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Great Science-Fiction & Fantasy Works • View topic - So who are the leading meta-authors of SF&F?

So who are the leading meta-authors of SF&F?

discussions not about particular authors or books

So who are the leading meta-authors of SF&F?

Postby owlcroft on Saturday, 06 June 2009, 12:21 am

Joseph Campbell, of course. Member sardonyx suggests Jack Zipes, a name new to me. Elsewhere on the site, I have mentioned Ursula K. Le Guin; Brian W. Aldiss; J.R.R. Tolkien; and George MacDonald.

Other names? Comments?
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Re: So who are the leading meta-authors of SF&F?

Postby DavidTate on Wednesday, 10 June 2009, 5:00 pm

Does Bruno Bettelheim count? Is The Uses of Enchantment still influential, in the circles where that sort of thing is discussed, or has it been dismissed with the rest of Freudian analysis (and Bettelheim's non-literary work)?

Among more general works, I think Northrop Frye's Anatomy of Criticism is more relevant than ever to SF&F now that low mimesis is the de facto "only game in town" in academic criticism of fiction. (Well, unless you can get yourself labeled "magical realism", but let's not go there...) Trying to understand (say) The Lord of the Rings as a mimetic novel is doomed to failure, and far less entertaining than the famous Field and Stream review of Lady Chatterly's Lover.

Quick review for those not familiar with Frye: He describes fiction as falling into 5 general "modes":
1. Myth (divine protagonist)
2. Romance (human protagonist, superior to both other men and the environment, capable of legendary feats)
3. High mimesis (protagonist superior to other men, but not the environment -- epics and tragedies)
4. Low mimesis (protagonist is a man like other men, "one of us")
5. Irony (protagonist inferior to the reader -- comic or ridiculous)

Only in SF&F do you get anyone writing Myth (by Frye's definitions) these days. Roger Zelazny springs to mind. Romance is rare in the mainstream, but not so rare in SF&F -- LotR would qualify, I think. And so forth.
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Re: So who are the leading meta-authors of SF&F?

Postby Jeroen on Saturday, 19 December 2009, 9:35 am

I have read Campbell's The Power of Myth, Myths to Live By, and immediately after that The Hero With A Thousand Faces, only a few years ago. His books had an immediate effect on me and I felt as if never before I had learned so much in so little time. He has changed the way I look at stories a lot (especially the way I look at movies).

I never felt the need to read any of his other works afterwards, because he seems to say the same things over and over, and his books are colored with opinion (an example: in Myths to Live By he wants to support an argument by saying that the Greek temples are clearly more inspired that the Roman ones, which I think is very subjective).
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Re: So who are the leading meta-authors of SF&F?

Postby Estraa on Sunday, 20 December 2009, 9:42 am

I would recall that the Wikipedia article on Campbell points out that Cambell is the kind of stuff no serious person in academia (there are a few) takes seriously. I personally think Campbell is rubbish.
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Re: So who are the leading meta-authors of SF&F?

Postby owlcroft on Monday, 21 December 2009, 3:38 am

I would recall that the Wikipedia article on Campbell points out that Cambell is the kind of stuff no serious person in academia (there are a few) takes seriously. I personally think Campbell is rubbish.

I have not read that lengthy article through word for word, but I did scan it and cannot seem to find anything that could be so interpreted. Could you quote some part of the article that says or implies that few serious academics take his "kind of stuff" seriously?
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Re: So who are the leading meta-authors of SF&F?

Postby Estraa on Monday, 21 December 2009, 9:19 am

It was a while back. Basically, Campbell's approach is popularizing and ridiculously reductive to the point of being absurdly wrong and opposite to reality in every way. I also remember there being a passage in the Wiki article where Neil Gaiman was quoted as saying that if his own works conform to Campbell's patterns, he doesn't want to hear about it: he'd much rather do it intuitively than be influenced by a conscious analysis or strategy.
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Re: So who are the leading meta-authors of SF&F?

