Monday, March 27, 2006

TRUTH, POLITICS, SWORD FIGHTS, AND BAKKER

Evil Monkey:
Wake up! Wake up!

Jeff:
What is it?!

Evil Monkey:
Look at this! Look at it. You ran out of questions, you dumb motherfucker!

Jeff:
I what? I what? Where? What the hell are you talking about? It's only 7am, you sick bastard.

Evil Monkey:
You. Ran. Out. Of. Questions. Ha! He nailed you.

Jeff:
Gimmee that!

Evil Monkey:
Read it and weep! He's got you dead to rights. You're a horse pulling up lame in the final stretch. He tore up his ticket in disgust. He was betting on you.

Jeff:
I'm a what? You're a jerk, that much I know…Oh—the Bakker thing in EC. Finally. I've been hearing about this for a month? Where's my breakfast in bed, stupid monkey?

Evil Monkey:
This IS your breakfast in bed. It's called humble pie. Finally, somebody nails ya!

Jeff:
Do you agree with him?

Evil Monkey:
No, but that's not the point. Somebody had to take ya down a peg. In resounding fashion!

Jeff:
You're…strange…

Evil Monkey:
You're ugly.

Jeff:
You're evil.

Evil Monkey:
Just had my sixth cup of coffee this morning…

Jeff:
No kidding. Okay, let me sit down and read this thing and wrap my brain around it.

Evil Monkey:
I don't know if I have that much time…

Jeff:
What else do you have to do today?

Evil Monkey:
I gotta sword fight at ten, a lunch with Dame Krutchen at noon, and my afternoon is all tai chi, fang sway, and doin' some laundry.

Jeff:
You don't wear clothes. So just park your carcass for a sec…

[Ten minutes later.]

Jeff:
Man, it's still too early in the morning for this. Way too early.

Evil Monkey:
Hurry it up—I got a sword fight in an hour and I need to stretch first.

Jeff:
Okay, okay. So…he's unhappy with this paragraph from my original article:

Now, after stating all of this, you may realize I haven’t yet answered the question I posed before: Is it important for fantasy, or fiction generally, to be relevant in this way? The answer is a resounding No, it isn’t. The instinctual idea I had as a teen and young adult about Art for Art’s sake, the idea that character and situation are paramount, that some truths transcend politics — that’s all valid.


Even though I follow it up with this one:

But, for me, not because of 9-11 but because of everything since then — the hypocrisy, greed, and evil of government leaders, institutions, and private individuals — I cannot not react in a different way than before. These issues permeate our world, and if you do not internalize that, if it doesn’t affect your writing, then it lies like an unhealing wound in your heart, and you go a little bit crazy.


Evil Monkey:
Basically. Yeah. Man, if I'd known I'd be having a conversation with you this morning, I would have sharpened the sword last night.

Jeff:
What's he defining as politics, then?

Evil Monkey:
Everything!

Jeff:
But…then the word is meaningless. You might as well just substitute "the human world" for "politics". I broadened the term enough as it was in my article.

Evil Monkey:
But you contradicted yourself! You spent all this time on politics in fantasy and then you stepped back and said art for art's sake ruled!

Jeff:
Not true. Maybe I should have revised the article to just say "Not necessarily" instead of "No, it isn't." But basically, the intent was to say politics is more important than people think and that "politics" is a broader thing than people tend to think. But that the whole art-for-art's-sake approach is valid, too.

Evil Monkey:
Paramount! And Bakker says this:

The choice is yours: either your writing is unconsciously political through and through, or your writing is consciously political as well. Pick your poison. But if every aspect of our lives is political in some way, and "truths" are one of those aspects, doesn’t that mean, contrary to VanderMeer’s resounding assertion, that no truths transcend politics? Isn’t VanderMeer trying to eat his cake and have it too? Sure he is. The important question to ask is why.


Jeff:
Hell, yeah. You know what? Writers get to do that—eat cake and have it too. And explode down the stretch. And disappoint ticket holders. Especially we get to be the object of clichéd metaphors.

Evil Monkey:
You're avoiding the subject. Why are you trying to take this delicious cake and also eat it?

Jeff:
I hate you. Well, what it boils down to is, I have this odd way of being able to hold two seemingly opposing views in my head at the same time without my brain exploding. How about you?

Evil Monkey:
I can hold up to five mutually opposing ideas in my head for about twenty minutes before my head explodes. But I have many heads!

Jeff:
No, but seriously. What I'm saying is: A writer doesn't have an obligation to hold to a particular philosophy on this level. I mean, each writer has themes or issues they deal with in their writing, but a writer can believe in the political and art for art's sake and it's no biggee.

Evil Monkey:
You gotta choose.

Jeff:
No.

Evil Monkey:
You should have been more radical in your article. Mieville would have pounded it down everybody's throats. And sounded hot doing it.

Jeff:
I'm not that writer. I'm not certain about anything.

Evil Monkey:
You're a waffler.

Jeff:
Am not. Maybe I just sound like one when you try to pin me down on an opinion, because I can't really hold true to one way for very long.

Evil Monkey:
Wanna sword fight?

Jeff:
No! I want to sleep, actually.

Evil Monkey:
You wanna know another thing?

Jeff:
What?

Evil Monkey:
That Bakker dude…He said this, too:

When you teach something like Popular Culture, as I did not so very long ago, the first thing you need to overcome is the common intuition that most commercial cultural products are examples of a magical thing called "Entertainment Pure and Simple" — what is essentially the mass market version of "Art for Art’s Sake."


Jeff:
Interesting way to look at it. I don't see how it's relevant to the rebuttal. I didn't say entertainment pure and simple was the opposite of art for art's sake. A writer may operate from the art for art's sake point of view and produce perfect entertainment. And entertainment and "literature" are irrevocably intertwined and occur in both high and low culture. Evil, did I once invoke "literary" versus "commercial" or "entertainment" versus "literature" in my essay?

Evil Monkey:
I don't believe you did, actually. Sword fight soon!

Jeff:
So he's making me out to be a literary snob?

Evil Monkey:
Oh, this conversation is boring me now, but—no, not necessarily. I think it's more benign than that and I think he shot his wad in the first part of the essay. Everything else is just kinda "okay—sure, whatever."

Jeff:
Sometimes I feel like we're all mired in terminology we don't really mean or that always means something different to each one of us.

Evil Monkey:
It's the Mad Hatter's Sword Fighting Party!

Jeff:
Hmm. This part intrigues me:

Well, if you think anything is simple, you’re the victim of an out and out illusion. If you disagree with me, a good way to test your intuition is to go to a local university and enroll in as many courses as you can. Or simply go the library, or do a web search. Everything is more complicated than it seems, trust me. The only thing that makes anything seem "simple" is the limitations of our particular perspective. We literally can’t see what lies outside our point of view, and we all share the bad habit of assuming that what we can’t see either doesn’t exist or doesn’t matter.


