Worst/Overrated books.

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sdkelso
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Re: Worst/Overrated books.

Postby sdkelso » Wed Apr 18, 2012 6:38 pm UTC

SecondTalon wrote:
This whole "Quoting and replying to snippets" thing?
This is really annoying
So can we knock it off?
That'd be great.

No, seriously, organize your thoughts better.
Seriously. Quote the whole thing and reply to the whole thing
Because this is annoying to read.
Particularly when you repeat it eight or nine times in a single post.


It's hard to do holistic analysis of a complex argument, as you suggest in your second block--one has to pay attention to small details. I contend that replying to "snippets" is organizing thoughts. When one must reply to small details and one tries to do it in holistic style, it's hard to avoid disorganization.

Also, for the most part the quotes aren't nested--I only nest quotes when not doing so would result in ambiguity. Actually the ambiguity that I try to avoid by occasionally nesting quotes is the kind of ambiguity that would necessarily result if I were to reply in the holistic style that you suggest.

You're also off topic. But you're also a moderator (administrator?). So whatever, have it your way.

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Re: Worst/Overrated books.

Postby Jorpho » Thu Apr 19, 2012 3:23 am UTC

Seriously, this is astonishing. People have been having discussions using blocks of nested quotes since time immemorial and of all things, this strikes me as an exceptionally odd thing to find objectionable. (Also, so far they've only been two quotes deep, unlike the examples.) What exactly is the problem? Does it look particularly bad if one is not using SubSilver?

Moving on:

sdkelso wrote:What is a classic? Let's give it the practical definition of "a literary work in the canon." Of course the word also contains ideas about value over time, but that does change the fact that classics are works in the canon and vice versa. When we ask how (not why) a work becomes a classic, then, we are asking about canon formation. A work becomes canonical in two ways (I'm sorry I don't have a citation--this is something I learned in a theory course): people choose to do criticism on it (very often this is a large number of people over a long period of time) and it is taught in literature classes (same stipulation as the first way). Do not take this to be a sweeping generalization--there's a course here next semester teaching The Hobbit and I can find criticism of Harry Potter in our local bookshop, but neither of these works are canonical. This is a long process by which a work gradually becomes accepted as worth studying. And now I've snuck in a value judgment with the word "worth," and this leads me to my next point: choosing to do criticism on a work and choosing to teach it are effectively value judgments. What the professor is saying is, "I find this work more valuable for study than some other work." I warn again against a sweeping generalization, as some classes teach non-canonical works because they're easier or because the students will like them more or for any number of other reasons. But this is the general outline of how canon formation works.
Well, let's put it this way, then: why would an "expert" choose to do criticism on a work and choose to teach it if no one else really wants to read it? In particular, if a book is only appealing to a small subset of experts, then how would it come to the attention of an expert, given that a publisher is likely to be disinclined to publish something that only appeals to an extremely narrow segment of the population?

Also, can't experts disagree? Is it not possible for one "expert" to feel that a book is overrated as far as being worth studying is concerned? Why can't the "canon" change over time?

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Re: Worst/Overrated books.

Postby sdkelso » Thu Apr 19, 2012 5:31 pm UTC

Jorpho wrote:Well, let's put it this way, then: why would an "expert" choose to do criticism on a work and choose to teach it if no one else really wants to read it? In particular, if a book is only appealing to a small subset of experts, then how would it come to the attention of an expert, given that a publisher is likely to be disinclined to publish something that only appeals to an extremely narrow segment of the population?

Also, can't experts disagree? Is it not possible for one "expert" to feel that a book is overrated as far as being worth studying is concerned? Why can't the "canon" change over time?


You really don't understand do you? Perform this simple experiment--I'd do it myself but I go to the top writing school in America so the results would be biased. Take a walk downtown or in the mall or wherever there are a lot of people, stop a few (hell, stop a hundred) and ask, "Have you read Proust's In Search of Lost Time? What about Joyce's Ulysses? Nabokov's Pale Fire? Surely you've read Tolstoy's Anna Karenina. No? What about Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone?" Report results here.

And sure, experts disagree all of the time. But an expert saying, "This classic is overrated," or even, "All works that have heretofore been considered classics are overrated," is not absurd (because he or she understand why the work was rated in the first place) while the same statement coming from a scientist is absurd (because he or she most likely does not).

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Re: Worst/Overrated books.

Postby Jorpho » Thu Apr 19, 2012 9:56 pm UTC

sdkelso wrote:You really don't understand do you?
Well if I did, I wouldn't be posting, would I? :?

Perform this simple experiment--I'd do it myself but I go to the top writing school in America so the results would be biased. Take a walk downtown or in the mall or wherever there are a lot of people, stop a few (hell, stop a hundred) and ask, "Have you read Proust's In Search of Lost Time? What about Joyce's Ulysses? Nabokov's Pale Fire? Surely you've read Tolstoy's Anna Karenina. No? What about Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone?" Report results here.
I do not comprehend what makes you think I would possibly dispute the obvious gulf in popularity between HP and those other books. My point is that publishing is a ridiculously expensive venture and that it would not be in a publisher's best interest to publish works that appeal solely to an extremely narrow audience of "experts".

How about this? Non-"experts" view "experts" as erudite individuals and, seeking to emulate them, read the same materials on which they have published extensive critiques (thus keeping the publishers in business), but find the experience unfulfilling for one reason or another. In dismissing the work, said non-experts view the study of such materials as overrated. What's wrong with that?

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Re: Worst/Overrated books.

