Thursday, September 27, 2007

More critical fantasy

Conversational Reading draws our attention to the opening paragraph of Ursula Le Guin's – sorry – Ursula K Le Guin's review of Jeanette Winterson's The Stone Gods:
It's odd to find characters in a science-fiction novel repeatedly announcing that they hate science fiction. I can only suppose that Jeanette Winterson is trying to keep her credits as a "literary" writer even as she openly commits genre.
It's also odd for a reviewer to admit to such a lack of imagination. Or humour: could it be possible that Winterson is having a laugh at her own expense? Reading without humour might lead one to think in the present case that Le Guin is sublimating her own inferiority complex as a sci-fi writer by openly giving credit to Winterson for being "literary" whilst also suggesting genre is a crime. There's more:
Surely [Winterson's] noticed that everybody is writing science fiction now? Formerly deep-dyed realists are producing novels so full of the tropes and fixtures and plotlines of science fiction that only the snarling tricephalic dogs who guard the Canon of Literature can tell the difference. I certainly can't.
I wonder why she does not name one of these guard dogs. Who are they?! She does not even name one of these "formerly deep-eyed realists"! Could she mean Cormac McCarthy and his novel The Road from last year? She claims not to be bothered by the distinction between literary and genre, but even she's not convinced.
I am bothered ... by the curious ingratitude of authors who exploit a common fund of imagery while pretending to have nothing to do with the fellow-authors who created it and left it open to all who want to use it. A little return generosity would hardly come amiss.
How is ingratitude shown in the novel toward this common fund? It would be fascinating to follow such close reading. And how might such generosity toward it manifest if not through usage – a theft that is also a gift? Should Cormac McCarthy have to acknowledge the genius of Louis L'Amour? Does Winterson have to pay homage to the senior in the department? I wonder who that might be. It's frustrating not to be told. Actually, maybe Le Guin is displaying her own generosity toward the common fund of self-pitying, axe-grinding, example-free whining that frequently passes for literary criticism in the serious press.

Should I provide an example of such criticism myself? How about this from last December?

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