The errors of popular criticism, part 3: Genre literature

We’ve talked about the aesthetics underlying popular criticism of popular culture and the shadowy adversaries on whose existence this aesthetics hinges. Now the question is: what does an effective piece of genre fiction look like? What is a way to evaluate genre literature that does justice to its status both as popular fiction and as literature?

I should say, first of all, that I’m using the term “genre” loosely. This follows the ordinary usage in these debates: writers like Doyle and Poe are genre when it’s convenient and mainstream when it’s not. Sometimes mysteries and thrillers are genre, sometimes not. Sometimes the term specifically refers to SFF and perhaps horror, and sometimes it refers to anything outside the academy that’s not marketed as mainstream highbrow fiction. That’s part of the reason why these debates are futile: what actually is genre depends on what kind of mood you’re in. Continue reading