World Literature and Time-Subdistribution

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World Literature and Time-Subdistribution

Post by The Atom Strikes! » Wed Aug 03, 2011 4:17 pm

Here, I would like to raise what I see as something of a problem with our literature distribution as it now stands.

In literature, we have an explicit geographical subdistribution dividing our answer classes into American, British European, and World, and an implicit temporal subdistribution (it seems to be generally bad form to have too many questions about works from a given time period in the same packet).

Now, it seems like the quizbowl canon for world literature is heavily focused on works written within the last fifty years. I have observed that this seems to lead to an exclusion of a lot of important, widely-read, and well-known books in say, American and British literature from that time period.

I would contend that some American authors like say, Cormac McCarthy, are about as widely read, widely studied, and critically well-regarded as say, Gabriel Garcia Marquez or JM Coetzee. Yet GGM or Coetzee are far more likely to come up in quizbowl questions than McCarthy. It seems that there are a number of important works and authors that are neglected in this way-- I've heard quite a few more tossups about Kenzaburo Oe's work than about White Teeth or The Corrections.

There are people on this forum who have a lot more expertise than I do about what appears in the quizbowl canon, and about what's considered important contemporary literature by people who seriously study contemporary literature. I would like to hear from some of you about whether you think this is a genuine problem, and, if so, what you think should be done to correct it.
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Re: World Literature and Time-Subdistribution

Post by yoda4554 » Mon Aug 22, 2011 1:19 am

I stumbled across this while doing one of my periodic perusals of the board. I've had the same thought at times, particularly when writing lit. singles tournaments. Here's some data, for whatever interest it may provide--the following is a list of hit totals for peer-reviewed articles/books on a number of living/active (or prematurely dead with considerable contemporary cache) novelists, as per the MLA International Bibliography. Some notes--obviously, since MLA is US-based, this is is going to skew more toward American, then other-Anglophone, then Roman-alphabet non-English; that's mostly as it should be for quiz bowl purposes, though it means that you're going to undervalue, say, Japanese writers popular in translation here, since people are wary of writing them without knowing their native tongues. Regardless, I think it's a good guide to the degree to the relative popularity of authors under academic study at the moment.

Caveats--this does seem to favor well-regarded writers who are prolific rather than those with one or two masterpieces, and it does take some time for the numbers to build up steam. (I'd be shocked if Wallace weren't in triple digits within a few years, and am even surprised as it is that he's behind Powers--but then Powers has put out a book every couple years since the mid-80s.) Also, I'm a few years out of playing shape, so I don't know who all you're throwing around in questions these days, and obviously I'm quicker with the names of writers in my field (US) than in, say, Europe.

In response to the original post--well, no, Garcia Marquez and Coetzee probably should still get asked substantially more than McCarthy (though I always thought he was a hair under-asked). And especially when correcting for the language barrier, Oe probably should come up vastly more than Franzen or Smith. I think the problem of may be more that, for Western Anglophone lit., one can more easily mix in questions on the Michael Chabons of the world to keep from getting stale with reasonable expectation that people will convert, whereas that level of writer in other literary cultures isn't as well know to American quizbowlers. Anyway, make of the results what you will...

American
Toni Morrison 714
Thomas Pynchon 702 (394 since 1990)
Philip Roth 318 (228 since 1990)
Don DeLillo 261
Leslie Marmon Silko 193
John Barth 179 (63 since 1990)
Cormac McCarthy 164
Joyce Carol Oates 159 (82 since 1990)
Louise Erdrich 147
Paul Auster 146
Robert Coover 95 (51 since 1990)
E. L. Doctorow 94 (60 since 1990)
William Gass 78 (51 since 1990, of which about 20 are from one special issue)
Tim O’Brien 75
Sherman Alexie 71
Kathy Acker 64
John Edgar Wideman 62
Richard Powers 55
Marilynne Robinson 52
Tom Wolfe 35 (25 since 1990)
David Foster Wallace 33
David Markson 21
Jonathan Franzen 20
Jonathan Safran Foer 17
William Vollmann 17
Michael Chabon 13
Mark Danielewski 12
Edward P. Jones 11
Junot Diaz 9
Jonathan Lethem 8
Denis Johnson 7
Dave Eggers 5

(Also--Ursula LeGuin 111, William Gibson 99, Octavia Butler 94, Samuel R. Delany 73 (53 since 1990))

