
    The bear pooped in the woods.
    The bear in the woods expelled fecal matter from his anus.

    The former is better, because it communicates the same idea in a simpler manner. (Apologies to Stephen King for blatantly stealing his example.) I could imagine situations in which the latter sentence is superior, but in general the first one kicks its ass.

    Using Faulkner as an example, his work isn't better just because he uses complex sentences. His work is better because the complexity of his sentences is used to better communicate his idea. If there was a simpler means of writing his sentences that got the idea across just as ably, that means would be superior.

    Maddie: "I named my feet. The left one is flip and the right one is flop. Oh, and also I named my flip-flops."

    I make tweet.
  • MedopineMedopine __BANNED USERS
    edited January 2009
    Feral wrote: »
    Medopine wrote: »
    On a different level, great literature contains great writing. Meaning something other than uncreative, stilted, forced, or just plain lazy prose.

    Think Dan Brown vs. Steinbeck

    If your book contains awesome themes and ideas, but is written terribly, it's not great literature.

    Not all great writing is the same. Style and voice are big components. But all great writing shares the characteristic of being not-terrible, I guess.

    Wouldn't Dan Brown vs. Umberto Eco be a better comparison?

    I mean, The Da Vinci Code is basically Foucault's Pendulum for Beginners.

    Yeah probably, I just thought of one example of bad writing and great writing off the top of my head :P

  • monikermoniker Registered User regular
    edited January 2009
    Medopine wrote: »
    On a different level, great literature contains great writing. Meaning something other than uncreative, stilted, forced, or just plain lazy prose.

    Think Dan Brown vs. Steinbeck

    If your book contains awesome themes and ideas, but is written terribly, it's not great literature.

    Not all great writing is the same. Style and voice are big components. But all great writing shares the characteristic of being not-terrible, I guess.

    There is a music to language, and if you hit the notes right it'll last the ages. There are some turns of phrases in Shakespeare that, if expressed differently, wouldn't make any sense. They do thanks to the way that they are composed.

    That is what makes the difference between a book/story and literature. The ability to write something interesting, interestingly. There are plenty of good books that will keep you turning the page, but ultimately fall flat. You liked it, you enjoyed the read, but you aren't going to pick it up again anytime soon.

    tea-1.jpg
  • FeralFeral Who needs a medical license when you've got style? Registered User regular
    edited January 2009
    Medopine wrote: »
    Feral wrote: »
    Medopine wrote: »
    On a different level, great literature contains great writing. Meaning something other than uncreative, stilted, forced, or just plain lazy prose.

    Think Dan Brown vs. Steinbeck

    If your book contains awesome themes and ideas, but is written terribly, it's not great literature.

    Not all great writing is the same. Style and voice are big components. But all great writing shares the characteristic of being not-terrible, I guess.

    Wouldn't Dan Brown vs. Umberto Eco be a better comparison?

    I mean, The Da Vinci Code is basically Foucault's Pendulum for Beginners.

    Yeah probably, I just thought of one example of bad writing and great writing off the top of my head :P

    Gotcha... yeah.

    I've just been thinking about Eco a little bit since this thread started.

    I do particularly like it when a book contains a lot of historical or literary allegory. Neal Stephenson, Umberto Eco... hell even The Watchmen is an example of this. There's a lot bubbling below the surface, so if you are well-read and you happen to catch, "Oh, he's talking about Moby Dick here" and that brings up all the ideas and emotions that you associate with Moby Dick, a new layer to the work unfolds that's rich and rewarding and arguably "difficult." However, you don't need that kind of background to get the basic gist of what the author is trying to say. It's more like a literary easter egg.

    every person who doesn't like an acquired taste always seems to think everyone who likes it is faking it. it should be an official fallacy.
    the "no true scotch, man" fallacy.
  • The Crowing OneThe Crowing One Registered User regular
    edited January 2009
    Feral wrote: »
    I have little patience for literature that is overly obfuscated. It's entirely possible that I just didn't sit down and spend enough time dissecting James Joyce to really get him... but I doubt it. The idea that deep truths require complex language, again, runs counter to what I've seen and learned about the human experience. Humans gravitate towards proverbs, cliches, quotes, metaphors, parables, riddles, koans... these things are basically literary soundbites, expressing a deep metaphysical truth with relatively few words.

    I don't think we're trying to posit that you're worthless because you don't devote your life to difficult literature. What we're stating is that the trend to encourage "accessible" writing is damaging to all writing in that it lowers the standard and creates prolific mediocrity.

