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Tog
2009-Sep-17, 06:27 AM
Over on the City of Heroes boards, there is a guy that has been doing reviews of the player crated story arcs published into the game. One of his most often cited complaints is something he calls "Just a Bunch of Stuff that Happened.

JaBoStH is when a story of any kind fails to deliver any form of message that the reader/viewer can take away with them. Most actions films would seem to fall into this category. I think that most mysteries do too. Good Science Fiction, seems to avoid it most of the time.

At one point he said something that strongly implied that any story, of any kind, that was Just a Bunch of Stuff that Happened, cannot be considered literature. I guess I had always assumed that time was the main factor. If a story is still being read decades after publication and not because it's an unintentional comedy, then it was literature.

So. What opinions do we have here? What makes Literature (with capital L)?

jokergirl
2009-Sep-17, 07:24 AM
I'm gonna go with a quote by Ray Bradbury here.



The good writers touch life often. The mediocre ones run a quick hand over her. The bad ones [censored] her and leave her for the flies.


(sorry for the censoring, I have to remember this is a school-friendly board - I AM aware of the irony here considering which book it is I am quoting.)

;)

Gillianren
2009-Sep-17, 08:17 AM
You know, "Just a Bunch of Stuff That Happened" describes quite a lot of my favourite books, some of which are still being read and loved hundreds of years after they were written. Trying to find a deeper message in Twelfth Night is possible, but I don't think one was really intended. What matters rather more to me is the quality of language, the interest factor of the story, the depth of the characters, and so forth. Emma has no deep and overriding meaning, but it's funny, and it's clever. Arguably, the point of The Importance of Being Earnest was to make people think Oscar Wilde was clever, but it did succeed at that, at least. If deep meaning is what it takes to define Literature, we're going to have to think out the classics some.

Perikles
2009-Sep-17, 08:55 AM
You know, "Just a Bunch of Stuff That Happened" describes quite a lot of my favourite books, some of which are still being read and loved hundreds of years after they were written. Trying to find a deeper message in Twelfth Night is possible, but I don't think one was really intended. What matters rather more to me is the quality of language, the interest factor of the story, the depth of the characters, and so forth. Emma has no deep and overriding meaning, but it's funny, and it's clever. Arguably, the point of The Importance of Being Earnest was to make people think Oscar Wilde was clever, but it did succeed at that, at least. If deep meaning is what it takes to define Literature, we're going to have to think out the classics some.I would agree entirely. Some Literature is "Just a Bunch of Stuff That Happened" but it is not what has happened that matters so much as the manner in which it is represented.

Reading fiction involves the voluntary suspension of disbelief. Literature makes this suspension effortless and even subconscious.

My own (highly subjective) definition of Literature is a work which, on second or further reading, leaves you in suspense about how it is going to evolve, even when you know this already.

Ivan Viehoff
2009-Sep-17, 10:08 AM
Classic literature is writing that transcends the time of its production, and retains an audience, or a significance as a cultural milestone, to later generations. It may have been popular in its day, like Jane Austen, or not, like Proust. Something like Milton's Paradise Lost, that surely few people have read in modern times because they wanted to, is in the "cultural milestone" category.

Jane Austen was popular in her day, perhaps not unlike Helen Fielding (Bridget Jones author)today. Will Helen Fielding have the survivability of Jane Austen and become a classic? There is also a great deal of stuff of considerable popularity in the 19th century that is now almost completely forgotten. Sometimes rediscoveries are made and things come back into popularity. But most of it has been forgotten because it no longer appeals.

Modern literature, or the modern literary novel, something not intended to be popular even at time of production, is perhaps harder to define, and probably we wouldn't all agree what it is. Perhaps if it retains a persistent audience over a longer period, then we discover it is what it claims to be.

captain swoop
2009-Sep-17, 10:15 AM
It seems to me that 'Literature' is taken as having some insight into the Human Condition or transcends 'a bunch of stuff that happened' somehow.
WHen I look at Literature from the past it seems that a lot of the volumes I am supposed to consider were the 'popular' books of the day rather than the contemporary works that win the Literary prizes and sell only a few thousand. Modern 'popular' fiction isn't seen as Literature by the people who make the short loist for the Booker or compile the reviews in the Broadsheets.

AndreasJ
2009-Sep-17, 10:16 AM
Literature is what I like, hackwork is what you like.

Ara Pacis
2009-Sep-17, 02:57 PM
Hows the old joke go? Literature is what nobody reads except kids in english class. Or some such.

But I agree with the point by the person being referrenced. A story needs to have some sort of structure and meaning. It doesn't have to be deep, it just has to be man overcoming adversity, whether that adversity is nature, another man, or his own self. Even in failure, one can overcome adversity if one learns something. I don't know the material at the center of the argument, but maybe he thinks they are just elaborated bullet points.

Gillianren
2009-Sep-17, 05:10 PM
There is also a great deal of stuff of considerable popularity in the 19th century that is now almost completely forgotten.

Who remembers Bulwer-Lytton except as a joke? Indeed, I don't think most people remember him for that, for all he wrote one of the most-mocked opening lines in the history of English literature and therefore has a writing contest named after him. ("It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents--except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.")


Hows the old joke go? Literature is what nobody reads except kids in english class. Or some such.

Quoth Mark Twain, "My books are like water. The classics are wine. Everybody drinks water." It's funny that way.


