Literary analysis, and literature in general, is prone to a lot of cliquish cross-subject sniping and condescension. Bardolatry and the Authorship Question, the validity/dignity of [romance novels/YA lit/ebooks/whatever], One True Wayism with regard to critical lenses, self-publication and vanity presses, it can get vicious.

Similarly, the Stack Exchange doesn't put stock in appeals to authority as a substitute for demonstrating expertise through explanation and example--but sometimes folks throw around "I graduated college so who are you to tell me I'm not writing my question clearly" or "I played D&D for thirty years so why aren't I an expert on a totally different game?" I anticipate a lot of "I'm a lit doctorate so be quiet" to crop up on lit.se, and that's just not gonna fly.

Folks have a tendency to take what they like and equate it with who they are, making these kinds of things all the more emotionally fraught and increasing the difficulty of keeping an even keel on discussions: when my opinions are a mainstay of my identity, it can be hard to tell the difference between disrespecting me and disagreeing with me. (To borrow from RPG.SE, if I'm a powergamer and you don't like powergaming, that means you don't like me; compare if I powergame and you don't like powergaming, then you just dislike something I do.)

On RPG.SE we've had to explicitly affirm that we actively value diverse views and styles, and it still gets dicey sometimes. And that's for a subject that very few people have invested their entire professional careers in.

What will we do to defuse these minefields as much as possible beforehand, through community culture? When they do inevitably blow up sometimes, will we be ready to deal with it?

Note, this is different from "What should we do about snarky comments denigrading specific works?" -- I'm asking about more insidious cliquism where folks can feel virtuous about not being nice because they're "right" about something that's being asked about.

  • copious amounts of flags, and hopefully mods that are willing to bring down the hammer :-D
    – DForck42
    Commented Jan 18, 2017 at 22:14
  • Are you distinguishing between authority and experience? I have at least one answer where I explicitly note my personal experience (with prooflink) in the subject matter to justify my opinion's validity. Is that OK?
    – DVK
    Commented Jan 19, 2017 at 17:58
  • @DVK Appeals to authority are not a replacement for explanation and example. What you describe sounds like explanation and example, so that seems cool.
    – BESW
    Commented Jan 19, 2017 at 20:33
  • Orson Scott Card wrote an interesting take on what is "the real Literary Canon" that I think is pertinent. (The article has other topics; this one starts about halfway down.)
    – Wildcard
    Commented Feb 7, 2017 at 2:56
  • An excerpt: "Austen's books were memorable, so that people passed them from hand to hand and from generation from generation. There was no academic support for this, but her books remained in print perpetually because it was always profitable to publish them. They found readers because readers loved them and wanted other people to share the powerful and pleasurable experience of reading them. "That's how, for a time, the canon grew. A combination of joy and admiration, along with the prestige of the person who gave, lent, or recommended the book to you, gave life to the literary canon."
    – Wildcard
    Commented Feb 7, 2017 at 2:57
  • 2
    Card's anti-intellectualism is just inverted snobbery. It's pretty ironic that in a discussion of how to make this site inviting, his sneering tirade should be held up as an example of something to emulate.
    – verbose
    Commented Dec 29, 2023 at 6:49

2 Answers 2


There's a moderation policy I love, used by the Slate Star Codex, originating from Victorian poetry:

Before you speak, let your words pass through three gates:
At the first gate, ask yourself “Is it true?”
At the second gate ask, “Is it necessary?”
At the third gate ask, “Is it kind?”

Slate Star says that you should be confident in two of three. If you're not going to say something necessary, it'd better be very true and very kind. If you're not going to say something kind, it'd well better be necessary and true. But recognize that - especially when it comes to literature - you can never really know if you're being true, even if you really think you are. So always, always be necessary and kind.

Until we start to see vitriol, and until we can see patterns, the standard Stack Exchange practices apply. In the meantime, just be nice, just be true, and just be necessary. We can all make progress from there, and remember, we're all here to learn, not to attack each other or fight for promotion of ideas.

So let's handle this when it comes up, in the usual Stack Exchangeian way. We've got a be nice policy. A lot of the behaviors that you're worried about here are covered by that policy.

I'm not trying to say that you're wrong to be worried about it - it's true, this does happen, and it is harmful. Hostility, particularly when we're developing ideas that we hold dearly, is commonplace. And on top of it, people can often be very wrong about topics they have quite a bit of experience in. Everyone is fallible.

As a site, and as a community, we need to be open and accepting of ideas that are not our own. Careful thought and contemplation of differing ideas needs to be welcome. From your own question: different literary lenses can each come to wildly different conclusions, and whether you agree or disagree, contradictory ideas can each hold intrinsic value. It's important to keep this in mind, when faced with disagreement.

  • 1
    Sorry, -1. I agree with everything you said, but I'm afraid it's a bit difficult to meaningfully apply it as-is to the issues of snobbery. It can be hard to paint something that's merely snobbish as "not nice".
    – DVK
    Commented Jan 19, 2017 at 18:00

I'm dealing with this issue on a regular basis on Mythology, where questions about modern adaptations of myths receive hostile treatment.

This is a simple guide that might be instructive:

-Questions about minutae in the Hunger Games novels is a subject for Sci Fi/Fantasy.

-Questions about social critique in the Hunger Games novels (which is arguably their primary function) is definitely a subject for Lit.

My advice would be to gently redirect questions in the first category to the sub-forums that already exist to address them.

  • 4
    Those questions are also on-topic here.
    – Benjamin
    Commented Feb 4, 2017 at 1:58
  • 3
    Strongly disagree. How about minutiae in a Mark Twain novel? It's not Sci Fi or Fantasy. How about in Jane Austen's books? Or Dickens'? Broader still, how about modern literature? What about minutiae in the Jack Reacher novels? If you limit the scope of "literature" to only include the "social commentary" aspects and not the content of the stories, you are already engaged in literature snobbery.
    – Wildcard
    Commented Feb 7, 2017 at 0:55
  • 1
    But my point is, for Sci-Fi and Fantasty, such a forum already exists. No such forum exists for Twain. Ultimately, I don't care one way or another, but having the Lit forum spammed with genre questions not related to themes or the history of those genres is not without downsides.
    – DukeZhou
    Commented Feb 14, 2017 at 19:26

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