Popular Fiction: The Logics and Practices of a Literary Field

Popular Fiction: The Logics and Practices of a Literary Field

Popular Fiction: The Logics and Practices of a Literary Field

Popular Fiction: The Logics and Practices of a Literary Field

Synopsis

In this important book, Ken Gelder offers a lively, progressive and comprehensive account of popular fiction as a distinctive literary field. Drawing on a wide range of popular novelists, from Sir Walter Scott and Marie Corelli to Ian Fleming, J. K. Rowling and Stephen King, his book describes for the first time how this field works and what its unique features are. In addition, Gelder provides a critical history of three primary genres - romance, crime fiction and science fiction - and looks at the role of bookshops, fanzines and prozines in the distribution and evaluation of popular fiction. Finally, he examines five bestselling popular novelists in detail - John Grisham, Michael Crichton, Anne Rice, Jackie Collins and J. R. R. Tolkien - to see how popular fiction is used, discussed and identified in contemporary culture.

Excerpt

This book provides a comprehensive introduction to what I call 'the field of popular fiction', a phrase I shall account for in Chapter 1, although its meaning is fairly self-evident. The following chapters describe how that field works and how we can make sense of it, attending to its various logics and practices and detailing aspects of the way in which it behaves as a distinctive but heterogeneous body of writing. Two key words for understanding popular fiction are industry and entertainment, and they work firmly to distinguish popular fiction from the logics and practices of what I regard as its 'opposite', namely, literary fiction or Literature. Literary fiction is ambivalent at best about its industrial connections and likes to see itself as something more than 'just entertainment', but popular fiction generally speaking has no such reservations, as Chapter 1 will demonstrate. It draws together the industrial and entertainment - the latter being a particular form of culture, of cultural production - so much so that they can often be indistinguishable. The field of popular fiction is therefore quite literally a 'culture industry'. This term was invested with negative connotations back in the 1940s by two influential, highbrow cultural critics, Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer. For them, the term gave expression to the 'manufactured' and commodified nature of mass cultural forms in modern capitalism which, as they saw it, deceived consumers and standardized or rationalized production (Adorno and Horkheimer 1979; Adorno 1991). It may be difficult even now to give the term 'culture industry' a positive spin. But we can at least try to begin to use it here - in relation to popular fiction - a little more sympathetically. It will mean amongst other things turning an eye to the actual diversity of the field (formulaic as some aspects of it may be), as well as its cheerful affirmation of features that certain other forms of cultural production (like Literature) might either repress or envy, or both.

Another key word that is crucial to the field of popular fiction is genre. Popular fiction is, essentially, genre fiction. Whereas genre is less overtly important to literary fiction, the field of popular fiction simply cannot live

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