Thursday, August 07, 2008

Literary and Popular Fiction, my Agita, y Zapata

According to Judi Clark at, " can be the broadest category and in a sense is a catch all, but the intention is to list books that really draw you in with language, imagery, character insight and sense of place".

In an article in the Guardian Unlimited, Robert McCrum wrote,"What is 'literary fiction'? To many, it's the titles on the short list for the Booker Prize. To some, it's those serious-minded novels of high artistic intent by writers with a passionate commitment to the moral purpose of fiction.
To others, it's a slippery piece of book jargon. It's certainly a label that's attracted its share of critical opprobrium. 'Literary' can be synonymous with 'highbrow', but I've heard 'pretentious' and even 'unreadable'. Literary fiction is what many writers aspire to, though quite a few will also run a mile at the first hint of it, too. Every reader will have his or her idea of what constitutes such a category".

(Above quotes from an online article by Nancy Boisseau)

I have this conversation with my sister blogista, Ann Cardinal about once a month. We're both writers, both MFA people, been to writer's residencies, and learned the hard way the ins and outs of getting published. One theme we keep coming back to is the idea of 'literary' vs. 'popular' fiction. Truth be told, I'm sort of a heretic in that I feel it's a false construct, much in the same way the term 'value-free-science/history/sociology' is.

I've read that popular fiction is more concerned with plot, less with character, less thought provoking. I categorically reject this. One blurb on literary fiction really drove home the point that I want to reject: that literary fiction is equal to literary merit. There's nothing artistic, nothing popular, nothing cultural that isn't influenced by the dynamic of who's in power, who's values, tastes, mores are held up as 'norms'. How is John Cheever considered literary fiction, and Raymond Chandler not? Shakespeare in his time was the bawdy, populist, people's scribe. How is superbly crafted noir any less about alienation than Salinger? Are there puerile, self-indulgent, navel gazing books out there with little wit and heart? Of course.

But I would say that you're just as likely to find them on The New York Times best-seller list as on the sale shelves at Borders. Really, it's something that's been in my craw for a while, gente, and so I'm opening the discussion for your two cents, too. Let's have at it!



From "The Story of the Questions -- The Real Story of Zapata:"

"That Zapata appeared here in the mountains. He wasn't born, they say. He just appeared just like that. They say he is Ik'al and Votan who came all the way over here in their long journey, and so as not to frighten good people, they became one. Because after being together for so long Ik'al and Votan learned they were the same and could become Zapata. And Zapata said he had finally learned where the long road went and that at times it would be light and at times darkness but that it was the same, Votan Zapata, and Ik'al Zapata, the black Zapata and the white Zapata. They were both the same road for the true men and women."

From current Zapatista writing: "The man who assassinated Zapata, Colonel Guajardo, was promoted to General and given a reward of 52,000 pesos for his act, instead of being tried and convicted. After being shot, Zapata was loaded onto a mule and taken to Cuautla, where he was dumped on the street. To prove that he was really dead, flashlights were shown on his face and photographs taken. This didn't destroy the myth of his death, because Zapata could not and would not die! Like Commandante Marcos, he was too smart to be killed in an ambush. Hadn't Zapata's white horse been seen on top of the mountain? Every single person in the valley of Morelos still believes to this day that Zapata is still alive. Perhaps they are right."

Lisa Alvarado

1 comment:

Ann Hagman Cardinal said...

thank you for writing this, hermana. You know this is a subject that frustrates me, and we won't even TOUCH on the issue of "why the hell has genre become a bad word?"