A thought on literature and representation: One of the things that occasionally seems to be wrong in the usual approaches to representation of alternative viewpoints in literature or culture more generally is that it tends to assume representation itself as an unalloyed good. If there's one thing that's been made clear given the dominance of white, heterosexual, American (or western European), middle-class-ish males in literature, it's that no story about them is good just because it's about a person of that type: everybody recognizes that minutely and realistically depicting the world of such a person does not constitute an achievement: one has to actually write an interesting and unusual narrative about them. I worry sometimes that groups who have not been culturally oversaturated fail to understand this point, to the detriment of work that is sometimes done: i.e. I have represented my experience, hence art.* (This is not to say that these things don't have value, even (perhaps especially) great value: they just don't have artistic value)

In this respect, as in many others, it's the culture of creative writing workshops that has damaged things.

*So the danger of praising Their Eyes Were Watching God or Invisible Man is saying "they accurately represent the experience of women/black women/black people in general and are therefore great literature" instead of saying "they are great literature first and also give some valuable and unique insight into lives not otherwise well understood"

No comments: