Sam Jordison over on the Guardian blogs has a piece on why critics look down of science fiction. As he points out, sf (and to some extent now fantasy) novels can be experimental thought experiments as well as critiquing contemporary society.
I can’t see anything new to the article but it does seem to fit into a minor wibble moment on the books pages about the status of literary fiction (and the fact that it might be a genre after all). Does this mean that we might finally acknowledge the writers for whom genre (of any variety) is merely part of the make-up? Certainly something to mull over whilst I look at Tolkien writing about the Hobbit.
In his day, the fight was between (in extremely rough terms) the philologists and medievalists versus the critics and modernists (actually this certainly reflects the battle lines drawn up in the Querelle des Anciens and des Modernes in Seventeenth Century France). Although the Medievalists triumphed at the time, it was in stark contract to Cambridge who were under the influence of Leavis (can you be charged with that? If so, what’s the sentence?) who opted for the idea that literature was character and morally affirming. Literary fiction has always been a genre really but it has been dominant for so long that its ideas are only just now being thoroughly overthrown by the re-emergence of the idea that writers read a variety of genres and have taken them onboard consciously and subconsciously.
Can we just accept that, to some extent, writing is writing and that there is no such thing as mainstream fiction? I hope that in the next few years, we can accept that the genres we love are all subject to criticism (loving or not) and that they can pull themselves out of the gutters that we, the reader, put them in.
Genre is dead, long live genre…