But I agree with the point by the person being referrenced. A story needs to have some sort of structure and meaning. It doesn't have to be deep, it just has to be man overcoming adversity, whether that adversity is nature, another man, or his own self. Even in failure, one can overcome adversity if one learns something. I don't know the material at the center of the argument, but maybe he thinks they are just elaborated bullet points.

I disagree. I'd argue that Emma doesn't learn a thing from beginning to end. (We the audience don't learn Mr. Knightley's name!) Sometimes, characters learn things, but they just fall into the event which changes their lives. People are big fans of Catcher in the Rye, for some reason, and Holden doesn't seem able to learn anything. And then, there's Joyce.

Buttercup
2009-Sep-17, 05:39 PM
Beats me. Seems what a bunch of elitist snobs thinks is "worthy."

SolusLupus
2009-Sep-17, 06:03 PM
Beats me. Seems what a bunch of elitist snobs thinks is "worthy."

So you'd say that Twilight and 1984 should have few differences between recognized outside of genre? ;)

-=Lonewulf the Elitist Snob=-

Gillianren
2009-Sep-17, 06:07 PM
Arguably, I am an elitist snob when it comes to books. I'm perfectly willing to call things bad when I think they're bad, and I have stricter definitions about "bad" than a lot of other people. (Twilight is bad. From a strictly technical perspective, the books are just flatly bad.) However, there are more than a few popular writers working today whose books I believe will still be popular long after my time. I think it's hard to judge within your own lifetime, and I think there will always be some books people disagree over. My best friend likes Dickens, for example, and I can't stand most of what he wrote. Then again, he was a popular writer in his day, too.

SolusLupus
2009-Sep-17, 08:21 PM
I am also an elitist snob because I believe that Twilight should not be required reading in schools, yet I support the general concept of required readings.

mike alexander
2009-Sep-17, 08:53 PM
My first condition is that, after finishing a book, you want to read it again.

A second is evidence that the author obviously loves the language and uses it as a tool, not just a way to fill pages with ink. I think of writers like Bradbury, Hemingway, Shakespeare and Twain.

The ability to create or recreate a place and time you have never experienced; Twain does that, ladling gobbets of 19th century America into his tureen.

The ability to create characters you ultimately care about (love or hate).

Surprising me.

A type specimen is, for me, Huckleberry Finn. In a sense it's a Bunch of Stuff that Happened. And then, about two thirds of the way through:


It was a close place. I took it up, and held it in my hand. I was a-trembling, because I'd got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself:

"All right, then, I'll go to hell" -- and tore it up.

It was awful thoughts and awful words, but they was said. And I let them stay said; and never thought no more about reforming. I shoved the whole thing out of my head, and said I would take up wickedness again, which was in my line, being brung up to it, and the other warn't. And for a starter I would go to work and steal Jim out of slavery again; and if I could think up anything worse, I would do that, too; because as long as I was in, and in for good, I might as well go the whole hog.

Boom.

SolusLupus
2009-Sep-17, 08:55 PM
Whoa, thank you for that quote. Maybe I have to re-read Huckleberry Finn; that scene you quoted is incredible.

mike alexander
2009-Sep-17, 09:10 PM
Whoa, thank you for that quote. Maybe I have to re-read Huckleberry Finn; that scene you quoted is incredible.

It is, it is. Out on a raft in the middle of the Mississippi a semilterate backwoods Jacob wrestles with his Angel.

Ara Pacis
2009-Sep-17, 09:18 PM
I disagree. I'd argue that Emma doesn't learn a thing from beginning to end. (We the audience don't learn Mr. Knightley's name!) Sometimes, characters learn things, but they just fall into the event which changes their lives. People are big fans of Catcher in the Rye, for some reason, and Holden doesn't seem able to learn anything. And then, there's Joyce.

I have read neither of them. but i'm not sure if has to be the protagonist who learns something. I saw the movie, Emma, the one with Gwenyth Paltrow. In it she seems to learn from or at least realizes her mistakes, but perhaps that movie improved upon the book. ;)

Gillianren
2009-Sep-17, 09:35 PM
It is, it is. Out on a raft in the middle of the Mississippi a semilterate backwoods Jacob wrestles with his Angel.

It's quoted in The Day They Came to Arrest the Book as an example of the failings of the book, too, because it's a young boy deciding he knows better than his elders. Never mind that, in this instance, the elders are wrong. (Now, there's a book that should be required reading!) In some circles, that's not the point.


I have read neither of them. but i'm not sure if has to be the protagonist who learns something. I saw the movie, Emma, the one with Gwenyth Paltrow. In it she seems to learn from or at least realizes her mistakes, but perhaps that movie improved upon the book. ;)

No, no one learns much of anything. And, sure, Emma realizes her mistakes once or twice, but it doesn't ever stop her from making the same one. Even in the movie.

kleindoofy
2009-Sep-17, 09:48 PM
In an interview, Billy Bob Thornton said that for the life of him, he couldn't understand why everybody thought Shakespare was supposed to be so good.

I believe him.

Romanus
2009-Sep-17, 10:47 PM
I'm going to paraphrase a famous quote by a Supreme Court justice: "I can't define literature, but I know it when I see it."

Ara Pacis
2009-Sep-17, 11:23 PM
In an interview, Billy Bob Thornton said that for the life of him, he couldn't understand why everybody thought Shakespare was supposed to be so good.

I believe him.

You believe he is right, or you believe that he doesn't understand?

Ara Pacis
2009-Sep-17, 11:26 PM
No, no one learns much of anything. And, sure, Emma realizes her mistakes once or twice, but it doesn't ever stop her from making the same one. Even in the movie.