    You're going to get what you, yourself, want to get out of a novel. If you don't want to deal with Joyce that's fine. I have many days when all I want to do is read absolutely terribly written Star Wars novels. I believe that we're trying to argue that inaccessible lit is necessary not because it is inaccessible but because it is the product of immense intelligence, study and knowledge. Complex ideas can be communicated in "simple" ways, and this is the current trend. What my point is about is that we must maintain complex thought in complex presentation to achieve the greatest complex result.

    Koans are, perhaps, some of the most obscured and difficult ideas to convey. There are many koans which are, perhaps, more complex and difficult to understand than Joyce.

    3rddocbottom.jpg
  • FeralFeral Who needs a medical license when you've got style? Registered User regular
    edited January 2009
    I don't think we're trying to posit that you're worthless because you don't devote your life to difficult literature. What we're stating is that the trend to encourage "accessible" writing is damaging to all writing in that it lowers the standard and creates prolific mediocrity.

    I didn't think you were trying to posit such a thing at all.

    I'm trying to provide a counterargument, which is admittedly difficult, because I haven't studied the very bodies of work that we're talking about as closely as you guys have. So I'm immediately at a disadvantage.

    In any case, I wasn't aware that there was such a trend. I always got the impression that nonlinearity and complexity were "in" right now. Talking about the zeitgeist is always like that parable about three blind men describing an elephant, so what I perceive as "trendy" and what you perceive as "trendy" could be two completely different things based on our social circle and media exposure... but just from my personal experience, I find it hard to believe that there's a push for more accessible literature.

    There's a divide, which is actually illustrated in your post, here...
    You're going to get what you, yourself, want to get out of a novel. If you don't want to deal with Joyce that's fine. I have many days when all I want to do is read absolutely terribly written Star Wars novels.

    ...that complexity and literary value go hand in hand. That there is a bipolar spectrum, with accessible pop novels (like Star Wars and Dan Brown) at one end and inaccessible highbrow literature (like Joyce) at the other end. Great literature wasn't always like this... and isn't always like this... part of the genius of Shakespeare was his ability to weave beautiful poetry and deep meaning with puns and bawdy jokes all around a core of deep human insight to keep brows of all elevations interested.
    Koans are, perhaps, some of the most obscured and difficult ideas to convey. There are many koans which are, perhaps, more complex and difficult to understand than Joyce.

    I would say that koans are actually very simple. Difficult, yes, but simple, in that they can illustrate a very important facet of human perception with a handful of words.

    Ultimately, if you're arguing that literature should not necessarily be simple, and I'm arguing that literature should not necessarily be complex, but that authors should choose the words that best illustrate their meanings, then we're basically talking across each other.

    every person who doesn't like an acquired taste always seems to think everyone who likes it is faking it. it should be an official fallacy.
    the "no true scotch, man" fallacy.
  • jothkijothki Registered User regular
    edited January 2009
    ElJeffe wrote: »
    Just because we can write simply doesn't mean that the best interest of the culture is to write everything in a way which will be understood by the common person.

    I get what you're saying, and agree to a point. I would argue, though, that the ideal way to communicate an idea is using the simplest language you can that gets the largest chunk of that idea across intact. Of these two sentences:
    The bear pooped in the woods.
    The bear in the woods expelled fecal matter from his anus.

    The former is better, because it communicates the same idea in a simpler manner. (Apologies to Stephen King for blatantly stealing his example.) I could imagine situations in which the latter sentence is superior, but in general the first one kicks its ass.

    Using Faulkner as an example, his work isn't better just because he uses complex sentences. His work is better because the complexity of his sentences is used to better communicate his idea. If there was a simpler means of writing his sentences that got the idea across just as ably, that means would be superior.

    Language is somewhat arbitrary, though. To use your example, if English didn't have the word 'poop', would the second version be better than it is in this reality?

    I wonder where creating new words falls into this. If you wanted to express a complex concept multiple times in a piece of literature, would it be best to create an arbitrary new word to describe the concept and specify it at the beginning of the work, and then use that word over and over instead of relying on conventional English language?

    Would the perfect piece of literature consist of overloading an entire work into a single word, and then just using that word once?

  • PodlyPodly good moleman to youRegistered User regular
    edited January 2009
    Feral wrote: »
    Disclaimer: I have not read Faulkner.
    Typically, prose expresses one idea at a time, marching forward in absolute linearity of expression and time, establishing both a rigid order and a hierarchy of expression. This isn't how life works. Faulkner's whole thing is the chaos, the disorder, the messy, rotten, explosive storm of life.