Postby sdkelso » Thu Apr 19, 2012 11:33 pm UTC

Because they are not erudite individuals. They are clueless. They don't understand what makes sophisticated works of literature that have made it into the canon good. They can say it all they want, but they shouldn't expect to be taken seriously by people who are erudite individuals. To bring me back to my first assertion, it's like me saying that quantum mechanics is stupid. No scientist would take me seriously because, I don't understand quantum mechanics. Likewise, scientists don't understand classics, and for a scientist to say that they're overrated (the artistic equivalent of 'stupid') is to waste his or her breath. I'm repeating myself, but the questions you are asking are forcing me to. Who gave classics their status as classics? Experts. In what ways can something be overrated? Either the people who rated the work misapplied the criteria for value or their criteria for value are wrong. How in the world could any scientist who has had little training in literature have anything to say about an experts criteria of value or the application thereof? They can't in the same way that an English professor couldn't jump into the discourse of quantum mechanics and have anything to say.

Furthermore the fact that I can go to the bookstore and purchase any of those books I mentioned proves that people are publishing books that appeal to very small audiences.

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Re: Worst/Overrated books.

Postby Jorpho » Fri Apr 20, 2012 3:41 am UTC

sdkelso wrote:To bring me back to my first assertion, it's like me saying that quantum mechanics is stupid. No scientist would take me seriously because, I don't understand quantum mechanics.
Well, now that is an angle that was not apparent before. The problem here is that quantum mechanics (except for maybe whatever's teetering on the absolute cutting edge) is not subject to value judgement. It's like saying "blue is stupid" or "water is stupid" or "air is stupid".

Furthermore the fact that I can go to the bookstore and purchase any of those books I mentioned proves that people are publishing books that appeal to very small audiences.
Except they don't simply appeal to very small audiences. Obviously, other people who aren't experts are buying them and reading them. Some of them, in their brazen ignorance, might even have the temerity to like them! Yes, not as many people are buying them as are buying Harry Potter, but their numbers are still far, far greater than you'll find for advanced science textbooks and obscure research papers. (The publishers of those, of course, get away with it by charging ludicrous prices.)

Maybe we should get a thread split in here...?

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Re: Worst/Overrated books.

Postby gmalivuk » Fri Apr 20, 2012 4:06 am UTC

Jorpho wrote:
sdkelso wrote:To bring me back to my first assertion, it's like me saying that quantum mechanics is stupid. No scientist would take me seriously because, I don't understand quantum mechanics.
Well, now that is an angle that was not apparent before. The problem here is that quantum mechanics (except for maybe whatever's teetering on the absolute cutting edge) is not subject to value judgement. It's like saying "blue is stupid" or "water is stupid" or "air is stupid".
Yeah, no scientist would take "QM is stupid" seriously because it's not a senseful statement to begin with. "This piece of classic literature is overrated" would be more akin to saying "De Broglie's work was overrated". Which is the sort of value judgment about which intelligent, knowledgeable people can respectfully disagree.

But whereas most high school students are forced to read one or more "classics" during their educational careers, that they may play at literary criticism and analyze the deep meanings allegedly buried within, probably the vast majority of people who even recognize the name de Broglie in the first place are at least science enthusiasts, and those who are expected to discuss his work in any depth are rather more like the "experts" sdkelso keeps going on about than they are like the general public.
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Re: Worst/Overrated books.

Postby sdkelso » Fri Apr 20, 2012 4:47 am UTC

Sure it's subject to value judgment. To make it less ambiguous, say there is a debate within the field of quantum mechanics about how to interpret certain evidence and I self-righteously insert myself into it (or any other science or any other discipline about which I know very little). I say, "Side A is completely untenable. Side B is obviously right." That's a value judgment. Hell, let's say that I say that phenomena postulated by quantum mechanics (I hope you can tell how little I know about this :lol: ) must not exist because I can't see them and they're not mentioned in the Bible (yes, this is a caricature, but I'm trying to get you to see my point). I have effectively assigned the field of quantum mechanics a low scientific value. But my opinion doesn't matter because I don't really know anything about quantum mechanics.

I'm not even convinced that it must be subject to value judgment if the analogy is to hold. I'm saying that if you don't think I can understand complex science such as quantum mechanics without extensive study, you shouldn't think that you can understand complex literature such as 'classics' without extensive study. Deal? Can we do away with this example now, because I think that I have sufficiently proven the bolded. In fact, the bolded never needed proving--the analogy was supposed to help illustrate the point. People go to school for eight years or more in order to understand literature. Without that experience, you can't expect to.

To restate my first point: Without extensive study, no one can expect to understand 'classics.'

Okay, so people buy 'classics.' That doesn't mean that all normal people will be able to understand them. Suppose that millions of lay-people suddenly went out and bought science textbooks. Would they all suddenly understand them? No. Therefore, the audience of a work does not affect whether or not members of that audience can understand it.

"But," you say, " 'classics' do reach a large audience [(they don't--go ahead and perform my experiment if you want to find out how small the audience actually is)], but advanced science textbooks do not. They must understand something about the works otherwise they wouldn't be buying them." Whether or not you actually feel inclined to make that objection, it's false by your own pronouncement. You've come up with a very simple explanation for why lay-people by 'classics,' which, if you don't mind, I'll subscribe to in this thread.

But again, audience, intended or otherwise, doesn't really matter. The talk of audience came about when you said that literature, including classics, is supposed to have a broad appeal. It actually isn't--the 'Transformers' 's of literature are (Harry Potter, etc.), but 'classics' are often aimed at an intellectual elite. I feel as if I've done a good job of establishing this in this thread, and since it has little to do with the actual argument I'm making, I'll leave it here. I have nothing more to say on the matter.