British Isles/Canadian/Australian
Margaret Atwood 474 (322 since 1990)
Doris Lessing 303 (169 since 1990)
Michael Ondaatje 222
Alice Munro 180
A. S. Byatt 139
Ian McEwan 109
Peter Carey 81
Jeanette Winterson 70
John Banville 67
Martin Amis 52
Zadie Smith 33

Anglophone-World
Salman Rushdie 415
J. M. Coetzee 407
Chinua Achebe 328 (225 since 1990)
V. S. Naipaul 278 (188 since 1990)
Nadine Gordimer 185 (113 since 1990)
Kazuo Ishiguro 98
Nuruddin Farah 71
Edwidge Danticat 67
Arundhati Roy 52
Sembene Ousmane 48
Ben Okri 44
Kiran Desai 40
Amos Oz 19

Non-Anglophone World
Gabriel Garcia Marquez 644 (343 since 1990)
Carlos Fuentes 462 (259 since 1990)
Mario Vargas Llosa 411 (258 since 1990)
Ngugi wa Thiong’o 166 (91 since 1990)
Roberto Bolano 61
Orhan Pamuk 54
Kenzaburo Oe 48
Haruki Murakami 35
Gao Xingjian 29

European
Gunter Grass 239 (129 since 1990)
Umberto Eco 228
Peter Handke 166 (97 since 1990)
W. G. Sebald 155
Jose Saramago 103
Elfriede Jelinek 92
J. M. G. Le Clezio 83
Imre Kersetz 26
Herta Muller 20
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Re: World Literature and Time-Subdistribution

Post by Tees-Exe Line » Mon Aug 22, 2011 2:18 pm

Those are interesting statistics. I gather that the list isn't exhaustive--you picked various quizbowl-prominent authors, not the top x authors in each category? Is it possible to give us a sense of whom quizbowl misses, even if it's not exhaustive?
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Re: World Literature and Time-Subdistribution

Post by ValenciaQBowl » Mon Aug 22, 2011 5:22 pm

As I mentioned in some thread long ago, Kathy Acker hasn't ever come up that I've heard, nor does she appear as a hit in the databases. But her post-feminist, punk-influenced work was assigned in all kinds of literature classes in both undergrad and grad school in the late 80s and early 90s. Don't know if she's still taught so much now, but I imagine she's a staple in feminist theory or women's studies classes.

I'm generally with those who don't think that the QB canon necessarily has to mesh with the academy's canon, but we in QB do have a tendency to talk self-importantly about what's "important" as if we mean it in some absolutely universal sense, when in reality maybe we mean what we personally think is interesting or what is important in the game. I'm just sayin'.

PS--Does John Edgar Wideman get asked?
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Re: World Literature and Time-Subdistribution

Post by Matt Weiner » Mon Aug 22, 2011 5:27 pm

When writing about Kathy Acker, make sure to use this important fact from her Wikipedia article:
She wanted to grow up to be a pirate, but she knew that only men could be pirates. Thus Acker experienced early the limitations of gender.
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Re: World Literature and Time-Subdistribution

Post by Auks Ran Ova » Mon Aug 22, 2011 6:02 pm

ValenciaQBowl wrote:PS--Does John Edgar Wideman get asked?
Not that I've ever seen, but if his first novel is indeed called Colossal Poopsex World, I sure hope we start.
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Re: World Literature and Time-Subdistribution

Post by magin » Mon Aug 22, 2011 6:15 pm

Quizbowl doesn't seem to be missing any major writers; however, I think that question writers could do a better job of asking about a range of not-major-but-still-reasonably-known authors. For some reason, people will find some previously neglected but prominent author, such as, say, Jose Donoso, and proceed to write harder and more in-depth tossups on Donoso (possibly because it seems safer that choosing other answer lines, possibly to learn about Donoso to get that question about him).

I think this is a useful model of selecting answers: there are a number of truly major answers, like Shakespeare and Henry James and Cervantes and Garcia Marquez (really widely known and central to their discipline); there's then a larger number of answers that educated laymen/undergrads studying a discipline would know about such as Lope de Vega and Anthony Trollope; finally, there are answers that are more obscure but are still reasonably known (through classes/study/independent reading) such as George Gissing and Charles Chesnutt.

Note: these tiers don't reflect the merits of these authors (I think Chesnutt rules and Henry James drools), but how well-known and central to their fields they are.

Tier 1/major authors can come up at every tournament without provoking ire.
Tier 2/authors known to educated laymen or undergrads studying a topic can come up often, but not every tournament, since they aren't major (in the quizbowl sense)
Tier 3/authors more obscure than the above tier but still important and reasonably known to a modern-day audience should come up sparingly at most tournaments; as much as I'd enjoy a Gissing tossup every tournament, he's not major or well-known enough to warrant that.

