What is it? Literary Merit

What is it?

Before I enlighten you with a pretentious prophecy of my indisputable definition of literary merit, I'll candidly disclose that no literary merit definition is indisputable.  My definition, and everyone else's, is crafted from anecdotal evidence to justify the literary worthiness of written art.  And before I reveal my definition, I encourage all of you sycophants and rabblerousers to share your own definitions.  Because my intent with this blog is to discover an actual, concrete understanding of Literary Merit.  And as the surmounting evidence builds a definition, I'm sure many of you homunculi will disagree.  Which is fine.  Bash my reviews, set them on fire, and feed them to a mesonychid.

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But let it be known that literary merit shares the same criminal record as Sasquatch:  everyone's seen it, everyone's heard of it, everyone's encountered it, and everyone has his/her very own definition.

Check out this reddit post, which I present as an aggregate of novice literary opine.   

Some people are contending that a book needs to "transcend time."  Others are stating that it needs to effectively uses literary devices.  And some are implying that it should have a stronger emphasis on characters, at the expense of plot.  But this is all bullshit.  I'll fight to the grave that Blood Simple possesses literary merit, and yet it is entirely plot driven.  And I'm certain more examples can be undug to crush the witless definitions proposed.  

But these shitty definitions aren't the point.  The point is that no one can identify and justify the holiest achievement for any aspiring writer.  Sure, having written work knighted as literature, suggests that the required merit is possessed.  And as a result, that written work will transcend over time, as suggested above.  But that transcendence is after the fact; it is an indirect result of something that is already living within the written work of art.  Something that breaths hope, or honor, or fear, or love into the reader.  And that something is the catalyst of the transcendence.    

But we don't know what that catalyst is.  

So here is my pretension, and my attempt to define that catalyst.  After I watched Goodfellas for the first time, I watched it again, and again, and again.  "Get your fuckin' shine box," the dinner with Nicky's mother before the burial of Billy Batts, the carousel introduction around the bar, the heists, the murders, and the thrill of law evasion, all of it was plastered over my mind.  I was obsessed.  And I questioned this obsession.  

Why am I, and everyone else, so absorbed with this film?  

And after some mental deliberations, my answer was "honesty."  Goodfellas is honest.  But what the hell does that mean?  That Henry Hill was an actual person?  Yes, is an actual person, and Goodfellas was inspired by the non-fiction story Wiseguy.  But the degrees of separation between the actual events and this film probably induced some fabrication, considering Hollywood's alternative motive is to profit.  

So what is actually honest about the film if the events aren't honest?

The character reactions are honest.  The emotional display that each character displays under the duress of each situation is honest.  Henry Hill's drugged out paranoia while watching helicopters through the windshield; Karen Hill's concern when Jimmy encouraged her to enter a suspicious warehouse; and everyone's joy while living the life of a wiseguy.  The characters fulfilled my subconscious expectations of how these characters should act in these situations, creating a web of emotional complexity and uncertainty, that draws me deeper into the film.  And these honest character reactions allow me to have a more personal experience with the film; to trust the film; to trust the events and the emotional display of each character, to allow me to transcend into the film every time I bare witness, and experience that same emotions that these characters are also experiencing.  

And this is what I believe is literary merit.  Not the honesty of the events.  But the honesty that is displayed by the characters, to react to each situation as I would subconsciously believe them to act and respond to in specific situations.  

Not enlightened from my definition?  I can't blame you.  It's just another pretentious opinion to wade through.  And it's also incomplete.  By no means do I consider Hallmark or Lifetime movies literature because they jerk at my tears.  So there are other qualifying factors that need to be exposed.  

And this is what makes Literary Merit so fascinating, and also infuriating.  Its obscurity casting a mystery over our fascination with a written work of art, revealing something personally interesting, yet unknown and ambiguous.

But let's hear it.  Let's reach the summit of this great quest, and ultimately discover what is literary merit.  

Post and boast below.  


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