Evil Monkey:
Doesn't intrigue me. What's your point? I've only got another five minutes for this shit.

Jeff:
Well, this bit in particular: "We literally can’t see what lies outside our point of view, and we all share the bad habit of assuming that what we can’t see either doesn’t exist or doesn’t matter." In terms of fiction, what we can't see because it's not in there isn't the reader's fault. Like, I don't give a shit if the writer did all the research in the world if what's on the page doesn't work. But it also sounds as if he's just making the case for a lack of a consensus reality, which would render the whole discussion moot since there're then a million parallel universes in which his article and mine are interpreted in a million minutely different ways.

Evil Monkey:
That's way too deep for me.

Jeff:
I kinda feel like he just appended some crap on to what was initially a rebuttal of my original article. Cause he's ending up in a space that I neither agree nor disagree with, really. It just kinda exists. Like, "Yeah, that's kinda true. I could buy that."

Evil Monkey:
But you wouldn't walk a mile through a shit storm to buy it?

Jeff:
…Er, there's very little I would walk a mile through a shit storm to buy, frankly.

Evil Monkey:
A first edition Nabokov?

Jeff:
Maybe you should go sword fight now.

Evil Monkey:
Oh, but I have questions, like Bakker has questions:

The point, of course, is that meaning is powerfully conditioned by context. Ask yourself, what will your so-called "obvious truths" mean to your descendants in 1,000 years? How about 10,000? Like it or not, everything we say or write is pitched against a potentially infinite horizon of contexts, the vast majority of which don’t seem to exist. This is why the greatest geniuses of 10,000 years ago couldn’t even imagine the bulk of what we now take for granted. And this is why questions are so much more powerful than answers, why they can muddy things that otherwise seem "pure and simple" in the span of a few short seconds. Questions force us to take a step sideways, to reconsider our perspective. Questions make our ignorance visible, which is to say, they reference contexts — perspectives — that didn’t seem to exist simply because we couldn’t see them.


Jeff:
Yes, I began to see the massive hammer he was planning on using to squash my head when I reached that paragraph. But then why does he want to reduce it to a simple either/or earlier? I don't get it.

Evil Monkey:
Maybe he ran out of questions?

Jeff:
No! I ran out of questions! Read his damn article.

Evil Monkey:
So why did you pull your horse up short of the finish line?

Jeff:
I wanted Mr. Bakker to have something to write about.

Evil Monkey:
No, seriously.

Jeff:
I'll tell you why. Because, as Mr. Bakker says:

If this strikes you as outlandish or impossible, you’re literally stuck in your perspective — you’re just not asking the right questions. And if asking such questions seems to make an uncertain mess of things, it’s because that’s how things are, an uncertain mess, no matter how much our innate tendencies to over-commit and to over-simplify dupe us into thinking otherwise. Culture is soupy, and the delicious bits of fantasy floating around in it soak up the political broth just like everything else. It’s when people think their views, their truths, magically rise above the soup — that things are racially, politically, economically, or theologically simple — that the problems typically begin.


Because if you begin to believe too much in one thing as a writer, instead of a truth. If you believe in an absolute—in politics or anything else—then you're dead. You have to keep moving. You have to keep testing and questioning. Why was I reluctant to say politics, as I defined it—much more narrowly than Bakker, although not by much—trumped everything else at the end of my article? Because just using the word "politics," just by using words, we already begin to make judgments and assign values to things. Yes, that's what words are for, but writers need to be as fluid as possible. At the same time, I was expressing my deep need to write about the overtly political in a non-didactic way.

Evil Monkey:
Stop making nonsense!

Jeff:
Okay, I'm babbling. But this whole thing is ridiculous. It's pointless. Bakker and I are not in disagreement, except you'll note that he says politics is all encompassing and then he will say something like "racially, politically, economically, or theologically," which means the word "politics" can't take as much weight as he thinks it can, or he just got sloppy.

Evil Monkey:
I'm going to relish the sword fight after this discussion.

Jeff:
I know. It's exhausting me, too. And somehow I think Nick Mamatas is going to come along and say something cogent that makes both Bakker and me look like idiots.

Evil Monkey:
Okay, one last thing. So he nails you to the wall at the end:

So why did VanderMeer pull his horse up short so close to the finish line? Why does a part of him remain stuck in his teenage perspective believing that some truths do transcend politics, that something, anything, can be for its own sake?
He ran out of questions.

Jeff:
Yeah, well, that makes me think that my original terminology is possibly flawed. Can't you write about politics and still be making art for art's sake? I'm beginning to think all writing about writing is bullshit at heart.

Evil Monkey:
Monkey shit.

Jeff:
Yeah, that too. So—who are you sword fighting?

Evil Monkey:
Michael Crichton and Anne Rice. To the death. And then after that, if I survive, I will have a chocolate milk shake with Ape Gone Wild.

Jeff:
Sounds like fun.

Evil Monkey:
What're you going to do?

Jeff:
Go back to bed and then go out and pick up some Bakker. I think he's as fucked up as me when it comes to writing these political articles, so we should have a lot in common.



Exercise:
14-mile hike Sunday
3 sets chest, shoulders, triceps weightlifting Monday
3 mile walk Monday

60 Comments:

At 9:17 AM, Blogger Cheryl said...

So what happened in the sword fight? The world is waiting for news.

 
At 9:45 AM, Anonymous Eric S said...

All art can be discussed in relationship to the politics of its times.

But...

that doesn't mean that a political situation was the primary impetus for that particular piece of art or even that the political situation is the best avenue to understand that particular piece of art. One person's painting of a rose may be a desire to have something of beauty around during a period of totalitarian rule, another may see roses as sexual, another as a pretty flower (i.e. a rose is not a rose is not a rose, just as much as it is a rose). Or all of the above. Or none of the above.

Often the reader's interpretation of what's in a novel is going to depend on what the author said about his/her impetus to write it (assuming the reader finds this out), so you come out of this with your works falling squarely in the political and art-for-arts sake camps (a potentially large readership), or in so many words: smelling like a rose.

 
At 9:55 AM, Blogger Jesper Svedberg said...

Bakker seems to be most upset about you using the term "Art for art's sake" and seems to be saying that there is no such thing because all our concepts are products of our surroundings.
I don't think this is true; I think it's possible to assign value to a work of art on grounds that are not merely defined by arbitrary whims of society. One obvious example is craft: it is IMO possible to judge a work of art based on the skills the artist exhibits. I mean, would the Mona Lisa be considered beautiful if da Vinci didn't good motorical skills and a fine sense of composition?
I do read literature for literature's sake. I enjoy the seeing a writer exhibit great literary skill and I enjoy seing a writer expand his medium. Am I completely free from the influences of society when make the judgements of what's good and what's not? Of course not, but I'm not it's complete slave either.