    This passage seems to be painting two extremes - life as a hierarchical linear chain of events, or life as a messy explosive storm - and then making a generalization that life is closer to the latter than the former. This runs counter to the way I think most people experience life, which is a lot closer IMO to the former. Life is sometimes disorganized but when people can no longer order the events of our lives in a linear meaningful narrative, they tend to feel confused and alienated. This is why narrative-building is so important in counseling psychology; it seems like the telling of stories - with a linear progression of events, with conflicts leading to resolutions and denouement - is very core to human psychology. That's not to say that non-linearity, circularity, branching, and parallelism aren't part of the human experience as well, but it seems to be a basic function of the human mind to organize those non-linear paths into a larger causal order.
    These are complex ideas, and it is difficult to really grasp and explore them. It's not that you should pay some kind of price to get at the ideas; it's that the great ideas themselves are essentially complex, and thus essentially difficult. I guess great literature is the expression of great ideas.

    I have little patience for literature that is overly obfuscated. It's entirely possible that I just didn't sit down and spend enough time dissecting James Joyce to really get him... but I doubt it. The idea that deep truths require complex language, again, runs counter to what I've seen and learned about the human experience. Humans gravitate towards proverbs, cliches, quotes, metaphors, parables, riddles, koans... these things are basically literary soundbites, expressing a deep metaphysical truth with relatively few words.

    I completely, 100% disagree with this. Cliches, even when polar opposites, often seem true because life is so difficult, yet they seem true, because there is no one central truth. So when we just accept them, we can get on with our life. This is one of the main themes of Infinite Jest. However, this does not mean that complexity is a obfuscation of reality. The linear stories that we come up with are often falsities, fantasies, and fairy tails, which we construct for ourselves in order to get by. This, in a nutshell, is the function of pop music. While I think this is fine and dandy and more often than not both necessary and cool, it is not a true presentation of life. Good literature will do this. For example, in Ulysses, the architectonics -- the construction of the novel -- constantly set up cliche and cloyingly sweet plotlines that never come to fruition, but kind of occur. Once you realize it, it is both depressing and hopeful.

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  • The Crowing OneThe Crowing One Registered User regular
    edited January 2009
    jothki wrote: »
    I wonder where creating new words falls into this. If you wanted to express a complex concept multiple times in a piece of literature, would it be best to create an arbitrary new word to describe the concept and specify it at the beginning of the work, and then use that word over and over instead of relying on conventional English language?

    Welcome to Joyce.

    The problem then becomes that we are using layers upon layers of meaning to pack as much punch into a single phrase or word as possible. "The bear pooped before hibernating" is simple and explains the entirety of the statement at face value. Now "The bear shed himself of waste before hibernation" is a much more interesting statement. What waste? is this physical waste? metaphorical? The statement supports both, allowing a reader to determine their own level of commitment to the writing.

    There is something to be said, here, for my physics example: Complexity simplified is no longer a logically true statement. Saying that "Gravity causes the tennis ball to fall to the ground" is correct, but it does not allow any vision into the actual reason why the ball drops. Complex thought may be conveyed by simple statements, but to be understood it must be conveyed in the same complexity which supports the assertion. As a culture we devote words to expressing complex statements in simplified terms. Writing is a dance between packing as much in as possible and being accurate in the statements one makes.

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  • PodlyPodly good moleman to youRegistered User regular
    edited January 2009
    Also, it is not apoplectically true that simpler is better. Preferable, maybe, in certain instances. But there are plenty of poetic devices - litanies, overloaded metonymy, etc., that rely on garrulous phraseology.

    It's probably more along the lines that people love to quote things, and the smaller something is, the easier it is to quote.

    follow my music twitter soundcloud tumblr
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  • monikermoniker Registered User regular
    edited January 2009
    Podly wrote: »
    Also, it is not apoplectically true that simpler is better. Preferable, maybe, in certain instances. But there are plenty of poetic devices - litanies, overloaded metonymy, etc., that rely on garrulous phraseology.

    It's probably more along the lines that people love to quote things, and the smaller something is, the easier it is to quote.

    More accessible != the abandonment of polysyllabic words or semi-colons.

    tea-1.jpg
  • FeralFeral Who needs a medical license when you've got style? Registered User regular
    edited January 2009
    Podly wrote: »
    I completely, 100% disagree with this. Cliches, even when polar opposites, often seem true because life is so difficult, yet they seem true, because there is no one central truth. So when we just accept them, we can get on with our life. This is one of the main themes of Infinite Jest. However, this does not mean that complexity is a obfuscation of reality. The linear stories that we come up with are often falsities, fantasies, and fairy tails, which we construct for ourselves in order to get by. This, in a nutshell, is the function of pop music. While I think this is fine and dandy and more often than not both necessary and cool, it is not a true presentation of life. Good literature will do this. For example, in Ulysses, the architectonics -- the construction of the novel -- constantly set up cliche and cloyingly sweet plotlines that never come to fruition, but kind of occur. Once you realize it, it is both depressing and hopeful.

