Apart from writing trends affecting the domination of a specific genre at a certain time, the categories of writing within any genre depend on many intervening factors.
However, and as the below excerpt from Damn the Novel shows, it is difficult to agree on specified terminologies defining the categories of writing. Readers invent and spread their own terminologies, not only away from literary academic environments, but specifically in the absence of defined academic alternatives to some common literary terminologies.
Thermometer of Writing (Excerpt – Damn the Novel)
The UAE Writers Union invited me to give a lecture in Abu Dhabi. I seized the opportunity to tackle an issue that I entitled “The Thermometer of Serious Creative Writing.” Later, I decided to omit the word “serious” from the title because I thought that identifying the standards of serious writing means that the opposite standards are automatically those of nonserious writing, without the need to mention them.
In fact, to approach a topic with no existing methodological definition is both difficult and easy at the same time. On the one hand, it is hard because you have to establish a methodological identification and approach, but on the other hand, it is easy because your new definition will have no existing alternative, although it might be an easy target for critics’ skirmishes in the future.
Juggling between the two ideas, the thought asserted itself till it became clear in my mind. All the ingredients for the conference were there and all I needed, in two days, was a close revision of the themes of the imminent debate.
The interventions of the audience along with a brief overview of four culture sections in the Emirati daily newspapers reveal that, in spite of the seductive enthusiasm for the adventure, no matter how clear and precise the language of the debater is, one conference can never be enough to handle such a controversial issue overnight.
It is more likely that the challenge of promoting a new concept lies not in the ability of its promoter to analyze and simplify it but, most importantly, in responding to the questions of every eager intervener, especially if the questions and insights look strange or unexpected. There is no guarantee that your audience shall accept your proofs simply because you believe in your cause. They may, and have the right to, view the matter from different angles. They won’t just submissively listen to you while highlighting your “presumed discovery,” as you may have imagined. The lecture centered on introducing the concepts of “serious writing” and “light writing” as commonly referenced by both critics and the public. My objective was to get to the fact that there exist no accurate definitions of any of the two concepts. There is only that general impression that grants appreciation and consideration to “serious writing.” “Light writing,” on the contrary, is commonly seen as not worthy of much esteem, or even as a disrespectful aspect of creativeness.
“Serious writing” is commonly said to take the shape of pieces of writing comparatively greater in terms of word and page count and to primarily tend to appear more rigorous than satirical (though it has been realized that irony/ satire is not often the opposite of seriousness), ushering in the birth of a new idea (this is one signal of seriousness that we will not disagree about, as we will see shortly). However, there are some common signs within “light writing” models themselves that help reinforce their negative evaluation and acquisition—namely, limited number of words and pages; easy access to the meaning of the subject matter, even if they might bring some new thoughts or address an existing problematic issue in a revolutionary way; and an ironical style, even when expressed with a great deal of originality. The primary concern of my approach, ever since I was taken over by the issue and its dimensions, focuses on highlighting the discrepancy between “light writing” and “junk writing” (or even worthless writing). There are many examples of “light writing” that incorporate interesting and influential contents, whereas there exist a number of pieces of writing said to be “serious” that, apart from the desire for a “respectful” outcome, bring nothing new in terms of thought or style. For this reason, I took the initiative of proposing a third category termed “junk writing” or “worthless writing.” I did not see any harm in describing this category of writing as absurd in both form and meaning. Some of the attendees expressed their reservation that any writing should be described as absurd. Despite my certainty about the existence of such a category of writing (which historically has fallen under the title of “light writing”), I do not mind referring to “worthless writing,” especially when it tends to embrace vulgarity, as fallacious rather than silly, like a number of the attendees suggested. Although creating a new term is not my central preoccupation in this respect, “weak” is the most suitable term to stand for “unworthy” forms of “light writing.” In fact, people are still in need of a term capable of venting their condemnation vis-à-vis pieces of (creative) work forged with a great deal of noticeably bad faith. In this context, they won’t hesitate to describe them as “trivial” or even “disrespectful.” Some of the attendants pointed out that an expression such as “trivial writing” cannot be considered a critical term. In turn, I noted that “serious writing” and “light writing” are also not critical terms, though both of them are deployed by critics when it comes to the general assessment of a given piece of work or writer. To clarify the signification of the above terminology, the existing ones along with the ones I intend to introduce, the subject matter can be summed up as follows: “Serious writing” is a process of bringing about some new thought contributing to (human) knowledge either through the creation of an original idea or via the analysis of an already existing concept. This type of writing does not necessarily seek to please its readers, nor does it care much about the number of words or pages. “Light writing,” on the other hand, is often short and is obsessed with pleasing its audience. It may offer fresh content if not merely explaining or commenting on other (serious or light) works. The third category, “weak writing,” is an unworthy/ineffective sort of writing that may acquire the attributes of vulgarity. It brings nothing new and ranges from limited to high word counts. However, it is mainly concerned with being interesting though superficial (not simple, for simplicity can never constitute a weakness in writing). In addition, it often tends to tickle the public responding to their desired expectations rather than exposing them to the challenging taboos. Dispute is likely to take place—in every possible way—because we tend to use the same words but refer to distinct, or even contradictory, meanings.