Friday, June 15, 2007

Cult Fiction

We've all heard of "cult fiction", but exactly how would you define it?

Jane Sullivan in the Age takes a look at the new Rough Guide to the topic edited by Michaela Bushell, Helen Rodiss and Paul Simpson and also Cult Fiction: A Reader's Guide by Andrew Calcutt and Richard Shephard. (Both of which I now want to buy!)

and her own definition works fine for me:
Whatever it is, cult fiction makes the heart beat faster. You discover it by accident, or word of mouth. You love this work, you're excited and disturbed by it, it speaks to you in a way nothing else does, and you're convinced you're the only person who gets it. ... Gradually you discover there are other like-minded nuts out there, and the cult is born. At some point, it may become so huge that it ceases to be a cult (think of Kerouac or Tolkien), but the thrill of belonging to an exclusive club is still there.
She mentions the cult novels and authors of her youth, which were the cult novels of my (quite long ago) youth too: Hermann Hesse, J. G. Ballard, John Fowles and Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

Ahh ... but that was the 1970's, all idealism, belief in transcendence and looking for the meaning of life ...

So which books would you consider "cult" ... and do you think that the term is still valid in the same way? (Do the younger generations get their subversive kicks this way anyway?)

Here are a few titles tagged "cult fiction" by readers on LibraryThing to get you started.


Chet said...

Coming from the LibraryThing tag ...

Heinlein - oh yes, definitely cult fiction.

Salinger's Catcher in the Rye - yes, too.

Jack Kerouac's On The Road - yes, three.

And by extension, all the Beat poets, especially Allen Ginsberg. I'm sure his Howl made many a heart race in its time. Probably now, too.

But those are quite old titles (some of them receiving new attention due to events - still thinking of the Salinger copy found at the time Lennon was shot). I wouldn't know about new cult fiction, altho Banana Yoshimoto's Kitchen came to mind.

bibliobibuli said...

even "kitchen" is old now, chet, first published 20 years ago!

i'm stumped too to come up with more recent ones. but then maybe its' because we're older.

maybe some of the graphic fiction?

Chet said...

Kitchen is 20 years old?? I loved it the first time I read it, altho I haven't reread it since. Some books don't hold up to rereading.

Yukio Mishima's books, too - old and cult!

Is Paul Auster cult?

Completely OT - my copy of Kitchen was borrowed from the library sponsored by my (soon-to-be ex) employers. It was quite a good collection, but has since closed due to space problems. At the time when it flourished, the CEO would buy new fiction during his overseas trips. He was responsible for the entire Toni Morrison collection which he bought soon after she won the Nobel Literature Prize in 1993. It earned him the Mr Cool title in my books, altho he is also Mr Cool in many other aspects.

Anonymous said...

Rineke Dijkstra!


Chet said...

Definition from Wikipedia:

Cult fiction is a term used to denote literature that has attracted a cult following.

Literature that tends to attract a cult following include banned books, transgressive fiction, controversial books, erotic literature and genre fiction.

There are three main categories of cult fiction.

1) Books that attract a cult following after being published in a different medium - e.g. TV; Film. Examples include Red Dwarf and Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy.
2) Books that expand or 'spin-off' from another another medium. Examples include the Star Wars novels.
3) Books that attract a cult following in their own right. These appear to arise less frequently than cult followings in other media. Examples include The Chronicles of Narnia.

Kenny Mah said...

Hey Chet, I got Toni Morrison's entire collection (at that point) right after she won the Nobel Prize too. Or maybe it was a couple years after? Not really sure, but they were her first six books, up to Jazz.

I think I found a later novel, Paradise, when I was backpacking in Melbourne. I'm only missing Love now.

Have you read any of her children's books though?

nel said...

I guess somebody beat me to wiki research ... Dr. Who, Matrix, Hellboy, Spawn, Star Wars, Star Trek, Vampirella, Judge Dread, Pulp Fiction, Blade Runner, Alien and the list can go on.

Some writers with cult following are Steven King, Authur C. Clark or Philip K. Dick.