    I've already accepted that there's no one central truth, and I've gotten on with my life. I don't need literature that orbits endlessly around an existential void to remind me of that.

    every person who doesn't like an acquired taste always seems to think everyone who likes it is faking it. it should be an official fallacy.
    the "no true scotch, man" fallacy.
  • PodlyPodly good moleman to youRegistered User regular
    edited January 2009
    Feral wrote: »
    Podly wrote: »
    I completely, 100% disagree with this. Cliches, even when polar opposites, often seem true because life is so difficult, yet they seem true, because there is no one central truth. So when we just accept them, we can get on with our life. This is one of the main themes of Infinite Jest. However, this does not mean that complexity is a obfuscation of reality. The linear stories that we come up with are often falsities, fantasies, and fairy tails, which we construct for ourselves in order to get by. This, in a nutshell, is the function of pop music. While I think this is fine and dandy and more often than not both necessary and cool, it is not a true presentation of life. Good literature will do this. For example, in Ulysses, the architectonics -- the construction of the novel -- constantly set up cliche and cloyingly sweet plotlines that never come to fruition, but kind of occur. Once you realize it, it is both depressing and hopeful.

    I've already accepted that there's no one central truth, and I've gotten on with my life. I don't need literature that orbits endlessly around an existential void to remind me of that.

    Cool? Maybe some people like to know that there is someone out there who understands them, and who wants their understanding and experience of the world to be validated, or need help in understanding this matter, or who simply sometimes tire of being told lies to keep them happy?

    And more often than not it's the accepting of the void that allows us to transcend it and work with the artifice the void generates. This is Paul de Man's theory of language and meaning.

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  • FeralFeral Who needs a medical license when you've got style? Registered User regular
    edited January 2009
    Podly wrote: »
    Feral wrote: »
    Podly wrote: »
    I completely, 100% disagree with this. Cliches, even when polar opposites, often seem true because life is so difficult, yet they seem true, because there is no one central truth. So when we just accept them, we can get on with our life. This is one of the main themes of Infinite Jest. However, this does not mean that complexity is a obfuscation of reality. The linear stories that we come up with are often falsities, fantasies, and fairy tails, which we construct for ourselves in order to get by. This, in a nutshell, is the function of pop music. While I think this is fine and dandy and more often than not both necessary and cool, it is not a true presentation of life. Good literature will do this. For example, in Ulysses, the architectonics -- the construction of the novel -- constantly set up cliche and cloyingly sweet plotlines that never come to fruition, but kind of occur. Once you realize it, it is both depressing and hopeful.

    I've already accepted that there's no one central truth, and I've gotten on with my life. I don't need literature that orbits endlessly around an existential void to remind me of that.

    Cool? Maybe some people like to know that there is someone out there who understands them, and who wants their understanding and experience of the world to be validated, or need help in understanding this matter, or who simply sometimes tire of being told lies to keep them happy?

    And more often than not it's the accepting of the void that allows us to transcend it and work with the artifice the void generates. This is Paul de Man's theory of language and meaning.

    I'm sorry, my response was overly glib. I'm trying to wrap my head around a paradox I see in your post.

    If one of the themes of Infinite Jest is to illustrate that there is no central truth, but merely convenient small truths, and that if we "accept them, we can get on with our life," wouldn't that mean that reading Infinite Jest was basically an exercise in futility? We start off looking for deep metaphysical truths, and 1000 pages later we realize that the punch line is that there are no deep metaphysical truths, how is that anything more than a philosophical O Henry?

    every person who doesn't like an acquired taste always seems to think everyone who likes it is faking it. it should be an official fallacy.
    the "no true scotch, man" fallacy.
  • The Crowing OneThe Crowing One Registered User regular
    edited January 2009
    Feral wrote: »
    I've already accepted that there's no one central truth, and I've gotten on with my life. I don't need literature that orbits endlessly around an existential void to remind me of that.

    To paraphrase the poet Hilda Doolittle, all art is a continual search for the "unknown center." It is the journey that creates meaning when the abstract goal remains unattainable.

    We are voyagers, discoverers
    of the not-known,
    the unrecorded;
    we have no map;
    possibly we will reach haven,
    heaven.

    3rddocbottom.jpg
  • PodlyPodly good moleman to youRegistered User regular
    edited January 2009
    Feral wrote: »
    If one of the themes of Infinite Jest is to illustrate that there is no central truth, but merely convenient small truths, and that if we "accept them, we can get on with our life," wouldn't that mean that reading Infinite Jest was basically an exercise in futility? We start off looking for deep metaphysical truths, and 1000 pages later we realize that the punch line is that there are no deep metaphysical truths, how is that anything more than a philosophical O Henry?

