I am finishing out this month of blogging (hooray!) with a theory I've been working on for some time. Last February, thanks to John Green's The Fault in Our Stars -- which I loved intensely and immensely -- I was thinking about Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs and how it might apply to literary judgments. That is, to use the books within the book of The Fault in Our Stars (which form an important part of the narrative), what makes The Price of Dawn (an action-adventure novel based on a video game) better or worse than An Imperial Affliction (a literary novel about life, love, death, and the existence of God)? Is one better or worse? How do we decide that? And for me, in my real-world daily life: What makes one manuscript better than another on a solely literary basis? To answer these questions, I hereby present, as a hypothesis up for discussion, the Klein Pyramid of Literary Quality:
(My original sketch of the pyramid above; much more readable version created by the kind Ed DeCaria.) To take these from the bottom (lowest level) up:
1. COMPLETION. The literary work is complete. (Lots of writers never even get here -- a completed manuscript -- so truly, this counts for something.)
2. COMPETENCE. The literary work is readable and understandable by a reader who is not the author.
3. CHARISMA. The literary work is able to make you feel the emotion the writer intends you-the-reader to feel, so well as that intention can be discerned. (While the subject of intention is clearly nebulous and much debated, I feel as if it is safe to say Pride and Prejudice is intended to make a reader laugh, for example, while Pet Sematary is intended to scare us, and any romance novel is intended to make readers fall in love along with the characters.)
3. QUALITY. The literary work displays some measure of imagination, originality, and/or accomplishment in at least once of these areas: Prose, Character, Plot. Ideally, all three aspects of the Quality triangle will work together to contribute to the book's Charisma or Questioning or both.
3. QUESTIONING. The literary work intentionally asks and answers questions about our human existence. (See above for caveats on intention.)
4. CONSONANCE. The literary work successfully integrates all of the above into a meaningful and beautiful whole. Consonance books are masterpieces.
How to Use This Pyramid: To measure the literary quality of the work, you fill in all the triangles/trapezoids the particular work has achieved according to you, the reader. The darker the pyramid, the better the book is. A book must have all of the triangles/trapezoids of the previous level filled in to advance to the next level. Thus, for me, The Fault in Our Stars would be one solid dark triangle, because I think it does everything well, up to and including Consonance. But Twilight would be a dark trapezoid at the bottom (Levels 1 and 2) with just the Charisma triangle filled in above it, as it totally caught me up in the feelings of falling in love, even as I was not overly impressed by any of its Quality attributes, and I don't think Ms. Meyer especially intended to Question anything. An intensely didactic picture book might fill in Levels 1 and 2 but then have only the Questioning triangle complete, as it's asking how we should live and then answering that question, but with no emotional appeal (Charisma) at all.
Each judgment would be peculiar to its reader and the date s/he read the work, as opinions vary widely and can change over time; but that is where half the fun of literary discussion comes in, as one reader might say "Oh, this book was totally Charismatic for me!" and another would sniff, "Hmph. It barely achieved Competence!" The more widely it is agreed a book fills up the pyramid, the closer to classic status it moves in the public eye. And this pyramid has nothing to do with sales or other financial success; it is for aesthetic judgments only.
There are two more concepts that I've puzzled over whether and how to include in the pyramid: the ideas of Pleasure and Ethics. Gone with the Wind, for instance, would have earned Consonance from me when I read it in seventh grade, and it Pleased me intensely at the time, but it's also a book rife with racial stereotypes; should it then not be allowed to achieve Consonance in my judgment, because its Ethics are bad? Or Waiting for Godot is likewise Consonant for me, but I hated reading it (I've never seen it staged): Can it then not be Consonant because I didn't take Pleasure in it? (I guess there was some Pleasure in recognizing the mastery of the construction, how completely the Quality of its plot, characters, and prose contributed to the Questioning and Charisma it wanted to achieve; but none of that really made up for my desire for someone to move, dammit.) (Also, clearly, I would have to come up with synonyms for "Pleasure" and "Ethics" that start with K sounds.)
What do you think? Are there categories I've left out that should be included in any future revision to the Pyramid? Would YOU include Pleasure and/or Ethics, and how, and what would you call them? What books have you read this year that you would call Consonant and why?
I would be delighted to hear thoughts here! And thanks to anyone who's stuck around and read my posts through all of this month; I've really enjoyed the writing of them, and appreciate your attention.