I was first attracted to Philip K. Dick from the film Blade Runner (Cult Classic). It is true, at that time the idea was way ahead of its time, and I thought I was alone or being odd to love it. OK, I am odd ... lol ... The film is an adaptation from the book title "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?". A newspaper survey of top scientists has chosen "Blade Runner" as the world's best science fiction film as well.

Much of Philip K. Dick works has been made into films like Total Recall, The Minority Report, Screamers, Paycheck, and the latest one was Next, an adaptation from the short story "The Golden Man".

... hope I am on the right track on this posting ... lol ... cheers for the day ... :)

Amir said...

Who was it who said "A cult is a group of people not large enough to constitute a minority"?

Cult is like 'arthouse' surely; a polite way of saying 'flop' -- but with smellier fans.

Chet said...

Kenny - no, I haven't, as I'm not much of a children's book reader. In fact, I didn't even know she wrote children's books. But after googling for the info, I see she's quite a new children's book author, which may be the reason why I didn't know (so horribly behind in the new stuff). But now that I know, I'll be looking at getting them soon.

I, too, have the entire Toni Morrison adult collection to date, no hardbacks, tho (not like what the CEO bought for the library), and at least one secondhand, and another replaced (original copy eaten by termites ... argh) - as well as one of her non-fiction works, Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination.

Janet said...

Love cult fiction but no clear definition of it I think. Too many books can be clasified as cult fiction, and what happens when successful cult fiction then become popular? Or even used as school texts? Do they then cease to be cult fiction?

Salinger, Plath (The Bell Jar), Kerouac, Camus high up on my list. Palahniuk as well, I think, and Murakami. To a certain extent maybe even Jeanette Winterson. And yes, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy!

Anonymous said...

Just bought May 13 at Times, KLCC. Loads of copies there. No need to leave your name or anything.

animah said...

The Anonymous above is Animah

Anonymous said...

People are excited and disturbed by what I write almost all the time. Does that quality me as a cult fiction writer ? except I don't write fiction, so I must be a cult fact writer maybe :)

nel said...

Here is the thing again ...

"Pop" or "Cult" Fiction?

I think ...

Cult Fiction is a group of devotees that believe or obsess in a fictional idelogy as a reality, group saiz does not matter here, but it can grow too large, commercial or household name, which then loose it's cult identity to popularity - Pop Fiction?

... hummm ... this interesting topic does set me questioning ... :)

Greenbottle said...

george bataille , bukowski and michel Houellebecq have a lot of smelly followers , so they must be cult figures.

Madcap Machinist said...

David Foster Wallace has 'cult' stamped all over him :-)

bibliobibuli said...

chet - auster is too popular to be cult perhaps.

same with stephen king i think.

and yes, when a writer become popular they cease to be "cult" by definition ... but exactly how popular does on have to be to stop being considered "cult"??

amir - a polite way of saying 'flop' -- but with smellier fans.*LOL* v. nice!

philip k. dick - still cult now?? (died in 1982)

anon - a cult writer doesn't have to write fiction ... mind you, someone needs to have read your work so not sure if you qualify!

greenbottle, machinist - those are names that probably could be added to the list ...

nel said...

To my understanding ...

It is the believe that make a cult. Never was about the popularity or interest. Cult fiction usually have enough followers to be turn into commercial purpose. After that, it might start to loose the cult followers.

Star Wars use to have cult followers but later became fans followers, that is when it became too commercial for its own good.

That is one good reason that I think George Lucas decided not to continue Star Wars in the movie, but instead making it into a television series to fullfill only the cult followers - enough but not to over commercialize the whole idelogy. Star Trek start the other way round.

It is really something to fuel the fire and let it burn passionately, but not to burn it out. Fans are different, they would kill it with their change of taste these days at any time for popularity. It just like a Movie Star or an Actor.

I think I am "yapping" a bit too much here and making a fool of myself, but it is a good topic that got me questioning as well ... lol ... sorry ... :)

nel said...

Oh yeah, sorry for this additional reply ...

philip k. dick - still cult now?? (died in 1982)

=> All the more I should study, collect and believe in his work ... heh, heh, ... ;)

bibliobibuli said...

nel - feel free to yap away (not yapping = actively participating!) it makes me very happy when other folks pick up a topic or question and run with it.