Postby Jeroen on Wednesday, 23 December 2009, 7:08 am

Estraa wrote:It was a while back. Basically, Campbell's approach is popularizing and ridiculously reductive to the point of being absurdly wrong and opposite to reality in every way. I also remember there being a passage in the Wiki article where Neil Gaiman was quoted as saying that if his own works conform to Campbell's patterns, he doesn't want to hear about it: he'd much rather do it intuitively than be influenced by a conscious analysis or strategy.


Can you expand a little on that critique? I know that not everybody agrees with Campbell's idea of a monomyth and his reliance on Freud and Jung is a bit dated nowadays. I don't really care what Gaiman thinks because he has no credentials in comparative mythology.
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Re: So who are the leading meta-authors of SF&F?

Postby Estraa on Wednesday, 23 December 2009, 9:44 am

Just a short note, Jeroen: "credentials" don't make you a good thinker or an honest person. The academia is brimming full of scholars who with the premeditation of a cold murderer advance and then hold on to their careers at the cost of truth. "Publish or perish." It's easier and probably more amusing to publish straight-faced but fantastical jokes disguised as research than something based on fact. I think the general feeling in academia is that facts have run out and it's a different sort of ball game now, though so far as I can tell this has always been the case. No scholar ever since the time of ancient Greeks has really been very right about anything at all, and it's not now that we have suddenly reached collective enlightenment, rather the opposite has happened. You will always find the most insightful insights and the truest advances of science outside of institutions, from people who despise rather than respect traditional scholars and scientists, from people who laugh at the idea that someone who spent a few years in school and got a PhD is therefore someone guaranteed to know something about his chosen field. You'd be surprised how little learning is required for a person to graduate even in the best universities, and you'd be even more surprised to know that no actual knowledge as defined by Plato is required. Undoubtedly part of the problem is language, because successful communication requires shared experience. In short, facts are incommunicable. You can teach people how to repeat mantras, and you can teach them to repeat them, but that's all you can teach them. The world would be a paradise if that weren't true.
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Re: So who are the leading meta-authors of SF&F?

Postby owlcroft on Friday, 25 December 2009, 10:53 pm

That's nice--but I wanted a Bud Light! Which is to say that the post does not seem to answer the request Can you expand a little on that critique?

Also, while it is true that "credentials" do not make an expert, it is correspondingly true that a lack of credentials tends to make a nonexpert.

Meanwhile, Gaiman's point was that Campbell was actually likely to be correct, so much so that Gaiman was afraid he would find himself subconsciously writing to the universal pattern Campbell describes. Note that if Campbell is more or less correct, most or all of Gaiman's tales probably follow the round anyway. (And note that Campbell himself never said that every heroic story necessarily follows the round completely: many omit certain steps, or dilate greatly on others.)
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Re: So who are the leading meta-authors of SF&F?

Postby Estraa on Monday, 28 December 2009, 10:03 am

My reading of the Gaiman bit was that he was trying hard not to offend. What he wanted to say about Campbell was what I wrote in my initial message.

And on second thought, I don't believe I need to expand on what I wrote in the second message, although I suppose I could point out that one can find almost any patterns in almost anything if one is determined to look for them. That is, after all, how the human perception works. But if, as in Campbell's case, one can't, after trying really hard, always find the patterns one is looking for in the places where one ought to find them were the theory correct, the theory isn't. (Not that the Campbell stuff properly qualifies as a real theory in the Popperian sense anyway.)
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Re: So who are the leading meta-authors of SF&F?

Postby owlcroft on Monday, 28 December 2009, 8:08 pm

You say I don't believe I need to expand on what I wrote in the second message. For the record, that was:
Campbell's approach is popularizing and ridiculously reductive to the point of being absurdly wrong and opposite to reality in every way.

Personally, I don't think that's so, but that is not the point: the point is that that is an assertion with no evidence.

Omitting the emotive adjectives, the statement simply says Campbell's approach is reductive to the point of being opposite to reality. In that form, that is a straightforward assertion, and can reasonably form a basis for discussion and debate. But that is what is missing: discussion. What particular aspects of Campbell's assertions are opposite to reality, in what ways? What is the evidence to that effect? What, exactly, does "reductive" mean in this context, and how does Campbell's supposed error or errors flow from it? Those are, I think, the sorts of issues that require some examination before one might accept the bald assertion itself.

