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An English professor and a Master of Fine Arts candidate share their thoughts on literary standards.
There is and must remain a standard by which good writing is measured andacknowledged. Take a moment to consider the alternative, and you'll surely come toagree with me. Without standard, anything and everything could be considered "literature."More so, it would change from person to person and place to place based solely05on the rudimentary preference of varied individuals. Without a clear idea of what ismeant by "literary," all writing is a chaotic mess of opinion and idiosyncratic interestwith genre romance being just as viable as those rare works of art that embody thehuman experience, raise significant social and political questions, and remain in thereaders' minds long after the book is finished. Without measure, the?Twilight?series sits10right next to the works of Toni Morrison.Let us think about what makes important writing. Writing, like all great forms ofart, has the power to make us see the world more clearly. It is, when done effectively,a carrier of history and truth, a script of humanity that can be felt. It is lasting, or asEzra Pound once remarked, "news that stays news." And it moves us. What I mean15is that literature plays with the big questions, searches for the big things. It pursuesbeauty, purpose, and meaning in an aesthetic way that arouses emotion. The canon isacknowledged as superior and of artistic merit not because everyone likes reading thestuff, but because it heightens our understanding of life and rattles our comfort levels.In essence, reading literature makes us better humans, and certainly, not all writing20can do that. To say that writing cannot be measured or that there is not a clear standardis absurd. While you may not like everything deemed "literary," it surely has thepower to make you think and feel and wonder. It is this exploration of universal truthsthat intensifies our understanding of humanity and stirs something deep within usthat makes literature. While you may laugh or cry or shout while reading Harry Potter,25that in itself cannot classify it as one of the greats.
I used to revel at my anxiety after turning in an assignment in my first years of myCreative Writing degree. One moment, I was quite sure that my work was genius. Andanother, I was the most dim-witted simpleton to ever put pen to paper. I had absolutelyno idea whether my fiction would come back with an "A" or an "F" stamped on30it—no clue how the professor might decide between the two. Often, I'd pull decentgrades, but moan aloud when the instructor picked out my very favorite sentence—theone that was going to mark me the next Vonnegut or Kerouac—and crossed it out inred ink. Rethink this she'd scribble underneath. It took me two years and the onset ofcarpal tunnel to realize that there is no real way to know what's good, and that what's35good is entirely subjective.To test my theory, I submitted a few poems from previous semesters (highlyfrowned upon by the university, but necessary for my experiment) in hopes of gettinga second opinion. I found that my grades varied only imperceptibly, but more interestingly,instructor feedback bordered on polarity. And so, I realized there is no true40standard of measurement for writing, not creative writing at least. Once you venturepast the "thesis statement" and "logical reasoning" and "coherent organization" of thepurely academic writing, the concession on what is good is really nonexistent.Sure, we might be able to agree that something particularly terrible is just that,and we might be able to nod our heads to a piece that is particularly brilliant and say45that, at the very least, it isn't terrible. But overall, many will adore language that othersdetest, and some will gasp appreciatively at a metaphor that makes the masses vomit.I find enchanting what you find dull, and so it goes. And Mary Wright (fall semester)will find the same image "ineffective," which Tobias Dalton (spring semester) calls"delightful and provocative." And so I say, to each their own. What is thoughtful, good,50and stirring is without impartiality, contingent not only on the reader, but the reader'smood, location, and even on what the reader has recently read. Therefore, write whatyou will and read what you wish, and if you like it, then declare with authority that it isindeed exceptional.
1. How would the author of Passage 1 most likely respond to someone who contended that the quality of literature is directly related to the intensity of the reader's emotional response?
2. Which option gives the best evidence for the answer to the previous question?
3. To what idea does the word "alternative" (line 2) most likely refer?
4. As used in line 17, the word "merit" most closely means
5. Which of the following, if true, would present the greatest challenge to the argument of Passage 2?
6. Lines 40-42 ("Once . . . nonexistent.") serve to acknowledge that the author of Passage 2 believes that
7. The author of Passage 2 would contend that she would be more likely to receive a better grade from a certain instructor if he or she
8. Which option gives the best evidence for the answer to the previous question?
9. As used in line 50, the word "contingent" most closely means
10. The authors of both passages would most likely agree with which of the following statements?
11. Which option best expresses the overall relationship between the two passages?
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