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nicholas.westmiles@gmail.com

Of literary criticism in general, Sanderson in particular, and MYOB.

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Rather than further hijack another thread, I'm starting a new one to continue a discussion with Suttree?  (sorry if I get your screenname wrong) regarding the field of literary criticism and Brandon Sanderson in general.  Surtree commented that "Brian" Sanderson (and perhaps you can explain the joke, if there is one?) is a mid-tier author in response to a point that I made earlier that I personally am hesitant to blame Sanderson for the flaws in AMOL, because I feel that he is a superb writer.

 

I'm going to touch on 4 different points here:  First, regarding the field of literary criticism in general, which I feel is naught but the expression of one's own opinions, and that preferences, as such, only have truth insofar as they touch on one's own perspective.  Second, I want to discuss what credentials I personally feel are relevant to my own estimation of the value that someone's criticism has to me.  Third, to clarify for the peanut gallery the aspects of Sanderson's art that I appreciate, and why I think it's important to take an author for who they are, and appreciate their individual strengths and weaknesses, and for the overall nuance to the plot.  And last, to point out that this entire discussion has, at it's root, something important to say about manners, respect, and one's general character.

 

Let's begin.

 

Literary criticism is defined as the study, evaluation, and interpretation of literature.  In the other thread, I suggested that at its core, what that means by definition is that we're applying our subjective lense to the experience of literature.  We can speak about facts from the books, but the imposition of relative value is arbitrary, and thus cannot rightly be spoken of as fact.

 

For instance, we can say that it is FACT that Perrin had a lesser role in AMOL than many other of the characters who appear as often as he does throughout the series.  That's verifiably true.  However, when we say things like "RJ would have done it better," we're in the realm of pure speculation, since we really don't know.  Nor is it factually accurate to say "Perrin's role wasn't done as well as it should have been," unless it's also understood that the comment applies solely to your own preferences.  That's not something that's verifiable.  We can, however, say "Perrin's role could have been done better," because the possibility exists that in some possible universe, there is an author who could have handled his character (or Mat's, for that matter), better.  But it needs to be clear that such a comment is no more than idle speculation involving the balance of probability, and not a reflection on how it actually was handled.  As soon as we start trying to apply concrete facts to such a point, we end up in the arena of subjective interpretation.

 

For this reason, I tend to think that literary criticism as a whole is the expression of subjective beliefs with reference to concrete facts as justification for those beliefs, and in that sense, sure, we can say that the opinions thus expressed are right and wrong.  But even that's still relative:  it's relative to the standards by which we judge fiction.  And THOSE are subjective.  Not everyone shares the same standards, or should.  What we value springs from our past experiences and a vast array of likes and dislikes, and what speaks to us in a book is going to be wildly different from person to person.  For instance, one person may have had experiences such that reading Twilight is a life-changing transcendant experience for her (or him, although the balance of probability is against that).  For me, on the other hand, I'd really rather avoid such examples of literature.  And the same is true within the same individual book.  Two different people will like and appreciate different aspects, scenes, or use of language in a book. I personally think it takes a really self-important fool to say, without knowing anything about the other person, that their standards or opinions are somehow better than that person's.  Sure, at the end of the day, one person may not have thought about some points in some ways, and that may alter what their perceptions are relative to values, but all that can be realistically done with integrity, is to offer our own perspectives, and let the other benefit if possible from that.  However, if we ourselves have closed our minds to the perspectives of others, we have little chance of improving our own view.  None of us have a lock on the full and complete truth.  Is it not then better to have open minds and be able to benefit from the truths of others and improve ourselves, than to be arrogant and presume that we are right, and everyone who disagrees with us is wrong?

 

As long as we're quoting here, as John Stuart Mill points out in his Essay On Liberty, we then lose the opportunity of exchanging truth for error.  Or, as Max Ehrmann says, listen to the others, even the dull and the ignorant.  They too have their story."  You may be able to see where I'm going with the whole forum etiquette tie-in here...

 

So, literary criticism is only factual within the framework of the standards we use to measure our judgments.  But those standards themselves are not factual, except insofar as they apply to and arise from our own subjective experiences.  I'll concede that your standards are better for you than mine.  That's almost true by definition.  But it's presumptuous in the extreme to think that yours are better than someone else's particularly if you don't know them at all.  You don't know what they'll enjoy, and frankly, at the end of the day, that's what it comes down to.  How much a person will enjoy a book.  You can make all the arguments you want, and if the person still doesn't like the book, all you've done is waste everyone's time.

 

 

 

Second, with regards to credentials.  I have never really been impressed by people who feel the need to critique other people and rank them as a matter of fact, without having done it themselves.  While I don't fully subscribe to the philosophy that those who can do, and those who can't teach, I do think there's an element of truth there.  Because different people judge things by different standards, it is therefore arrogant to make claims about the value or skill of an author.  Ultimately, literary criticism comes down to opinions.  With regards to the literary community, they've already made their call, by awarding Sanderson two Hugo awards to date (of the 17 possible for 2013).  Anyone can have an opinion.  Not anyone can write with any skill.  If you're going to say someone's a bad writer, and mean more than "I don't enjoy his writing," if I personally am going to take you seriously, you better know what you're talking about, and be able to do better.  My philosophy on literary criticism is very similar to that of Huo Yuan Jia as portrayed by Jet Li in "Fearless" with regards to martial arts or tea:

 

 

 

I'll be clear, this entire point isn't factual.  It's a statement of fact only insofar as it defines what I personally respect from a critic.  Criticism to me is important only insofar as another person may have noticed details that I missed that are relevant to my own standards.  What the critic ultimately thinks of a work isn't important to me, however.

