There is a short story conference in Lisbon next year called Views from the Edge. Its topic (because conferences must have topics to justify everyone going to places like Lisbon) is about standing, metaphorically and otherwise, on the edge of culture and space and literature.
Last night I was thinking about what it meant to be a World Class Writer. It's a ridiculous thought and an even more ridiculous label, really, but one I've seen used a lot. It is meant to signal authors at the top of the economic and public reading supported food chain, and those who have historically changed the way literature has been seen, though these two kinds of authors need not go together. Kafka died having done very little. If not for his friend ignoring his wish to have his work burned afterward, we would never have had it. But outside that, whenever I see the term World Class Writer used, I can never get anyone to give me a proper definition of it, which is exactly right. After a certain point, that kind of title becomes subjective, it's definition settled as if it were sitting on a scale and the individual were weighing gold against the literary skills of the writer, a category which keeps spilling out of the dish and getting replaced with different weights to balance the gold. You can play that game if you want, but unless you're ready to get your hands bloody, you'll never be right.
I value authors who place their work to be in a conversation with the culture around them. That does mean that there is a certain didactic quality, but there are many different ways for that to emerge, and I'm certainly not saying that you need to preach or that good literature is propaganda. Diversity in voice and intention is the result of a world with different ideals and cultures and educations. As an author, the work of mine I value most is that which is in conversation with the culture I am part of. Like it, dislike it, I'm not fussed. It's the conversation that is important. To simply take my mind off the realities of my day, to divert me for a couple of days or hours, to state from the outset that you simply and unabashedly want to entertain me with no other desire so that I can forget myself, for just a moment, in the lies you've organised... I don't value that.
If a work has no conversation, it's providing a fantasy much in the same way that pornography does.
Just with less fucking.