I suppose there's also a fourth tier, in which writers are so obscure no one reasonably knows them. I hope people know not to write questions on them.

I think that using that model, the major mistakes writers make are:
1) Not writing about Tier 1 writers enough
2) Writing on the same Tier 2 writers over and over again
3) Writing too many tossups on Tier 3 writers
4) Writing on the same Tier 3 writers over and over again

When Westbrook praises the "shadow canon," I think it's equivalent to the tier 2 and 3 answers that have fallen into disuse. I think that the best thing writers can do is to ensure they're writing most of their tossups on tier 1 and tier 2 answers, and when looking to write a question on a tier 3 writer, being open to writing on someone like Kathy Acker instead of Donoso's 5th best known novel.
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Re: World Literature and Time-Subdistribution

Post by yoda4554 » Mon Aug 22, 2011 6:53 pm

Tees-Exe Line wrote:Those are interesting statistics. I gather that the list isn't exhaustive--you picked various quizbowl-prominent authors, not the top x authors in each category? Is it possible to give us a sense of whom quizbowl misses, even if it's not exhaustive?
Yes, this is simply a smattering of names that came to mind. There may well be a number of people I and/or quizbowl are missing that are up in the triple digits, or at least as high up as some commonly-asked people. I can't think of any way to plumb the database for that, short of some really irritatingly time-consuming perusals of the actual physical annual bibliographies, which are enormous.
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Re: World Literature and Time-Subdistribution

Post by vcuEvan » Mon Aug 22, 2011 7:56 pm

ValenciaQBowl wrote:As I mentioned in some thread long ago, Kathy Acker hasn't ever come up that I've heard, nor does she appear as a hit in the databases. But her post-feminist, punk-influenced work was assigned in all kinds of literature classes in both undergrad and grad school in the late 80s and early 90s. Don't know if she's still taught so much now, but I imagine she's a staple in feminist theory or women's studies classes.

I'm generally with those who don't think that the QB canon necessarily has to mesh with the academy's canon, but we in QB do have a tendency to talk self-importantly about what's "important" as if we mean it in some absolutely universal sense, when in reality maybe we mean what we personally think is interesting or what is important in the game. I'm just sayin'.

PS--Does John Edgar Wideman get asked?
I mentioned Acker in the leadin to a NASAT tosssup on Don Quixote, but haven't heard her come up otherwise.
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Re: World Literature and Time-Subdistribution

Post by theMoMA » Mon Aug 22, 2011 9:57 pm

I've read John Edgar Wideman and I think I used a clue from Philadelphia Fire for a tossup on The Tempest once. I don't know if he's come up otherwise (and I may, in fact, be dreaming up using him as a clue).
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Re: World Literature and Time-Subdistribution

Post by Tower Monarch » Mon Aug 22, 2011 10:47 pm

theMoMA wrote:I've read John Edgar Wideman and I think I used a clue from Philadelphia Fire for a tossup on The Tempest once. I don't know if he's come up otherwise (and I may, in fact, be dreaming up using him as a clue).
NSC 2008 wrote:This character is reimagined with heavy dreadlocks in John Edgar Wideman's Philadelphia Fire. He worships Eshu and exclaims “FREEDOM HI-DAY!” at the end of a play by Aime Cesaire. In another treatment, this character imagines himself a bird with “three sound legs for one” while he is face-down in the mud. He uses the nonsense word “scamels” and enters into the service of Stephano and Trinculo, and he also worships Setebos and is the son of Sycorax. For 10 points, name this wood-carrier of Prospero who tries to assault Miranda in The Tempest.
ANSWER: Caliban
On a related note, I know some forms of common links are falling out of favor, but Wideman and plenty of others in this thread seem like perfect sources for early clues that reward real knowledge. For example, a tossup on Two Cities, or Cities in general from Wideman and Dickens (maybe Invisible Cities) seems pretty "organic" to me. Anyway, just my two cents. In addition to searching MLA, one source for some of these overlooked authors are sites like one Jerry was looking at on FB: http://writersnoonereads.tumblr.com/page/6 and http://neglectedbooks.com/ .
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Re: World Literature and Time-Subdistribution

Post by grapesmoker » Mon Aug 22, 2011 11:04 pm

This is your new literature canon.
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Re: World Literature and Time-Subdistribution

