Genre prejudice

Robyn Starkey rohina at shaw.ca
Wed Jul 16 01:30:56 EDT 2003


>It seems to me that he has two separate issues there that he unnecessarily
>blends together.  On the one hand, it's about one genre being elevated above
>all others to the point that it's considered "real" (think Amber) in a way
>that the others are not.  But he also gets into whether or not
>representatives of this genre are worthy of reading at all, and that's
>shakier ground.  All that does is set up a different standard for judging
>all works of fiction.  But can you list some feminist texts that don't fit
>within the broad theory, Robyn?  That seems as though it could be a good
>point for evaluating literary fiction in general, whether feminism itself
>stands outside the mainstream or not.  I would think "not," but you never
>know.

Well, a lot of the feminists texts that sprang to mind also had magic 
realist elements. However, some authors who spring to mind are (in no 
particular order, just ones I have read or taught recently): early 
Jeannette Winterson, AS Byatt, Fay Weldon (who specialises in overturning 
assumptions about literary conventions and personal relationships), Carol 
Shields, and Angela Carter. I think there are others, like Margaret Atwood, 
who are harder to defend.

All of these authors write texts which are accepted as literary. However, 
none of them conform to Wolverton's definition (particularly the 'common 
man' part). To take one example in a bit more detail, a text that I teach a 
lot, which students very much enjoy, is Weldon's "Ind Aff or Out of Love in 
Sarajevo", a text which is anthologised in "literature" textbook/s. It is 
about a literature student who is having an affair, so it almost starts to 
look like it is going to be exactly a model for Wolverton. However, the 
narrative is set in Sarajevo (exotic); it interweaves the story with the 
assassin of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife (historical character); 
it is ironic, feminist, funny and has a definite (if unexpected) ending.

I guess my contention is that perhaps these authors are also aware of the 
problems that Wolverton points out, and are addressing them in their own 
texts; texts which still manage to fit into the genre. I might be a little 
out of line, but I suspect a lot of irony in literary texts might pass 
Wolverton by.

>Which brings me back to the idea that literary readers look for something
>very different than the rest of us when they read--or you could say that
>fantasy readers look for something very different, etc.  Calling other
>literatures "childish" or "regressive" might just be a function of people
>generally wanting to believe that where they are developmentally is better
>than where they were five years ago.  Which probably means I should stop
>insulting mainstream literary books and their readers for being unable to
>ever come to the point.  :)

I think, for me, there are definitely different modes of reading, and the 
way that I look at literary texts, or texts I am going to teach is quite 
different to what I do when I read for pleasure. So I guess I would suggest 
that people who enjoy reading literary fiction probably also enjoy reading 
in a more - hmmm - interpretive mode. I know that's probably true of me. I 
can read fantasy with a critical interpretive mindset, but I don't have to. 
Most literary texts probably *require* this kind of reading.

Robyn 
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