The rest of my argument follows for what I hope is the last time. If you disagree with a premise or inference, let me know; but since we've been talking in circles for the past few days I have no desire to continue.

Who rated the classics: experts (by the process of canon formation which I've detailed above).
How can something be overrated:
1) Criteria for judgment are misapplied ("whereas most reviewers found this book action-packed, I found it rather slow")
2) Criteria for judgment are wrong ("complex unfolding structures and blissful kaleidoscopic style? fuck that, where are the explosions?")
In order to accuse the rater (in this case, expert on literature) of misapplied or incorrect criteria, one must understand said criteria.
As proven at the beginning of this post, one cannot understand said criteria without extensive study.
Scientists in general have not undergone such extensive study.
Therefore, the statement 'classics are overrated' coming from a scientist is absurd.

Angua's objection was to my first premise. He or she thought that classics were rated by more than just experts (something that you seem to agree with). I answer that objection by citing my proposed experiment and your proposed osmosis theory. Moreover, what the poster would have had to have meant when he or she said, "Classics are overrated," is, "Classics are rated too highly by the general public [who never understood why they were good in the first place, and should really only appeal to experts]," which is not, I think, what he or she did mean. It's such a minor example though that I think it could be safely left aside.

That is as clear as I can make it. The lesson: have humility when approaching another discipline.

For gmalivuk: For your first objection, see above. For your second objection, I took chemistry in high school. Are you going to try to tell me that I really know anything of significance about chemistry? Anything that would make my opinion on some chemistry problem at all relevant? No, so please don't act as if taking AP English in high school makes you an expert on literature. Oh, and criticism isn't always about finding "deep meanings" (in fact, in the wake of certain popular theories criticism is more often than not not about finding deep meanings)--your lack of knowledge about the field is apparent.
Last edited by sdkelso on Fri Apr 20, 2012 5:12 am UTC, edited 4 times in total.

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Re: Worst/Overrated books.

Postby sdkelso » Fri Apr 20, 2012 5:03 am UTC

An illustrative example: I know very little about music. I love The Beatles because it's simple pop music that I can understand. I can say that "Yesterday" is overrated because I understand it and why it is normally rated. However, you will never catch me saying that Beethoven's Ninth Symphony is overrated (much less that all classical music is overrated) because I don't understand it. Sure, I've listened to it (and sure, people buy copies of it all the time). For what it's worth, I've even enjoyed it. But I don't pretend for one second that I actually understand why it is 'good.' If you think you do (and you, like me, haven't studied it) then you're kidding yourself. And that's all there is to it.

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Re: Worst/Overrated books.

Postby Angua » Fri Apr 20, 2012 7:53 am UTC

You're missing the fact that most people rate things on how much they enjoy them. And that some people do enjoy the classics even if they don't understand all the bits of stuff in them (going back to Jayne Eyre - some people do like reading stories about another person's life). Many people read classics to see what all the fuss is about, and find themselves enjoying them, and so recommend them to other people. Many other people then read these books and go, why was this recommended to me, and feel it was overrated.

Your entire arguments rests on being able to understand a book completely in order to enjoy it. As well as ignoring how lay people use the term 'overrated'.

Overrated means that you don't think it was bad, you just didn't enjoy it as much as the buildup led you to think you would. Eg, I find the Wizard of Oz movie extremely overrated - not because it was a bad movie, but because I didn't enjoy it due to lack of mice.
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Re: Worst/Overrated books.

Postby Jorpho » Fri Apr 20, 2012 1:35 pm UTC

sdkelso wrote:Sure it's subject to value judgment. To make it less ambiguous, say there is a debate within the field of quantum mechanics about how to interpret certain evidence and I self-righteously insert myself into it (or any other science or any other discipline about which I know very little). I say, "Side A is completely untenable. Side B is obviously right." That's a value judgment. Hell, let's say that I say that phenomena postulated by quantum mechanics (I hope you can tell how little I know about this :lol: ) must not exist because I can't see them and they're not mentioned in the Bible (yes, this is a caricature, but I'm trying to get you to see my point). I have effectively assigned the field of quantum mechanics a low scientific value. But my opinion doesn't matter because I don't really know anything about quantum mechanics.
That's not a value judgement; that's a non-sequitur.

I'm saying that if you don't think I can understand complex science such as quantum mechanics without extensive study, you shouldn't think that you can understand complex literature such as 'classics' without extensive study.
But it does not follow that you have to have some profound understanding of complex literature in order to have some kind of opinion on it.

Okay, so people buy 'classics.' That doesn't mean that all normal people will be able to understand them. Suppose that millions of lay-people suddenly went out and bought science textbooks. Would they all suddenly understand them? No. Therefore, the audience of a work does not affect whether or not members of that audience can understand it.
But depending on the level of the textbook, they might not even be able to read them at all! Complex literature is, if I'm not mistaken, more accessible than a complex science textbook. Why, exactly, would people buy books – and keep buying books, everywhere, over the span of decades – if they did not understand them? (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_best-selling_books says A Tale of Two Cities has still sold almost five times as many copies as Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows since it was written, and I rather doubt the latter will ever even approach the former. But really, Harry Potter is a glaring aberration in the publishing world and hardly representative of anything. So is AToTC, I guess. Never mind.)

Angua makes a good point, I think.

I took chemistry in high school. Are you going to try to tell me that I really know anything of significance about chemistry? Anything that would make my opinion on some chemistry problem at all relevant?
You might; I really wouldn't think of saying otherwise without at least knowing more about the quality of your high school chemistry education. It's quite likely your understanding is already miles ahead of whatever the alchemists of yore seeking the philosopher's stone thought they knew.

