Thursday, February 19, 2009

You Suck

There's an interesting discussion going on here and here at Colleen Lindsay's blog about a recent piece by Richard K. Morgan criticizing Tolkien and his readers. I won't go into details - read the piece for yourself, the comments, and the comments at Colleen's blog. Many of the commentors are much more eloquent than I.

Instead, I would like to address the human tendency to define personal taste as the ultimate measure of universal quality. Far too often literary criticism consists of nothing more than what the critic thought the book should have been, and how disappointed they were that the author didn't write the book the way they think it should have been written.

Honest literary criticism would start from the point - does the work accomplish it's goal? Does it tell the story successfully within its own frame? Beyond that, everything else you can say about a piece of fiction is your personal opinion. An honest critic recognizes this. So I may hate, for example, The Da Vinci Code. I may have very good technical and artistic and personal reasons for hating it. I may, at a personal and professional level, believe readers are tricked into liking the book by Dan Brown's literary sleight-of-hand, and I may be baffled by their inability to see through his clumsy tricks. But the book succeeds at what it sets out to do. It is what it is (and that's all it is), and it is wildly successful at what it does, within its own frame of reference. I doubt it will be much remembered in 50 years, but only time will tell. Largely thanks to a harsh lesson I learned from a forgotten commentor on a web forum several years ago, I recognize that my opinion of a book and its supporters is just my opinion. People can honestly hold different opinions about a book and neither be, by definition, wrong. Or somehow mentally or emotionally flawed or underdeveloped.

But if you can't recognize that your opinion is just your opinion, well, then, you suck.

Your opinion may vary, consult your conscience.


Finch said...

Although I disagree strongly with your assertion that others on that thread are more eloquent in their expression than you are, I feel that the rest of your message strikes to the very heart of that discussion.

As much as it often frustrates me, subjective appreciation and objective valuation do not have to go hand in hand, and having that perspective is, simply, critical.

(Pardon the pun.)

Jeff said...