Sunday, November 8, 2009

Literary versus Commercial? Bah!

"Few professors of English literature will ever admit to it, but the truth is that popular writers have had just as great an effect on the people of this nation as Dickens, Poe, or Melville and their classic works." Editor James L. Collins (copied from

This quote and its bedfellows confuse me. Why is "classical" literature assumed not to be "popular"? (I'm no literary scholar, but wasn't Dickens incredibly popular in his lifetime? I think the other two were as well.) Why do "literary" writers eschew a desire to please? I wonder if this isn't a 20th/21st century phenemenon, where artists react to the mass-commoditization of culture by attempting to make their products less accessible. For example, the classics of the plastic arts that we now revere (Rembrandt, Velasquez, Titian) were often intended by their makers to please their elite patrons, even if they were willing to push the envelope with what their customers found pleasing. Contrast that to some contemporary art that seems intended to provoke.

As for writing, I think we are misguided if we separate pleasure-inducing commercial literature from high-minded aesthetics. Fiction is beautiful because it speaks to our deep-seated desire for narrative. Language is stirring because it demonstrates our unique ability to create and shape images and feelings. There's no reason not to blend them. And that, in my mind, is the highest goal - a great story written with panache. I realize that conclusion is shared by many, but still people seem to brandish the false divide between "literary" and "commercial." Let's admit our base need for a story and celebrate the thought-provoking power words have.

No comments:

Princess Nijma

Princess Nijma