 
At 4:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There was one word that sprung out of Bakker's rebuttal that you'll pick up on if you read any of his books Jeff, or some of the discussion on his sub-forum over at sffworld.com - "certainty". It's Scott's pet subject, and when you started to wonder where his argument was going was, I think, when he started to bring this into it.

Anyway, he writes an interesting brand of epic fantasy - make sure you let us know what you think if you have a read. He's a very intelligent guy and treats his readers that way as well.

Ben from the Gong.

 
At 6:34 PM, Anonymous Scott Bakker said...

Just got back, and had no less than three emails linking your response. I thought you might like to spank me in person, instead of your, er... monkey. ;)

I suspected that this was the kind of debate that would last all of five minutes, were we to have it over a pitcher of beer instead of online. As I think you realize, my response was as much aimed at your article's readers as your article itself - and I imagine is more than a little specious for that very reason. But far too many people, it seems to me, believe in a tidy little world where their unconsciousness of political subtexts simply equals the absence of those subtexts. You seemed to concede them that trap door.

Given that we've become the largest extinction event to hit the world in some 65 million years, I'm not sure we have the luxury of those kinds assumptions anymore. Nothing transcends the mire, least of all, so-called 'truths.' All communication is social, and everything social has a very real political dimension, independent of our ability or willingness to see it. (And this is simply one way of putting it).

Your other complaints, I'm simply not sure I understand. I don't know what a 'consensus reality' is, though I doubt we humans are capable of ever reaching any timeless consensus about reality. I'm definitely not espousing any variety of relativism! Yikes!

As for the suggestion that I'm putting too much weight on the word, 'political,' I think I need to hear more... I'm not sure how using the word differently in different contexts warrants this conclusion.

Otherwise, ain't the internet grand? This really is too cool for school. I do plan on reading your stuff very soon!

 
At 7:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Scott:

I think my main point is that we're not really arguing much at all. I guess I was mostly disappointed, although this didn't come out in the EM dialogue, that you would ignore just about the entire essay and focus exclusively on that one bit. Your essay is also extremely unbalanced because you have in fact created a straw man by focusing on one little bit of my essay and then rambling on after your deconstruction of that little bit--and I mean rambling in a good way. What you go on about later is all good stuff. It's just not really a response to my essay. It's you stating your view of the world. Nothing wrong with that.

But the main thing is--you and I clearly use different vocabulary and different ways of expressing ideas that are very similar. Again, nothing wrong with that, but it will probably continue to create disagreements that are really not disagreements.

I think the problem also might be that I was very much communicating as a writer talking, most of the time, about how a writer achieves certain effects and why that's important for a work of fiction. And those are the best parts of my essay. The less good parts are the generalizations. Your essay is really, as you say, for general readers. And therein another confusion comes in.

Because writers need to have trapdoors. And for a writer, consensus reality is another way of writing to cliche, in my opinion.

But I'm not coming from a scientific background or an academic background. I'm a writer, and I react to things from a writer's perspective.

Anyway, it's late so this is again rambling into incoherence.

JeffV

 
At 8:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Holy mother of God. You both sound like nattering nabbobs! I've still got my sword, and two heads dangling from my belt. Beware.

Evil Monkey

 
At 9:08 PM, Blogger marrije said...

You killed Crichton and Rice, Evil Monkey? Excellent!

 
At 6:36 AM, Blogger gabe said...

This is just... beautiful.

So incredibly close to nonsensical, but beautiful nonetheless.

God, I love genre!

 
At 8:54 AM, Anonymous Scott Bakker said...

Your essay is also extremely unbalanced because you have in fact created a straw man by focusing on one little bit of my essay and then rambling on after your deconstruction of that little bit...

This strikes me as opportunistic. I started my response by saying that I agreed with pretty much everything you say right up to the finish line. Ergo, that was where I launched my argument. All the 'rambling' was simply a way to make my argument clear to readers who assume that things are as neat and tidy as our perspectival limitations make them seem. How does this translate into 'extremely unbalanced'? The point is to focus on the points of contention, is it not?

Unless you show where I interpret you uncharitably, you have no strawman. (And as an aside, there was certainly no deconstruction involved - Ptui! (Sorry, I'm a recovering Branch Derridean)).

Now I'm no longer certain where you stand, Jeff. You seem to be using the category 'writer' as a means to avoid any argumentative commitments. Do you or do you not think that art and truth are capable of transcending politics? I certainly don't.

 
At 10:20 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At 10:28 AM, Blogger JeffV said...

I've got a choice here--we can keep going around and around in circles or I can do something productive today. I'll think about this and get back to you.

One brief comment--Your definition of "politics" is so broad that of course I have to say by your definition fiction cannot transcend politics because there's nothing beyond your definition except animal and plant life. Where you get to as a writer by proclaiming everything related to being a human being political, I don't know. It doesn't seem particularly useful to me, to be honest.

And: I put in "deconstruct" just to see if the professor in you would bite. My apologies. That was kind of cheeky.

After this exchange, I actually feel as if we probably won't like each other's fiction very much. But I'll still give it a try.

JeffV

 
At 10:52 AM, Anonymous Scott Bakker said...

I'm still not sure where you stand. And I'm even less clear on how any of this could indicate anything about our fiction, aside from the fact that it's likely to be reflective. But the last thing I want to do is to offend you, Jeff. I'm really just trying to figure out whether we actually disagree!

I call anything that involves relations of power between individuals and groups 'political,' and I think it's clear that such relations permeate all social interrelationships. I also think that Art and Truth are social through and through. Are you suggesting otherwise?

 
At 11:10 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Somebody get this bulldog's teeth out of my thigh. Cause he ain't gonna release on his own.

Seriously, though--I think I already answered you. And the fact you think I didn't is what I'm talking about when I say we think and write about these things in vastly different ways. I don't have anything else to say, really, except that, *for the purposes of writing fiction* your definition of politics is way too broad and is, at least to me, unhelpful in thinking about fiction or creating fiction...and yet also helpful at the same time, depending on the story being told. I can't help you out any more than that. I agree with you and I don't agree with you...now, let go of my leg.

I'm probably hasty in my comment about liking or not liking your fiction. I was really looking forward to it before this interminable discussion...and I'm sure I will again in a few days.

And, if we ever meet, let me buy you a drink, but let us agree not to discuss this subject ever again.

JeffV

 
At 11:12 AM, Blogger Freebird said...

Interesting debate here, Jeff. I've been following this for the past couple of days and I just seem to be getting this "Tastes Great!" "No, Less Filling!" sort of vibe from you and Scott. That the two of you are pretty close in real terms of seeing the issue of 'politics' in writing (that it is not just a virtually unavoidable thing, that it can be an essential part of a writer's tale) but diverging on the theoretical terms of what constitutes 'politics.'

