A while back I asked, "Does Bad Writing Exist?"
A friend recently told me quality is "goodness of fit to requirements." Writing happens to be one of those enterprises where the requirements are not necessarily apparent.
Mere conformance to the rules of grammar is a readily apparent requirement. (You can get all Chomsky on me and say the rules of grammar are mere social convention. Then the arbiters of taste--the gatekeepers--can say that they define social convention... This way lies madness.)
There are well defined formulae for story telling going back to Aristotle. Conformance to one of these formula is another readily apparent requirement.
The virtues are well known. So whether a narrative upholds humanistic values or not is a readily apparent requirement.
The Davinci Code that gets a huge publicity campaign is complaining about the choice to push it.
Some books stink so bad that an infinite amount of push won't make them sell. And other books are so good that merely making the public aware of them suffices to make them sell like hotcakes. There's something that inheres within a work that engages with push that helps or hurts sales. I think that something is beauty.
What is the ontological status of beauty? Is it a mere social convention or is it a thing that exists in a thing-in-itself aside from any observer to behold it?
I am claiming something controversial: Beauty inheres within the thing itself. Not the eye of the beholder or social conventions. Beauty exists in good writing.
Social conventions are bound by pragmatic considerations to the criteria of beauty. The buying public recognizes beauty and chooses to buy accordingly. Those who sell books push their titles without much thought of beauty and thus the publishing business suffers from slack sales.
Disagreements about Objective quality stems from the fact that reality does not come labeled with this thing here as good and that thing there as crud. We subjectively estimate beauty in the thing before we think about it and before we talk about it. This creates the appearance that all quality is Subjective. Yet some books don't sell despite infinite push.
This is why Human Wave SF is such a big deal. Human Wave SF posits in old-fashioned Humanism a set of requirements. I’m eager to take the rules of English Grammar and Spelling, combine
them with the values of Human Wave SF, and declare this combination to
be the Requirements of Writing.
Then I’ll use this to define Quality. A couple days ago I asked Sarah Hoyt
(with tongue in cheek) where I could find a certifying authority to
gauge whether Finding Time was Human Wave or not.
A test for conformance to the Requirements of Writing could be largely objective. Therefore, I claim that Good Writing does indeed exist, and it is recognized as such when it conforms to beauty in the world.
It's my hope that my writing will rise to the level of being good. I've certainly made every effort to do so.