Also for the record, the statement attributed to Gaiman was:
I . . . found myself thinking if this is true—I don’t want to know. I really would rather not know this stuff. I’d rather [write my work] because it’s true and because I accidentally wind up creating something that falls into this pattern than be told what the pattern is.

Now absent a clarification from Mr. Gaiman himself, interpretation is guesswork. But my own reading does not leave me thinking that Gaiman finds Campbell wrong, much less absurdly wrong: had Gaiman felt Campbell was absurdly wrong, I doubt he'd have phrased his observations as he did. But differences of opinion are why they race horses.
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Re: So who are the leading meta-authors of SF&F?

Postby Estraa on Tuesday, 29 December 2009, 2:12 pm

The Wiki page I read must have been this one:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monomyth

There's a section titled "criticism", which includes these bits:

According to Lesley Northup, the theory does not have much support in the mainstream study of mythology

Others have found the categories Campbell works with so vague as to be meaningless, and lacking the support required of scholarly argument

Alan Dundes dismisses Campbell's work, characterizing him as a popularizer: "like most universalists, he is content to merely assert universality rather than bother to document it. […] If Campbell's generalizations about myth are not substantiated, why should students consider his work?"
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Re: So who are the leading meta-authors of SF&F?

Postby Estraa on Wednesday, 30 December 2009, 2:16 am

Of course, if Campbell weren't popular and a source of envy, and if his critics didn't have a political motive for their criticisms of his work, there might not be any criticism. Still, even if there were no criticism of him, Campbell would still be rubbish. You can't necessarily explain it, but you can smell it if you have a good nose for such things.
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Re: So who are the leading meta-authors of SF&F?

Postby owlcroft on Wednesday, 30 December 2009, 5:11 am

Still, even if there were no criticism of him, Campbell would still be rubbish. You can't necessarily explain it, but you can smell it if you have a good nose for such things.

Let me first make clear that I am not debating whether Campbell's work is a deep insight or popular rubbish: what I am seeking is to elicit reasons for believing one or the other or something between. I just don't feel that "you can smell it" even when "you can't necessarily explain it" is sufficiently expository.

The quotations from the other Wikipedia article, the Monomyth one, I find interesting in that every critical citation is fairly harsh. I really do not believe that that represents a balanced presentation, and even less that it truly represents a cross-section of knowledgeable opinion, else why would Campbell still be such a major figure?

Indeed, a quick look around the web at things related to Campbell suggests, at least to me, that there is at least as much feeling favoring useful validity in Campbell's work as there is against it (in fact, a great deal more). As Friedman (Georgia State University, Atlanta ) recently remarked in an essay titled "Myth, the Numinous, and Cultural Studies ":
It is this numinous aspect of myth which has made it both compelling and discomfiting for critical theory. For intellectual traditions rooted in Freud’s and Marx’s hermeneutics of suspicion, there’s no independent human capacity for spirituality. The yearning for transcendental meaning is only a symptom of the fear of death or an outlet for class antagonism. But perhaps our postmodern skepticism could extend to questioning the limits of scientific materialism. The survival of the concept of myth may represent not the tenacity of an illusion, but the return of the repressed in a world outwardly more disenchanted than ever. As Jung argues, myths tend to compensate for those aspects of personality most neglected in a society.

And an awful lot of literary academia these days is rooted in "Marx’s hermeneutics of suspicion". In short, many critics of Campbell have an ax to grind not so much related to the validity of his ideas as to the very material he works in. (There was also the ludicrous, but nonetheless terrible, slander by Brendan Gill to the effect that Campbell was "anti-Semitic", something that virtually everyone who knew him, as colleague or as instructor, said--many in print--that it was sheer "character assassination" (to quote one such reply).

So, any reasons to discount Campbell other than nasal sensitivity?
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