Thursday, February 10, 2005

What makes a literary work enjoyable!

Arjun asked us to offer serious suggestions as to what makes a particular literary work exceptional and popular than others. Though normally we take him (and Newton!) lightly ;), but this time I thought maybe I should give my grey cells a bit of creative excercise!

Before I opine I must admit I am not a voracious reader, and whatever I write is based on my understanding and thinking.

The first and foremost thing I believe makes a particular literature good is the usage of words. The simpler the words, the better is the understanding. Of course, usage of words beyond its natural meaning, metaphors, paradoxes, etc make up a particualr work more enjoyable. But those are not the backbone.

I generally don't prefer to read anything where I must refer to the thesaurus or dictionary very often. I dont read literature specifically to build my vocabulary, it is done in school. Anyone would welcome to learn new literary paradigm; knowledge is always welcome, but if it's all complicated and classy literature, the whole joy assosiated with the work is lost.

I have had the opportunity to read some celebrated literary work both in English and Hindi, and in both the worlds I found my point right. To exemplify my point, let's take Shakespeare's work. I personally feel his style of writing is obsolete and wouldn't be prefered much these days. And that's precisely why his work is taught in Schools and colleges as a classical language. How many readers would an author get for his work which has nothing but Queen's english?

Similarly how many of the Hindi readers care to read about Maithili Sharan Gupt's work(For information: he is refered to as Hindi samrat)? Why is it so that even those who never followed Hindi literature know about Premchand or Ramdhari Singh Dinkar? Or why is Rabindranath so popular?

The main reason apart from other factors is that they preferred simplistic usage of words, what a comman man can understand.

Second factor, which plays an important role is, how authentic and reliable is the author's research for his work. If an author is well researched and well informed about his topic, its sure that the ideas that he wants to convey would definitely get across the readers.

More than that, I feel the literature which obligates a reader to get hooked to it has a total understanding of the preferences of its targeted audiance. It's a universal fact that there is no guideline which acts as a superset to cover all the subsets of audiance with exclusive preferences, But still, if the work engrosses the reader, makes him see a part of his own personality in the characters, then it is a great work, whether the literature used is classical or normal dont matter much.

Then come a particular group of work which are not targetted for a specific audiance. The best example which I can think off is "A Brief History Of Time". These kinds of work are such that they create their own readers. These are so well written, use so simple vocabulary yet convey so great information in an entertaining manner. The reason why they are bestsellers is because they keep matters simple.

I had once tried reading a book named "I am OK You are OK", and to me it sucked. not that it lacked content or the author couldn't get across his ideas. But because it was so damn complicated, plus the organization was extremely dull.

You must know what sells your ideas. And I found "Mein Kamph" authored by Hitler to be one of the most satisfying pieces of literature. Not because I believe in his ideas, but definitely because it could clarify why he believed in those ideologies. The language, again was simple, the facts were plain and proven, research was authentic nad the work was passionate. I feel, that is the best literary work read by me also because Hitler didn't have any literary background, still he managed to engulf and thrill the readers.

I feel I wrote too much, without any solid backing in literature. But as I mentioned earlier, I wrote what I feel. More points as and when they come! ;)

Maybe it's erratic and unorganised, but considering I wrote it in the flow, mistakes would be forgiven. It's my ideas that I want to get conveyed.

Hope people comment on it, so that that ass(Arjun!) gets more feedback than he is expecting!


Anonymous said...

Shakespeare was great for his time, and his language was surely apt for the times he lived in.

When you say simple words, I must point out that certain concepts require that you use uncommon (difficult?) words. For example, instead of saying voracious in your entry, you could have said frequent or greedy reader instead, but then that word expressed exactly what you wanted to convey. However it's an interesting point. Can I do an optimization over complexity to convey a certain meaning? I mean good work is one that is the least complex encoding that conveys the required meaning? Hmmm...


Keshav said...

Regarding Shakespeare's example, you got me wrong. I clearly mentioned that his languagae is obsolete for present day readers, not that his work wasn't popular for his time. It is no doubt one of the best literary works done, but cannot be prefered for the present day readers. It's because of its class and excellence that we read it in our course work.

Again, regarding usage of difficult words, as I said there is no superset do define excellence, but in general the most popular works of their times have been those which used the language of the masses (at that point of time or that popular at that particular geographical location).
But the bottom line still remains the same...if the work engrosses the reader, makes him see a part of his own personality in the characters, then it is a great work, whether the literature used is classical or normal dont matter much.

Anonymous said...

Your point is perfect. But then it's next to impossible to model, isn't it?

Current research on identification of the author based on the work (in a sense the same as recognizing style) is based on pure statistics, e.g. length of sentences (which Kannu did mention in his mail), no. of bigrams and trigrams etc.

How can I get a model that rises above pure statistics? What parameters can I use?

P.S: There's a prof. in IIIT-H who's done his PhD on modeling a reader's emotions as he reads pieces of work! Amazing na!


Keshav said...

I know it's difficult..almost impossible to model it that way.

But then, we can think of more parameters to analyze a style. Apart from length of sentences; narration style, 1st, 2nd or 3rd person, active or passive narration can also be used. Then obviously n-grams come in.

We can even research on how much do special punctuations like exclamation marks, commas, semicolons and other things reflect an author's style.