I think there is something to be made for the argument that everything social is politics. From how we maneuver our loved ones to cleaning the dishes to controlling the remote to getting to press the Big Red Button, it's all politics of some sort. (Didn't Tip O'Neill once claim that all politics is local?) But how the mechanics are played out, ah that is the source for a lot of our greatest stories. I just don't know if we can dismiss the social dimensions of 'politics' as being hard to use or even unuseful. I for one can appreciate the 'politics' in Iago's interactions with other characters in Othello, just to name one example out of many. It just comes down to how one wants to define the term and I suspect that's the crux of this exchange.

I just only know that there really isn't a consensus of any sort on when 'politics' ends and the Self takes over, but I suspect that there's quite a bit of excellent fiction of all stripes that struggle with that terminus ad quem and how to express where one leaves off and the other begins. That is a point that I think should be emphasized more here in this discussion - how do we (the readers/the acted upon) interact with the power situations/politics/whatever the hell you want to call it? It might just lead to more questions, but I think somewhere in all that might be some clues as to why 'politics' fascinates us and why some of the best fiction ever written reflects those 'political' (or social, if you prefer a more narrow definition) interactions that drive our lives.

This has been quite interesting. Too bad I don't drink beer, so mind if I just drink a Cuba Libre while the two of you hash this out over the metaphorical pitcher of beer?

Larry

 
At 11:39 AM, Anonymous Vera Nazarian said...

If art and truth are capable of transcending politics, as Scott claims, then I suppose we need to treat politics as the fundamental and universal basis of all things.

The Big Bang happening? Why, politics! Photosynthesis? Politics, you dimwit! Mitosis? Politics. The sun shining and oxygen being necessary to life? Politics.

The death of a old man in his sleep from natural causes? Politics.

Love? Politics.

Goodness, I had no idea that I've been writing about politics all my life.

 
At 11:42 AM, Anonymous Vera Nazarian said...

Substitute "incapable" for "capable" in the first sentence above.

Tyop.

 
At 11:51 AM, Anonymous Vera Nazarian said...

And let me add that this is the opinion of someone born and raised in the Soviet Union, where it was claimed that the basis of all things was indeed politics.

Popular "Armenian Radio" joke in Moscow in the 70's the height of the Cold War / Brezhnev era:

Q: What is the reason that gases expand when heated?
A: The Party says so.

So, yeah, my family and I left that place so that we could be free to live and think otherwise, thank you very much.

 
At 11:52 AM, Blogger Freebird said...

Vera, playing Devil's Advocate here (sorta):

Facts are merely...facts. The interpretations of facts is what makes them important to humans (or at least brings such things to our conscious) and considering how political the issue of the Big Bang is in American schools...yeah, it can be twisted to political understandings of not just what is Right and Wrong, but how it can be used to curry favor with one group (Fundamentalists) while manipulating things to achieve a goal (say election to that Pennsylvania school board before that fiasco some months ago).

It's just an ugly mess. But ugly messes can be fascinating, in that multi-car pileup sort of way.

 
At 12:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sigh. It's hard to articulate, but what's useful for a fiction writer is different from what's useful for a reader. It's not useful for a writer to think of it as politics all of the time. It might be for a certain kind of writer. But not all writers and not all the time. To think of it in those monolithic terms is to begin to define something rigidly that should remain more fluid.

I don't believe in facts in terms of fiction. I believe that the way world is right now, though, is we need new and better ways as fiction writers of assimilating the crapola going on around us and creating fiction that speaks to these things. Thus, I believe now that it is important for all writers to think more in terms of politics when they write.

But when I sit down to write, I don't think about politics primarily. Not at first. I think about the character and who she or he is in love with or what it is they want or whatever. That may be political on some level--depending on how you define politics--but *thinking of it as political* is of no use a lot of time for the fiction writer. Because the fiction writer is operating at a different level than that, and going for a myriad of effects in the text to which "politics" is so high-level as to be some invisible god up in the clouds. (If we take Bakker's wide-load definition of politics.)

Now, on the flip side, a reader or reviewer may be able to see political or social or cultural things in the text that the writer was unaware of, for example. But that's looking at it from a different angle.

I'll say it again--I see these things primarily from a fiction writer's point of view. And one particular fiction writer: me.

JeffV

 
At 12:03 PM, Anonymous Vera Nazarian said...

Freebird,

Good point. The interpretation of facts -- of anything, really -- is the key to comprehension and to communication.

However, the artist/ creator/ author can make a concsious choice to include or exclude as many or as few details that might allow or favor one interpretation to be made as opposed to another, on the basis of context.

In other words, we can make it as political or as apolitical as we like, if we are truly up to the task.

And that is the true measure of Art and Truth that rises above.

 
At 12:19 PM, Blogger Sean Wright said...

Hey, guys...is this gonna turn into a battle?

Epic Fantasy Folk vrs Surreal Folk? Brandishing swords and lasers, headless meerkats verses The Men of the Tusk?

I'd pay money to see that.

Scott, I think Jeff already said where he stood in his early posts. Why not shake hands like gentle, intelligent folk? You know it makes sense. Such a lot of words wasted on definitions of this and that. Language is fluid and pliable, right? We read through our own eyes, our own experiences, our own needs?

As a bit of PR, though, gotta hand it to you guys. There's a rumble out there in genreland.

Gabe's right, though. I love genre, too.

Right - where's that Evil Monkey, dude. He's a very naughty boy, and deserves a good spanking. He's such a stirrer. But cute as hell, right?

 
At 12:44 PM, Blogger Freebird said...

Jeff,

I can certainly see the dilemna there. Most of my adult life, I've been reviewing and trying to understand authorial intent(s) and so forth, from my grad days in cultural history to the occasional reviews I do on the web. So I've probably become a bit too attached to the notion of seeking out 'ideals' and so forth in a writer's work.

But that's not to say that the things we discover within a writer's work are 'wrong' or anything - they're just different from what the author intended. You make a good point about how the focus (foci?) of a writer is not going to be the same as that of a reader, or to be more specific, a critic. We have different goals, aims, etc. and how we interpret matters can vary wildly.

I agree that writers should be more aware of the world around and how that world influences both readers and writers alike. How this should happen is a tricky issue, I agree. It's not like one should sit down and think, "Ya know, I think I'd like to make a statement about Terri Schiavo in this passage involving Drusilla's fleeing from Prince Lotor." That's beyond gauché and risks going the path that leads to popular and critical condemnation. So I concede that point to you.

But back to the Writer/Reader issue: It is, for many, one thing to write for one's self, but another thing to have it published, as all sorts of issues come in, from reader tastes to expectations to market share and all those damn annoying things. Strange to think of all the political possibilities there in terms of persuading people to buy the books (online media, tours, readings, etc.) or even to consider what you wanted to say within the passages of that.

Hrmm...perhaps a lot of the 'politics' in fantasy come after the writer has put the period to the last sentence. Then it comes our turn to use it and abuse it as we see fit.

