“When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies? Perhaps to be too practical is madness. To surrender dreams — this may be madness. Too much sanity may be madness — and maddest of all: to see life as it is, and not as it should be!”
― Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Don Quixote
The Silver Age of Literature
The world’s first hand-tinted motion picture was produced by Thomas Edison’s company, Edison Studios, in 1895, more than 115 years ago. The dancer, Annabelle Moore (1878-1961), was just a teenager when this film was released, and her dance caused both a sensation and a scandal.
Ironically the end of the Nineteen century and the beginning of the Twenty century, those were the heydays of Literature, with writers in Russia like Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Chekhov, Turgenev, Andreyev, Bunin, Bulgakov In England Dickens, W Eliot, Bronte, Hardy, Kipling in America Poe, Whitman, Melville, Twain, in France Balzac, Baudelaire, Hugo, Dumas, Flaubert, Zola, Maupassant, Proust, in German Fontane, Rilke, Musil, Roth, Mann, Kafka, Hesse, in Hungary Kosztolányi, Poland Sienkiewicz, Bruno Schultz, and Gombrowicz, in Italy Pirandello and Svevo, in Spain Perez Galdos, Leopoldo Alas, Palacio Valdes, Valle Inclan, Pio Baroja, Blasco Ibañez, in Portugal, Eça de Queirós, Ireland, Wilde, James Joyce, Norway, Ibsen, and Hamsun, Sweden, Strindberg, Lagerlöf, and Lagerkvist.
And this it’s not an exhaustive list, just a few well known names to a roster of great writers of many nations who wrote great many books in a sort of Silver age of writing after the Golden age of Shakespeare, and Cervantes.
Literature As Art, Or Entertainment?
Before starting throwing accusations to contemporary literature, in all fairness let’s say most people read as an utilitarian occupation, in order to learn something, like a subject at school, like math, History, Biology, etc. We will not talk about business since if you are not able to read basically it’s even hard to get a job!
Then some may read as entertainment like reading a thriller, or a detective story, romance novel, science fiction, etc. This it’s what we call genre novels, whose main objective it’s to fill our time to avoid boredom, now some may be pretty good, and engaging, some may even border on real Literature…As to when a piece of writing crosses the line and become an authentic piece of Literature, it’s hard to tell, since most people have different standards to qualify a work of art, sad to say but now days our standards are very low, we consume a lot of garbage, in food, music, movies, television, and mass media.
It doesn’t help that the prime motivator of writing a novel it’s to sell it, not to promote Literature, or good taste on people’s reading habits, so bottom line is that a novel in order to be successful is necessary to produce money to the writer who laboriously wasted uncounted hours writing it, and to the editors as well, who need to profit from the book, so the first requisite of a writer it’s not to produce a piece of art, but something that sells, and here comes the editor saying : Sorry your work it’s very good, but I will not be able to sell it, there is not a car chase, nobody gets kill, there is not even someone stealing something, or nothing really exciting ever happens, there is not even bad words, or sex! How do you expect for me to sell this?
Exhibit Number One, The Thriller
Thriller is a broad genre of literature, film and television, having numerous sub genres. Thrillers are characterized and defined by the moods they elicit, giving viewers heightened feelings of suspense, excitement, surprise, anticipation and anxiety. The Merriam Webster dictionary: one that thrills; especially : a work of fiction or drama designed to hold the interest by the use of a high degree of intrigue, adventure, or suspense.
Writer Vladimir Nabokov, in his lectures at Cornell University, said: “In an Anglo-Saxon thriller, the villain is generally punished, and the strong silent man generally wins the weak babbling girl, but there is no governmental law in Western countries to ban a story that does not comply with a fond tradition, so that we always hope that the wicked but romantic fellow will escape scot-free and the good but dull chap will be finally snubbed by the moody heroine.”