 

Especially with novels, or epics as long as Jordan's or Sanderson's, there are so many words (millions), that it is inevitable that even the most careful reader will miss something (viz, Mr Ares missing, in only a single sentence, the word "some"), or otherwise conflate something to mean something that it's not.  Language is complex, with lots of nuance.  I really liked the description from Ashes of Victory, by David Weber about language (p. 325 in the 2000 paperback edition).  Or, to use my favorite example, if you're out on a date, and you tell a girl that when you look into her eyes, time seems to stop, she may find that romantic.  However, try telling her that her face will stop a clock.  Same literal meaning, but one is DEFINITELY going to get you slapped.  With millions upon millions of discrete words, and since it only takes one word, or comma placement to substantially alter the meaning, and even then, with the infinite variations of human experience that lead people to value individual sentences, scenes, or concepts differently, it is important to note that nobody will catch all the nuance, even the nuance relevant to their own personal standards.

 

 

 

Comments about Sanderson in particular to follow.

Edited by crimsonfalcon07

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Will jump in with detail a bit later but wanted to say a couple things. While I can already see we are going to disagree on a number of topics, I want to thank you for making such a detailed post breaking down your opinion. Unfortunately that is all to rare here at DM these days so I want to give you a big welcome.

 

On to the rest...think you may be conflating literary criticism and critique of writing quality in your post. As for Twilight being a "transcendent experience" for some...well that experience/their enjoyment says little to nothing about the quality of the writing.

 

 

 Is it not then better to have open minds and be able to benefit from the truths of others and improve ourselves, than to be arrogant and presume that we are right, and everyone who disagrees with us is wrong?

 

Indeed, which makes it all the more important for one to have an "informed opinion". All opinions are not created equal after all.

 

Edit:

 

To briefly touch on your point about characters and if RJ could have "done it better", think it generally is a safe bet given it's his world. That said one of the things Brandon did very well was his work on Perrin. With someone like Mat, Brandon would be the first to tell you that he botched it.

 

Brandon

I didn't understand Mat. I tried so hard to make him funny, I wrote the HIM out of him.

 

Oh and FYI, I said "Brian" as a joke because of this post:

 

Brian Sanderson bowed to the realitiesa of publishers and shelf space restrictions.
Edited by Suttree

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Fair enough.  I understand where you are coming from, and while I find it somewhat naive, as always, you are entitled to believe whatever you want, and it's really no skin off my back.  I would, however, like to point out something else that I think is important here.  Suppose I were to get tired of playing this game, and you were to find out that you are talking to a professor of literature at Princeton University, among other qualifications.  Would I then be entitled to my own opinion, without some person not long out of an undergraduate program second-guessing what I choose to read for pleasure?

 

The point is, you don't know anything about me.  I don't know anything about you other than what you've volunteered thus far.  That makes it rather arrogant to presuppose that you can tell someone that you have never met and know nothing about that you presume to dictate to them the quality of their opinions, as far as I'm concerned.

 

Yes, it's important for one's opinions to be informed.  But frankly, quality of writing is NOT cut and dry.  What you consider quality, another may not.  Consider:  Many programs place a lot of emphasis on what they consider technical skill.  However, what they miss is that if you focus too in depth upon the technical aspects of the writing, you lose something fundamental.  Writing is ART, first and foremost.  And art requires emotional content.  What someone FEELS about a piece of literature isn't some side note that can be ignored without comment.  It is central to the experience of a piece of writing.  Mark Twain said it well in "Two Ways of Seeing a River" (1883). Here's a link, in case you haven't read that piece:  http://grammar.about.com/od/60essays/a/twowaysessay.htm

 

Thus, especially when it comes to critiquing a piece of literature, the critic who focuses in on the deficiencies of a piece, or even upon particular aspects of the writing style, is missing the point.  The piece needs to be looked at not just in context of particular stylistic elements, but in the package as a whole.  The advanced critic should be able to look at the author's ability to convey the story, and individual messages, to the reader.  He should consider the messages that might get considered, and must, at the end of the day, recognize that any piece of literature cannot be summed up by a single perspective.  As Benjamin Franklin wrote in "Poor Richard's Almanack" (1741), "Beauty, like supreme dominion, is but supported by opinion."  Quality isn't absolute when it comes to art.  It is relative.  Yes, we can assign gradations of skill relative to particular aspects of writing style, and we can definitely make claims about the goodness or badness of a piece of literature relative to certain standards.  But factually speaking, those standards are arbitrary, and as such, I consider the most important test of literature the test of emotional content relative to an individual.  I have read literary works that were written with extreme skill, and yet, lacked the soul of something written by a less technically skilled writer who nonetheless was writing from the heart.

 

I do think it is important to have put thought into one's opinions, and to be able to support them.  But the great strength of critiquing literature is also simultaneously its great weakness:  the sheer complexity of the task.  Take Feist, for instance.  Did you catch the discussion about how God is a cosmic baby, and think that through to its applicability to the Problem of Evil?  It's actually quite a neat concept, and as such, can grant extra value that might otherwise be missed.  But that value is only relevant to someone who actually cares about that.  Other people may entirely gloss over that, and that's fine.  There are so many little nuggets that can add (or detract) value for an individual book that a single critic will never be able to catch them all, because they have but one perspective.  You may value technical skill in particular writing styles, and that's fine.  I do too, but only insofar as it adds the overall package.  Technical skill is, by itself, an insufficient condition for quality.

