Truth, you can't handle the truth

I am still mulling over a longer more involved discussion of the issues touched on in the rant below on high and low culture. Mark at the Elegant Variation touched on the post in passing and the Literary Saloon seemed puzzled as to what the issue was all about anyway. Other than that, it really hasn’t engendered much debate. Not surprising as these bloggers generally post about things that interest them rather than rants emailed to them by me. The thing is still bouncing around in my head, however, so expect more posts when I get the chance.
UPDATE: Dan Green at The Reading Experience has an intelligent critique. I will have to re-evaluate my thesis, or at least the terms involved.

But here is something to chew on in the meantime. What role does truth play in literature? When you look to read literature, as opposed to a paperback thriller or escapist reading, are you looking for truth? Is it fair to say that great literature uses un-truth, i.e. fiction, to get at a deeper truth? Does it help you know yourself better? Does it provide insight into some fundamental issue of life?

Or perhaps are you simply seeking a higher level of craftsmanship. Is the difference between literature and pulp (to use TNR’s label) only the quality of writing; the skill involved? In this way can genre by its quality and craft rise above its category into literature?

Maybe readers and bloggers would rather not address this abstraction; maybe my lack of an MFA causes me to find these questions interesting while the better schooled have moved on. If you have a thought or opinion on any of this let me know . . .

About the author

Kevin Holtsberry

I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season – oh, and watching golf too).

View all posts

4 Comments

  • I don’t think Michael at Lit Saloon was dismissing the issue as much as noting the Swiss cheese nature of Applebaum’s reasoning.

    Kudos to you for having the patience to stay with such a leaking vessel of an essay (AA’s) without jumping overboard.

  • Have you read C.S. Lewis’ An Exercise in Criticism? It’s a fascinating, very readable book, and has the best take on the subject I’ve yet read. In essence, he proposes to judge the quality of books by how they are read, and then expands on that idea.

  • I feel I owe you a more thoughtful reply than the ones I’ve posted thus far, but among other things, time has been at a premium.

    What I meant when I suggested you were essentially stuffing literature through your political prism was that your post was full of all the usual right wing bugaboos – multiculturalism, et alia – and undertook these sweeping generalizations about literature without touching very directly on any actual literary matters. Where were your examples, your sources, your exemplars if you like?

    To my ear, it’s simply an overused cliche of the right to huff and puff about the elitist left; it doesn’t really illuminate the question, it adds nothing new to the debate to ponder. And although you did point out that the post was hurried and rough, that doesn’t necessarily innoculate you for criticism of its contents (as Easterbrook learned); it’s the nature of the ‘sphere to be quick and informal but we put our views out there, sign our names to them (generally) and need to be willing to weather what comes. Dan’s post – which it was very open minded and gracious of you to link to – is the perfect example of the kind of thinking I look for, the level of engagement and nuance. Those were the qualities that I felt were missing from your initial missive.

    Does this clarify anything at all? Or is it as clear as mud? When all is said and done, we’re clearly of different minds (and politics) but the best thinkers on the right have the twofold effect of (a) minimally making me review my own prejudices and (b) enabling to see through their eyes and have an understanding for how they come to hold those views, even if I don’t share them.

    Hey, some of my best friends are conservatives. (Really.) The conversation continues.

  • I feel I owe you a more thoughtful reply than the ones I’ve posted thus far, but among other things, time has been at a premium.

    What I meant when I suggested you were essentially stuffing literature through your political prism was that your post was full of all the usual right wing bugaboos – multiculturalism, et alia – and undertook these sweeping generalizations about literature without touching very directly on any actual literary matters. Where were your examples, your sources, your exemplars if you like?

    To my ear, it’s simply an overused cliche of the right to huff and puff about the elitist left; it doesn’t really illuminate the question, it adds nothing new to the debate to ponder. And although you did point out that the post was hurried and rough, that doesn’t necessarily innoculate you for criticism of its contents (as Easterbrook learned); it’s the nature of the ‘sphere to be quick and informal but we put our views out there, sign our names to them (generally) and need to be willing to weather what comes. Dan’s post – which it was very open minded and gracious of you to link to – is the perfect example of the kind of thinking I look for, the level of engagement and nuance. Those were the qualities that I felt were missing from your initial missive.

    Does this clarify anything at all? Or is it as clear as mud? When all is said and done, we’re clearly of different minds (and politics) but the best thinkers on the right have the twofold effect of (a) minimally making me review my own prejudices and (b) enabling to see through their eyes and have an understanding for how they come to hold those views, even if I don’t share them.

    Hey, some of my best friends are conservatives. (Really.) The conversation continues.