Literature cannot be elitist

Reading time: About 1 minute

This is my weekly installment of “writing about writing,” in which I scan the world to find websites, books and articles to help other writers. Today I discuss an article written by Eleanor Catton in the New Zealand magazine Metro…..

I haven’t yet read Eleanor Catton’s prize-winning book The Luminaries but I might tackle it when I go on vacation, shortly. Meanwhile, I’m grateful my friend Hester sent me a link to an article Catton wrote for the New Zealand magazine Metro.

The article was inspired by a drama arising out of the “Paris Review,” where a reader objected to the use of the word crepuscular, saying it was “elitist” to use such a little-known term. Catton disagrees, arguing convincingly that “elitist” is not a description that should be applied to literature.

She says: Elitism is a standard of discernment that seeks to exclude everything (or everyone) perceived to fall short of that standard. Criticism can be elitist; censorship can be elitist; educational programmes can be elitist; advocacy and propaganda can be elitist; literary prizes can be elitist; communities and clubs can be elitist; bookstores and websites can be elitist. But literature simply cannot be.

And I very much like her penultimate pargagraph:

All a starred review amounts to is an expression of brand loyalty, an assertion of personal preference for one brand of literature above another. It is as hopelessly beside the point as giving four stars to your mother, three stars to your childhood, or two stars to your cat.

I find her vehemence bracing and I share her view that the act of reading is all the richer because of (not in spite of) the disagreement between critics and ourselves.

De gustibus non est disputandum. Translated that means: In taste there can be no dispute.