    No, it's an examination of how many people who search for truth are unhappy, and many who blindly follow aphorisms -- the story he follows is Alcoholics Anonymous -- just accepting that they are true, are able to get past their troubles. That when we stop worrying about truth, we can get happier. But this comes at the cost of giving up truth and reality for the sake up happiness, which is not exactly a great trade off.

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  • flamebroiledchickenflamebroiledchicken Registered User regular
    edited January 2009
    Feral wrote: »
    In any case, I wasn't aware that there was such a trend. I always got the impression that nonlinearity and complexity were "in" right now. Talking about the zeitgeist is always like that parable about three blind men describing an elephant, so what I perceive as "trendy" and what you perceive as "trendy" could be two completely different things based on our social circle and media exposure... but just from my personal experience, I find it hard to believe that there's a push for more accessible literature.

    I think you're right. Most of today's critically-acclaimed writers (Cormac McCarthy, Dave Foster Wallace, Dave Eggers, Don DeLillo, Zadie Smith, Thomas Pynchon, etc.) are complex postmodernists. There will always be pop literature, but I don't really see what the problem is.

    y59kydgzuja4.png
  • jothkijothki Registered User regular
    edited January 2009
    Podly wrote: »
    Feral wrote: »
    If one of the themes of Infinite Jest is to illustrate that there is no central truth, but merely convenient small truths, and that if we "accept them, we can get on with our life," wouldn't that mean that reading Infinite Jest was basically an exercise in futility? We start off looking for deep metaphysical truths, and 1000 pages later we realize that the punch line is that there are no deep metaphysical truths, how is that anything more than a philosophical O Henry?

    No, it's an examination of how many people who search for truth are unhappy, and many who blindly follow aphorisms -- the story he follows is Alcoholics Anonymous -- just accepting that they are true, are able to get past their troubles. That when we stop worrying about truth, we can get happier. But this comes at the cost of giving up truth and reality for the sake up happiness, which is not exactly a great trade off.

    So in other words, the reader would probably have been happier if they had spent their time doing something else instead of reading that book.

  • FeralFeral Who needs a medical license when you've got style? Registered User regular
    edited January 2009
    jothki wrote: »
    Podly wrote: »
    Feral wrote: »
    If one of the themes of Infinite Jest is to illustrate that there is no central truth, but merely convenient small truths, and that if we "accept them, we can get on with our life," wouldn't that mean that reading Infinite Jest was basically an exercise in futility? We start off looking for deep metaphysical truths, and 1000 pages later we realize that the punch line is that there are no deep metaphysical truths, how is that anything more than a philosophical O Henry?

    No, it's an examination of how many people who search for truth are unhappy, and many who blindly follow aphorisms -- the story he follows is Alcoholics Anonymous -- just accepting that they are true, are able to get past their troubles. That when we stop worrying about truth, we can get happier. But this comes at the cost of giving up truth and reality for the sake up happiness, which is not exactly a great trade off.

    So in other words, the reader would probably have been happier if they had spent their time doing something else instead of reading that book.

    Happier, but less enriched, if I'm reading Podly's post correctly.

    every person who doesn't like an acquired taste always seems to think everyone who likes it is faking it. it should be an official fallacy.
    the "no true scotch, man" fallacy.
  • flamebroiledchickenflamebroiledchicken Registered User regular
    edited January 2009
    jothki wrote: »
    Podly wrote: »
    Feral wrote: »
    If one of the themes of Infinite Jest is to illustrate that there is no central truth, but merely convenient small truths, and that if we "accept them, we can get on with our life," wouldn't that mean that reading Infinite Jest was basically an exercise in futility? We start off looking for deep metaphysical truths, and 1000 pages later we realize that the punch line is that there are no deep metaphysical truths, how is that anything more than a philosophical O Henry?

    No, it's an examination of how many people who search for truth are unhappy, and many who blindly follow aphorisms -- the story he follows is Alcoholics Anonymous -- just accepting that they are true, are able to get past their troubles. That when we stop worrying about truth, we can get happier. But this comes at the cost of giving up truth and reality for the sake up happiness, which is not exactly a great trade off.

    So in other words, the reader would probably have been happier if they had spent their time doing something else instead of reading that book.

