Chris Pawling

Topics: Literature, Fiction, Sociology Pages: 9 (2943 words) Published: November 24, 2012
Introduction: Popular Fition: Ideology or Utopia?
Christopher Pawling
Popular Fiction and Literary criticism
* Despite the growth of interest in popular fiction, it has been difficult to introduce courses on them in college and university syllabi because it is still not considered as mainstream literature, just a minor or peripheral genre. * The self-definition of English literature depends heavily on what is absent from its field- its significant other- popular literature or paraliterature whose absence from the syllabus enables us to define the dominant literary culture. Paraliterature is a sort of ‘taboo’ against which the ‘self’ of literature proper is fashioned. * Darko Suvin says that a discipline which does not take into account 90% of its domain seems to have a distorted vision in the small zone it focuses on. i.e. high literature. * In the last few years, there has been an attempt to initiate interdisciplinary courses. The prejudice against popular literature has gone down because it garners the widest readership. It is also more inextricably linked to ‘other’ aesthetic modes of communication like film and TV. * Pop fic has been included in the curriculum since the 1960s. This is not a ‘soft option’ but has generated a serious corpus of criticism predicated on theory. So reading pop fic is not as much of a peripheral preoccupation as was assumed earlier. * Much of the secondary work on pop lit has been untheorised and eclectic. * The prospective student has been faced with a) production, marketing and consumption of popular fiction which elude meanings embodied in the text themselves and b) Analyses using the tools of lit criticism to give an ‘internal’ account of the themes embodied within the text or genre, but are unable to make connexions between the literary artefact and the social context. In such situations, the socio-historical context is seen as something external. * Sociologists have dealt with texts of popular culture as direct bearers of ideology. Popular fiction reflects social meanings/ mores and intervene in the life of society by organising and interpreting experiences which have previously only been subject to partial reflection. Pop fic, like all other cultural creations, interprets human experience. Genre Analysis

* Popular novels are not simple repositories of sociological data. They generate norms/ expectations on which the reader’s acceptance/ rejection of the text depends. (See quotation from James: “Genres are essentially... contracts.” The narrative of the thriller offers a form of pleasure (uncertainty between security and adventure) that is different from that of women’s romance. The ‘relative autonomy’ of the narrative helps to define boundaries of different genres.

* These genres do not exist in a vacuum but they circulate in specific social, cultural and historical contexts. We must acknowledge that our popular genres differ from those of other societies so they cannot be seen within umbrella terms like universal ‘archetypal structures.’ Narrative and Ideology: Macherey and Goldman

* A breakthrough in cultural readings has been that the mediations between text and society are present in the text itself. * Levi Strauss- Ideology is present in both the form and content of the myth as text and the narrative itself provides the crucial link between the ‘external’ reality of social experience and the ‘internal’ meaning which is derived therefrom. Frederic Jameson- narrative is a form of reasoning about experience and society. * Pierre Macherey starts with an analysis of the internal logic or problematic of the text before going on to reconstruct the ideological field which lies behind the narrative. The author tests out certain ideological propositions which form the basis of the literary discourse. The narrative may thus reveal any contradictions inherent in those assumptions and then suppresses them through magical resolutions. The...
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