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Re: Worst/Overrated books.

Postby SecondTalon » Fri Apr 20, 2012 11:29 pm UTC

sdkelso wrote:An illustrative example: I know very little about music. I love The Beatles because it's simple pop music that I can understand. I can say that "Yesterday" is overrated because I understand it and why it is normally rated. However, you will never catch me saying that Beethoven's Ninth Symphony is overrated (much less that all classical music is overrated) because I don't understand it. Sure, I've listened to it (and sure, people buy copies of it all the time). For what it's worth, I've even enjoyed it. But I don't pretend for one second that I actually understand why it is 'good.' If you think you do (and you, like me, haven't studied it) then you're kidding yourself. And that's all there is to it.

Hang on a moment..

Lemme get alllllll this straight.

In High Culture, a place not really known for in-depth debate and where pretty much everything is opinion based almost to the point where whether or not Christopher Walken's character in Pulp Fiction gave Bruce Willis's character the watch can be debated based on circumstantial evidence and opinion...


You're saying it's objective. You're saying people's opinions are wrong. That's what you're saying.
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Re: Worst/Overrated books.

Postby Jorpho » Sat Apr 21, 2012 3:05 am UTC

Oh, by the way: in the sixteen pages of this thread, has there really been a high number of people slandering Eliot or Joyce or Nabokov? I really don't think anyone picks up Ulysses expecting it to be fluffy beach reading, and I don't think anyone bills it as such either. Someone who gives up after the first two pages is likely to know beforehand exactly what they were getting into and would be unlikely to subsequently call it "overrated".

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Re: Worst/Overrated books.

Postby sdkelso » Sat Apr 21, 2012 4:26 am UTC

SecondTalon wrote:Hang on a moment..

Lemme get alllllll this straight.

In High Culture, a place not really known for in-depth debate and where pretty much everything is opinion based almost to the point where whether or not Christopher Walken's character in Pulp Fiction gave Bruce Willis's character the watch can be debated based on circumstantial evidence and opinion...


You're saying it's objective. You're saying people's opinions are wrong. That's what you're saying.


Okay, this is so outrageous that it's the only post I'll quote. I can't even begin to make sense of this. First of all, what is 'High Culture'? If it's what I think it is, how in the world is it not known for in-depth debate? The dominant theory in literary criticism is that all criticism is debate--all pieces of criticism place themselves in conversation with others and vie for their place. 'High Culture' as I understand it is founded on and sustained by debate. Then you contradict yourself by coming up with an example of a debate. That people debate something based on evidence means that it's not all down to opinion. As professors here are fond of saying: "There's no right interpretation, but there are definitely wrong ones," and more bluntly, "We aren't making shit up." Finally, that's not what I'm saying at all. I'm saying that in order to appreciate a complex piece of art and understand why it is highly valued by experts, one must his or herself be an expert. Please stop crudely reducing my ideas--whether you're doing it because you don't understand them or because you're an ass, either way it's called a straw man fallacy and it's not only a logical error, it's far more annoying than nested quotes.

To Jorpho: Sure it's a value judgment. It's a ridiculous one, but welcome to the world of hypothetical situations. Sure you can have an opinion on a work of literature, but don't expect it to be 'valued' on the same level as someone who actually does understand a work of literature. I never meant to argue that people can't have opinions, only that without study their opinions aren't well informed. While in general you're correct about the accessibility of literature, most modernist writing would be completely incomprehensible to the lay-person. Regardless, you're missing the fact that literature is not just about the story. The story is a very small part of what makes up a work of literature, and just because someone understands the story doesn't mean he or she understands the work itself. With that in mind, I don't think a science textbook is any less comprehensible than a complex piece of literature--you're view is too narrow. Fair play to you on the chemistry example, but when I began studying English in college it hit me how little I learned in high school English classes. The gap is massive. To your last post, I guess not, but I was talking about a single statement and its absurdity when coming from the keyboard of a scientist.

To Angua: I accepted your objection before, but as you noticed I pushed back a bit. I'm glad I did because it encouraged you to clarify your position. Your account of how lay-people rate literature and your definition of the lay-person's concept of 'overrated' are vital to this discussion. That concept is far removed from my own, and as I have been surrounded by intellectual humanities majors most of my life I haven't had much experience with people of the sort you talk about. The statement still sounds absurd to me, but I suppose that's because I belong to a different world than the scientists and lay-people. I think it's safe to say that this argument has been resolved by your post.

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Re: Worst/Overrated books.

Postby SecondTalon » Sat Apr 21, 2012 5:00 am UTC

......High Culture. That's the collective name of these subforums - Gaming, Movies and TV, Music, Books, and Food.

Go stick your head in them. Look around. Get a feel for the place.

Most importantly, read over the rules.

This back and forth arguing you and Jorpho have been doing are why I stay the hell out of SB and N&A. Personal thing, sure, my not digging on it. But there it is, all the same. I like this place being one where, generally speaking, arguments that last more than four or five posts tend to end with something along the lines of "Well, that's just, like, your opinion, man." and both parties dropping it. Because repeating the same thing, only louder or different words, get so, so tiresome.

So very tiresome.

You are right, you do have to study the Classics to understand them. It's also a good idea to study your battleground too. That you had no idea what I meant when I said High Culture says you've not only not studied the landscape, you didn't even check the local laws first.
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Re: Worst/Overrated books.