Post by Magister Ludi » Tue Aug 23, 2011 1:35 am

Other lists of neglected books that I found interesting are critic James Wood's list of the best books since 1945 (http://marksarvas.blogs.com/elegvar/200 ... -1994.html) and the New York Review of Books' Classics (http://www.nybooks.com/books/imprints/classics/). People shouldn't go overboard trying to correct the quizbowl canon by writing too many questions on neglected figures, but--to agree with Jerry for once--occasional questions on these contemporary writers can reward a different type of literary knowledge than just an academic perspective. These questions can reward people interested in contemporary literary culture who read critics, reviews, and blogs. As long as a tournament has a range of answers with a solid grounding in the major figures, a few questions on figures like Denis Johnson or John Edgar Wideman who are major figures in the current literary landscapes even if their work hasn't hit the classrom yet seems like it can only make the game more interesting. From a strictly personal point of view, I always find questions on these contemporary figures much more engaging than tossups on historical oddities.
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Re: World Literature and Time-Subdistribution

Post by Black-throated Antshrike » Tue Aug 23, 2011 2:04 am

I'm a pretty terrible literature player, and the only reason I'm even commenting on this is because I primarily only read modern and post-modern literature. I've noticed that the east Asian authors are starting to get asked more and more, although I can't ever seem to recall seeing or hearing Yu Hua ever come up. Is this an acceptable answer line for a modern Chinese author or has it ever come up before.
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Re: World Literature and Time-Subdistribution

Post by Auks Ran Ova » Tue Aug 23, 2011 2:39 am

Andrew Jackson's Compatriot wrote:I'm a pretty terrible literature player, and the only reason I'm even commenting on this is because I primarily only read modern and post-modern literature. I've noticed that the east Asian authors are starting to get asked more and more, although I can't ever seem to recall seeing or hearing Yu Hua ever come up. Is this an acceptable answer line for a modern Chinese author or has it ever come up before.
I'd say Yu Hua's askable, though I don't know that I'd toss him up anywhere yet (thus making me less daring than Sun n Fun XI, which did so). He's also shown up as part of at least one lit tossup on "China".
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Re: World Literature and Time-Subdistribution

Post by Black-throated Antshrike » Tue Aug 23, 2011 3:49 am

Ukonvasara wrote:
Andrew Jackson's Compatriot wrote:I'm a pretty terrible literature player, and the only reason I'm even commenting on this is because I primarily only read modern and post-modern literature. I've noticed that the east Asian authors are starting to get asked more and more, although I can't ever seem to recall seeing or hearing Yu Hua ever come up. Is this an acceptable answer line for a modern Chinese author or has it ever come up before.
I'd say Yu Hua's askable, though I don't know that I'd toss him up anywhere yet (thus making me less daring than Sun n Fun XI, which did so). He's also shown up as part of at least one lit tossup on "China".
Sun n Fun XI wrote: In his most recent work of fiction one of the protagonists enlarges one of his breasts in order to sell a breast enlargement product and loses his supposedly secure job at a state run factory. This author of Leaving Home at 18 wrote the story of a man, named Xu Sanguan, who makes money by selling his blood during the Cultural Revolution in Chronicle of a Blood Merchant. He also wrote a novel dealing with Xu Fugul who lost his family fortune and is forced to become a peasant in Communist China. That work was made into a film, and won the Cannes Film Festival Grand Jury Prize, for which the Chinese government forbade the director, Zhang Yimou, from producing films for two years. For 10 points, name this author of the novels Brothers and To Live.
ANSWER: Yu Hua
Thanks for pointing this out. I think it looks pretty gettable if you know something about him, although I'm a terrible person to go on since I couldn't tell you what's hard and what's not.
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Re: World Literature and Time-Subdistribution

Post by Angry Babies in Love » Tue Aug 23, 2011 8:02 am

Andrew Jackson's Compatriot wrote: although I'm a terrible person to go on since I couldn't tell you what's hard and what's not.
This is somewhat unrelated, but Arun and I were discussing how one would go about tackling a tossup on an author (or in the case we were discussing, artist) that wasn't tossed-up very often. How does one determine which works are first line fodder and which ones belong towards the end. We were discussing this issue specifically with the painting "Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way" by Emanuel Leutze, which appears in the second line of one Leutze tossup, and right before the giveaway in another tossup.
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Re: World Literature and Time-Subdistribution