Thrillers may be defined by the primary mood that they elicit: suspenseful excitement. In short, if it “thrills”, it is a thriller. As the introduction to a major anthology explains:
Thrillers provide such a rich literary feast. There are all kinds. The legal thriller, spy thriller, action-adventure thriller, medical thriller, police thriller, romantic thriller, historical thriller, political thriller, religious thriller, high-tech thriller, military thriller. The list goes on and on, with new variations constantly being invented. In fact, this openness to expansion is one of the genre’s most enduring characteristics. But what gives the variety of thrillers a common ground is the intensity of emotions they create, particularly those of apprehension and exhilaration, of excitement and breathlessness, all designed to generate that all-important thrill. By definition, if a thriller doesn’t thrill, it’s not doing its job.
Common methods and themes in crime and action thrillers are mainly ransoms, captivities, heists, revenge, kidnappings. Common in mystery thrillers are investigations and the whodunit technique. Common elements in dramatic and psychological thrillers include plot twists, psychology, obsession and mind games. Common in horror thrillers are serial killers, stalking, deathtraps and horror-of-personality. Elements such as fringe theories, false accusations and paranoia are common in paranoid thrillers. Threats to entire countries, spies, espionage, conspiracies, assassins and electronic surveillance are common in spy thrillers.
Characters may include criminals, stalkers, assassins, innocent victims (often on the run), menaced women, psychotic individuals, spree killers, sociopaths, agents, terrorists, cops and escaped cons, private eyes, people involved in twisted relationships, world-weary men and women, psycho-fiends, and more. The themes frequently include terrorism, political conspiracy, pursuit, or romantic triangles leading to murder. Plots of thrillers involve characters which come into conflict with each other or with outside forces.
The protagonist of these films is set against a problem. No matter what sub-genre a thriller film falls into, it will emphasize the danger that the protagonist faces. The protagonists are frequently ordinary citizens unaccustomed to danger, although commonly in crime and action thrillers, they may also be “hard men” accustomed to danger such as police officers and detectives. While protagonists of thrillers have traditionally been men, women lead characters are increasingly common.[ In psychological thrillers, the protagonists are reliant on their mental resources, whether it be by battling wits with the antagonist or by battling for equilibrium in the character’s own mind. The suspense often comes from two or more characters preying upon one another’s minds, either by playing deceptive games with the other or by merely trying to demolish the other’s mental state.
An atmosphere of menace and sudden violence, such as crime and murder, characterize thrillers. The tension usually arises when the character(s) is placed in a dangerous situation, or a trap from which escaping seems impossible. Life is threatened, usually because the principal character is unsuspectingly or unknowingly involved in a dangerous or potentially deadly situation.
Hitchcock’s films often placed an innocent victim (an average, responsible person) into a strange, life-threatening or terrorizing situation, in a case of mistaken identity or wrongful accusation.
Thrillers take place mostly in ordinary suburbs and cities, although sometimes they may take place wholly or partly in exotic settings such as foreign cities, deserts, polar regions, or the high seas. These usually tough, resourceful, but essentially ordinary heroes are pitted against villains determined to destroy them, their country, or the stability of the free world. Often in a thriller movie, the protagonist is faced with what seem to be insurmountable problems in his mission, carried out against a ticking clock, the stakes are high and although resourceful, they face personal dilemmas along the way forcing them to make sacrifices for others.
Yes unfortunately it’s true, if a novel doesn’t hit us with the brutal force of a koboko whiplash and wake us from our dense, saturated, and insensitive slumber we will not be able to read the book, our attention span, it’s getting shorter, and shorter does not tolerate anything less than a high doses of peak events, like an earthquake, or a tremendous explosion, the hijack of a terrorist, the threat of a nuclear explosion, police descending in mas like the invasion of an army, a terrific car chase where cars fly through the air like airplanes, and explode like bombs, why bother to keep reading? Regardless of the fact many of us never will be in the cross lines of a rifle sight held by a professional killer. A far fetch concocted piece of trash designed as junk food for our minds, the Doritos bag of chips to go along our Friday movie night watching of an exciting movie. This genre pretends to make us believe that what you see in the news as incidents of a highly unusual nature, that are one in a million, it may be happening to you at any moment, when your chances of being hit by lightening are higher, but not as high as wining the lotto!