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Would I then be entitled to my own opinion,

Again you're entitled to what you can argue for. If you were a professor of literature at Princeton I would assume you would be able to present a solid case, not that one needs any sort of advanced degree to do so.

 

One other issue is here is you seem to be assuming ALL writing is art. Unfortunately that isn't always the case. You've typed a fair amount above yet seemingly ignored this from the other thread:

 

the simple fact that judging the quality of writing is not entirely subjective. Now granted when critiquing say DeLillo and Pynchon, assigning rank is not something I would attempt. But let's say we're looking at Stephanie Meyer and Cormac McCarthy...well that's a different beast entirely. Or to move things into the fantasy genre ranking Bakker, Abercrombie, or Peake verse some hack Forgotten Realms guy is rather easy to do.

 

Now people can find enjoyment in various types of writing, but again that says little about the actual quality.

 

It seems as if you've taken my opinion on the quality of BS's work as some sort of personal affront. To be clear, I'm not trying to "dictate" anything to you. Somewhat classic you would make that claim given the all comments you've made about your own words being misconstrued and "courtesy". Going off all of those asides you've managed to slip in,  I have to ask. Do you really feel ill treated here at DM so far Crimson? Was this not courteous?

 

I want to thank you for making such a detailed post breaking down your opinion. Unfortunately that is all to rare here at DM these days so I want to give you a big welcome.

Edited by Suttree

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More, to date, you have yet to respond in any detail to the overarching point that I've been trying to make.  For instance, you tell me that it's easy to differentiate between Abercrombie and a Forgotten Realms author, and that one is art, and the other isn't.  Yet, that ASSUMES several unwarranted things about the nature of art that represent significant logical leaps.  In my view, any writing is still art.  It may not be art that you and I are interested in (and would, in context of what we prefer, would consider bad), but that doesn't change the fact that it's still art.  I agree that we can rank various authors for various reasons, and even come up with rankings that most people will agree with.  However, at the end of the day, that's still going to be subjective.  Consider the definitions of art:

 

"art1

ärt/
noun
 
  1. the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.
    "the art of the Renaissance"
    synonyms: fine artartwork More
    .
  2. the various branches of creative activity, such as painting, music, literature, and dance.
     
     
    A literary work, regardless of your preferences about it, fits into both definitions.  There are some standards that are probably fairly broadly accepted, but within a particular genre, such as fantasy, there's very little established standards for measurement, and even then, standards change from time to time and person to person.  It's ultimately still subjective.  The area in which I think we can speak about quality is if it's clear that an author is aiming for a particular goal, but fails to meet the mark in a substantive and verifiable way.  But even then, to focus on individual details may miss the broader point of the work.
     
     
    That's why I try to make sure to post mainly in context of my own opinions, rather than making claims about statements of fact.
     
    Consider the definition of quality:  "

    the standard of something as measured against other things of a similar kind; the degree of excellence of something."  Where does this standard come from?  Can you establish with certainty what standards ought to be used to measure a fictional work, without basing it on someone's opinion?

     

    Sure, you can say Joe Abercrombie is a better author than some random author for Forgotten Realms, and I'll even likely agree with you.  But that's due to the standards we individually use to judge quality, not because our standards are based in absolute truth.

     

Edited by Barid Bel Medar
personal attacks

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A topic on literary criticism may be better suited to the General Discussion board rather than the WoTD board. We already have a topic on the discussion of quality/criticism of the wheel of time, if there are any comments on WoT, I suggest taking them there. 

 

Secondly, the forums are a place of mutual discussion and debate. Any post that is made (on any debate-based forum) is subject to the opinions of your fellow members. Posts that are made will be questioned and debated. The colour of the sky at noon on a sunny day can and will be debated - particularly on the WoTD board. In most cases users are not trying to dictate what should and should not be someone's opinion but challenging that opinion which is the basis of any debate. 

 

However, this is most of the time. If you have an issue with the way someone has posted, please take that up via PM with that user, and not on a public scale. If the problem continues, you can inform a moderator or admin and it will be looked at. 

 

Since this thread has some interesting points and subject to considerable thought, I will leave it for now to get back to a more WoT oriented thread. If not, I can move it to the General Discussion board. I will also be keeping an eye on it since it borders on a debate about specific users (the personal circumstances and character of users is not a point of debate on this forum and will be removed. Personal information is only given by choice, but it should not be made a topic of debate.)

 

Edit: Just to clarify what I mean in the last point. Information can be volunteered by the user, such as "I can identify with Rand because of my own struggles etc.." to stipulate the reasons for their opinion. This also means that someone can cite their own qualifications in a certain area. I would hesitate to do so though, since it then brings about the questioning of the user which is against the CoC, but understandable. If you are going to say you have a degree in something, the natural response will be the other person's opinion on the degree - particularly with literature studies, as many have opposing views. It is still not acceptable to go into a discussion about any user's character or circumstance but when you bring it up like that, it is inevitable.  

Edited by Barid Bel Medar

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Fine by me.  I certainly didn't intend to make any personal attacks, merely to point out that certain ways of phrasing can come off in unintended ways.  I don't think this discussion is likely to really be relevant to WOT, and certainly is in the wrong section.  I'm perfectly happy to say the entire thing probably stems from things I said, and am happy to apologize to Suttree if I caused offense in some way.

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No problems. I will move it to the appropriate board and I'm fine if you guys sort things out between yourselves via PM. However, if there are any outstanding issues, feel free to contact me (both of you). 