 
At 12:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Honestly, I don't give a damn about being published when I write. I don't think about audience, either. That's the best for me to care about audience.

JeffV

 
At 1:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Man, I can't leave Jeff alone for two seconds without him coming off sounding like some bleeding heart wimp.

I feel like I'm witnessing a discussion between a goddamn dolphin and a badger or a freakin' meerkat and an octopus.

Now people are confusing careers and the physical act of writing. And confusing the deployment of fact and the texture of language. And before you know it, we're gonna have some kind of fucking Movement sprouting up. The Bakkerites are gonna bum rush the Vanderians and suddenly there's gonna be a confusion of language like you've never fucking seen before.

Enough! I'm off to separate some more misguided heads from their bodies.

And then I'm gonna read some Bakker and see just how deserving of monkey readers he is...

Evil Monkey, Esq.

 
At 1:06 PM, Blogger Freebird said...

I understand that and agree for the most part (after all, when I write a review, I better damn well be writing for my expectations and not to please/attack the writer for others), but there are those writers who do seem to write with an audience at mind. Sometimes, brilliant work is accomplished (if the writer wants to challenge a perceived audience, usually), but more often, pure crap is written.

But the Reader can be a conceited being, expecting the Writer to write for them, to address what they want. Gah, there pops up that damnable politics monster again.

Shall we just stop on this and agree that Story is important, that Reader expectations shape a lot of things regarding to how a work is perceived, and that we could continue sinking into the mire (or 'soup,' as Scott put it) without resolving anything more than it's a complex matter in which a Story might be conceived in response to a political/social/personal/etc. situation but that how others want to read it will be how those 'others' will read it?

I think I need a stiff drink right now.

 
At 1:10 PM, Blogger Freebird said...

I dunno, EM...we could work in quoting some Derrida, some Foucault, perhaps some Borges, make it all sound so sweet and enticing...

And lose virtually all semblence of a thread of an argument that any of us ever had. I think I'll settle for being dazed and confused right now and just waiting for the buzzing to clear out my head.

 
At 1:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The thing is, Freebird, that in fiction most things are true. Competing, contradictory ideas are all true. That's one reason why these discussions become silly. I don't disagree with the bulk of what you're saying--just the application of generalizations.

Reminds of me M. John Harrison's brilliant Light. In it, humankind gets faster than light drive and goes out to the stars and finds a bunch of other species from other planets have faster than light drive, too. And they all got there some different way--through some different scientific belief system, and every single last one of those belief systems resulted in success.

I like a vigorous argument, so I might come off as, er, argumentative, but I'm not the least bit irritated about any of the posted comments, really.

I need a drink, too. But I think I'm gonna go jog 10 miles instead.

JeffV

 
At 1:21 PM, Blogger Freebird said...

Yep, I agree. I knew I was being a bit general in some of what I was saying (mostly because I didn't want to write pages and pages of stuff on what I consider to be a few people interpreting the color 'green' in their own fashions). As for fiction, I think I wrote somewhere recently that I viewed all human constructions as 'fictions,' because we can just warp and bend the facts/truths/etc. to be whatever we want it to be. Does it have to be accepted by others? Hell no. And that's the beauty of it all - we can argue at cross-purposes until the cows come home, but it doesn't change a thing. But it can be a bit fun at times arguing like this, knowing that we're not going to get upset or offended, right? And no worries about things here - I got used to have all sorts of things attacked when I was in grad school 10 years ago and I just accepted your counterpoints in the manner that you intended them.

And 10 mile jogs would be nice, but alas, I have a bad cold, so no walking for me this week it looks like. Smelling honeysuckle is much better than trying to define politics, no?

 
At 2:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Because of comments by people on other forums, I feel compelled to say the following:

"Evil Monkey's job is to be merciless, to everyone, including me. That's what his persona is. It's not meant to be personal to Bakker or anyone. That's just who Evil Monkey is. It's meant to be funny. I also did not post anything personal in my comments in response to Bakker, as far as I can tell. An argument like this one apparently looks more vitriolic from the outside than the inside, because I was really surprised to see the comments in other forums about how nasty it was getting. I didn't see it that way at all. Evil Monkey is just evil monkey, period. He busts everybody. I have nothing but respect for Bakker and have looked forward to his writing for a long time."

JeffV

 
At 2:08 PM, Blogger Alric said...

I've enjoyed this back and forth, though I've also found it just a bit frustrating. The internet is a marvelous thing, bringing us the ability to publically communicate with others. I enjoy that. However, this is the sort of conversation that goes so differently in person, over a pint or cup of something.

I've had the joy of talking with Scott a few times over email, and we often get into spiraling discussions like this. They're vastly interesting, but I wonder how they'd go in person, or by phone. Different methods of communication can produce such drastically different interactions.

Jeff, I think I've got a good measure of what you're saying, coming at this topic as a writer of fiction. I appreciate your words on the matter, as they make sense to me.

~ Jake

 
At 10:28 PM, Blogger Sean Wright said...

"That's just who Evil Monkey is. It's meant to be funny."

Jeff, Evil Monkey IS funny in that he says what some folk *might* think.

Nothing wrong with that. Everything right with it.

 
At 6:46 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jeez, Jeff. You suck. Selling me out like that.

Anyway, I went by Bakker's house last night and cut off his head, but he kept growing new ones, so after awhile we just sat around playing poker and drinking beer.

I gotta say, he's waaay cooler than you.

Evil Monkey

 
At 8:11 AM, Blogger Shevchyk said...

"Arguing with anonymous strangers on the Internet is a sucker's game
because they almost always turn out to be - or to be indistinguishable
from - self-righteous sixteen-year-olds possessing infinite amounts of free time."

 
At 8:29 AM, Anonymous Scott Bakker said...

I find that it's always a good idea to let the beer decide what we should or should not talk about - because let's face it, it's going to be calling the shots no matter what.

The same might be said about the political... ;)

I am curious to understand what you mean when you say you don't think about the audience when you write. After all writing is an act of communication, and as such, requires a reader to make sense. It's literally impossible to write without considering your audience, isn't it?

I think about my audience all the time, and for good reason. Once you get past all that romantic, expressivist crap, you realize that writing is all about manipulation, about using marks to spark feelings, thoughts, and associations in someone else's bean. This is why my favourite analogy for writing is that of painting a portrait from the wrong side of the canvas. You need to know just who you are writing too to be able to trust that those marks you're making are sparking things in ways you want them to. Whether this 'knowing' is implicit or explicit, seems to be quite beside the point.

I understand you're likely saying that you are your audience - that you write primarily for yourself. In certain sense, it's impossible not to do this - it's trivial. But you're actually using it to do quite a bit of work, both explanatory and evaluative. The implication is that, all things being equal, not writing for an audience is better than writing for an audience, the reason being that 'writing for your audience' tends to lead to something like 'pandering to your audience.' It seems to be an article of faith among many that 'pandering' is bad is bad is bad. The idea, I take it, is that it leads to trivial communication. When you pander to what readers already believe, no minds are changed. When you pander to what readers already know, little or nothing is learned.

