What is wrong with a bad analogy?
Quoth Ben Archer,
You could make snide comparisons to see-ability in art and hear-ability in music, but I think the best analogy might be livability and architecture. Can a house be excellent if it is not also livable? If you find yourself stumbling on the stairs because they’re not big enough for your feet, or if you get wet when it rains because there are cleverly carved holes in the roof, I would say you have a legitimate complaint against the architect. The lines may be lovely, the shapes and materials put together in heretofore unimagined combinations, but a house that you can’t properly live in is an architectural failure. Livability (and workability and whatever other abilities architects design for) is the highest form of architectural excellence. Designing a building that’s not fit for use is absurd. *
From that point on, Ben Archer tumbles headlong into a soundless hole from which his argument cannot be retrieved. The analogy between Architecture and Literature is hopelessly misguided. The purpose of houses is to shelter humans in the best way possible. Everything else is secondary. The purpose of literature is intellectual stimulation (and it really is from such stimulation that all pleasure in literature derives). There is no second purpose.
A house that isn’t “livable” (if it has a stairs with uneven, unequal steps) is not a house at all but a dangerous collection of bricks and mortar that must be avoided. Books usually termed unreadable, are usually unreadable only at a certain level of literacy. If a secondary school student were to insist that Shakespeare or Chaucer is unreadable simply because he has difficulty parsing the language and content, he would be laughed out of the room. At every level of literacy there is a higher, more difficult and more rewarding level. It is these heights that we should aspire to as writers and readers, to approach literature the same way that theorists approach mathematics.
Ben Archer then adds that,
There is no better arbiter of literary excellence than time. If books disappear, if they fail to be republished, anthologized and read, you can make all the arguments you like about their putative brilliance. History has judged, and found it wanting. A good book, published in 1782 and never re-printed, is even worse than the proverbial tree in the forest. Even if it were to be unearthed by some ambitious PhD., it will not have had the influence on readers and on books written since the 18th century as those that have been in constant circulation. Unlike the tree, which would have at least decomposed and fertilized the earth it fell on.
That series of statements is rank with ignorance. Books are often lost to time and it stands to reason that many excellent books have been lost to time. Their rediscovery, when and if it occurs, is cause for celebration. Patrick Hamilton (“Twenty Thousand Streets Under The Sky”) vanished from view for a time *. His work, now rediscovered is widely considered excellent. History may judge but its judgements are never final or complete, and are constantly in flux.
Archer’s vaunted “Influence” is no measure of the value of a good book. His analogy between readability of literature, and livability of architecture is a distorting prism through which no meaningful insights can be made.
There is a simple test: “Does this writer’s capacity for language expand my capacity to think and to feel?”
~ Jeanette Winterson, Readability is no test for literature