 

That said, there are some interesting points in this post, feel free to continue the discussion. 

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I'm perfectly happy to say the entire thing probably stems from things I said, and am happy to apologize to Suttree if I caused offense in some way.

No worries mate, as I said welcome to DM. Look forward to future discussions.

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Second, with regards to credentials.  I have never really been impressed by people who feel the need to critique other people and rank them as a matter of fact, without having done it themselves.  While I don't fully subscribe to the philosophy that those who can do, and those who can't teach, I do think there's an element of truth there.  Because different people judge things by different standards, it is therefore arrogant to make claims about the value or skill of an author.  Ultimately, literary criticism comes down to opinions.  With regards to the literary community, they've already made their call, by awarding Sanderson two Hugo awards to date (of the 17 possible for 2013).  Anyone can have an opinion.  Not anyone can write with any skill.  If you're going to say someone's a bad writer, and mean more than "I don't enjoy his writing," if I personally am going to take you seriously, you better know what you're talking about, and be able to do better.  My philosophy on literary criticism is very similar to that of Huo Yuan Jia as portrayed by Jet Li in "Fearless" with regards to martial arts or tea.

But knowing what you are talking about and being able to do better are different things. Why the former is relevant is clear, but why the latter? If I was a bad writer, how would that invalidate my views on the deficiencies of the skill of another? If I bought a pair of shoes and they wore through in a matter of weeks, does my not being a cobbler mean I shouldn't say they are bad shoes? Why not take the argument on its own merit? From my perspective, I don't think there's any fact I could learn about your personal life that would be relevant to the point here - even if you were Brandon Sanderson offering a rather strange defence of himself, your point stands apart from that. Whether you're a plumber or a professor doesn't matter to me, only what you say does. On the other hand, it would appear to be important to you to know my background in order to judge my comments. I might have a Nobel Prize for Literature. That would indicate that I can write with some skill indeed. Given that my literary awards and accolades are currently unknown to you, by your reckoning whether or not I can criticise Brandon Sanderson is up in the air. Can I be taken seriously? And does this only apply to bad writing? If we are to say that Brandon is good, surely that can only be determined by his superiors? Those who awarded him those Hugo awards, what have they written? Are they all fit judges?

 

Especially with novels, or epics as long as Jordan's or Sanderson's, there are so many words (millions), that it is inevitable that even the most careful reader will miss something (viz, Mr Ares missing, in only a single sentence, the word "some"),

No, I didn't. Apparently you missed that I didn't respond to that point at all, I only said that I didn't identify with Feist's characters. The sentence I responded to had a someone in it, but not a some. You've basically invented a point to respond to.

Or, to use my favorite example, if you're out on a date, and you tell a girl that when you look into her eyes, time seems to stop, she may find that romantic.  However, try telling her that her face will stop a clock.  Same literal meaning, but one is DEFINITELY going to get you slapped.

Actually, they have different literal meanings. A clock isn't time, it's a device for measuring the passage of time - it being broken doesn't mean that time has stopped passing, or even seemed to, it means the device you use to measure the passing of time seems to have stopped. This is by the by, really, but I had to point out, as a literal minded person, that your figure of speech didn't work.

 

 

Fair enough.  I understand where you are coming from, and while I find it somewhat naive, as always, you are entitled to believe whatever you want, and it's really no skin off my back.  I would, however, like to point out something else that I think is important here.  Suppose I were to get tired of playing this game, and you were to find out that you are talking to a professor of literature at Princeton University, among other qualifications.  Would I then be entitled to my own opinion, without some person not long out of an undergraduate program second-guessing what I choose to read for pleasure?

You would be no more or less entitled. Your opinion is judged on its own merits, not on the merits of the person giving it. The same is true of all of us. Thus, while I know nothing about you, there is nothing I need to know.

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Sigh.  Let it go.  To date you haven't responded at ALL to the point I was trying to make.  The problem with your argument is that you're focusing in on little things you take to be flaws and missing the main point.  I take that to be true of many people who are "trained in literary criticism" to begin with.  When you get educated about different writing styles (which is always people second-guessing authors after the fact and attempting to shove their work into categories, that, in many cases, the author never gave serious thought about as such to), you tend to focus on what you know.  And that's fine.  But what I've seen is that a lot of people miss the forest for the trees.  And that's exactly what's happening here.

 

Not only that, but you make such a big deal about how arguments can stand on their own merits, and yet provide no justification for your own.  So, not responsive to my concerns, and not good enough by your own lights.

 

You know less than nothing about me OR the justification of the opinion that you and Suttree attacked me for.  As for the personal qualifications, my point was that if you're going to try to make a ranking of an author based on more than just a personal preference, if I'm going to take someone seriously on the internet, they had better be able to do better.  Is that necessary?  No.  It's just a sufficient condition.  And it's really not that important.  The MAIN idea behind that is that Sanderson has been well-recognized for his talents by a far more broadly recognized standard.  If you hope to compete with that notoriety, you had best have something to stand on.  Does that mean that ONLY great authors get to critique other authors and pretend that their opinions are statements of fact?  Of course not.  As you say, anyone is welcome to their own OPINIONS about the relative qualities about authors.  But they're NOT statements of fact.  Me, I've offered my OPINIONS.  They are mine, I have explained the merits behind them, and you are free to disagree or agree as you please.  Your argument, on the other hand, has depended thus far solely on attempting to pick apart minor examples intended to help flesh out the point, while never actually touching on the issue at hand.  That being the case, I fail to see the point in continuing.

 

Considering that neither you nor Suttree have offered so much as a single factual justification for your own opinions, while I've gone into great depth to explain my own stance, perhaps we should just leave it at that.

 

The figure of speech was mainly intended for humor value.  Your point is well-taken in the literal sense, but misses the mark.  Probably why I provided another example, eh?

 

As for me "inventing" a point to talk about, the relevant part of your post that I was responding to with that was removed for personal attacks.  Since the evidence has neatly vanished, we'll just let that one drop as well.

 

So.  Either respond in kind to the point, or let it be.  So far, I get the feeling any further participation by you in this thread is mainly going to be in the personal attack order.  I'd prefer to avoid that.

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a few things.

 

- remember this is a general discussion board and people who haven't read the entire WoT series might be reading this thread so keep spoilers to a minum.

 

- keep the team sanderson vs team jordan flame war to a minumum, we already have a thread for people to go to if they want to complain about/defend sandersons writing in tWoT and we dont need multiple threads for that issue in multiple forums on this site. in other words, keep this thread about literary criticism.

 

- opinions are like buttholes, everyone has them, everyone is entilted to them and they dont smell like roses.  opinions are just that, opinion and dont need to be backed by fact; thats why their called opinions. 

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a Forgotten Realms author, and that one is art, and the other isn't. Yet, that ASSUMES several unwarranted things about the nature of art that represent significant logical leaps. In my view, any writing is still art.

 

Fair point, I guess marketing materials can be considered a "type of art". It doesn't really help that you seem to be approaching the topic from a black and white perspective however. As I've stated from the start there are objective measures when looking at writing quality and literary analysis is not entirely "subjective". That's is what's taught to people earning a lit degree and your seemingly negative views concerning that line of education don't change that simple fact. If you truly want to try and argue that we can over look the low level of writing quality in some Forgotten Realms novels because the author is trying to reach some unidentified goal(aside from selling more games) by all means do so. It might make for an interesting discussion.

 

Lastly to say fantasy somehow has a lack of broadly excepted standards relative to "literary texts" sounds like a bit of a cop out. It is essentially putting the genre in a box and seems to imply it can't aspire to be something more. As R. Scott Bakker said:

 

 

... will tell you that pulp genres are ‘cages,’ things that need to be dismantled, ‘deconstructed,’ when in fact they’re much more akin to dialects, different ways to communicate to different readers. Complicating is basically all that I do. I try to inject as much historical, psychological, thematic, and moral complexity into the epic fantastic template as I can, to write a kind of ‘high resolution’ version of a powerful traditional form. The only thing ‘subverted’ is the apparent simplicity of a particular genre of storytelling,

Edit: One last thing. I would appreciate if you would stop tossing out accusations surrounding "courtesy" etc. in almost every one of your posts. This last one focuses on "personal attacks" when in point of fact there has only been one poster in this discussion who has been edited on that count and it wasn't Mr Ares or myself. Edited by Suttree

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"Your opinion is judged on its own merits, not on the merits of the person giving it. The same is true of all of us."

 

I am glad that we all agree that whether someone has a lit degree is completely irrelevant, and the degree or the program that provided it should in no way be relied upon in determining the strength of someone's argument. People should never rely on such a qualification in supporting their arguments, don't you agree?

 

But I hope you see that you have missed the point that crimsonfalcon is making. When an opinion is given, and it is pure opinion without an argument or evidence to back it up, the qualifications of the speaker should ABSOLUTELY be vetted. That's what you have missed in this discussion, and it is critical to understanding the point of the debate. We all already know that opinions that are actually argued should stand on their own strength (everyone here has read about logical fallacies and the amateur Internet rules of argument), but opinions that are not backed up cannot stand upon their own strength because the speaker has not yet made an actual argument to analyze. In those circumstances, crimsonfalcon is 100% correct to point out that the qualifications of the speaker matter. Since you have not yet attempted to back your opinion, it is fair game to inquire about your qualifications. So, I ask, what are they?

Edited by Drohana88

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To date you haven't responded at ALL to the point I was trying to make.  The problem with your argument is that you're focusing in on little things you take to be flaws and missing the main point.  I take that to be true of many people who are "trained in literary criticism" to begin with.  When you get educated about different writing styles (which is always people second-guessing authors after the fact and attempting to shove their work into categories, that, in many cases, the author never gave serious thought about as such to), you tend to focus on what you know.  And that's fine.  But what I've seen is that a lot of people miss the forest for the trees.  And that's exactly what's happening here.

I respond to the points I want to respond to. And as a way of arguing, it's valid to undermine the little things. You use these little points to support your argument, after all, so if I take away all the support of your argument, then where does that leave your argument? What point of yours have I missed? Well, I didn't address your claim that people are stating opinions as facts. I shall do so now: they're not. It's largely redundant to qualify every opinion as such when generally it's quite clear. By the same token, I wouldn't expect anyone to qualify every fact they state as such either.

 

As for opinions in general, the link I provided in the last thread addressed that point quite eloquently. Given that, saying anything more seemed largely redundant at that stage. Just because you're sharing an opinion, doesn't mean that's enough. Yes, you can tell us what you like and what you don't like, but if we - any of us here - are trying to have a discussion, then we don't really get very far if someone says that something is good but is unable to offer a reason why. Even if all literary criticism is opinion, and there are no objective standards of quality, even if we accept that, so what? Why not justify your opinion, so we can actually have a discussion? Even if I cannot "prove" that Brandon is a bad author and you cannot "prove" that he is good, by explaining what you like about him I might gain a deeper appreciation of his work, or just a deeper appreciation of your viewpoint.

 

Not only that, but you make such a big deal about how arguments can stand on their own merits, and yet provide no justification for your own.

I provide justifications when they are needed. If you wish me to expand on a point, just ask, and I'll see what I can do.

 

You know less than nothing about me OR the justification of the opinion that you and Suttree attacked me for.

But, as I've already said, while I know nothing about you, I still know enough, because who you are is unimportant to this. It doesn't matter if you're my best friend, or Brandon Sanderson, or the Professor of Philosophy at Princeton, not even a little. Now, if you were Brandon you would know things about your writing process and the choices you made that I, as an end-user, don't, and you would likewise know more about your series, your books, the Cosmere, and so on. But, if none of the things about which you have specific knowledge are under discussion, that fact that you know things I don't wouldn't be relevant. I feel that there are problems with the end product of AMoL. Knowing why Brandon made the choices he did, knowing more about the constraints he was under, might give me a better appreciation of how hard he had to work to get it as good as it was, and show me that he had no option but to produce a flawed end product, but it wouldn't change the fact that I feel the end product was flawed. And if I know less than nothing about the justifications you have for your opinions, that's your fault. It would be for you to provide those justifications, if you felt they were relevant.

As for the personal qualifications, my point was that if you're going to try to make a ranking of an author based on more than just a personal preference, if I'm going to take someone seriously on the internet, they had better be able to do better.

And my point was, why? Why does it matter? What relevance does it have? By the same token, I could say I wouldn't take seriously any criticism that came from someone who wore odd socks. OK, I can do that, but it's still a very strange reason to dismiss them.

The MAIN idea behind that is that Sanderson has been well-recognized for his talents by a far more broadly recognized standard.

A Hugo says nothing about talent. Same with any award. It's still possible to appreciate the recognition behind the award without thinking it says anything about quality, though. Brandon's a popular author. People keep buying his books. Those people who voted for him, how many of them voted because they'd read all the works in the category and thought his was the best? How many had read some but not all? How many had read just his? How many hadn't even read that, but voted for him because he's a great guy? I'm not saying Brandon doesn't deserve awards, I'm just saying that awards, by their nature, are less about quality and more about recognition.

 

Considering that neither you nor Suttree have offered so much as a single factual justification for your own opinions, while I've gone into great depth to explain my own stance, perhaps we should just leave it at that.

I'd say your depth is lacking. You explain what your stance is, but not why you hold it. You offer very little to stand on. And when I ask questions, you don't answer most of them. You dodge the point. I've written long points asking you to justify your position, and you haven't. On the other hand, you haven't asked me to justify mine, but I've offered some justifications anyway. And, as I've said, if you want to know more just ask. Pick up on an apparent flaw. Address one of my points. My arguments will become clearer over the course of the discussion, if you do that.

 

The figure of speech was mainly intended for humor value.

Yes, as was my response. I did point out that my response was by the by.

 

As for me "inventing" a point to talk about, the relevant part of your post that I was responding to with that was removed for personal attacks.  Since the evidence has neatly vanished, we'll just let that one drop as well.

I made no personal attacks. Not by any reasonable definition of "personal attacks", anyway. But the missing part of my post was not about Feist's philosophy, nor was the word "some", which I apparently overlooked, included in the missing quote. This is easily verified by looking where the removed section in my post is, and comparing those chunks of text in your own posts. As I say, I have not made any personal attacks yet, and I don't intend to.

 

ETA:

"Your opinion is judged on its own merits, not on the merits of the person giving it. The same is true of all of us."

 

I am glad that we all agree that whether someone has a lit degree is completely irrelevant, and the degree or the program that provided it should in no way be relied upon in determining the strength of someone's argument. People should never rely on such a qualification in supporting their arguments, don't you agree?

 

But I hope you see that you have missed the point that crimsonfalcon is making. When an opinion is given, and it is pure opinion without an argument or evidence to back it up, the qualifications of the speaker should ABSOLUTELY be vetted. That's what you have missed in this discussion, and it is critical to understanding the point of the debate. We all already know that opinions that are actually argued should stand on their own strength (everyone here has read about logical fallacies and the amateur Internet rules of argument), but opinions that are not backed up cannot stand upon their own strength because the speaker has not yet made an actual argument to analyze. In those circumstances, crimsonfalcon is 100% correct to point out that the qualifications of the speaker matter. Since you have not yet attempted to back your opinion, it is fair game to inquire about your qualifications. So, I ask, what are they?

You've still not explained why the qualifications of the speaker matter. When an opinion is offered with nothing to back it up, then either it is the sort of opinion that needs no back up, or back up should be provided. "I enjoy Brandon's books" would be an example of the former - it says nothing about their quality, only that you happened to enjoy them, regardless of what that quality might be. It stands on its own strength regardless of the speaker. "I don't think Brandon is very good", with nothing further to back it up, would be an example of the latter - it doesn't stand on its own, and the person saying it still doesn't matter. Regardless of their qualifications, a discussion about either opinion wouldn't work, because the meat of the discussion is absent. Both opinions have their uses - if someone was asking for book recommendations, knowing who some one likes and who they've already read is helpful - knowing why they liked a given author can help to further refine selections, but isn't necessary. Opinions of the latter sort serve as a starting point - but without justifications afterwards, there is no discussion. In neither case does knowing the qualifications of the person stating their opinion give something to analyse - it's just meaningless fluff. As I have backed up my opinion, and as my qualifications would not be relevant to the discussion regardless of whether I had or not, I will therefore refrain from offering a straight answer to your question. Of course, as your opinion hasn't been backed up, then I would ask, what are your qualifications?... Or, I would if it was even the slightest bit relevant. As it isn't, I would instead ask that you provide a justification for your view.

