(urth) objective measure of "good"

Dan'l Danehy-Oakes danldo at gmail.com
Fri Jun 16 09:47:32 PDT 2006

On 6/15/06, David Duffy <David.Duffy at qimr.edu.au> wrote:
> I fear this will be worse than a discussion about the
> definition of science fiction.

Probably not, but I believe the approach I'm mulling over --
basically, a weighted version of fuzzy definition -- would
make defining SF a lot less controversial also. It's just that
it makes defining "definition" a bit hairy.

> Maybe we should concentrate on objective measures of
> "bad".  Just in the last month or so, I have read several
> newspaper and journal articles:
> 1) Allan Ginsberg is a bad poet and _Howl_ is undeservedly
> popular

Certainly the title poem is the only thing in it I find
readable -- but I'm not a real poetry-lover.

> 2) JM Coetzee is a bad writer and undeservedly received the
> Nobel

This critic should review the list of past Nobel winners.
Chances are s/he has read less than half of those before,
say, 1970. The Nobel committee turns out to be roughly
as infallible as the Academy that presents the Oscars
or the WSFS that presents the Hugoi.

> 3) Dan Brown is a bad writer and undeservedly made lots of
> money ;)

God knows, Dan Brown is no Gene Wolfe, or even
Tom Clancy, but he delivers the product the audience
pays for. I can't call that a "bad writer" in any meaningful

> Each article provided quotes from the offending author --
> "objective" evidence.

Yeah, and Tolkien is a bad writer because Legolas fell
into his own tongue. "Even Homer nods." I can prove
_any_ writer lousy if I'm allowed to quote out of context.

> My favourite review of _Finnegan's Wake_ was by a
> psychiatrist, who said he frequently saw these types of
> word salads and neologisms in the writing of psychotics,
> and confidently made the same diagnosis for Joyce.

Cheez. That would be meaningful _if_ Joyce hadn't
repeatedly proved (and was still proving in his massive
correspondence) that he was, in fact, perfectly capable
of writing good "standard" English. Actually, it _is_
meaningful, but what it means is about the shrink in
question, not about Joyce.

Joyce's language in FW is clearly totally in control,
having a definite structure and grammar which it is
possible to imitate (my own recent attempt, a response
to the Stephen James Joyce teatempestpot, can
be found on my blog at
if you care)

> Or how about the frequent comment that HP Lovecraft is
> *much* better in French translation ;)

I've mostly heard that about van Vogt. I've also heard
that Thomas Mann -- or was it Franz Kafka -- was basically
invented by his English translator, and his style in German
was horrendous. I have no idea, since I can't read German...

> Which is to say, *I* *know* what "quality literature" is, and
> can spot a wooden sentence as well as Tom Stoppard's
> character, but _de gustibus_.

Disgustibus non deputandem. ("You can't hire someone
else to do your throwing-up for you.")

Dan'l Danehy-Oakes, writer, trainer, bon vivant

"One o'th'flay-rods gone out o'skew on th'treadle."

More information about the Urth mailing list