Unencyclopedic articles, part 2

This section is a perfect example for what we don’t need inside of one article on Wikipedia.

Until I switched to general linguistics, I studied Serbian language and literature, which had a course in world literature. So, I am not a completely amateur in this field. Yes, I know that this course is not the best one, but it gave to me some general methods and knowledge.

First of all, the section is original research in it’s full scale and may be a nice example in the set of answers on “what you shouldn’t write on Wikipedia”.

Here are some points which make this section almost funny and explain why such things shouldn’t exist on Wikipedia:

  • According to my knowledge (and which is proven inside of the article), real Western precursors of novels are not novels (because there were no novels), but epics and religious texts: From Gilgamesh and Bible via Homer to Vergilius. Inside of article some biographies are mentioned. According to this standard, Plato’s The Republic may also be one of the Western precursors. And so on.
  • The introduction to the main party starts in 16th century. In comparison to other Western novels, importance of More’s Utopia and Rabelais’s Gargantua and Pantagruel is significantly bigger then importance of other six other novels. And section name is “Important novels”.
  • The same relation is in 17th century between Don Quixote de la Mancha and other novels.
  • While I may recognize a number of important novels from 18th century, party begins. Maybe I’ll be too hard toward some writers, but intention of this list was not to show important novels of some particular culture, but important novels in general. Here are some examples: Clarissa is important for Anglo-Saxon culture as “a commonly cited as the longest novel in English language”, but it seems that it is added by some student who was reading this novel. Also, The Adventures of Nicholas Experience is important for Polish culture as the first Polish novel, but I am very skeptical about it’s influence in a global culture.
  • Party is fully developed in 19th century: I would like to know why the novel A Voz do Profeta is globally significant. There is no article on Wikipedia about this novel.
  • The Man with the Golden Touch is a novel written by Hungarian author Mór Jókai. Note that I live in Serbia which borders with Hungary. Influence of this novel is so big that I’ve never heard for it. Even I heard for a lot of Hungarians as well as I am generally introduced in Hungarian culture. (If you are generally introduced in, for example, Irish culture, you will know that James Joyce was Irish. The same is with Spanish culture and Cervantes; or even with Hungarian culture and Sándor Petőfi and Franz Liszt).
  • I don’t want to talk about every novel from 20th century, but according to the list, the most significant classical 20th century novelists are by nationality: USA (6), Poland (4), England (2), Germany (2), Ireland (1), France (1), Austria (1) and India (1).

The only encyclopedic list which would cover such field would be citation of one or more scholas.


See other unencyclopedic articles.

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~ by millosh on August 10, 2007.

One Response to “Unencyclopedic articles, part 2”

  1. Your example ilustrates how Wikipedia, due to how it is structured, can only fail to adequately cover certain subjects. I do not mean this as a general condemnation of Wikipedia — but as mature acknowledgement that any format — that is a set of rules — will have its strengths and weaknesses. (I apologize in advance for such a long reply.)

    Of course Wikipedia’s reliance on amateurism will tend to produce badly balanced, unencyclopedic articles like this one. Wikipedia articles tend to written by people still in school — which means that their knowledge of the subject will be incomplete. As a result, someone creating a list of novels will include little-known examples (or poor choices) like the Hungarian novel you mention, while omitting the best choices. (I had a look at the list that you saw from the article’s history — this list has since been excised — & was surprised that Goethe’s influential The Sorrows of Young Werther was not included. Just one of many works I thought should have been mentioned.)

    And we run into the problem latent in all lists: what should this list include — & exclude? Consider the problem of creating a list of all significant Twentieth-century novels? Should we include H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds because of its seminal influence on the genre of Science Fiction, yet omit a popular writer of an earlier century like Robert Louis Stevenson? And if we include Wells’ novels, we are then confronted with the issue of including other Science Fiction writers like Stanislaw Lem — who I would argue is at least as important a writer as Wells. All too often this leads to the usual Wikipedia solution of letting everyone add their own favorite examples until the list becomes too unwieldy, and someone convinces a consensus to have it deleted.

    Then the weakness of the Wikipedia rules is shown in a far more subtle — yet equally important — way. This article is on one of those topics where there are no definite answers: there is no definitive statement that defines a lengthy narrative as a novel, merely the opinions of various individuals, some of whom may not be reliable sources. In a situation like this, I think the only solution is one that uses Original Research — allow an individual attempt to explain what a novel is. A useful essay on this subject would likely succeed in providing some answers that would educate a reader, but it would also succeed in providing some clear failures in this effort, thus indirectly educating the reader about what problems still need solving — & perhaps even why.

    Even if one invoked Wikipedia’s controversial principle of ignore all rules, such an article still would not long survive on Wikipedia. Eventually enough new editors would come along, ignorant of the earlier consensus, & force a rewrite of such an unusual article to make it conform to the usual style. This brilliant gem will be covered in a silt of revisions, to be lost to casual examination. Here, a less open format like Encyclopedia Brittanica or Citzendium would be able to succeed where Wikipedia failed — at the risk of enshrining
    mistakes as truths. Look at how long Artistotle’s observation about a need for a unity of time, place, & action has crippled literary theory in Western Civilization, yet one of the greatest playwrights — William Shakespeare — often violated one or all of these points; a gem-like observation that was misunderstood as a rock-hard, inflexible rule.

    In a case like that, Wikipedia would prove stronger, since in a wiki (which is the genre Wikipedia was created in) nothing is written in stone; a Wiki is an ongoing conversation, where opinions & even the language can change, like Heraclitus’ river.

    One can’t fix all problems with a given format, but one can be aware of its strengths & weaknesses, & learn to respect them — or at least learn how to push their limits.

    Geoff

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