But, but... She learns that Mr. Knightley is the one, right? And that other girl learns to listen to her own heart instead of Emma. But I won't argue that it's literature, it may not be.

kleindoofy
2009-Sep-18, 12:00 AM
You believe he is right, or you believe that he doesn't understand?
The latter.

I was just thinking now about what Gillian said above about the depth of characters. Not every work can have an Oedipus, a Hamlet, a Richard III, an Ahab, etc.

Sometimes it's just the story, and sometimes the story is just 'JaBoStH,' but it can still be pretty amazing.

I'd say a piece of literature is a work that was written for its own sake and not for the sake of being written.

It doesn't necessarily have to be good. By definition, bad literature is still literature.

(Or as they say, pretty dumb is still pretty. ;))

Gillianren
2009-Sep-18, 12:33 AM
But, but... She learns that Mr. Knightley is the one, right? And that other girl learns to listen to her own heart instead of Emma. But I won't argue that it's literature, it may not be.

I think it is; that was my point. Harriet mostly stops listening to Emma because Mr. Elton marries someone else. Emma falls in love. That's pretty much what happened. But you do care about that stupid, flighty thing, even though Jane Austen didn't think you would. You do want things to work out for her and Harriet and so forth--though not the Eltons, particularly. It doesn't have some kind of deep meaning, but I still think it's literature.

Ara Pacis
2009-Sep-18, 04:53 AM
I think it is; that was my point. Harriet mostly stops listening to Emma because Mr. Elton marries someone else. Emma falls in love. That's pretty much what happened. But you do care about that stupid, flighty thing, even though Jane Austen didn't think you would. You do want things to work out for her and Harriet and so forth--though not the Eltons, particularly. It doesn't have some kind of deep meaning, but I still think it's literature.

Point taken. Sometimes a story is an impossible parable, thick with moral lessons. Sometimes it's supposed to resemble real life with the exception that it works out (or not) and any lesson is subtle because it reinforces our own expectations or hopes of life. I say that because deep down inside, I think all humans look at life as a story. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end, and many hope for also an epilogue and sequels. I think it is this same deep need to find balance, even if in the form of closure, that drives some people to believe in various apoclyptic type worlding-ending scenarios but also the force to argue for various world-beginning scenarios.

So, maybe the person mentioned in the OP doesn't like JaBoStH because it seems too random, disconnected, and does not represent some for of progression or cause & effect. Real Life often looks like that too, and perhaps he just doesn't want to be faced with that thought. Just a thought.

Ara Pacis
2009-Sep-18, 05:03 AM
I was just thinking now about what Gillian said above about the depth of characters. Not every work can have an Oedipus, a Hamlet, a Richard III, an Ahab, etc.

Sometimes it's just the story, and sometimes the story is just 'JaBoStH,' but it can still be pretty amazing.

True. If every story was about a prince and family squabbles, literature would get boring with the same story being retold over and over again. Perhaps that resembled reality... and perhaps we can thank Machiavelli for trying to alter that formula, but I digress. In a book about writing science fiction, someone pointed out how most the stories have protagonists who are either scientists or military men. Or maybe it was Heinlein who mentioned that, then dreamed up a story about a boring electrician amputee and went on to write The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.

Perhaps literature is as much an attempt to write a good story as it is to avoid formula and tropes. Not every story needs to follow the "Hero's Journey" as a map from start to finish, but can introduce new story. Maybe literature is just a book that uses a trope for the first time when it is still new and cutting edge, before it becomes a trope.

Tog
2009-Sep-18, 06:51 AM
Wow, I didn't expect this degree of response.

I disagreed with the idea that literature could not be just a bunch of stuff that happened, but I'm not sure why.

Over on the mystery writer's forum, I asked this same question, and the responses are similar. One person said that popularity was a key factor. He felt that if a work was too popular it could lose its status as literature.

I was also thinking about two stories that had what I consider to be a similar message, and how different they were.

Frankenstein, I would class as literature. Jurassic Park, I would not. I think the basic premise of each was similar, as was the message that Man should not try to bend nature to his will. Nature will will react badly.

In the case of Frankenstein though, the Monster was made a sympathetic pawn, while the doctor was the true villain. In JP, the monsters were just killing machines, and the person responsible for their creation took on the sympathetic role.

Are Poe's stories more or less deserving of the title literature than King's?

Tale Tell Heart dealt with the pressure of guilt, but Pit and the Pendulum had no message that I can recall at all. Maybe to persevere no matter the odds. Murders in the Rue Morgue was not only just a bunch of stuff, it was rather silly stuff in the end. It just happens that it was the first true detective story.

King's stories very often deal with the themes of good vs. evil, but most of the shorts are just about a common person having an extraordinary day.

Very interesting replies so far.

Ivan Viehoff
2009-Sep-18, 08:05 AM
In an interview, Billy Bob Thornton said that for the life of him, he couldn't understand why everybody thought Shakespare was supposed to be so good.
In Abigail's Party http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abigail%27s_Party by Mike Leigh, Laurence points to the Complete Works of Shakespeare on a shelf in the room, and says something to the effect "You have there the finest works of English literature in front of you. Totally unreadable, of course."

Probably for most people (and I don't mean most people around here, necessarily, but most people broadly), it is unreadable. My own experience is that it is too much like hard work just to read it: I might occasionally read 50 lines or so, but not a whole play. But the amazing thing about it is that if you go and see it at the theatre, good actors will make it so much easier to understand. Which is why I will go and see it at the theatre.