Postby gmalivuk » Sat Apr 21, 2012 5:19 am UTC

sdkelso wrote:For your second objection, I took chemistry in high school. Are you going to try to tell me that I really know anything of significance about chemistry? Anything that would make my opinion on some chemistry problem at all relevant? No, so please don't act as if taking AP English in high school makes you an expert on literature. Oh, and criticism isn't always about finding "deep meanings" (in fact, in the wake of certain popular theories criticism is more often than not not about finding deep meanings)--your lack of knowledge about the field is apparent.
No, what's apparent is your lack of reading comprehension. Which is ironic given the tack of lone crusading language arts person you seem to be taking in most of your discussions.

My point was precisely that most people who've heard of a given canonical author are not experts by any means. But if you're actually correct in your implications that the canon exists for experts to engage in advanced analysis or whatever, then non-experts shouldn't be forced to play at literary criticism.

If it's wrong for us idiot scientists and laypeople to voice our opinions about classic literature, it's wrong for you "experts" to expect us to read any of them in the first place.
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Re: Worst/Overrated books.

Postby sdkelso » Sat Apr 21, 2012 7:14 am UTC

To SecondTalon: You got me there. I'll educate myself immediately.

To gmalivuk: After reading and rereading and rereading your post I cannot find any way to make it mean what you say it means. It seems to be pointing out a difference between complex literature and complex science, namely that everybody becomes reasonably acquainted with complex literature (classics) in high school while the same cannot be said of science. When you make that claim and leave it open, I can only assume that you mean to imply that for this reason the general public are able to have viable value judgments on literature but not on science. Forgive me if I misunderstand, but my reading comprehension is directly proportional to the clarity of the thought expressed. No, I don't think that non-experts should be "forced to play at literary criticism," only that their value judgments of classics are of no consequence. And your last sentence is a perfect reflection of what "you scientists" think but won't admit, namely that you think that someone telling you that certain literature is above you is in some way an insult, which is extremely self-righteous. Finally, I'm not an expert and I don't expect anything, but it is well within the lay-person's grasp to educate themselves enough so that they will get something from studying classics, something that I think is more worthwhile than something you'd get from reading Harry Potter. Do what you will, though.

Edit: In any case, I've conceded to Angua and am ready to move on. What's with Catcher in the Rye? Fuck that book.

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Re: Worst/Overrated books.

Postby sbarr » Sun Apr 22, 2012 4:44 pm UTC

I did a quick search and I don't think anyone has mentioned "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" by Stieg Larsson. This was/is much talked about but I found it very difficult to get through. I started the second in the series to see if that was any better and never got past the second chapter. I liked the movie (the Swedish version, haven't seen the new one) but I didn't get the hype about the book. Didn't like the characters, the plot, or the writing, but the last could be due to translation.

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Re: Worst/Overrated books.

Postby emceng » Mon Apr 23, 2012 2:28 pm UTC

sdkelso wrote:
To gmalivuk: After reading and rereading and rereading your post I cannot find any way to make it mean what you say it means. It seems to be pointing out a difference between complex literature and complex science, namely that everybody becomes reasonably acquainted with complex literature (classics) in high school while the same cannot be said of science. When you make that claim and leave it open, I can only assume that you mean to imply that for this reason the general public are able to have viable value judgments on literature but not on science. Forgive me if I misunderstand, but my reading comprehension is directly proportional to the clarity of the thought expressed. No, I don't think that non-experts should be "forced to play at literary criticism," only that their value judgments of classics are of no consequence. And your last sentence is a perfect reflection of what "you scientists" think but won't admit, namely that you think that someone telling you that certain literature is above you is in some way an insult, which is extremely self-righteous. Finally, I'm not an expert and I don't expect anything, but it is well within the lay-person's grasp to educate themselves enough so that they will get something from studying classics, something that I think is more worthwhile than something you'd get from reading Harry Potter. Do what you will, though.




How is the bolded part not an insult? Being told you're either too uneducated or too stupid to appreciate something is an insult. Especially when it comes to the arts. As an engineer I can tell you you're in over your head on differential equations, because you don't have the education to do them. That is a verifiable fact. Being told a 'classic' work of fiction is over my head is an insult, because there is no objective reason why it could be.

Also, being told that your opinion is invalid in a subjective subject(literary criticism) is condescending and insulting[italicized part].
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Re: Worst/Overrated books.

Postby gmalivuk » Mon Apr 23, 2012 3:58 pm UTC

sdkelso wrote:It seems to be pointing out a difference between complex literature and complex science, namely that everybody becomes reasonably acquainted with complex literature (classics) in high school while the same cannot be said of science. When you make that claim and leave it open, I can only assume that you mean to imply that for this reason the general public are able to have viable value judgments on literature but not on science.
Yes, but this is not the same thing you said of my position before. I said nothing about being an "expert" after just a high school class or two. And because even mediocre students (i.e. complete non-experts) are expected to read and discuss these books, you can't get all self-righteous when they have opinions about them that you disagree with.

you think that someone telling you that certain literature is above you is in some way an insult
If they use words like "above you", it bloody well is an insult. If you tone it down a bit and say only that the complexities that make it worthwhile literature are pretty deep and hard to understand for someone without a lot of education about it.

It is well within the lay-person's grasp to educate themselves enough so that they will get something from studying classics
But apparently not within the lay-person's grasp to subsequently have any opinions about them?
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Re: Worst/Overrated books.