So what makes pandering to oneself any better?

If communication is about bringing perspectives together, and if communication is profound to the extent that it brings disparate perspectives together, then isn't 'writing for oneself' simply a recipe for writing something only the likeminded can appreciate? Or in other words, producing a trivial act of communication?

For me, writing is always a highwire act between pandering and and challenging. Genre is typically written off by the literati because it 'panders too much' and 'challenges too little,' but somewhere along the line, it seems to me, the Champions of Literature have forgotten that 'challenging' is a real live honest-to-goodness event, not an inventory of tactics easily recognized as 'literary' by the likeminded. To challenge, you have to turn to genre, you have to pander - the way Homer and Shakespeare and Dickens pandered. You have to write for different people. And to do this, you need to consider your audience - and quite carefully!

If you believe, as I do, that communicative profundity is a necessary condition of something counting as 'Literature,' and if you believe communication is profound to the extent that it bridges disparate perspectives, then you could argue that there's precious little 'literary' going on it what's called the 'literary mainstream.' In fact, the kind of cultural balkanization we see happening now can be attributed to the insularity of the literary establishment - to the way they systematically degrade those generic forms where words actually reach out. They have transformed 'challenging' into yet another form 'pandering.' (I suspect we have the university system to thank for that, bent as it is on shaming us out of our 'childish' love of genre).

This is why only Harry Potter inspires book burnings anymore. This is why I think what you and I are doing is so important - and why I wish like hell you would scrub that loathsome term, 'magic realist,' from your self-description. The only way to repair this social short-circuit is to invert the terms, to make 'fantasist' a term of pride, and laugh at all the euphemisms academics cook up to maintain cultural hygiene. We need to yank the pigeonhole inside out. Fuck 'magic realism.' Long live Fantasy! Which is to say, long live those forms of writing that actually communicate...

Hmm... This turned into quite a rant. Could it have anything to do with the fact an old professor of mine recently congratulated me for my success writing "children's literature" I wonder?

 
At 8:33 AM, Blogger Barking Dog said...

Is everything humans do political? Certainly it is. I think the question should be stated, “So is that a valid reason for writing?” Unless you’re writing non-fiction analysis or have an urge to change the world, the answer should be,” No.” Will your writing be political anyway? Certainly, everything is political. But for most of us, story is paramount.

For example, just like politics, the Buddha is in everything. However, I don’t pick up a grape to experience the Buddhahood. It’s there. If I want to see it, I can parse everything down until I’m in the presence of the Buddha and the fundamental truths. By eating the grape I am eating the vine, the dirt, the seed it once was, the rain, the labor to get it to my table. But every morning millions of people in just this country wake up and drive to work all without understanding how their steering column actually works let alone how an internal combustion engine explodes gas vapor instead of liquid gas (and, yes, I mixed metaphors as a koan). That underlying knowledge isn’t necessary to fully function and a grape is good eats.

Everything is reducible. Crass mater is reducible until you reach muons, gluons and quarks, the sub atomic particles. Even those are reducible until you get down to strings of reality quietly humming to themselves in their own 12 dimensional corners. But when you hit your finger with a hammer, that doesn’t matter, does it? Even the fact that both the hammer and your finger are mostly empty space doesn’t matter.

Same thing with fiction writing. If you’re writing with the door open (as Steven King would say) and keep politics, physics, and all that other stuff pouring in, well, I guess I know where writer’s block comes from. All that should be rewrite. I personally still enjoy that moment after I’ve written a story and start editing it when the light goes on and I think, “Damn, *that’s* what I was writing about!” It blisses me out. And that’s the point where I start turning the screws and gauging the heat.

If you start out that way in an “I’m going to write a story about (insert agenda item here)” I think the writer looses something. I’m not saying that what you produce won’t be excellent. It should be, ain’t that the goal? Libraries of books and spools of pulp have been produced this way, but I don’t think most writers start that way. Orwell’s 1984 is a great book, but if you didn’t give a damn about Winston, the book wouldn’t work and you care about him because of the story.

I guess that’s a long winded way of saying that if I worried about politics in my writing, let it consciously in the door while I’m grinding out words, then I would be writing non-fiction. I care about the story. There’s the trap door and Alice’s rabbit.

There’s a problem with continually asking questions. One, it’s a sure way to never get anything done, because unlike onions there’s always another layer and more questions. Questions parse, dividing reality into subgroups. More questions continue to parse the subgroup you choose, until you get down to base level. In that exercise, however, I’ll guarantee you left out half of what you should be considering because of the questioning process. See “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” for more about that.

 
At 10:53 AM, Blogger Sean Wright said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At 10:54 AM, Blogger JeffV said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At 10:56 AM, Blogger Sean Wright said...

Scott - I never think about my audience either when I write. Does that make me an equal writer-chump (or should that be chimp?) that you seem to suggest Jeff may well be?

I'd like to think that I'm still attempting to invert, or yank the crow inside out as a writer.

As for labelling all forms of writing that communicate as...Fantasy! Are you mad? All fiction communicates something or other, doesn't it? Therefore by your definition Mills and Boon romance novels are fantasy! Actually, you're probably right - but for all the wrong reasons.

As for magic realism? Now you leave Jeff's "-ism" alone, man. You could get arrested pulling that in public!

Where's the Evil One? I need to hang out with that cool dude more. Perhaps I could come to one of your drunken beheading parties, man. (Gabe - you digging the beheading parody here...wink, wink...post-advertising or what?). Fuck I'd like to stuff a few heads into some display cases filled with amniotic fluid and pull out a root or two and go native...Now that would be evil, eh, Evil Monkey?

How about sucking up some nutrient-rich brain juice through a Macdonald's straw?

Fuck it, losing the plot now...time to bow out.

Sean Wright (yeah, THAT Sean Wright)

 
At 11:03 AM, Blogger Freebird said...

Damn this sleep deprivation is giving me headaches as I read all this!

Scott, you make an interesting point about the need to consider an audience, but I think there's a bit more to it. Couldn't one also argue that when a writer is writing with him/herself in mind that she/he might also want to challenge his/her own perceptions of what is a novel, what is a story? Joyce's Ulysses is still controversial, over 80 years later, in large part because Joyce challenges most everything that we hold to be 'true' about a novel/story form and yet I believe he wrote most of his stories to challenge himself first, then to challenge whatever potential audience there might be. There is still that communication factor, but it can be of an intrapersonal nature rather than an interpersonal one, if I'm understanding things correctly.

Furthermore, the Reader(s) change. What might be very meaningful for a generation that experienced devastation on the scale of the two World Wars might not be as meaningful for a generation that is experiencing the shocks and growing pains of increasing globalization. Too much pandering will just tend to lead to works that are quickly dated - disposable literature to go with our disposable music, I suppose.