    Hence the title.

    y59kydgzuja4.png
  • PodlyPodly good moleman to youRegistered User regular
    edited January 2009
    Feral wrote: »
    jothki wrote: »
    Podly wrote: »
    Feral wrote: »
    If one of the themes of Infinite Jest is to illustrate that there is no central truth, but merely convenient small truths, and that if we "accept them, we can get on with our life," wouldn't that mean that reading Infinite Jest was basically an exercise in futility? We start off looking for deep metaphysical truths, and 1000 pages later we realize that the punch line is that there are no deep metaphysical truths, how is that anything more than a philosophical O Henry?

    No, it's an examination of how many people who search for truth are unhappy, and many who blindly follow aphorisms -- the story he follows is Alcoholics Anonymous -- just accepting that they are true, are able to get past their troubles. That when we stop worrying about truth, we can get happier. But this comes at the cost of giving up truth and reality for the sake up happiness, which is not exactly a great trade off.

    So in other words, the reader would probably have been happier if they had spent their time doing something else instead of reading that book.

    Happier, but less enriched, if I'm reading Podly's post correctly.

    Basically. Is it better to simply live pleasantly, or to try and explore the horizons of your being in the world sorta question.

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  • FeralFeral Who needs a medical license when you've got style? Registered User regular
    edited January 2009
    Podly wrote: »
    Basically. Is it better to simply live pleasantly, or to try and explore the horizons of your being in the world sorta question.

    When stated in these terms, this makes me more interested in reading Infinite Jest than any other recommendation I've ever heard about DFW.

    I'm not really making a point with that. I'm just sayin'.

    every person who doesn't like an acquired taste always seems to think everyone who likes it is faking it. it should be an official fallacy.
    the "no true scotch, man" fallacy.
  • jothkijothki Registered User regular
    edited January 2009
    Podly wrote: »
    Feral wrote: »
    jothki wrote: »
    Podly wrote: »
    Feral wrote: »
    If one of the themes of Infinite Jest is to illustrate that there is no central truth, but merely convenient small truths, and that if we "accept them, we can get on with our life," wouldn't that mean that reading Infinite Jest was basically an exercise in futility? We start off looking for deep metaphysical truths, and 1000 pages later we realize that the punch line is that there are no deep metaphysical truths, how is that anything more than a philosophical O Henry?

    No, it's an examination of how many people who search for truth are unhappy, and many who blindly follow aphorisms -- the story he follows is Alcoholics Anonymous -- just accepting that they are true, are able to get past their troubles. That when we stop worrying about truth, we can get happier. But this comes at the cost of giving up truth and reality for the sake up happiness, which is not exactly a great trade off.

    So in other words, the reader would probably have been happier if they had spent their time doing something else instead of reading that book.

    Happier, but less enriched, if I'm reading Podly's post correctly.

    Basically. Is it better to simply live pleasantly, or to try and explore the horizons of your being in the world sorta question.

    I wonder though, if you need to answer that question yourself in order to decide whether the book is worth reading, doesn't that kind of ruin the point of the book itself?

  • PodlyPodly good moleman to youRegistered User regular
    edited January 2009
    jothki wrote: »
    Podly wrote: »
    Feral wrote: »
    jothki wrote: »
    Podly wrote: »
    Feral wrote: »
    If one of the themes of Infinite Jest is to illustrate that there is no central truth, but merely convenient small truths, and that if we "accept them, we can get on with our life," wouldn't that mean that reading Infinite Jest was basically an exercise in futility? We start off looking for deep metaphysical truths, and 1000 pages later we realize that the punch line is that there are no deep metaphysical truths, how is that anything more than a philosophical O Henry?

    No, it's an examination of how many people who search for truth are unhappy, and many who blindly follow aphorisms -- the story he follows is Alcoholics Anonymous -- just accepting that they are true, are able to get past their troubles. That when we stop worrying about truth, we can get happier. But this comes at the cost of giving up truth and reality for the sake up happiness, which is not exactly a great trade off.

    So in other words, the reader would probably have been happier if they had spent their time doing something else instead of reading that book.

    Happier, but less enriched, if I'm reading Podly's post correctly.

    Basically. Is it better to simply live pleasantly, or to try and explore the horizons of your being in the world sorta question.

    I wonder though, if you need to answer that question yourself in order to decide whether the book is worth reading, doesn't that kind of ruin the point of the book itself?

    There's an answer to that question?

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  • ElJeffeElJeffe Super Moderator, Moderator, ClubPA mod
    edited January 2009
    moniker wrote: »
    Podly wrote: »
    Also, it is not apoplectically true that simpler is better. Preferable, maybe, in certain instances. But there are plenty of poetic devices - litanies, overloaded metonymy, etc., that rely on garrulous phraseology.

    It's probably more along the lines that people love to quote things, and the smaller something is, the easier it is to quote.

    More accessible != the abandonment of polysyllabic words or semi-colons.

