okay sorry but I need to get this off my chest. possibly snob-ish literature rant ahead of you.
do you know something that’s been grating on my nerves about a bunch of posts I see on tumblr? it’s this continuous insisting that ‘no literature is sacred because everything is a fanfic/transformative work so why do people think certain books are special’.
because I mean on one side it is technically true, though it means nothing and everything - like, okay, as someone once said all western literature is a continuous redoing of the Iliad and the Odyssey and that’s pretty much true to a T because every theme you find in all of western lit is in there, so we actually could say that all of western lit is basically Homer fanfiction. there’s nothing technically wrong about that statement. but if you say that, you’re basically equating all literary works to a certain standard which is not necessarily a high one and you’re saying that no literary work could be considered more important than another because after all it’s all transformative work.
and that means that you didn’t understand the basic point of history of literature and of how literature shapes cultures/languages and of how literary trends start. given that nothing is really original for the reasons above, but there’s nothing wrong with that as all of literature/culture in general is made of being influenced by someone else, the point is that there are certain works/books that are actually more important than others and not necessarily because of their style.
- as in: the divine comedy might be a bible + roman/greek mythology fanfic with rps thrown into it for someone who wants to see it like that (tho writing this sentence is making my fingers bleed but never mind), but the thing is that if you say it you’re missing that a) the story is a pretext, b) that it’s used as a commentary for philosophical/historical/society issues, c) that it’s written in such a complicated verse that no one else tried it again after Dante did it first, d) that it’s been the basis for the formation of the language of an entire nation. it’s not just a fanfic, it started Italian literature in vernacular.
- all of ancient latin/roman lit is a greek literature au but it shaped their culture which then they exported all over the continent and it’s not necessarily the same and actually the aeneid is more important for western culture than the iliad/odyssey because it was more widely read.
- I could go and say that robinson crusoe is just another variation of ulysses being stranded on calypso’s island so who even cares, and I also think it’s boring as fuck, but if someone hadn’t written the umpteenth variation of ulysses being stuck on the island you wouldn’t have modern narrative novel and not just in the english language.
- ulysses is pretty much upfront an odyssey fanfiction for that matter, it doesn’t try to hide that, but considering that joyce invented the stream of consciousness and that was when he introduced it that kinda makes it stand since it influenced all of 20th century literature
- the beat generation novels can be a huck finn or tom sawyer au tho that definition is kinda reductive and can be applied to 90% of american lit and actually the beat generation is more autobiographical shit than most of any other american lit current, but without the beat generation novels american lit nowadays would be vastly different and they still did something innovative that hadn’t been done before
- for that matter huck finn also is based on themes you can find in the odyssey - fuck, the entire road trip concept is based on the odyssey, I could write you another post where I show you that lord of the rings has endless themes in common with that book - but without mark twain you wouldn’t have today’s american literature
- religious art can be bible fanart to you, but it wasn’t to people who went to church because they couldn’t read the bible so if they didn’t see the pictures how were they going to get told the story even if the priest wasn’t explaining it to them? also some of that bible fanart ended up inspiring entire movements (ie Caravaggio’s use of light in his bible fanart influenced all art for a century at least if not more while the artists that weren’t influenced by him aren’t famous unless they did something other groundbreaking or that somehow was relevant as far as currents go), and tbh using the bible as a fanart/fanfic comparison thing means that you reaaaaally have no clue of how religious texts work (says the atheist)
like, what people don’t seem to grasp is that it’s not that all works are equal but some are more equal than others and that’s wrong. the thing is that some works are more important than others, not equal, in virtue of the fact that if no one had written that book or painted that picture(s) literature history would be vastly different and by proxy the culture that book belongs to would be vastly different, because like it or not, literature shapes a culture if it’s a culture that relies on the written word.
like, there’s a post floating around tumblr (which wasn’t what started this rant but never mind) that says that jane eyre was based off emma and wide sargasso sea was based off jane eyre so IT’S ALL FANFIC-CEPTION. never mind that it’s probably not true (and like knowing charlotte bronte I totally went like WHAT when I read that post), but let’s just assume it is for this argument. so, emma is a book you study in high school. jane eyre is a book you generally study in high school (I didn’t but it was on my english lit book so let’s say I should have). wide sargasso sea generally is not unless your teacher is into postcolonialist lit or that you study outside university. but it’s not because there’s a bias against wide sargasso sea. the thing is that you study emma because jane austen is an important author and her work is groundbreaking as far as female writers being published goes, so if you wanna know anything about english lit you’re gonna have to deal with it/her. you study jane eyre because charlotte bronte was another example of groundbreaking female writer managing to publish, it has a female heroine that was vastly different from most female heroines of the time and has set the bar for that kind of book in the following years. wide sargasso sea is important for other reasons as far as postcolonial lit goes, but other than giving an unique spin on the story and putting attention on bertha as a character it does exactly nothing special as far as actual writing style goes or as introducing new plot devices or so on. actually if jane eyre wasn’t there first you probably wouldn’t have 90% of today’s literature touching feminist themes. so wide sargasso sea gets taught in unis because it has something to say as far as postcolonialist themes go, but not in high school because it has exactly nothing to add to works that actively changed english literature before the 20th century which is what you should study in HS.