It's classic because
- it is clearly so much better than most of everything else of the same period and for extended periods either side of it, (but very few of us have seen much of that, so probably most of us are unaware of how much it stands ahead)
- it has the canonical plots that most plots reduce to,
- the fine language
- people carry on going to see it, continuously since its first production, (the puritan period excepted)

Theatre is, if nothing else, demand led, and Shakespeare (well performed) has always brought the crowds in, even if for a long time it was in heavily *******ised or bowdlerised versions.

It is interesting that also there are non-English-speaking cultures who think it is great too. The Russians think it is wonderful and it's frequently on at the Moscow theatres, (much as Chekhov is frequently on in London). The Italians used it as plots for their operas. Etc.

So, Mr Thornton, it is so good because lots of people vote with their bums on seats to say it is. But if you don't like it, then that's just a fact, and it doesn't mean there's anything wrong with you. If you can't understand why other people like it, then that's probably because you are a rather better actor than literary critic.

SolusLupus
2009-Sep-18, 10:17 AM
So, Mr Thornton, it is so good because lots of people vote with their bums on seats to say it is. But if you don't like it, then that's just a fact, and it doesn't mean there's anything wrong with you. If you can't understand why other people like it, then that's probably because you are a rather better actor than literary critic.

I love how you phrased this. Even if Thornton was a fellow poster, this didn't really end up as an insulting post. :)

I can understand not liking Shakespeare, to be honest; especially not liking to have to READ Shakespeare, instead of to see it well performed. But a performance can enhance a play incredibly. For instance, Titus is a film, based on Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus, which is arguably one of Shakespeare's worst plays. The film, however, is incredible. It changes some things, omits some lines and scenes, and fills in gaps with footage or reads the lines in certain ways that actually change the story a bit (for instance, the man that played as Aaron, while essentially saying that he repents of any good acts while being executed, says it in about the most repentant fashion; as if he actually did feel guilty for his actions).

It's a good movie. I really liked it. But yet it was based on one of the worst plays, a bit of a joke in academic circles and written just so Shakespeare could compete with the local executions that everyone was going to see -- and, I feel, his way of expressing a bit of a satire of just how much people love executions and deaths.

Perikles
2009-Sep-18, 11:41 AM
Probably for most people (and I don't mean most people around here, necessarily, but most people broadly), it is unreadable. My own experience is that it is too much like hard work just to read it: I might occasionally read 50 lines or so, but not a whole play. But the amazing thing about it is that if you go and see it at the theatre, good actors will make it so much easier to understand. Which is why I will go and see it at the theatre.My own experience is completely different - I find reading Shakespeare much easier than trying to follow a play. In fact I find reading any piece of theatre easier than experiencing it in the theatre. So any worthwhile visit to the theatre has always been preceeded by some preparatory reading. I remember seeing Faust Part 2 in Heidelberg once - I defy anybody to enjoy that experience without doing some homework first.

darkhunter
2009-Sep-18, 12:00 PM
My own experience is completely different - I find reading Shakespeare much easier than trying to follow a play. In fact I find reading any piece of theatre easier than experiencing it in the theatre. So any worthwhile visit to the theatre has always been preceeded by some preparatory reading. I remember seeing Faust Part 2 in Heidelberg once - I defy anybody to enjoy that experience without doing some homework first.

I'm the same--have to hear something several times to pick up what I see when I read through it once.

kleindoofy
2009-Sep-18, 01:22 PM
... Faust Part 2 ... I defy anybody to enjoy that experience without doing some homework first.
I defy anybody to enjoy that experience, full stop. ;)

Das ewig Weibliche zieht uns hinan! Uggh. ;)

Gillianren
2009-Sep-18, 04:37 PM
For those who didn't know, the word "bowdlerize" actually refers originally to Shakespeare. Thomas Bowdler thought Shakespeare's plays were obscene--arguably true in certain parts of certain of the plays--and went and trimmed out everything he thought was offensive. History has not treated him kindly, nor should it.

Actually, Stephen King is one of the people I think of when I think of people whose work will still be read long after the author dies. It's not all good, of course, and I advise avoiding The Tommyknockers, but so much of what he's written is so much better than anyone's willing to give him credit for. (A woman in a grocery store apparently argued with him once about whether or not he'd written I think it was The Green Mile.) The problem with Jurassic Park, I think, is that there doesn't seem to be a lot of work put into it, if you know what I mean. It's a fairly clunky work, honestly, for all I enjoy reading it now and again. Crichton did not exactly have a gift for language.

And that's part of it, I think. When I read King or Shakespeare or Sayers, I will occasionally stop and savour some of the phrasings, kind of rolling the words around in my mouth. Some authors just have that knack, and it doesn't really matter what genre they're working in.

Perikles
2009-Sep-18, 05:47 PM
For those who didn't know, the word "bowdlerize" actually refers originally to Shakespeare. Thomas Bowdler thought Shakespeare's plays were obscene--arguably true in certain parts of certain of the plays--and went and trimmed out everything he thought was offensive. History has not treated him kindly, nor should it. Which makes me wonder whether the verb should be Bowdlerize.

Do you think that something obscene could possibly qualify as Literature? Talking of bowdlerizing reminded me of some standard texts I have of Aristophanes comedies, in the original Greek which an English translation. Now the Victorians who produced these editions clearly believed that the texts were Literature. The fact that they have survived is significant in that somebody thought they were worth preserving. I think they are clever and very funny, but the plays are in fact phenomenally and graphically obscene, and the English translations often bare little resemblance to the original, not only removing the obscenities but most of the wit and all of the sense. Where it is impossible to avoid an obscene reference, the English translation switches into Latin, which a teacher might understand, but not a schoolchild.

It is a mystery to me why they couldn't leave those texts and study ones which did not have to be ruined by bowlderization. It must have been torture for the students. But does it count as Literature? I think so.

mike alexander
2009-Sep-18, 06:02 PM
When I read King or Shakespeare or Sayers, I will occasionally stop and savour some of the phrasings, kind of rolling the words around in my mouth. Some authors just have that knack, and it doesn't really matter what genre they're working in.

Exactly. When he wasn't doing hack-work to pay the bills Ted Sturgeon could do that, too:

The land smelled of late summer and wind - bronze, it smelled bronze.

Gillianren
2009-Sep-18, 07:56 PM
Which makes me wonder whether the verb should be Bowdlerize.

Word's been in use too long, I think. We don't capitalize "chauvinism," either.


Do you think that something obscene could possibly qualify as Literature? Talking of bowdlerizing reminded me of some standard texts I have of Aristophanes comedies, in the original Greek which an English translation. Now the Victorians who produced these editions clearly believed that the texts were Literature. The fact that they have survived is significant in that somebody thought they were worth preserving. I think they are clever and very funny, but the plays are in fact phenomenally and graphically obscene, and the English translations often bare little resemblance to the original, not only removing the obscenities but most of the wit and all of the sense. Where it is impossible to avoid an obscene reference, the English translation switches into Latin, which a teacher might understand, but not a schoolchild.

Actually, the way my freshman English teacher started teaching us Romeo and Juliet was to explain all the dirty jokes at the beginning. How else do you get fourteen-year-old boys interested? But, yes, it can be both obscene and Literature. It isn't often, but I find that's because most obscene writing is doing so for the sake of being obscene, not because there's anything worth reading there.


It is a mystery to me why they couldn't leave those texts and study ones which did not have to be ruined by bowlderization. It must have been torture for the students. But does it count as Literature? I think so.

We can't Warp Innocent Minds. You get that one in modern texts, too, and in fact it's one of the most common reasons for challenges against books in school systems and libraries.

Ara Pacis
2009-Sep-18, 08:09 PM
Come to think of it, I think obscenity might be at the heart of what is considered literature. If you read something that seems slightly subversive or have multiple layers of meaning that increase the understanding and enjoyment of discovery upon multiple readings, then one is encouraged to re-read it and teach others to read it as if it were an introduction to some secret club. It doesn't have to be a secret meaning that reveals some sacred truth, just enough of a double entendre that you may or may not get it and getting it makes you feel smart.

As for Shakespeare, should his plays be considered literature? I tend to think of literature as something that is primarily read, not something that is primarily meant to be acted out.

kleindoofy
2009-Sep-18, 08:29 PM
Shakespeare is so much more than just the story or the pretty words. He weaves in deep philosophical thoughts in passing, most of which cannot be caught or reflected upon during a performance.

Even in Twelfth Night, an outright comedy, he uses circumscripting phrases which bring up secondary issues, just to say simple things:

Modern speaker: "She don't want me, so I'll turn up Ramstein on my iPod until my brain explodes."

Shakespeare:
"If music be the food of love, play on;
Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken, and so die."

Modern speaker: "You're cool, dude."

Shakespeare:
"there is no slander in an allowed fool, though he do
nothing but rail; nor no railing in a known discreet
man, though he do nothing but reprove."

Modern speaker(s): "Can I help you?" "No, I don't wanna bother you with my crap."

Shakespeare:
"Will you stay no longer? nor will you not that I go with you?"

"By your patience, no. My stars shine darkly over
me: the malignancy of my fate might perhaps
distemper yours; therefore I shall crave of you your
leave that I may bear my evils alone: it were a bad
recompense for your love, to lay any of them on you."

Wow! And that's just the first few minutes of the piece.

Now, we shouldn't raise the bar too high up on what we accept as literature. Using Shakespeare as an example is, in fact, very unfair. Not every piece of literature has to be a masterpiece.

I think the intention of the piece and that of the autor are the important criteria. Quality and content are secondary.

Gillianren
2009-Sep-18, 08:46 PM
See, I put quality above intent. You can have all the intent you like, but it avails you naught if the work is still just bad.

Yes, Shakespeare is an unfair bar--and, yes, plays can be literature. However, that's almost arguably why we keep using him; everyone's heard of him. And Twelfth Night is my favourite of the comedies. "Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?"

kleindoofy
2009-Sep-18, 09:01 PM
See, I put quality above intent. You can have all the intent you like, but it avails you naught if the work is still just bad. ...
I like to say: there is no peak without a mountain below it.

Ara Pacis
2009-Sep-18, 10:30 PM
I like to say: there is no peak without a mountain below it.

A peak of solid mountain stone, as such has roots within the deep and darker valleys where sun is less a friend and more a mere passing acquaintance through soggy branch and mist. Yet deeper still perspective finds foundations laid in Hell and molten fire, thrusting up the rolling rock that for a moment's sake be peak until laid waste upon the plain by that which cares not for that nor any pretty sight.

Perikles
2009-Sep-19, 11:17 AM
Word's been in use too long, I think. We don't capitalize "chauvinism," either.
I guess you are right, otherwise we would have to write "Saxophone" and so on.

Perikles
2009-Sep-19, 11:24 AM
And Twelfth Night is my favourite of the comedies. "Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?"Mine too. We have a fabulous recording of it which is so good that we have to force ourselves not to watch it every night. It contains this (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8IJUsBGdH18&feature=related) scene.