But this discussion could go a bit too far afield from the original premise of the political in the fantasy. Interestingly enough, I just finished reading a work in which the political was done in a sense that weakened the story. As much as I tend to enjoy Dan Simmons's work, his 2005 release, Olympos, disappointed me in large part because he makes a political reference (to a 'near future' Global Caliphate that develops a virus called Rubicon that was targeted at Jews but mutated to attack all humans) that clashed with what he was developing elsewhere in that duology.

I think for many readers (and authors as well), that is a big fear - that if the political is too conscious, too out there without proper development, the challenge falls flat and the pandering will not be there at all to save the day. Maybe the case should be made that Politics and Art should be working together, not one counteracting the other.

 
At 11:57 AM, Blogger JeffV said...

I've tried to respond to your post several times, Scott. I can't bring myself to do so because this is just a downward spiral of misunderstanding and assumptions. It's not productive. It's not even entertaining.

I wish you the best of luck with your fiction.

JeffV (the rabid magic realist)

 
At 12:00 PM, Blogger Sean Wright said...

I agree, Jeff, with you lecturing point in regard to Mr Bakker, for what's worth. His tone is way too intense. He seems to have taken some kind of moral fantastical, come poltical high ground...

Perhaps you should take the time to read some of Jeff's books, before drawing your sword?

Scott - stop lecturing for one moment will ya? Seems to me that Jeff's tried making light of this with his Evil Monkey humour, withdrawn his angry response, seen reason.

Or are you out for surrealist blood?

Back off- Bakker!

Sean Wright

 
At 12:08 PM, Blogger Matthew Cheney said...

Scott Bakker seems to be trying to fight an entire army of straw men (and probably a couple of straw women) -- by keeping his definitions of "audience", "literary", "communication", "politics", "they" so broad and so abstract, all his words mean so little that it is impossible to argue with them. He is fighting a war against scarecrows in his mind, a fine fantasy indeed, but one that shouldn't be confused with anything going on in any world the rest of us inhabit.

 
At 12:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh fer chrissakes, Sean. I'm perfectly capable of taking the wings off this dragonfly as necessary. There's just no point to it. The guy is a closed system. Besides, at this point he's playing the pompous ass so perfectly, do I or Evil Monkey really need to say anything? Sounds like he just finished his dissertation or something.

JeffV

 
At 5:11 PM, Anonymous Scott Bakker said...

Freebird, my question would simply be just who considers Ulysses controversial? My argument is this: that the literary establishment, by setting up a series of self-serving evaluative practices, has effectively stopped communicating to those with little or no exposure to those practices. The systematic devaluation of commercial genre fiction is one manifestation of this. Since they monopolize higher education, they have the effect of taking those with yen to challenge, and redirecting them inward, and thus abandoning culture as a whole to those who are only interested in pandering. (And let's be clear, I'm speaking in terms of general tendencies here, not absolutes). I'm essentially saying the literary establishment is largely to blame for the very ornamental cultural the literati like to wring their hands about. As a result, I'm suggesting, pretty much everything written has become a form of pandering.

I'm not suggesting that writing needs to be more topical. I agree that this detracts from the 'timeless' character we are wont to ascribe to Literature. What I'm suggesting is that the devaluation of genre fiction needs to be turned on it's head: that those with writerly aspirations should be encouraged to write to audiences with sensibilities far different than the 'literate.' And that this would amount to Literature.

As for the rest of you, I should say that I bit the 'pompous ass' bullet a long time ago. I figured I just might as well try to make the best of it.

But I do find your responses perplexing: what does my character have to with my arguments? All cultural critical theses are underdetermined - that goes without saying. This is the reason why I'm always so keen to hash them out. I really am in this for the debate, folks. If you want to call me names or make specious remarks regarding my character, or about what you could do 'if you really wanted to' or if 'Bakker didn't have his head up his ass,' or whatever, all I can say is so much the worse for you. The obvious fact is, you don't know any of those things.

Write from your heart if you have to. I would prefer you respond from your head, but I think we've all been around long enough to know that it never pays to write from your hackles.

Relax.

You might find yourself lampooned on the 'Goodkind is God' site...

 
At 5:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow. I thought I'd seen some sanctimonious bastards in my time.

Scott--what are your comments about magic realist if not a personal attack cleverly disguised.

Right--so I think I will respond to your prior post.

"Relax." What a prick.

jeffV

 
At 5:32 PM, Blogger Shevchyk said...

I find that it's always a good idea to let the beer decide what we should or should not talk about - because let's face it, it's going to be calling the shots no matter what.

This is entirely dependant on the beer – or beverage (I’m a grappa lover) of choice.

The same might be said about the political... ;)

I am curious to understand what you mean when you say you don't think about the audience when you write. After all writing is an act of communication, and as such, requires a reader to make sense. It's literally impossible to write without considering your audience, isn't it?


Perceived audiences, Scott. In so much as we would like to think of our audience in some vaguely abstract way as being people of a mindset or intellectual wavelength that would *get* our fiction. With this comes the admittance that of course communication is imprecise and meaning difficult sometimes to communicate without asking for clarification, reiteration, and so on and so on. My caveat emptor here is: I’ve not read a single thing you’ve ever written, barring a very brief perusal of Book 1 of TPON a few years ago, which I don’t think counts in any way that’s significant to this discussion, particularly as I don’t remember any of it.

I think about my audience all the time, and for good reason. Once you get past all that romantic, expressivist crap, you realize that writing is all about manipulation, about using marks to spark feelings, thoughts, and associations in someone else's bean. This is why my favourite analogy for writing is that of painting a portrait from the wrong side of the canvas. You need to know just who you are writing too to be able to trust that those marks you're making are sparking things in ways you want them to. Whether this 'knowing' is implicit or explicit, seems to be quite beside the point.

This sounds like the plight of some kind of self-aware writer, who understands how and why the audience might/could/will react to his/her fiction. I hope you leave some room for surprises. However, I’m left feeling that you’ve just spoken for your audience a bit too much here, and are arriving at the conclusion of how a work of fiction might or can affect a given, random reader. Can you ever know your audience? Can you determine for them what will or will not spark or hit marks for them? Every last one of them?

I understand you're likely saying that you are your audience - that you write primarily for yourself. In certain sense, it's impossible not to do this - it's trivial. But you're actually using it to do quite a bit of work, both explanatory and evaluative. The implication is that, all things being equal, not writing for an audience is better than writing for an audience, the reason being that 'writing for your audience' tends to lead to something like 'pandering to your audience.' It seems to be an article of faith among many that 'pandering' is bad is bad is bad. The idea, I take it, is that it leads to trivial communication. When you pander to what readers already believe, no minds are changed. When you pander to what readers already know, little or nothing is learned.

So what makes pandering to oneself any better?