to make another example, this also is valid for idk everything based off ancient greek tragedy - it’s been done and redone to death, but for one, there’s been tons of literature written just about Elektra’s character. ffs we have three full tragedies featuring her character that survived ancient Greece but there probably were endless, we just got those three because they were the most important/innovative. on the character’s wiki page there’s fifteen not-Greek works in between operas and regular theater. out of the four operas, the only one that gets performed today regularly is Strauss’s because it was important as far as musical style went and it stood out from the others, but it’s based on a drama that no one would give a damn about if it wasn’t the base for the opera. meanwhile mourning becomes Elektra, which is the American 19th century AU of the Oresteia, is vastly more important as far as theater goes.
and like, it’s not even about the style or personal tastes - for one, I think robinson crusoe was a yawn-worthy book when it wasn’t irritating and emma is one of the books I loathe most on this planet, it doesn’t mean that I think they’re trash or meh FANFIC or stuff that shouldn’t be taught in schools - they should be, for the basic reason that everyone here is missing.
which is, works in literature are important/stand out insofar as they have something new to say about something that’s already been said and done, be it language or style or twisting the tropes or cementing the tropes or completely turn them into something else or what have you, not because of the story. the story in itself is irrelevant as far as lit history goes. I get the feels about the characters in Les Miserables but it’s not an important book because I cry over life being unfair to jean valjean, it’s important because among the rest it shows you why the fuck I should cry over jean valjean which translates in let’s go and criticize French society and smash at it with a hammer. among the rest, because that’s not even 1% of that. I could also tell you that les mis is basically a Greek tragedy in disguise because three people survive at the end of it but that’d be making a pretty damn disservice to everything it stands for.
and the thing is: people, fanfiction is setting the lowest bar. with that I don’t mean fanfic is bad and actually I agree it shouldn’t be shamed/seen as lesser literature (I mean, I’ve been writing it for ten years or more than that and I will for the foreseeable future, I’m hardly bashing on it) insofar as we do it carefully for reasons I’ll disclose in a moment, but the point about fanfic is that it’s self-published, it’s free and everybody can write it. which is amazing and that’s why I love it, but the thing about incensed literary works is that they are incensed because in their context, not everyone could have written them. No one ever managed to write another divine comedy, I highly doubt that any writer that wasn’t joyce could have pulled off ulysses, wuthering heights was important also because it had a protagonist who was unlikeable but hella complex at the same time and guess what no one else had written a heathcliff until that point or at least not as well as emily bronte did, if I sat down and decided to write a book about a ship hunting whales I can 100% assure you that the result would not be as good as moby dick and I could never write a les miserables or a brothers karamazov or a waste land. because those works are unique and only the people who wrote them could have written them and that’s why they changed literature or were influential to other people. like for fuck’s sake let’s lower the bar some more, stephen king is my favorite writer and I don’t think he’s groundbreaking or extra special, but still he’s had far more influence over horror/thriller genre lit and popular culture than any other genre writer of his generation ever had and no, if I sit down and write horror books myself even if I’m influenced by his work I will never replicate it, because he’s vastly better at it than I could ever be. and that’s okay, I don’t want my dark tower fanfic to be considered equal to his canon. and all ‘there’s fanfic better than canon!!’ is perfectly true, but fanfic wouldn’t exist without the canon. like, think about that one moment - canon will always be more important whichever canon it is.
and other than that, the fact that everybody can write fanfic is good but can also be not good. like, there’s some fanfic which deserves being published, but for every one of those there’s fifty trashy ones and equating all of literary canon to fanfics in general and saying that people need to get off their high arse when they think a certain published work is superior means that there’s zero difference between 1984 and my dystopian game of thrones AU based on brave new world, and that’s crap, because my dystopian GOT AU will make my readers have feels and maybe they’ll read it on their kindle but I’m never going to end up in literature classes for it. considering I do it in my spare time and I’m not paid for it nor do I care, I don’t see the problem in considering 1984 superior to my fanfic. and so on.
but other than that: people, ffs, everyone on this website loathes fifty shades of grey. and that’s not the problem, because it’s a shitty book and deserves to be loathed. but 50sog is a twilight fanfic that was published for reasons that I’m entirely not sure about, tho the agent saw right since el james has made more money from her shitty twilight fanfic than I will ever make off any fanfic I will publish if I ever do. like, following this ‘everything is fanfic everything is equal let’s get off high horses published/studied in school =/= special or particular or worthy of my attention’ we’re saying that 50sog is exactly the same thing as idek lady chatterley’s lover if we wanna stay in the erotic genre/banned books category, and that it totally should have been published/made into a movie/read by a bunch of people who got the wrong idea about bdsm. problem is: everybody can write a shitty book like 50sog and most people would write it better tbh, and that’s why if it ever ends up on literature books it will be because of the sales and because it’s was a phenomenon in the good or the bad, not because it was a fanfic or because it was a good book in the first place. if people don’t forget about it in the next ten years, which is highly more probable.
like, getting off high horses is all good and proper and I 100% agree with it also because in order to make that kinda lit palatable to everyone treating it as it’s 100% sacred and untouchable is stupid, but not to the point of everything being treated as if it was exactly the same thing because sorry but in fact some fucking books/works are more important than others and there are reasons why and those reasons aren’t people being snobs. the moment you know that you can do whatever the hell you want with/to them but at least know what you’re talking about first.