Gillianren
2009-Sep-19, 06:17 PM
The version with Helena Bonham Carter and Sir Ben Kingsley? (I don't really watch YouTube videos.) I have that one and love it madly.

Perikles
2009-Sep-20, 08:49 AM
The version with Helena Bonham Carter and Sir Ben Kingsley? (I don't really watch YouTube videos.) I have that one and love it madly.That's the one, so you don't need my YouTube clip. It only became clear to me after a few viewings that the song O mistress mine is being played in almost every scene, and the scene with Ben Kingsley singing it in the kitchen, blended with the card-playing scene, is sublime. And the recognition scene ...

I do wonder whether more Shakespeare could be brought to life with a similar amount of effort spent on a production of other plays, where a stage production can be rather tedious. On the other hand, some of his plays will always remain tedious.

The problem of defining 'Literature' is that an author will tend to be pigeon-holed either as Literature or not. To me, this is an over-simplification because no author ever produces a constant quality of work. Thus Shakespeare is recognized as 'Literature' where a great number of his plays are best ignored. The same applies to Dickens, and Jane Austen, or indeed anybody.

A parallel over-simplification happens in Classical music as well. When a composer is 'accepted' as having produced some sublime work, then all his (why not her?) music is dragged out and played when it should perhaps be forgotten. (The only exception to this is Mozart, apart from a few pieces he wrote when he was around 5 years old, but I'm way off-topic.)

Gillianren
2009-Sep-20, 07:36 PM
You know, I've read that the full four-hour Hamlet (as brought to overrated life by Kenneth Branagh) was never actually performed. It was expanded on to be more interesting to readers. Obviously, I can't say for sure that this is true; no one can, really, without a time machine. It's still interesting speculation. It would help if we had production copies, as it were, of the scripts, instead of just the folios. On the other hand, we don't have much documentation there at all, which is what lets silly people think someone else wrote the plays.

Actually, one of the reasons I quite approve of the Baz Luhrman Romeo + Juliet is that it made the play a bit more interesting for younger people who might otherwise go on about how boring Shakespeare is. (I had a friend who complained bitterly about "new stuff" in it, by which he meant the stuff the newscasters said. I'm not sure he ever believed me when I said it really was in the play. I'm quite certain he never looked it up.) I've also shown Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead as a way to get people into Hamlet. And have you ever seen the Canadian show Slings & Arrows?

Perikles
2009-Sep-20, 08:37 PM
You know, I've read that the full four-hour Hamlet (as brought to overrated life by Kenneth Branagh) was never actually performed. It was expanded on to be more interesting to readers. I have noticed that productions leave out considerable numbers of lines from the printed versions, usually the low-level banter which has nothing to do with the plot and probably involves Elizabethan jokes which nobody would understand.


And have you ever seen the Canadian show Slings & Arrows?No I haven't.

Disinfo Agent
2009-Sep-20, 08:53 PM
Just a Bunch of Stuff that Happened.That phrase reminds me of a Hitchcock quote:

"Movies are like life, except the boring stuff is cut out."

Now back to your regularly scheduled thread...

Gillianren
2009-Sep-20, 09:10 PM
I have noticed that productions leave out considerable numbers of lines from the printed versions, usually the low-level banter which has nothing to do with the plot and probably involves Elizabethan jokes which nobody would understand.

Well, you have to trim something if you want people to sit through it! I mean, not all people are like me.


No I haven't.

It's well worth tracking down; it's about a Shakespeare festival. They do Hamlet first season, Macbeth second, and King Lear third. There's a lot of talking about the language and what has to be trimmed and so forth. It also stars Paul Gross, my favourite actor, and a girl who plays Juliet second season is now on Warehouse 13.

Also, a book I have, in reference to Troilus and Cressida, says "I always forget what jewels are buried in that dungheap."

kleindoofy
2009-Sep-20, 09:37 PM
Well, you have to trim something if you want people to sit through it! ...
I would be inclined to believe that, yes, a four hour version would have been originally performed, if available.

We have to take the period into consideration and place ourselves in their situation.

No TV, no movies, no DVDs, no records, no tapes, no radio, no nothing, never, ever.

If you wanted to hear music, you either had to go someplace where it was being played or play or sing yourself. The same for theater. For most people theater was probably a rare occasion.

We get flooded with pictures and stories and might get bored and itchy during a four hour performance, but the period people (with intermissions and food and drink) probably wished a performance would never end. In fact, if you account for dances and instrumental peices that were played at intervals during the plays, the performance was probably even longer.

Btw, I've attended 5 hour performances of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Parsival and others (in standing room!) and didn't mind the length at all, quite the opposite.

Paul Beardsley
2009-Sep-20, 10:22 PM
Another really good thread. (Fazor started another excellent thread about literature.) One post I'd like to respond to immediately:


My first condition is that, after finishing a book, you want to read it again.
Great post, Mike. I agree with most of it, and it's now reasonably likely that I'll get around to reading Huck Finn some time soon. (I read Tom S. at school - I'm sure I'd have fonder memories of it if it had been my own choice of reading, and/or I hadn't had to answer lengthy and pointless questions about it.)

But I don't think a desire to re-read a book is always necessary. Some stand out as great one-off experiences. I do not, for instance, wish to re-read Stephen King's RH& The Shawshank Redemption, for just this reason.

Regarding Emma, I thought there was real character development, at least in the film/TV versions. (I haven't read any Austen all the way through - again, partly due to bad experience at school, and partly due to limited time.) At the beginning she regarded herself as a cupid, apart from the world of love but pleased to interfere in the love lives of others. By the end she'd learned that she was a part of that world.

Regarding "Just a Bunch of Stuff that Happened" - I can totally relate to this. This is a spot-on description of a certain sort of fiction, typified by the "prose account of a D&D game wot I played which was really fun". When good writers write, at least some of the following things apply: characters have credible motivation, we care about them, they grow, they interact with each other in interesting and believable ways, interesting things happen because they probably would in the given circumstances, actions have consequences, things make sense. (Feel free to add to this nonexhaustive list.) Now, when these things apply, the story stops being JaBoStH.


So, maybe the person mentioned in the OP doesn't like JaBoStH because it seems too random, disconnected, and does not represent some for of progression or cause & effect. Real Life often looks like that too, and perhaps he just doesn't want to be faced with that thought. Just a thought.
Just a thought indeed. In my opinion, without actually knowing the critic, almost certainly completely wrong.

Real life is not an excuse for bad fiction. We know, for instance, that incredible coincidences happen in real life, but that doesn't alter the fact that they are not acceptable in fiction - not even, especially not even, when a character says, "Wow, what an incredible coincidence, the sort that can only happen in real life." And we know that life doesn't have a plot, but that doesn't excuse bad plotting in story telling.

Stories have a relationship with life, but they are not the same thing. We live life, and we read or listen to or tell stories. When we sit down to read a story, we have reasonable expectations. Even when a story is non-fiction, a good story-teller selects interesting details and leaves out distracting details. Think of the last time someone bored you. "I went to catch a bus. On my way to the bus stop, which is grey, I tripped on a paving slab but didn't fall over. There was a tree nearby. I realised the bus wasn't due for another 20 minutes..." This could well be actual events, but they are not worth recounting. Alternatively, that same real-life account might have featured the back view of a woman in the queue whom the story-teller desperately wanted to avoid, but he wasn't sure it was her and he really needed to get that bus. Then suddenly it's not just stuff happening.

Anyway, in my real-life plot, the big author in the sky is writing, "Paul typed the word 'so' and then realised it was time for bed. So

Gillianren
2009-Sep-21, 12:24 AM
We have to take the period into consideration and place ourselves in their situation.

Yes, the fact that there would have been nothing but standing room for many of the people, that for those who did sit, pillows would have to be rented, that there's no evidence of intermission, and that the plays were written, bluntly, for the sort of people who wouldn't go see an opera were there one to be seen, I think the experts may be right. Personally, as I've said, I can manage the full four hours. But the Groundlings were notoriously difficult to please. Comic gravediggers, okay, and all the violence--see also Titus Andronicus--but a lot of the political stuff would probably have gotten tedious, since little of it had current-events parallel. People always think, "Oh, this would have been a totally unique experience for them!" Only it wouldn't. There were several playhouses across the Thames, alongside the bear- and bull-baiting pits. Live performers were common, in fact. Even in "the provinces," various companies licensed--or pirated!--the plays to perform them among people who would, in many cases, never go more than ten miles from home.

Ara Pacis
2009-Sep-21, 07:22 AM
Just a thought indeed. In my opinion, without actually knowing the critic, almost certainly completely wrong.

Real life is not an excuse for bad fiction. We know, for instance, that incredible coincidences happen in real life, but that doesn't alter the fact that they are not acceptable in fiction - not even, especially not even, when a character says, "Wow, what an incredible coincidence, the sort that can only happen in real life." And we know that life doesn't have a plot, but that doesn't excuse bad plotting in story telling.

Stories have a relationship with life, but they are not the same thing. We live life, and we read or listen to or tell stories. When we sit down to read a story, we have reasonable expectations. Even when a story is non-fiction, a good story-teller selects interesting details and leaves out distracting details. Think of the last time someone bored you. "I went to catch a bus. On my way to the bus stop, which is grey, I tripped on a paving slab but didn't fall over. There was a tree nearby. I realised the bus wasn't due for another 20 minutes..." This could well be actual events, but they are not worth recounting. Alternatively, that same real-life account might have featured the back view of a woman in the queue whom the story-teller desperately wanted to avoid, but he wasn't sure it was her and he really needed to get that bus. Then suddenly it's not just stuff happening.

Anyway, in my real-life plot, the big author in the sky is writing, "Paul typed the word 'so' and then realised it was time for bed. So

I'm not sure why you say I'm wrong and then go on to make my point. As the saying goes: the difference between fiction and real life is that fiction has to make sense.

Paul Beardsley
2009-Sep-21, 08:21 AM
I'm not sure why you say I'm wrong and then go on to make my point. As the saying goes: the difference between fiction and real life is that fiction has to make sense.

Well I was going by what you said here:


So, maybe the person mentioned in the OP doesn't like JaBoStH because it seems too random, disconnected, and does not represent some for of progression or cause & effect. Real Life often looks like that too, and perhaps he just doesn't want to be faced with that thought. Just a thought.

I'm saying that I don't think the critic has any problem with being faced with the thought that life is random and disconnected. He's* probably very comfortable with the thought. However, he expects a better standard of craft in the fiction he reads.

In summary, I think we're probably in agreement about the differences and roles of fiction and real life, but in disagreement about how this critic feels about it!

*I don't know anything about this person, so I might as well guess it's a "he".

Tog
2009-Sep-21, 08:50 AM
"He" is the general opinion on the other board as well. He's never corrected it.

