There is a way for literature to be bad literature–bad in form, bad in style, and bad in diction, for only several of the ways literature can be bad. This we should know, but do we, and how do we if we do? There are always examples of what a form should not be in one or another models independent of quality. We can as we should quantify form, but must always understand that the quality of the quantified form the writing belongs to is more important, and perhaps more difficult, to assess. I have been trained to assess this quality and perhaps is the reason I have confidence in my editorship. The problem with bad poetry is that it is poetry and it is bad. The sincerity of all bad poetry cannot save it, aesthetically, unless we we allow our aesthetic standards to be degraded, and any aesthetics can be debased, degraded, be expressed as a kind of decadence, although decadence in itself is not an indication of bad poetry. There are many kinds of decadence–I prefer moral decadence before aesthetic. This quality or lack of quality is irrespective of the politics, and it is politics we have used to assess writing, as we have other writing some of us have come to prefer because it serves one or another programs or programatic impulses. Bad literature is still quantifiably literature, nevertheless bad for you as would any contamination by anything toxic. Yes, bad literature is toxic. But then what is this thing literature that can be either good or bad. I guess that literature is a term like cognac; it does not designate higher quality. There is good and bad cognac, and let me leave it at that; there are different districts inside the region of cognac and there are different ages and blends . . . there is more in the heaven and earth of cognac than could be dreamed by any Horatio, or even consistent, if not persistent drinkers of brandy made in Cognac,
There are many kinds of good writing that are not literature. There are good and bad business letters, letters to the gas company, letters that get you your money back from your credit card company when a retailer refuses to refund your money, money they most likely should have refunded. These can be good and yet neither literature nor literary. In fact, the effectiveness of a good business letter just might depend on how much the literary is suppressed. There is a lot in journalism that must also suppress the literary in order to be effective, and still can be good writing, very good writing. There is great journalism–although a lot less of it today than at other times in our history.
What then are we saying when we say something is literature–are we like publishers or book sellers cataloguing genres and sub-genres or marketing sets? Multiculturalism is the greatest boon to marketing in the last hundred years, no? Perhaps we are saying literature is only what we call literature. It is part of the marketing strategy for books, is it not, to say that this book is fiction or non-fiction? These are not genres, though, are they? The essay is a genre; the novel is another, drama is yet another? Plays are theater; plays are written as they are also wrought. The wright in playwright means builder, not writer. There is more in the heaven and earth of literary form, in any discussion of literature as well, than could be dreamed by any reader. Every writer, though, is also a wright, no? The right wrighter for an age . . . who is he, and how will this be determined. Most people read, if not badly, a lot less than well enough
We should be able to handle what the intentions are as they are set by the publishers and the book sellers. Where is the author in this? We like to divest the author of any authority over his text. I am not one of those who do. I am also not one who defers to the author in matters of criticism, what critique or interpretation I make. What category the work is set within is not something outside the consideration of how the work, the text, is going to be appraised, judged, critiqued. Is literature–what it is–firstly and lastly only about the tag put on the book in the back by the price so the buyer knows what he is buying? I cannot agree with this. What then is literature? Again, all bad literature is also literature. Literature cannot exclude its failures. Its failures are part of the definition, the defining of literature, the setting of limits. What is literature must also include what it is not, but what is also bad in the attempts or the finied product which fails at being good.
We are a horribly semi-literate culture–and there is no hyperbole in this. We are always mixing up aesthetics and ethics, what is good literature and who is a good person. How we read people and events no better than how we read texts . . .