Dining With Others
A Cultural Studies Review of Toi Thomas' Eternal Curse: Giovanni's Angel
by Lynn Perretta
What is Cultural Studies?
Cultural studies is a branch of literary criticism that branches from New Historicism and is influenced by structuralism and post-structuralism. (Purdue) Cultural Studies combines multiple disciplines: feminism, history, philosophy, media theory, among others. The subjects of the work determine just what discipline Cultural Studies is focused through. Cultural Studies is like New Historicism in that it seeks to understand how culture influences literature. It is not, however, as concerned with historical context of that influence. It does, however, look at the effects of Cultural Hegemony (how minority cultures are subjugated into the dominant culture), Agency (the ability of members of a culture to act for themselves and in their own best interest), and the effects of Globalization on cultures. (Wikipedia)
What is Cultural About Paranormal Fantasy?
One of the worst things that an author can do to themselves is get a degree in Creative Writing. I know. I have a degree in Creative Writing. I will say this: there is a lot of good that comes from it. The studies that I had greatly improved my writing. I was given a rigorous study in different elements of fiction. I was taught to evaluate works not only as a reader in literary criticism but also as a writer to see how the different elements are at work in a story. It is important, as a writer, to understand how others use the craft because it can help us.
Something bad also comes from a degree in Creative Writing. You have laid upon you, pretty much from your first class, that there is a difference between Literature and Genre Fiction. Most of my teachers actually looked down on us writing in genre, as they didn't think it would allow us to display and work on the skills that we were to focus on in our degree. If you are a writer and you know that the work that calls to you, that stirs in your gut, that keeps you awake at night with conflict or infects your dreams with ideas is, in fact, working within a genre, and if you listen to your professors as you study your degree, you're likely to doubt your own ability as a writer. Sure, your story is good. It interests you.
But ... it will never be good enough. It will never be good enough to serve in that place of Literary Canon. It doesn't matter that critics will tell you that "...we need both kinds of books" (Harold). I will not get into this further, because I feel the inspiration of a blog post. I have my own theory about how this idea comes about because, well, Harold points out almost immediately how preposterous the idea is, though I'm not sure he acknowledges the implication or effect of supporting it.
I will say this: I think that the idea of "genre" and "literature" being separate stories is - well - flawed. I found a list, from a high school literature department it appears - the first place we are taught what is "good literature" a list of works with literary merit. Take a moment to consider what books you have been told are works of literary merit. Some of them are genre works. Now Harold et al. will tell you that they have literary merit because they transcend their genre. I say that they have literary merit because, well, they have literary merit, and a book being in a genre should not define whether or not it can or whether or not it has to do more work to have literary merit.