Postby sdkelso » Mon Apr 23, 2012 4:58 pm UTC

:lol: You guys are hilarious. And clueless at that. The fact is that a lot of literature is above you (or I could "tone it down" and say exactly the same thing, but that would be right fucking stupid, wouldn't it?)--to deny that is to belittle the people who spend close to a decade getting to the point where it is not above them. Oh, and who told you that literary criticism was subjective? In fact, it is the business of almost all types of literary critics (excepting feminists and reader-response critics) to be as objective as possible. If that isn't an uninformed insult to an entire field of study, I don't know what is. Of course, that has little to do with opinions, but it's impossible to have a viable opinion of any consequence about something you don't understand. My opinion is that differential equations are a waste of time undertaken by the brain dead and have done nothing good for the world or anybody in it. You may think that this is "just my opinion" (after all, 'good' is a value judgment), but you probably also think that I'm a moron. The feeling is mutual. Bye.

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Re: Worst/Overrated books.

Postby Adam H » Mon Apr 23, 2012 7:15 pm UTC

More of this:
sbarr wrote:"The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" by Stieg Larsson. This was/is much talked about but I found it very difficult to get through.


Less of this:
sdkelso wrote:You guys are hilarious. And clueless at that. The fact is that a lot of literature is above you.


K thanks bye
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Re: Worst/Overrated books.

Postby The Mighty Thesaurus » Thu Apr 26, 2012 4:04 am UTC

sdkelso wrote:Bye.

You'll be missed.
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Re: Worst/Overrated books.

Postby clockworkmonk » Thu Apr 26, 2012 6:32 pm UTC

So anyways, I am not the biggest fan of Charles Dickens' novels. A lot of this has to do with the pacing created by being created and released as serials.
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Re: Worst/Overrated books.

Postby Ixtellor » Thu May 03, 2012 7:20 pm UTC

[quote="sdkelso Oh, and who told you that literary criticism was subjective? .[/quote]


I am no expert but I am married to an English professor who won't let me just watch sports and insists of telling me all about her latest book.

TV "And parker drives to the rim..."
Wife "So what do you think about submissive females manifesting in the bedroom since they are more frequently finding themselves in positions of power in the workplace and relationships" (Based on some new book (gray something...))

That being said, Literary criticism IS subjective.
It goes so far as to rebutt the authors of the work.

Literary critic "This tree represents 'rebirth'"
Author "No it doesn't"
Literary critic "It was in your subconcsious, the truth is on the page"

Its probably one of the most subjective fields of study.
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Re: Worst/Overrated books.

Postby sdkelso » Thu May 03, 2012 9:50 pm UTC

Ixtellor wrote:I am no expert but I am married to an English professor who won't let me just watch sports and insists of telling me all about her latest book.

TV "And parker drives to the rim..."
Wife "So what do you think about submissive females manifesting in the bedroom since they are more frequently finding themselves in positions of power in the workplace and relationships" (Based on some new book (gray something...))

That being said, Literary criticism IS subjective.
It goes so far as to rebutt the authors of the work.

Literary critic "This tree represents 'rebirth'"
Author "No it doesn't"
Literary critic "It was in your subconcsious, the truth is on the page"

Its probably one of the most subjective fields of study.


First, your characterization of literary criticism is both amusing and wrong (it was in your subconscious? please). However, you make a good point that is complicit with my argument. "The truth is on the page." Exactly. We don't look at the page through ourselves, we look at the page itself. our arguments are based on evidence on the page. That's what objective means. That critics "rebutt the authors of the work" (whatever that means), is proof that it is not subjective; (most) criticism refuses to allow the subject (the author in this case) to dictate the meaning--it is the object, the text itself, that dictates the meaning. Finally, your wife sounds like a feminist critic, and I specifically excepted feminist criticism from objective schools of literary criticism.

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Re: Worst/Overrated books.

Postby TheGrammarBolshevik » Thu May 03, 2012 10:33 pm UTC

sdkelso wrote:our arguments are based on evidence on the page. That's what objective means.

Gotta run, but nope.
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Re: Worst/Overrated books.

Postby rat4000 » Thu May 03, 2012 11:04 pm UTC

Could you give an example of objective literary criticism that's based on the words on the page (and presumably nothing else)? Some essay or something?

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Re: Worst/Overrated books.

Postby sdkelso » Thu May 03, 2012 11:10 pm UTC

TheGrammarBolshevik wrote:
sdkelso wrote:our arguments are based on evidence on the page. That's what objective means.

Gotta run, but nope.


Uh, ya. On both accounts.

(1) Arguments are based on the evidence on the page:
That's where we get ideas like the affective fallacy. Here's an excerpt from the definition of the affective fallacy from one of my desk dictionaries: "An important notion in the New Criticism, derived from the title of an article by Wimsatt and Beardsley (1954b) which attempts to promote an objective form of criticism based solely on the text . . . . To succumb to the affective fallacy is to mistake the poem for its emotional result, or to derive a standard of criticism from its psychological affects."

(2) Objective means 'with attention on the object as opposed to the subject'
This is just true. It's what the less formal definition 'fact-based' is derived from. To understand 'fact-based' you must understand the opposition between objective and subjective. A subjective analysis of a text focuses on the subject and therefore on the subject's life, influences, opinions, feelings, etc.. Objective analysis, on the other hand, takes the object, as separate as it can be from the subject, as its focus and is grounded in facts, evidence, and all other data that can be gotten from the object itself.

Additionally, here is a short passage from Nabokov's Lectures on Literature in which he distinguishes between objective ('good') imagination and subjective ('bad') imagination:

"There are, however, at least two varieties of imagination in the reader's case. So let us see which one of the two is the right one to use in reading a book. First, there is the comparatively lowly kind which turns for support to the simple emotions and is of a definitely personal nature. (There are various subvarieties here, in this first section of emotional reading.) A situation in a book is intensely felt because it reminds us of something that happened to us or to someone we know or knew. Or, again, a reader treasures a book mainly because it evokes a country, a landscape, a mode of living which he nostalgically recalls as part of his own past. Or, and this is the worst thing a reader can do, he identifies himself with a character in the book. This lowly variety is not the kind of imagination I would like readers to use.

