Friday, May 25, 2012

The Next Generation

I wish I'd thought to DVR the first two episodes of this second showing of Sherlock on PBS.  I'm watching my son watch "The Reichenbach Fall" and delighting in his complete and utter absorption as the master detective takes on the criminal mastermind known as Moriarty.  I'll have to find them to rent.  Peter has read most of the Holmes canon, and so is enjoying picking up on all the themes in this stylishly modern interpretation.

Conan Doyle's Holmes stories are perhaps the ultimate expression of genre fiction, and as it happens there is an interesting article in this week's New Yorker on the idea of genre vs. literary fiction, "Easy Writers" by Arthur Krystal.  The points of the essay seem to be: 

a) Genre fiction - crime in particular also I should think that sci fi or westerns might fit here, too - really is a guilty pleasure, because it is escapist and easy;
b) But individual writers in genre fiction can be elevated in status by endorsements from writers of literary fiction, such as W. H. Auden's adoration of Raymond Chandler, and so forth;
c) So is crime fiction literary, and therefore somehow more approved?  Not particularly, because its success depends on its conventions, which are decidedly not literary.
d) Literary fiction can be pretty hard going, so the sum up seems to be that guilty pleasures remain that, but maybe are just pleasurable. 

It's a rather tortuous argument but there is an interesting comparison between the opening lines of Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express and Ford Maddox Ford's Parade's End.  The minute parsing of language suggests that one should be prepared to work a lot harder when reading the latter.

Well.  Is it a crime to not want to work so hard when looking for diversion? 

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