Researched & Unresearched Artwork

Idea of a taxonomy of fiction that can be reduced to the researched and unresearched artwork, with the unresearched tending toward the autobiographical and surreal, and the researched with a tendency toward the historical and toward social commentary.

(I say this while reading Finnegans Wake and thinking how very autobiographical Joyce’s work ultimately is, or even personal, I may mean, relative to something like Madame Bovary or Against The Day. Of course, you can’t strip away biography entirely from any artwork.)

Perhaps to say it this way: a literary work consists of two parts, the story (in which I include things like setting, plot and characters) and its elaboration (it’s style and philosophy). In what I am calling the researched artwork, that story comes from a source exterior to the artist, from history or from another artist: Shakespeare’s plays, There Will Be Blood, Mason & Dixon. While in the unresearched, the source is autobiographical, and generally not as well-formed or complete for that reason (Portrait of The Artist, Kafka’s work), in the sense that one’s own story is not fixed like a story in the historical record is.

Greek drama, relying on myth, I think you’d have to put in the Researched category. Books like Tom Jones and Tristram Shandy in the Unresearched. Books that draw their themes from the headlines (Dickens? Balzac?), Researched. Satire (Gulliver’s Travels, Gargantua & Pantagruel), Researched. A ticklish one is Sentimental Education which, while apparently autobiographical in content, feels every bit as “researched” as Salammbo —would say that too is “researched.”

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