So what is the authentic instrument to be used by the reader? It is impersonal imagination and artistic delight."

In other words, one kind of imagination is focused on the subject (and is consequently forbidden), and the other on the object (which is encouraged). Nabokov goes on to explain a balance between aloofness (objectivity) and enjoyment (subjectivity). However, enjoyment is not a part of critical analysis and is distinctly adjunct to actual criticism (the object of this discussion).

I really wish people would stop assuming that they know more than me and that they can just write off my arguments offhand.

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Re: Worst/Overrated books.

Postby sdkelso » Thu May 03, 2012 11:11 pm UTC

rat4000 wrote:Could you give an example of objective literary criticism that's based on the words on the page (and presumably nothing else)? Some essay or something?


This might take me a bit, as I'm not used to finding texts online (and I'm not typing an entire essay).

Edit: And it might have been wrong of me to characterize all literary criticism as based on words on the page alone. This characterizes one subset of literary theory, and has been in debate for years. Nevertheless, the majority of the competing theories are still objectively based--they just use other sources (such as author biographies) in their work. Finally, as I said above, there are a few schools of criticism that are subjective. Two that I can think of are reader-response theory (which bases their readings on, you guessed it, subjective reader responses) and watered-down feminism (which often finds itself answering questions such as "how should a woman reader respond to this text?").

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Re: Worst/Overrated books.

Postby gmalivuk » Thu May 03, 2012 11:32 pm UTC

sdkelso wrote:So what is the authentic instrument to be used by the reader? It is impersonal imagination and artistic delight.
And "artistic delight" is objective in what sense, exactly?
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Re: Worst/Overrated books.

Postby rat4000 » Thu May 03, 2012 11:37 pm UTC

sdkelso wrote:
rat4000 wrote:Could you give an example of objective literary criticism that's based on the words on the page (and presumably nothing else)? Some essay or something?


This might take me a bit, as I'm not used to finding texts online (and I'm not typing an entire essay).
I don't mean a text of yours, of course. Thinking you'd write me one would be a bit presumptuous.

Using author biographies is objective? How is it any more objective than, say, asking the author? For what purposes?

From your definition of objectivity, it would seem that to you objective criticism is one not grounded in context. I'll have to wait for an example of what you mean before I reply, since I'm having difficulty conceptualizing that.

Nabokov's saying that there are good and bad ways to enjoy a book in those quotes. Even disregarding the fact that this is unbelievably pretentious, it is obvious that they are irrelevant to a discussion of how to criticise (or, if you will, understand) a book. This could be a symptom of a deeper issue, since it seems to me that throughout the thread you've failed to notice that there's a difference between what a critic means when they call Harry Potter overrated and what a non-critic means when they call Lolita overrated, and why both statements are true.

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Re: Worst/Overrated books.

Postby sdkelso » Thu May 03, 2012 11:56 pm UTC

rat4000 wrote:I don't mean a text of yours, of course. Thinking you'd write me one would be a bit presumptuous.

Using author biographies is objective? How is it any more objective than, say, asking the author? For what purposes?

From your definition of obejctive and subjective, it would seem that to you objective criticism is one not grounded in context. I'll have to wait for an example of what you mean before I reply, since I'm having difficulty conceptualizing that.

Nabokov's saying that there are good and bad ways to enjoy a book in those quotes. Even disregarding the fact that this is unbelievably pretentious, it is obvious that they are irrelevant to a discussion of how to criticise (or, if you will, understand) a book. This could be a symptom of a deeper issue, since it seems to me that throughout the thread you've failed to notice that there's a difference between what a critic means when they call Harry Potter overrated and what a non-critic means when they call Lolita overrated, and why both statements are true.


I meant that I have plenty of examples of the type of criticism you're after on my desk, and I'm not willing to transcribe any of them. Anyway, I couldn't upload the essay that I found because it was too big. I'll just say that a really great example of the kind of analysis you're looking for can be found in a book called The Well Wrought Urn by Cleanth Brooks--I'm sure you'd find it at your library.

I mean that critics who use author biographies don't say, "This is my personal interpretation based on how I feel." They say, "This is my interpretation based on the evidence I have before me." It is an ongoing debate in literary criticism as to whether or not contexts should be consulted in interpretation. Such critics would argue that because the work is situated in a time period and a given author's oeuvre, it is necessary to use these facts to inform their interpretation. The idea is called "intertextuality," and it doesn't affect how subjective or objective a critical stance is--the interpretation is fact and evidence based.

He is theorizing the correct way to treat (and yes, criticize) a work. The way he thinks is correct is by appreciating the text on its own terms, leaving your personal concerns behind (otherwise criticism dissolves into relativism, as a text could mean anything to anybody). There's nothing pretentious about that. And we've already gone over the equivocation on "overrated," and you're right, it was the main point of disagreement.

gmalivuk wrote:And "artistic delight" is objective in what sense, exactly?


Nabokov goes on to explain a balance between aloofness (objectivity) and enjoyment (subjectivity). However, enjoyment is not a part of critical analysis and is distinctly adjunct to actual criticism (the object of this discussion).

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Re: Worst/Overrated books.

Postby Gelsamel » Fri May 04, 2012 12:06 am UTC

Do we really have to start talking about pipes and pictures of them?
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Re: Worst/Overrated books.