In principle I am not oppose to consider this type of writing, as Literature if it’s very good, but just like twins conjoined are one in 200,000, and of those only about 5% survive, they are oddities, and the subject is not something it may happen to you, words that come to mind are epic, implausible, far fetched, contrived, Manichean, (good vs evil) it points out as writing for entertainment, Literature in my opinion it’s something we all can relate, and identify as happening to any of us, what makes it great, and different, is just the way is told.
Exhibit Two, the whodunit
Detective fiction in the English-speaking world is considered to have begun in 1841 with the publication of Poe’s “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” itself, featuring “the first fictional detective, the eccentric and brilliant C. Auguste Dupin”. Poe devised a “plot formula that’s been successful ever since, give or take a few shifting variables.” Poe followed with further Auguste Dupin tales: “The Mystery of Marie Rogêt” in 1843 and “The Purloined Letter” in 1845.
Poe referred to his stories as “tales of ratiocination”. In stories such as these, the primary concern of the plot is ascertaining truth, and the usual means of obtaining the truth is a complex and mysterious process combining intuitive logic, astute observation, and perspicacious inference. “Early detective stories tended to follow an investigating protagonist from the first scene to the last, making the unraveling a practical rather than emotional matter.” “The Mystery of Marie Rogêt” is particularly interesting because it is a barely fictionalized account based on Poe’s theory of what happened to the real-life Mary Cecilia Rogers.
The period of the 1920s and ’30s is generally referred to as the Golden Age of Detective Fiction. During this period, a number of very popular writers emerged, mostly British but with a notable subset of American and New Zealand writers. Female writers constituted a major portion of notable Golden Age writers, including Agatha Christie, the most famous of the Golden Age writers, and among the most famous authors of any genre, of all time. Four female writers of the Golden Age are considered the four original “Queens of Crime”: Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Ngaio Marsh and Margery Allingham. Apart from Ngaio Marsh (a New Zealander) they were British.
Various conventions of the detective genre were standardized during the Golden Age, and in 1929 some of them were codified by writer Ronald Knox in his ‘Decalogue’ of rules for detective fiction, among them to avoid supernatural elements, all of which were meant to guarantee that, in Knox’s words, a detective story “must have as its main interest the unraveling of a mystery; a mystery whose elements are clearly presented to the reader at an early stage in the proceedings, and whose nature is such as to arouse curiosity, a curiosity which is gratified at the end.” In Golden Age detective stories, an outsider, sometimes a salaried investigator or a police officer, but often a gifted amateur investigates a murder committed in a closed environment by one of a limited number of suspects.
The most widespread sub genre of the detective novel became the whodunit (or whodunit, short for “who done it?”), where great ingenuity may be exercised in narrating the events of the crime, usually a homicide, and of the subsequent investigation in such a manner as to conceal the identity of the criminal from the reader until the end of the book, when the method and culprit are revealed. According to scholars Carole Kismaric and Marvi Heiferman, “The golden age of detective fiction began with high-class amateur detectives sniffing out murderers lurking in rose gardens, down country lanes, and in picturesque villages. Many conventions of the detective-fiction genre evolved in this era, as numerous writers, from populist entertainers, to respected poets, tried their hands at mystery.
The murder, or the detective novel, a simple premise someone gets killed, no one seems to know who did it, so a policeman, or a private detective have to uncover the mystery surrounding it, and catch the perpetrator(s). A genre so common that many of the writers get a style that it’s easily recognizable by the readers, and even if this give us a pretty good idea how the novel will develop, and after reading two, or three novels by the same author we can figure pretty easy who did it, either you stop buying the author, or keep coming because you identify with the hero, or enjoy his witticism. The novels are done with a mass audience in mind who are not hard to please, and do not demand much of you as a reader, usually short, and very formulaic, successful authors know this, and do not bother to come with anything new, why bother if your books sell? So you keep making the same book over, and over, changing names, and situations a little, just enough to justify the different title. Of course depending on the author this genre can be very entertaining, regardless of it’s merits as Literature, and taken to the big screen very often.
Exhibit Number Three, Science Fiction.