    Right. The aforementioned poetic devices are, used properly, complex because that complexity communicates something. "The brown bear crapped on a purple flower" is more complicated than "the bear crapped on a flower," but it may be better if the extra data it communicates is useful. Or it may be superfluous.

    Which is why I said that the best way to phrase something is the simplest way that communicates the information, not the simplest way period, or the most accessible way. There are some truths and some facts that cannot be grasped by everyone, and trying to make them accessible to everyone is a fool's errand. You don't write a textbook on competing theories on sub-atomic particles aimed at third graders, because they aren't going to get it no matter what. You also don't need to write your Great American Novel necessarily aimed at Redneck Country. But if you can, then you should. Because while accessibility for its own sake is retarded, inaccessibility for its own sake is even more so. At least when you're erring on the side of accessibility, you're doing so with a reasonable purpose in mind. When you strive for inaccessibility, you're just an elitist dickwad.

    Maddie: "I named my feet. The left one is flip and the right one is flop. Oh, and also I named my flip-flops."

    I make tweet.
  • ElJeffeElJeffe Super Moderator, Moderator, ClubPA mod
    edited January 2009
    Podly wrote: »
    jothki wrote: »
    Podly wrote: »
    Feral wrote: »
    jothki wrote: »
    Podly wrote: »
    Feral wrote: »
    If one of the themes of Infinite Jest is to illustrate that there is no central truth, but merely convenient small truths, and that if we "accept them, we can get on with our life," wouldn't that mean that reading Infinite Jest was basically an exercise in futility? We start off looking for deep metaphysical truths, and 1000 pages later we realize that the punch line is that there are no deep metaphysical truths, how is that anything more than a philosophical O Henry?

    No, it's an examination of how many people who search for truth are unhappy, and many who blindly follow aphorisms -- the story he follows is Alcoholics Anonymous -- just accepting that they are true, are able to get past their troubles. That when we stop worrying about truth, we can get happier. But this comes at the cost of giving up truth and reality for the sake up happiness, which is not exactly a great trade off.

    So in other words, the reader would probably have been happier if they had spent their time doing something else instead of reading that book.

    Happier, but less enriched, if I'm reading Podly's post correctly.

    Basically. Is it better to simply live pleasantly, or to try and explore the horizons of your being in the world sorta question.

    I wonder though, if you need to answer that question yourself in order to decide whether the book is worth reading, doesn't that kind of ruin the point of the book itself?

    There's an answer to that question?

    Presumably, though not a single one for everybody.

    Maddie: "I named my feet. The left one is flip and the right one is flop. Oh, and also I named my flip-flops."

    I make tweet.
  • FeralFeral Who needs a medical license when you've got style? Registered User regular
    edited January 2009
    ElJeffe wrote: »
    At least when you're erring on the side of accessibility, you're doing so with a reasonable purpose in mind. When you strive for inaccessibility, you're just an elitist dickwad.

    I think this is basically where I'm coming from.

    That said, I'm probably going to read Infinite Jest due to Podly's posts above.

    every person who doesn't like an acquired taste always seems to think everyone who likes it is faking it. it should be an official fallacy.
    the "no true scotch, man" fallacy.
  • muninnmuninn Registered User regular
    edited January 2009
    Podly wrote: »
    Feral wrote: »
    jothki wrote: »
    Podly wrote: »
    Feral wrote: »
    If one of the themes of Infinite Jest is to illustrate that there is no central truth, but merely convenient small truths, and that if we "accept them, we can get on with our life," wouldn't that mean that reading Infinite Jest was basically an exercise in futility? We start off looking for deep metaphysical truths, and 1000 pages later we realize that the punch line is that there are no deep metaphysical truths, how is that anything more than a philosophical O Henry?

    No, it's an examination of how many people who search for truth are unhappy, and many who blindly follow aphorisms -- the story he follows is Alcoholics Anonymous -- just accepting that they are true, are able to get past their troubles. That when we stop worrying about truth, we can get happier. But this comes at the cost of giving up truth and reality for the sake up happiness, which is not exactly a great trade off.

    So in other words, the reader would probably have been happier if they had spent their time doing something else instead of reading that book.

    Happier, but less enriched, if I'm reading Podly's post correctly.

    Basically. Is it better to simply live pleasantly, or to try and explore the horizons of your being in the world sorta question.


    So this book boils down to a throwaway concept in the first Matrix movie?

  • ElJeffeElJeffe Super Moderator, Moderator, ClubPA mod
    edited January 2009
    After wiki-ing Infinite Jes, I think I might have to check it out, too.

    Maddie: "I named my feet. The left one is flip and the right one is flop. Oh, and also I named my flip-flops."

