Monday, May 31, 2010

Reading SF/Fantasy, Part Four

I recently heard a lecture from Salman Rushdie that was devoted to the idea that a narrow idea of realism/naturalism has come to dominate "serious" literature despite the fact that it's a historical and cultural anomaly. (Sound familiar?) Rushdie called it the Sterne/Richardson split where so many writers follow the Richardson side, even if this seems a tad dubious as legit analysis of literary development.

What stood out most is that despite Rushdie's stated attempt to rope in the ignored or outsiders or neglected he focused almost entirely on canonical work. There were passing mentions of Tolkien, Harry Potter and Lost but it was unclear whether he'd actually read any of those (except Lost which he said he's never watched). He did make a pointed and accurate dig at Avatar but his most positive references were to Garcia Marquez, the Arabian Nights, the Brothers Grimm and one or two similar. Not even the SF/fantasy writers that have been grabbed by the lit establishment: LeGuin, Crowley, Bradbury. And especially not the great SF/F writers who could be listed by the dozens but if you're reading this you already know. (Unless I suppose you're Rushdie who I would recommend Lieber, Lafferty, Pratchett, Blaylock, Lansdale, CA Smith, Wolfe, Peake, Wellman, Merritt, etc without even getting to the SF side (or for that matter the metaficational side).)

It was also hard not to wonder about whether he really meant this when he devoted a long section of the lecture to determining exactly how many people had been killed during the Arabian Nights. In a sense this is a question of some interest (only possibly and only very limited interest) but what he was after was an approach to the text as a realist work. In other words he made the calculation using the assumption that the frame story is a literal and exact account though the catch is that Rushdie didn't seem aware that's what he was doing. It's that lack of awareness that made me wonder whether he really is as dedicated or even aware of literary broadness as he stated. Perhaps, perhaps not.