I have been thinking about literature, art, and genres a past few weeks after /rFantasy member asked about if fantasy genre was looked down upon. The age-old question which I grew up with and had to deal with when explaining “adults” what I read, but for a long time now I think I have been living in a bubble where those around me understand and accept that fantasy, sci-fi, horror, and other genre fiction are fiction and respectable to read and not some weird guilty pleasure you do on holidays or when no one is looking. So it came as a bit of a surprise when I shared with the community what happened to me on that Tuesday at my creative writing class (with a silly name: Art with Words.) How a random partner told me she doesn’t read fantasy because it doesn’t engage all the senses (just vision and most of us know that there is a lot more to fantasy and sci-fi books than what we see, they use all our senses even taste) and she preferred to read the classics like Austine, Tolstoi, Dostoevsky, and so on. There was an overwhelming response on Reddit, and I understood that even in our day where we praise tolerance and openness there are still places where we can look down upon other people, especially what they do and what they like. And I’m horrified.
I understand that people like different things and they should, diversity in all aspects is a good thing. We want people who think differently to challenge our ways. But why does there has to be hate against what people like? Be it may classics, literary fiction, horror, romantic comedies, high fantasy, low fantasy, magic realism, comic fantasy, hard sci-fi, soft sci-fi, utopia… the list is endless. Why is there such a thing that one of them is better than others? I honestly don’t get it. Is it this consumer culture that has made us hate each other, so our own self-image will strengthen when we say “I only read fantasy”? Or is it that we are prone to stereotypes and in-group and out-group dichotomy? I kind of get it when teenagers and kids do it. I did it myself, drawing a line with normies and us bit different who read cool books about elves, wizards, different planets, alien races and so on. I was kind of dick back then with low self-esteem and searching for ways to be a part in this world. But it is not only teenagers and kids who are drawing lines what is acceptable, good, and bad when it comes to books and other things like clothing, music, wine… Are we all still so insecure that the only way to function is to attack those who don’t like the things we do and value our of favorites so high that nothing compares to them? Or what is this all about?
Is it about art with literature? That books (and writers) somehow need judges to say this is art, this is not, this is what you should read, this is trash, this how you should write, and readers be damned. Because, if you look at this from the readers’ perspective, genre fiction sells the best: romance and crime novels are the best-sold books in any bookstore. Those are genre fiction the same way as fantasy/sci-fi is which are doing very well. But I think many critics, academics, and whatnots will draw a line between entertainment and art. Then all will come down how we interpret art, and I’m not sure I want to go too deeply there. For what I think about books and art, is that both are communication with ourselves and the people around us. The message what we receive doesn’t have to be shared and agreed upon or liked, but there is still this fitting of realities together and all the interpretations that will birth from it. Let’s say like for example, Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. I know for sure that some literary critics have noted that it is not literature (art,) it is entertainment and not influential. But I grew up reading them, I’m criting sure that those books influenced how I see the world. They altered me. Isn’t that what art should do? Provoke thought, ideas, send a message, or paint a “beautiful” picture to connect with. So it seems to me like we like to judge, draw lines, and categorize based on our own liking and try to canonize our taste, so it will become the standard others should live by. And for me, any such attempts come it either from genre fiction lovers or literature lovers is a shame and a narrow point of view what is to be human.
As the last point, I have to say, I get why we categorize books and other material (+ even people.) It is to ease to find what we might enjoy and what stories make us excited, but it seems like we cannot handle our ability to make sense of the world. That suddenly, with categories comes lines you cannot step and hierarchies which make one thing better than the other. Do we really need such value judgments to close our minds?
Thank you for reading! Have a nice day ❤
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