Edited by Mr Ares

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"it's valid to undermine the little things"

 

Valid, but completely ineffective and not conducive to a solid, substantive debate. It comes off as shallow and petty and lends little to the discussion. It's the most rudimentary of debate skills.

Edited by Drohana88

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a Forgotten Realms author, and that one is art, and the other isn't. Yet, that ASSUMES several unwarranted things about the nature of art that represent significant logical leaps. In my view, any writing is still art.

 
Fair point, I guess marketing materials can be considered a "type of art". It doesn't really help that you seem to be approaching the topic from a black and white perspective however. As I've stated from the start there are objective measures when looking at writing quality and literary analysis is not entirely "subjective". That's is what's taught to people earning a lit degree and your seemingly negative views concerning that line of education don't change that simple fact. If you truly want to try and argue that we can over look the low level of writing quality in some Forgotten Realms novels because the author is trying to reach some unidentified goal(aside from selling more games) by all means do so. It might make for an interesting discussion.
 
Lastly to say fantasy somehow has a lack of broadly excepted standards relative to "literary texts" sounds like a bit of a cop out. It is essentially putting the genre in a box and seems to imply it can't aspire to be something more. As R. Scott Bakker said:

 

... will tell you that pulp genres are ‘cages,’ things that need to be dismantled, ‘deconstructed,’ when in fact they’re much more akin to dialects, different ways to communicate to different readers. Complicating is basically all that I do. I try to inject as much historical, psychological, thematic, and moral complexity into the epic fantastic template as I can, to write a kind of ‘high resolution’ version of a powerful traditional form. The only thing ‘subverted’ is the apparent simplicity of a particular genre of storytelling,

Edit: One last thing. I would appreciate if you would stop tossing out accusations surrounding "courtesy" etc. in almost every one of your posts. This last one focuses on "personal attacks" when in point of fact there has only been one poster in this discussion who has been edited on that count and it wasn't Mr Ares or myself.

 

 I suspect we largely agree with the disagreement being mainly in the nuance.

 

And of your most recent posts, rest assured I have nothing to complain about.  In point of fact, however, I'm not the only one that got edited.  Mr. Ares did as well in the other thread, as even he admits.  Nor should I have to ask for justification of someone who's constantly making digs about providing justification, when I'm the only one who has even made the attempt, as Mr Ares seems to think is reasonable. If one side is constantly making those digs, and refusing to respond to the main point, while only attacking peripheral points, there are some rather evident conclusions that can be drawn about one's intent to engage in discussion. There's quite a bit that can be said about that style of discussion.  As for the courtesy thing, if the shoe fits, fine.  If not, why so concerned?  All I've done is ask for courtesy.  Why complain about such a reasonable request?  At least take the time to see why I might be asking that.  If both of you have actually been attempting to be polite and courteous (as I'm sure you have been), can you honestly say that there is NO way to construe your posts in another fashion?  Try looking at it from a different perspective.

 

Let's talk about what I have actually said relative to Sanderson.  I don't disagree in the slightest that AMOL had issues.  That was my very first post in the thread that started it all, in fact.  I do think Sanderson had the capability to do better, and that Robert Jordan's work isn't universally great.  So, as I stated before, I find it hard to assign blame to either one.  Fact of the matter is, we don't know and will never know who is "responsible" for the lower quality of the latter two books in Sanderson's additions to WOT.  All that can really be done is speculation.  I'm not, as Mr Ares. at least, seems to be assuming, saying that Sanderson did a great job in those contributions.  In point of fact, what I actually said was that I attribute the issues with those books to what I take to be an attempt to resolve too many plot-lines within one book.  The way it was handled didn't demonstrate the finesse I've seen in other books, and as a result, the last battle in particular lost much of the emotional content it should have had in my estimation.

 

To the heart of things.  I believe I've conceded that there are objective points to be drawn with regards to literary criticism.  The point at which I'm black and white, as you say, is that as soon as you start applying value to things, you are, by definition, engaging in something subjective.  And I want to be clear that I have gone to great efforts to establish that I'm just stating my opinion, and that you are welcome to your own.  How black and white is that?  It is FACT that my opinion is mine, and I really don't mind if you disagree.  That's totally fine.  Seriously?  You're going to call ME out for being black and white?  

 

Now, bear in mind, I don't mean to say that assigning arbitrary value is without meaning, especially because many standards that we use to judge art are commonly accepted, so we can take them to be objective from a PRACTICAL sense, if not a philosophical one.  And you and I will agree that the aforementioned Forgotten Realms book is "bad" art.  It's still art, but bad nonetheless from a practical standpoint.

 

But that's still distinct from Truth.  Consider:  If we came from a different culture, or viewed things in hexadecimal, or had slightly different views on morality, etc, would not our views on beauty change as well?  As a consequence, can you not admit the possibility that in such a situation, it's entirely possible that standards for measuring the relative quality of literature would be different (possibly even unrecognizeably so)?  If so, I think it must be clear that standards cannot be objective.  I'm NOT saying that there are no broadly accepted standards in literature in general, and fantasy in particular.  I AM, however, saying that broadly accepted standards are NOT the same as FACT.