    I make tweet.
  • PodlyPodly good moleman to youRegistered User regular
    edited January 2009
    muninn wrote: »
    So this book boils down to a throwaway concept in the first Matrix movie?

    If you're saying "boil-down," then you're completely approaching it the wrong way.

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  • FeralFeral Who needs a medical license when you've got style? Registered User regular
    edited January 2009
    muninn wrote: »
    So this book boils down to a throwaway concept in the first Matrix movie?

    There's a legitimate argument to be made that there is room to explore how different types of people approach this question and why and what results from their choices; that this exploration would make worthwhile fiction; and that the problem with The Matrix isn't that the question is throwaway but merely that movie's handling of it.

    every person who doesn't like an acquired taste always seems to think everyone who likes it is faking it. it should be an official fallacy.
    the "no true scotch, man" fallacy.
  • PodlyPodly good moleman to youRegistered User regular
    edited January 2009
    ElJeffe wrote: »
    After wiki-ing Infinite Jes, I think I might have to check it out, too.

    It should only be $10, if they still have the 10 year anny addition. Just take your time with it. I would recommend reading the first two-hundred pages or so, and then starting over.

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  • ElJeffeElJeffe Super Moderator, Moderator, ClubPA mod
    edited January 2009
    Feral wrote: »
    muninn wrote: »
    So this book boils down to a throwaway concept in the first Matrix movie?

    There's a legitimate argument to be made that there is room to explore how different types of people approach this question and why and what results from their choices; that this exploration would make worthwhile fiction; and that the problem with The Matrix isn't that the question is throwaway but merely that movie's handling of it.

    Do not try to understand its philosophy. That's impossible. Instead... only try to realize the truth:

    There is no philosophy.

    Maddie: "I named my feet. The left one is flip and the right one is flop. Oh, and also I named my flip-flops."

    I make tweet.
  • Evil MultifariousEvil Multifarious Registered User regular
    edited January 2009
    ElJeffe wrote: »
    Which is why I said that the best way to phrase something is the simplest way that communicates the information, not the simplest way period, or the most accessible way.

    This, and the rest of the post, but mostly this, is sort of the key message.

    What you are describing is, quite simply, good writing.

    Someone like Faulkner writes incredibly complex sentences. Even those who enjoy Faulkner's writing would suggest that some of his sentences could be edited to be more effective, of course; he's not perfect. But the means by which he expresses ideas is effective.

    What is important to understand is that the information being communicated is not always simply what the sentence says or describes. Language evokes ideas without stating them.

    When Faulkner writes a six hundred word sentence (and he has, many times) about a family's history, he's not just communicating the family's history. If that was your only goal, then the simplest means of communicating that history is just a bullet list, a point form summary of major events and individuals and dates. Faulkner's monolithic sentence communicates the experience of living that history, or at least attempts to do so; the very form of the sentence, the very structure of the attempt to communicate, is itself a form of communication.

    So, what you are advocating is essentially "Don't put in extra shit when it's not necessary." But when you're experimenting with the nature of written communication, what's necessary becomes a very interesting question.

    Henry James, for example, wrote Turn of the Screw in a very confusing, obtuse style, where he would leave the main verb of the sentence (the predicate) until very near the end, after a number of dependent clauses and descriptions and commas and semicolons and brackets. He did this because the information he wanted to communicate with the sentence was secondary to the effect he wanted to produce, or the greater overarching idea he wanted to convey. That idea was that it is impossible to write authentic realist or naturalist texts about human thought, because you can never really understand or convey another human being's mind. So, he wrote in the way he did to create a distance between the reader and the characters in the story, between the reader and the story in general (which was narrated in first person by one of the characters therein).

    And Faulkner and James, difficult and complex as they are, are modernist authors, who still operate under certain familiar guidelines. Postmodern authors reject many or all of those guidelines, and are attempting to do many different things with their writing.

    Inquisitor wrote: »
    I fucking hate you Canadians.
  • ElJeffeElJeffe Super Moderator, Moderator, ClubPA mod
    edited January 2009
    Podly wrote: »
    ElJeffe wrote: »
    After wiki-ing Infinite Jest, I think I might have to check it out, too.

    It should only be $10, if they still have the 10 year anny addition. Just take your time with it. I would recommend reading the first two-hundred pages or so, and then starting over.

    Yes, any book that requires I begin it multiple times can fuck off and die. I will read it through once and judge it based on that. I posit that if a generally well-read and sharp fellow cannot work through and draw any meaning from a book on a single read-through, the book is a failure.

    Maddie: "I named my feet. The left one is flip and the right one is flop. Oh, and also I named my flip-flops."

    I make tweet.
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