Postby gmalivuk » Fri May 04, 2012 12:07 am UTC

sdkelso wrote:
gmalivuk wrote:And "artistic delight" is objective in what sense, exactly?
Nabokov goes on to explain a balance between aloofness (objectivity) and enjoyment (subjectivity). However, enjoyment is not a part of critical analysis and is distinctly adjunct to actual criticism (the object of this discussion).
Good job, you can use bbcode tags.

In your next post, feel free to actually make a point, assuming you're still interested in others not just writing off your arguments offhand.

Are you saying Nobokov isn't suggesting objectivity when talking about the "authentic instrument" he would like readers to use? Then why did you quote that bit in the first place? Or are you saying that only the first half of that sentence, about impersonal imagination, is relevant to your point? If so, then please explain what that means, and how it's objective. You evidently know so much more than all the rest of us, so it shouldn't be too hard for you, should it?
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Re: Worst/Overrated books.

Postby sdkelso » Fri May 04, 2012 12:27 am UTC

gmalivuk wrote:
sdkelso wrote:
gmalivuk wrote:And "artistic delight" is objective in what sense, exactly?
Nabokov goes on to explain a balance between aloofness (objectivity) and enjoyment (subjectivity). However, enjoyment is not a part of critical analysis and is distinctly adjunct to actual criticism (the object of this discussion).
Good job, you can use bbcode tags.

In your next post, feel free to actually make a point, assuming you're still interested in others not just writing off your arguments offhand.

Are you saying Nobokov isn't suggesting objectivity when talking about the "authentic instrument" he would like readers to use? Then why did you quote that bit in the first place? Or are you saying that only the first half of that sentence, about impersonal imagination, is relevant to your point? If so, then please explain what that means, and how it's objective. You evidently know so much more than all the rest of us, so it shouldn't be too hard for you, should it?


Well, since "delight" and "enjoyment" are very similar words, I thought it was obvious that my explanation of the quote demonstrated that only half of it was relevant to what I was talking about. You must understand that Lectures on Literature was not a piece of criticism, it is a collection of lectures given to undergrads. His object was thus twofold: to show how a text should be read and interpreted and to teach his students how to appreciate and enjoy literature on what he considered a higher level than they had in the past. The relevant dichotomy is personal/impersonal imagination. The first is based on how one personally interacts with the book, the second is based on what the book actually says. Impersonal is nearly synonymous with "objective," and personal is nearly synonymous with "objective." What isn't clear?

In fact, he goes on to say: "To be quite objective in these matters is of course impossible. Everything that is worthwhile is to some extent subjective. . . . But . . . the the reader must know when and where to curb his imagination and this he does by trying to get clear the specific world the author places at his disposal."

The point? Nabokov thinks that one should strive for objectivity while reading. No it doesn't match up perfectly with the issue at hand, but it is an illustrative example. It is, in fact, a simple misconception that criticism is mostly subjective--that would make literary studies wholly relative, which they're not. Their are schools that are subjective (I've named two), and one could even argue that poststructuralism is subjective (although it's not--it objectively demonstrates the undecidability of texts). But that doesn't change the fact that criticism, on the whole, strives for objectivity. Don't confuse literary critics with hacks who write book reviews.

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Re: Worst/Overrated books.

Postby gmalivuk » Fri May 04, 2012 12:49 am UTC

sdkelso wrote:it objectively demonstrates the undecidability of texts
As you've mentioned, this forum is pretty heavily populated by math sorts, for whom the "objective" demonstration of something like "undecidability" is, I reckon, a rather stronger claim than anything literary criticism is logically capable of doing.
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Re: Worst/Overrated books.

Postby sdkelso » Fri May 04, 2012 12:58 am UTC

gmalivuk wrote:
sdkelso wrote:it objectively demonstrates the undecidability of texts
As you've mentioned, this forum is pretty heavily populated by math sorts, for whom the "objective" demonstration of something like "undecidability" is, I reckon, a rather stronger claim than anything literary criticism is logically capable of doing.


Maybe so, but there's quite a bit a philosophy to back it up. That, however, is a completely different conversation, and unfortunately I don't know enough about poststructuralism to continue it. Talk to me in a few years.

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Re: Worst/Overrated books.

Postby rat4000 » Fri May 04, 2012 1:01 am UTC

sdkelso wrote:The idea is called "intertextuality," and it doesn't affect how subjective or objective a critical stance is--the interpretation is fact and evidence based.
Ah! Before, I thought you were saying that there is insight to be gleaned from the text alone, which is not the case. (Trivially so -- the very words of the text mean nothing without a language to comprehend them with.) Now I understand you better.

Your point is that criticism that abstracts from the personal relationship of the critic to the work is objective, in the sense that it's primarily concerned with the work. This is something I can't contest; I find it tautological.

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Re: Worst/Overrated books.

Postby sdkelso » Fri May 04, 2012 1:14 am UTC

rat4000 wrote:
sdkelso wrote:The idea is called "intertextuality," and it doesn't affect how subjective or objective a critical stance is--the interpretation is fact and evidence based.
Ah! Before, I thought you were saying that there is insight to be gleaned from the text alone, which is not the case. (Trivially so -- the very words of the text mean nothing without a language to comprehend them with.) Now I understand you better.

Your point is that criticism that abstracts from the personal relationship of the critic to the work is objective, in the sense that it's primarily concerned with the work. This is something I can't contest; I find it tautological.


You don't exactly understand me. Not all theories agree that we should consult sources outside the text. But you're right, there are things that are necessary to consult. The debate is messy, though, so I'll leave it at that. If you wish to read more on the matter, try this.

Nevertheless, it is contested. I've often heard people proclaim the subjectivity and relativity of literary studies (as was done in this thread).


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