 

As such, my sole beef in this is that what you take to be objective truth, with no wiggle room for subjectivity, is, in fact, still just your opinion.  It may be supported by some objective facts and reasons as far as fitting it into your standards, but at the end of the day, you're still working with standards that are far from universal truth.  In point of fact, if you had said from the beginning that you personally take BS to be a middle-tier author, with or without explanation, we would not be having this discussion.

 

Now, in a separate but related point, I also tend to disagree with "tiering" or "ranking" authors as a whole, because every author has both strengths and weaknesses.  Even IF I were prepared to admit that broadly accepted standards have the weight of objective truth, in order to rank the author as a whole, we'd have to assign relative value to each individual aspect of each standard, and again, that introduces subjectivity.  You may, for instance, value character development (and the relative subsets thereof) more highly than might another person.  Another might value the complexity or aesthetic value of the language used.  Another might value the author's discussion of particular themes.  Etc.  And various authors excel at different things.  Which means that the order in which we rank authors depends heavily upon the order in which we rank the aspects of literature that are important to us.  And I believe that those CANNOT be universal, and MUST be subjective in nature.  I would agree wholeheartedly if you were providing more detail--viz, Sanderson's handling of language being on a lower tier than that of, say, Rothfuss.  Or I could say that I think that, when it comes to world-building, Sanderson is one of the better authors out there.  I think Goodkind does a good job of bringing together many details of a plot in a finale.  I think Gemmell is one of the best at discussing the theme of what it means to be a hero.  Etc.  Every author has his strengths, and I would prefer to indulge my literary criticism relative to those strengths, rather than focusing in on weaknesses.  That's preference, not dictum here.  With that respect, there are certainly authors, such as some of your Forgotten Realms authors, for whom I find it tough to find anything to appreciate.  As such, I'm less interested in reading their work, nor do I consider them great authors relative to the things I care about.

 

@Mr Ares:  The qualifications of a speaker don't matter in any objective sense.  If you read my last response with a little more care, I think it will become more obvious exactly where I stand on that.  You took that statement to mean something far more broad than was intended.  Ultimately, it's mainly a sufficient condition for me to actually take the opinion of some random person on the internet as seriously as I take the broadly accepted opinion of the industry.  If you honestly think that I'm not justifying my point, I submit again that you're missing the forest for the trees.  I have made exactly ONE point here, which you haven't responded to at all.  I see no reason to respond to any "points" you make until and unless you actually touch on the issue at stake.  I'm getting the feeling you didn't even read any of the links I provided, which would have given even more solid justification for my points.

 

Since you ask, I'd love to see more justification on why you think a Hugo award is meaningless, since that seems to contradict Suttree's argument regarding "broadly accepted standards."  If there is, in fact, a broadly accepted standard for writing skill in Sci-Fi/Fantasy, I'd say the Hugo has to rank pretty high.  Popular recognition?  Where do you think that comes from?  Could it be that it stems from the fact that all those people like his work better than others?  And could it further be that, in fact, that judgment comes from those self-same "broadly accepted standards" of literary excellence?  Or are you prepared to say that the opinions of everyone who voted don't count because they don't match your own opinion?

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The discussion of why qualifications matter when an opinion is unsupported has been discussed in great depth in this thread. Just because you disagree with the argument doesn't mean it is an effective debate technique to pretend the arguments have not been made, although that appears to often be your fallback position when your argument refuses to stick. For shame.

 

Rote recanting of the Internet debate rules is not in and of itself an argument. If you are going to rely upon such supposed maxims, you need to explain why you feel they should be relied upon instead of simply stating the maxim. I honestly feel a little bit awkward having to point that out at this stage. This thread is sadly venturing into the level of the "Fain died offscreen" thread, which did not end well for you.

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Saying "for shame" to any poster is rather rich given the source. How many bans/new handles are you on at this point?

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To be more clear, I don't believe that reciting the views of Patrick Stokes almost verbatim counts as making a substantive argument.

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Saying "for shame" to any poster is rather rich given the source. How many bans/new handles are you on at this point?

 

Just out of curiosity, while I don't need anyone else defending my points, does the source invalidate the points made?  This seems rather strikingly like an argument ad hominem, although I agree that saying "for shame" is not a necessary or profitable addition to the discussion at hand.

 

I do think the point that Mr. Ares, at least, has been completely missing my point, and instead choosing to focus on subsidiary things that are largely extraneous, is accurate, however.  If we're to take the point seriously that we should consider the merits of the argument without respect to the source of said argument, is not this comment counter to that point?

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"A Hugo says nothing about talent."

 

This begs the question that you seem unwilling to answer: what do you consider evidence of talent? Again, nitpicking the arguments of others and asking rhetorical questions is perhaps the basest level of debate possible. If you contend that a Hugo award bears absolutely no relation to talent, then please enlighten us with what type of evidence/standards you would apply in judging talent.

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Saying "for shame" to any poster is rather rich given the source. How many bans/new handles are you on at this point?

 

Just out of curiosity, while I don't need anyone else defending my points, does the source invalidate the points made?  This seems rather strikingly like an argument ad hominem, although I agree that saying "for shame" is not a necessary or profitable addition to the discussion at hand.

 

I do think the point that Mr. Ares, at least, has been completely missing my point, and instead choosing to focus on subsidiary things that are largely extraneous, is accurate, however.  If we're to take the point seriously that we should consider the merits of the argument without respect to the source of said argument, is not this comment counter to that point?

 

Did it appear as if I was making any sort of wider statements on the points being made? I was merely calling out a troll who has been plaguing the DM community for some time.

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