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Junk (culture)

bad taste - exploitation - low culture - sleaze - trash

An Aesthetics of Junk Fiction (1990) - Thomas John Roberts

An Aesthetics of Junk Fiction (1990) - Thomas John Roberts [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

Thomas J.Roberts reassesses so-called junk fiction and the motives and experiences of its learned readership to reveal that there are rewards in junk fiction not found elsewhere in literature. Traditional images of junk fiction and its readers are inadequate, Roberts argues. The writing is too often judged by scholarly literary criteria that ignore the conventions of junk fiction genres and significant aspects of the readers' experiences. Not surprisingly, books by authors such as Louis L'Amour and Ross Thomas are seen as fictions that failed to make the grade as high literature - fare for readers doomed by a limited capacity to respond to good fiction. While Roberts rejects these summary dismissals, he finds that the well-worn defenses of popular fiction's worth are just as invalid. Junk fiction doesn't really provide fun, escape, and raw material for day-dreaming, he contends, and readers don't indentify with junk fiction heroes and heroines in a Mitty-like fashion. Nor do they read it because the stories end happily or according to their expectations. Roberts profiles learned readers of popular fiction and also those who read learned fiction or junk fiction exclusively. He identifies major types of readers and books, shows how these divisions work for learned and junk fiction, and then places these reader and book types in a variety of associations within the realms for "bookscapes" as he calls them, of learned and junk fiction. Junk fiction is a bookscape that has weak individual texts, but is strong and dynamic when viewed as a literary system. By contrast, learned fiction is a bookscape dominated by monumental texts, inexhaustibly rewarding but frozen now in time and incapable of evolving. Learned fiction is studied rather than read. Junk fiction is read by a process Robert calls thick-reading. Its readers are always aware of the changing patterns and rules governing a book's genre, and see that, however slightly, each new story changes its own genre. In a sense junk fiction readers are not reading books, they are reading whole genres and listening to the stories talking to one another inside those genres. --via Amazon.com

From Book News, Inc.
Roberts (English, U. of Connecticut) approaches popular fiction as an international and legitimate form, rather than as failed literature, and profiles learned readers who choose westerns, romances, and fantasy over the accepted Great Works. He concludes that the popular genres evolve and treat issues in ways that serious literature cannot.

Popular culture studies
[O]n the other hand, Thomas Roberts demonstrates in An Aesthetics of Junk Fiction (1990:173-174), a study of the historical background of the private detective model, how the detective story came into existence in the middle of the 19th century, at the time the institution of state police was developed. This force consisted mainly of lower class people, but nevertheless disposed of a certain authority over the upper class. The fears among the upper classes for this uncontrolled force were eased by domesticating the police in stories explicitly devoted to them. Their inability to pass on correct judgment was amply demonstrated, and forced them to bow for the individual intellect of the detective, who always belonged to the threatened upper class. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Popular_culture_studies#The_possibility_of_a_.22subversive.22_popular_culture [Nov 2004]

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