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i'm just a literary tease, my reputation's on its knees.

Book Discussion: Cult Fiction

October 25, 2007

You'd think a book called Cult Fiction: Popular Reading and Pulp Theory would be fascinating reading, well, you would if you were me, but if you were me, and you thought that, you would be so wrong. Not fascinating reading, though there are a lot of points of interest. Lots just went, whoosh, over my head. Other things droves me nuts, like the typos, lots of them throughout the text or the big example, the one I looked up online just to be sure, was the pin-up queen Ms. Page spelled with a -y not an -ie. No wonder I spell it wrong half the time anyway, but the book was published that way: "If Betty Page is the queen of trash art then she will return speaking Klingon."

I was way confused about the definition of pulp: "Pulp is both a desire for respectability and a refusal." And I spent a good chunk of the first chapter wishing for a better definition because I had too many questions about it. After a while, I sort of get what Bloom is saying about pulp because in many respects of my personality, I suppose I could be considered "Pulp Moira." Like, I want to be considered respectable and "cool" but I don't want to be a part of that culture at the same time. For instance, and this has little to do with anything, I am currently sitting in the library at the Rhode Island School of Design. The people who hang out at this place are pulp to the extreme, and if libraries can be pulp, this one is definitely pulp. (Did I mention one of my new favorite activities is to drink gin & tonic from a thermos at the library? Perhaps not...)

Pulp, Bloom asserts, is the child of capitalism, and if that's true, then so is the novel, which essentially evolved with the publishing industry (i.e. one could not exist without the other). The separation between literary and popular fiction started with people began catergorizing fiction for the academic canons of lit-ra-chur. Unfortunately for the literatis, who write for each other and not for the masses, god forbid, "... late twentieth-century art cannot be art without the market."

"It is this accommodation and uneasiness between commercial interest and aesthetic or ethical goals which marks literary works in a way other forms avoid," Bloom writes. With a novel, this link is seemingly inextricabl; It's not "If you write it, they will read it," but instead "If they buy it, then it's culture." Only, if they buy it, it probably won't be classified as lit-ra-chur by the powers that be. Pulp fiction, like the kind of mass market paperbacks without covers that I find freqently in dumpsters, is inherently ephermal:

Excluded in all accounts of literature's history, disregarded by critics and usually unknown to academics such works and their authors belong to a twilit existence where they very act of writing and their publisher's commitment to market their work seem, as if by magic, to cancel by those acts their value either as books or even as products.

Despite this, pulp has influence, invisibily shaping culture at the same time it refutes it. The genres popular today (fantasy, science fiction, horror, etc.) had their shady beginnings in the underbelly of pulp. Bloom even discusses the reader expecations within the genres and formulaic plots, which, Bloom says, won't fool the true reader of pulp, because he or she is never fooled. Is that really the case? Sure. That would account for why one book becomes a best-seller and why a slew of copycats in its wake never achieves the same acclaim. That original book held something real while the others, enjoyed perhaps for a one-night stand, didn't have the staying power of true commitment. Or something like that. (Bloom says this very instability and unpredicatible nature of the pulp is what gives it power.)

Moira at 9:20 PM :: Comments (0) :: ::
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