And yes, based on what he's said, it's not that life can't be a bunch of stuff, or even that a bunch of stuff can't be good entertainment, only that it can't be "literature".

Ara Pacis
2009-Sep-21, 05:31 PM
I'm saying that I don't think the critic has any problem with being faced with the thought that life is random and disconnected. He's* probably very comfortable with the thought. However, he expects a better standard of craft in the fiction he reads.

In summary, I think we're probably in agreement about the differences and roles of fiction and real life, but in disagreement about how this critic feels about it!

Well, that's another possibility, but we'll probably never know as such psychology may not even e apparent to the person in question.

mike alexander
2009-Sep-21, 08:11 PM
If I am writing I consciously (or unconsciously) create some sort of four-dimensional world I'm wandering through and looking around in. There's no way I can (or want to) write down everything I see and hear and feel, just like real life. It's like some worm tunneling through a block of stuff looking for interesting things to eat.

Paul's example of the bus is very germane to me, since one story I have in criculation has a person walking to the bus stop in order to push someone under the approaching bus. Go figure.

kleindoofy
2009-Sep-21, 08:31 PM
... Personally, as I've said, I can manage the full four hours. But the Groundlings were notoriously difficult to please. ...
Yes, I was speaking more in general and not specifically about Hamlet.

I didn't mean that performances were rare, more that they didn't have the medial flood and ubiquitous presence we have today.

However, I tend not to underestimate people from the past. If we can do something, so could they.

The Groundlings were a hard case, but let's not forget that the Parisian Opera of the 19th century was a place for the rich folk to visit friends, talk, laugh, walk around, etc. The music was secondary and sometimes could hardly be heard over the brabble of the audience.

Nevertheless, those Meyerbeer operas can be pretty long.

Even longer if you actually listen to them. ;)

HenrikOlsen
2009-Sep-21, 09:04 PM
Exactly. When he wasn't doing hack-work to pay the bills Ted Sturgeon could do that, too:

The land smelled of late summer and wind - bronze, it smelled bronze.
When talking language, early Zelazny ranks very high for me.


When he was thunder in the hills the villages lay dreaming harvest behind shutters. When he was an avalanche of steel the cattle began to low, mournfully, deeply, and the children cried out in their sleep.


"Shall we begin your friendship with the High Tongue?"
I was trying to photograph the hall with my eyes, knowing I would have to get a camera in here, somehow, sooner or later. I tore my gaze from a statuette and nodded, hard.
"Yes, introduce me."
I sat down.
For the next three weeks alphabet-bugs chased each other behind my eyelids whenever I tried to sleep. The sky was an unclouded pool of turquoise that rippled calligraphies whenever I swept my eyes across it. I drank quarts of coffee while I worked and mixed cocktails of Benzedrine and champagne for my coffee breaks.
M'Cwyie tutored me two hours every morning, and occasionally for another two in the evening. I spent an additional fourteen hours a day on my own, once I had gotten up sufficient momentum to go ahead alone.
And at night the elevator of time dropped me to its bottom floors...

mike alexander
2009-Sep-21, 09:10 PM
Oh, yeah, that Zelazny guy.

Remembering his own homage/pastiche to Hemingway, "Auto-da-Fe".

Tog
2009-Sep-21, 09:19 PM
If I am writing I consciously (or unconsciously) create some sort of four-dimensional world I'm wandering through and looking around in. There's no way I can (or want to) write down everything I see and hear and feel, just like real life. It's like some worm tunneling through a block of stuff looking for interesting things to eat.

Paul's example of the bus is very germane to me, since one story I have in criculation has a person walking to the bus stop in order to push someone under the approaching bus. Go figure.

A big part of my writing so far seems to be crafting as broad a universe as I can for the story I want to tell. The one I'm submitting tomorrow takes place entirely on a train car, and mostly in one compartment. The bulk of it is just 5 people making traveling conversation.

The one after that is just a letter to the reader from a quirky little insecure guy.

That huge fanfic thing I did has elements that affect the entire country. I've got about 8 different subplots going and most of the filler that i put in to keep the speed of the main story is tied to those subplots in some way, even if only I know it for the first 9/10 of the thing. One reviewer commented on it (positively) by asking how I was able to keep them all straight. I didn't think it was anything out of the ordinary when I wrote it. It was just how I saw things unfolding in my head. I did have a timeline on a spreadsheet, but it was pretty rough.

BTW: Back to the OP for a moment. One of the replies on this topic that I got over at the Mystery Place Forums was from the editor of the Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. Sort of. She asked a different question in a different thread, but responded to mine in hers. Her reply was (in part):


Roughly put, I expect a “literary” work to penetrate the glosses human beings are so good at putting over the painful and unpleasant and reveal as much as it can of the world as it really is. It’s not a matter of conveying a “message” but of giving readers a sharper picture of reality, like fitting us with better glasses.

Paul Beardsley
2009-Sep-21, 09:22 PM
"like fitting us with better glasses"

Yes, that's good.

Gillianren
2009-Sep-21, 10:31 PM
The Groundlings were a hard case, but let's not forget that the Parisian Opera of the 19th century was a place for the rich folk to visit friends, talk, laugh, walk around, etc. The music was secondary and sometimes could hardly be heard over the brabble of the audience.

Nevertheless, those Meyerbeer operas can be pretty long.

Well, yes; more time to spend with friends--or show off to people who weren't, not an uncommon aspect of it!


Even longer if you actually listen to them. ;)

"Wagner's music must be better than it sounds."