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.
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
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.
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?