Post by Tower Monarch » Tue Aug 23, 2011 8:25 am

Hayley Legg wrote:
Andrew Jackson's Compatriot wrote: although I'm a terrible person to go on since I couldn't tell you what's hard and what's not.
This is somewhat unrelated, but Arun and I were discussing how one would go about tackling a tossup on an author (or in the case we were discussing, artist) that wasn't tossed-up very often. How does one determine which works are first line fodder and which ones belong towards the end. We were discussing this issue specifically with the painting "Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way" by Emanuel Leutze, which appears in the second line of one Leutze tossup, and right before the giveaway in another tossup.
For art, I think the easiest course of action is looking up the artist in a few art history texts (if it isn't in more than one it probably shouldn't be tossed up anyway...) and look at which things the authors all focus on. One sentence in one text means it's probably not well known and could be an early middle clue or a lead-in. For literature, things like Wikipedia or NY Times, or better yet (if you have access) journal articles surveying the author's work, will tend to highlight which one to three work(s) are generally considered the most widely read or most significant. The ordering among them is probably pretty subjective (I would use criteria like "Is this a distinctive fact/title that players are likely to remember?").
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Re: World Literature and Time-Subdistribution

Post by Sir Thopas » Wed Aug 24, 2011 2:42 pm

Magister Ludi wrote:Other lists of neglected books that I found interesting are critic James Wood's list of the best books since 1945 (http://marksarvas.blogs.com/elegvar/200 ... -1994.html) and the New York Review of Books' Classics (http://www.nybooks.com/books/imprints/classics/). People shouldn't go overboard trying to correct the quizbowl canon by writing too many questions on neglected figures, but--to agree with Jerry for once--occasional questions on these contemporary writers can reward a different type of literary knowledge than just an academic perspective. These questions can reward people interested in contemporary literary culture who read critics, reviews, and blogs. As long as a tournament has a range of answers with a solid grounding in the major figures, a few questions on figures like Denis Johnson or John Edgar Wideman who are major figures in the current literary landscapes even if their work hasn't hit the classrom yet seems like it can only make the game more interesting. From a strictly personal point of view, I always find questions on these contemporary figures much more engaging than tossups on historical oddities.
Similarly, I think this is a pretty neat list of well-respected contemporary works that could serve as a jumping-off point for someone who wants to write about modern lit.
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Re: World Literature and Time-Subdistribution

Post by Tower Monarch » Wed Aug 24, 2011 3:01 pm

Sir Thopas wrote:
Magister Ludi wrote:Other lists of neglected books that I found interesting are critic James Wood's list of the best books since 1945 (http://marksarvas.blogs.com/elegvar/200 ... -1994.html) and the New York Review of Books' Classics (http://www.nybooks.com/books/imprints/classics/). People shouldn't go overboard trying to correct the quizbowl canon by writing too many questions on neglected figures, but--to agree with Jerry for once--occasional questions on these contemporary writers can reward a different type of literary knowledge than just an academic perspective. These questions can reward people interested in contemporary literary culture who read critics, reviews, and blogs. As long as a tournament has a range of answers with a solid grounding in the major figures, a few questions on figures like Denis Johnson or John Edgar Wideman who are major figures in the current literary landscapes even if their work hasn't hit the classrom yet seems like it can only make the game more interesting. From a strictly personal point of view, I always find questions on these contemporary figures much more engaging than tossups on historical oddities.
Similarly, I think this is a pretty neat list of well-respected contemporary works that could serve as a jumping-off point for someone who wants to write about modern lit.
Gotta trust that front-page reviewer.
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Re: World Literature and Time-Subdistribution

Post by Magister Ludi » Wed Aug 24, 2011 11:10 pm

Sir Thopas wrote:
Magister Ludi wrote:Other lists of neglected books that I found interesting are critic James Wood's list of the best books since 1945 (http://marksarvas.blogs.com/elegvar/200 ... -1994.html) and the New York Review of Books' Classics (http://www.nybooks.com/books/imprints/classics/). People shouldn't go overboard trying to correct the quizbowl canon by writing too many questions on neglected figures, but--to agree with Jerry for once--occasional questions on these contemporary writers can reward a different type of literary knowledge than just an academic perspective. These questions can reward people interested in contemporary literary culture who read critics, reviews, and blogs. As long as a tournament has a range of answers with a solid grounding in the major figures, a few questions on figures like Denis Johnson or John Edgar Wideman who are major figures in the current literary landscapes even if their work hasn't hit the classrom yet seems like it can only make the game more interesting. From a strictly personal point of view, I always find questions on these contemporary figures much more engaging than tossups on historical oddities.
Similarly, I think this is a pretty neat list of well-respected contemporary works that could serve as a jumping-off point for someone who wants to write about modern lit.
I was trying to change the perception I only promoted questions on books I read . . .
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