Saturday, May 12, 2012

Literary Fiction

From facebook:
I used to argue that literary fiction tended to be (a) realistic and (b) depressing. The message was: life doesn't get any better than this. TINA, if you will. It's a good message for comfortable, upper middle class people who don't really want to change their lives. Popular fiction -- or mass fiction -- tends to be unrealistic will fulfillment. The message here is for the young and for working people, and it says: our lives are hard and we are angry; we dream of change, but realistic change isn't possible.

The question is, what is realistic change? How do we build a new world? (We really have to; this world is going down in flames. Just ask James Hansen.) Is there a way to move from the unrealistic action of a superhero movie to a realistic form of action? Or do the movies simply defuse anger and distract us from the real world?
More, in answer to a comment from Gregory Feeley, who pointed out that my description of literary fiction sounded like defensive remarks from SF writers in the 1970s and 80s:
I'm no longer sure my take on literary fiction is correct. My problem in discussing mainstream or mundane or literary fiction is, I don't read enough of it, and I certainly don't read widely enough. Having said that, I don't see the problem with literary fiction is that it lulls us. Instead -- I suspect, based on inadequate data -- that it limits us. It does not give us a vision of large scale change that we need now, if we are actually going to save the planet. It doesn't tear the top off our lives. Much popular art does envision large change. However, the way the change happens is unrealistic.
I think the phrase "tears the top off our lives" is close to what I want. The Avengers does this, but then it leaves us with Midtown Manhatten in imaginary flames and the heroes in a shawarma shop.

What happens next? Do we build a new Jerusalem? Or is it more of the same? The same battles with the same supervillains over and over?


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