Science fiction (often shortened to sci-fi or scifi) is a genre of speculative fiction, typically dealing with imaginative concepts such as futuristic science and technology, space travel, time travel, faster than light travel, parallel universes, and extraterrestrial life. Science fiction often explores the potential consequences of scientific and other innovations, and has been called a “literature of ideas.” It usually eschews the supernatural, and unlike the related genre of fantasy, historically science fiction stories were intended to have at least a faint grounding in science-based fact or theory at the time the story was created, but this connection has become tenuous or non-existent in much of science fiction.
Literature of ideas a most generous name given to this genre, if you ask me, but like in anything there is some good storytellers, far and few needless to say.
Science fiction is largely based on writing rationally about alternative possible worlds or futures. It is related to, but different from fantasy in that, within the context of the story, its imaginary elements are largely possible within scientifically established or scientifically postulated physical laws (though some elements in a story might still be pure imaginative speculation).
The settings of science fiction are often contrary to those of consensus reality, but most science fiction relies on a considerable degree of suspension of disbelief, which is facilitated in the reader’s mind by potential scientific explanations or solutions to various fictional elements. Science fiction elements include:
A time setting in the future, in alternative timelines, or in a historical past that contradicts known facts of history or the archaeological record.
A spatial setting or scenes in outer space (e.g. spaceflight), on other worlds, or on subterranean earth.
Characters that include aliens, mutants, androids, or humanoid robots and other types of characters arising from a future human evolution.
Futuristic or plausible technology such as ray guns, teleportation machines, and humanoid computers.
Scientific principles that are new or that contradict accepted physical laws, for example time travel, wormholes, or faster-than-light travel or communication.
New and different political or social systems, e.g. Utopian, dystopian, post-scarcity, or post-apocalyptic.
Paranormal abilities such as mind control, telepathy, telekinesis (e.g. “The Force” in Star Wars.)
Other universes or dimensions and travel between them.
The annual Hugo Awards for science fiction and fantasy have been running uninterrupted (with the exception of a brief hiatus in 1954) since 1953. Voting is open to anyone prepared to stump up the money (currently $40) and the ceremony has been held all over the world. As such, the awards can lay serious claim to being one of the most venerable, democratic and international in existence, not to mention one of the most transparent
Outside the sci-fi community, however, the awards barely resonate. Leaving aside the (admittedly interesting) question of whether democratic voting will always select the best novel over that year’s populist Dan Brown equivalent, there’s the well-known snobbery around these genre books. Science fiction may be one of the defining literature of the last century, but it’s rare that its products get any kind of acceptance by the academy (and when they do, they’re then generally called something else).
I got little taste for this type of writing, born by the advent of our contemporary Science, and based on the infatuation from our Western obsession with Science, at the root a staunch materialism, from people with the idea Science it’s a panacea for Mankind, a delusional idea if there is one, who even ignore the second law of Thermodynamics: Entropy, yes the Universe had a beginning, and consequently would have an end, therefore a material existence ends with death, there is no hope of extending life beyond it’s end, however rosy a picture you may have of a fictional future brought by Science and technology, there will not be eternal life, at least not on this material dimension, so go seek it elsewhere!
To be fair there is nothing wrong to read for entertainment purposes, neither a desire to be thrilled, and we have the freedom to choose and pick our own form of entertainment, even if we secretly may feel guilty of indulging our time in such pursuits, myself a clear example of it, for many years I read WWII History, and biographies, knowing that they didn’t add a thing, but to my knowledge of History, if that has any value at all, now days once in a while pick one of this books, read it and feel a little bit guilty afterwards, in fact reading any book that doesn’t make me feel I learnt something valuable, even if I enjoyed it make me feel that way!
As a fellow blogger just read recently describe himself:
“As my faithful readers must have surmised, I like to touch upon a variety of subjects. I was diagnosed “borderline dilettante” at an early age. Fortunately my Juvenile records are sealed. Fiction, non-fiction, gender, travel and the accompanying “yours truly’s” photographs.”
Genre is a label that characterizes elements a reader can expect in a work of literature. The major forms of literature can be written in various genres. Genre is a category characterized by similarities in style, or subject matter.
The classic major genres of literature are:
- Realistic fiction
- Romance novel
My original intention was to talk about all of these, however for the sake of brevity we would end this post right here, and we may tackle the subject on further posts.