You just used the key word here – “tend.” However it’s a little hard to really put the finger down on what exactly pandering is, aside from a formal definition of being something of a lower tastes and desires of someone other thyself. However, why writers write what they write is also tricky. All things being equal, I’d rather worry about producing something that’s personally satisfying for myself and let the chips of everything else fall where it may.

If communication is about bringing perspectives together, and if communication is profound to the extent that it brings disparate perspectives together, then isn't 'writing for oneself' simply a recipe for writing something only the likeminded can appreciate? Or in other words, producing a trivial act of communication?

If.

Let me say that again:

If.

For me, writing is always a highwire act between pandering and and challenging. Genre is typically written off by the literati because it 'panders too much' and 'challenges too little,' but somewhere along the line, it seems to me, the Champions of Literature have forgotten that 'challenging' is a real live honest-to-goodness event, not an inventory of tactics easily recognized as 'literary' by the likeminded. To challenge, you have to turn to genre, you have to pander - the way Homer and Shakespeare and Dickens pandered. You have to write for different people. And to do this, you need to consider your audience - and quite carefully!

Funny you should mention that; genre fiction among my professors is actually held up as being rather significant and important – and understudied, when you get them to talk about it. Anyway, that’s not as interesting as me wanting to know why the Champions of Literature aren’t being challenged instead. If they’re the sanctifiers of all that is Good and Holy in the English Language, why not bother to sway them to your mode of thinking?

If you believe, as I do, that communicative profundity is a necessary condition of something counting as 'Literature,' and if you believe communication is profound to the extent that it bridges disparate perspectives, then you could argue that there's precious little 'literary' going on it what's called the 'literary mainstream.' In fact, the kind of cultural balkanization we see happening now can be attributed to the insularity of the literary establishment - to the way they systematically degrade those generic forms where words actually reach out. They have transformed 'challenging' into yet another form 'pandering.' (I suspect we have the university system to thank for that, bent as it is on shaming us out of our 'childish' love of genre).

Cultural balkanisation? What? Who? Where? I don’t mind talking in generalisations, but it would be helpful if you could make your argument more specific. And explain what you’re talking about. (Paging Context, Paging Context, Bakker’s life-signs are fluctuating! We need a few CC’s of context! And for good measure, some motherfuckin’ snakes on a plane!)

This is why only Harry Potter inspires book burnings anymore.

And Shakespeare. And books by Edgar Cayce. And Bless Me, Ultima. And the Book of Mormon. And CDs by Bruce Springsteen (!) and Pearl Jam. And the music of Shania Twain. And the movie Coneheads.

Hmm... This turned into quite a rant. Could it have anything to do with the fact an old professor of mine recently congratulated me for my success writing "children's literature" I wonder?

You ought to have told him that children’s literature helps them understand that dragons can be defeated, and that such metaphors are extremely helpful towards the development of a healthy attitude towards life, rather than taking it personally or feeling personally offended. Someone didn’t think much of what you wrote. Big deal. Take a class in the school of "Fuck 'em," Scott. It's a very liberating attitude.

 
At 5:43 PM, Blogger Shevchyk said...

As for the rest of you, I should say that I bit the 'pompous ass' bullet a long time ago. I figured I just might as well try to make the best of it.

What kind of statement is that, Scott? Surely you wouldn't like your audience to react to your comments with a less-than-hostile tone? Are you completely uninterested with the way in which other people respond to your comments?

 
At 5:44 PM, Blogger Freebird said...

I guess I should have clarified myself a bit better above, Scott. When I was talking about how controversial Ulysses still is, I wasn't thinking of the 'establishment,' but instead of the 'average' reader. Like those that read those Best of the 20th Century lists that were published in Time and elsewhere that had Ulysses as #1. The people that went, "What the fuck? I had to read that piece of shit garbage back in college and that Irish fucker didn't know a damn fucking thing about that goddamn motherfucking piece of shit that he was writing." Those are the people I was thinking about, the ones that are used to certain conventions in writing - like plot, form, structure - and who hate seeing unfamiliar forms. That is not an 'establishment' bit, unless you want to tackle the issue of how readers in general look at how stories are constructed.

Me personally, I enjoyed being challenged in my opinions regarding the Novel form when I read Ulysses on my own in grad school. But a great many didn't. Which is their right, of course. But that brings up another topic, one that might be a bit pertinent for what I've been reading here this afternoon and evening - challenging can be accepted to some degree, but provocative challenges are usually met with sharp retorts and heated words when subtler approaches and gentler words would have sufficed. What audience is reading all this? It's already been basically admitted that there really aren't real substantive differences in yours and Jeff's opinions, but yet when the audience here (say the people who have replied or are reading this) seem to be wondering if this is leading to a series of subtle ad hominems, I just have to wonder if anything has really been accomplished here. It just seems so...counterproductive.

And as for the GioG, well...we could work in a few references over there if you'd like ;)

 
At 5:46 PM, Blogger JeffV said...

People get the respect they deserve. Which is to say, the respect they show other people. Having tried to deal with this light-heartedly, having offered an olive branch, and having said I certainly see Bakker's point of view, I give up on this approach. There is nothing coming back across the divide except lectures, a condescending attitude, and a mode of expression so buried in academia that it has lost the ability to effectively communicate. Bakker is certainly *not* interested in a debate. All he's interested in is being a missionary for his position. There's not a iota of anybody else's opinion that's getting through to his brain. And there's no sense that he understands that all of these "positions" are just the way that different writers perceive, translate, and process the world so they can write about it as fiction. It's really depressing.

This really is the last thing I have to say about this. But I think you can expect quite a few more posts from Bakker. To which I say--great. Go for it. I don't think anyone cares anymore....

So, one last time, but not in the same nice, ha-ha space as before, because I don't think Bakker deserves it...once more into the breach. Here's Bakker's most recent posts with my comments. Again, note how we don't always disagree. Note how *rigid* Bakker is in his stance, as if now that he's reached the grand old age of, what, 38?, he knows everything there is to know in the universe. Etc.

Jeff

I am curious to understand what you mean when you say you don't think about the audience when you write. After all writing is an act of communication, and as such, requires a reader to make sense. It's literally impossible to write without considering your audience, isn't it?

***Writing is an act of creation. Any work of art can exist without an audience, if by "audience" you mean more than just the creator. If it provides satisfaction for the creator, then it exists. I mean, it doesn't suddenly turn into a puff of smoke. I think this is fairly self-evident. I tend to think of audience as a bonus, frankly. I write to please myself. I don't deny that once I complete something I want to find an audience for it. But that's not why I write it.

I think about my audience all the time, and for good reason. Once you get past all that romantic, expressivist crap, you realize that writing is all about manipulation, about using marks to spark feelings, thoughts, and associations in someone else's bean.

***I find myself smiling at the "romantic, expressivist crap" comment. I'm glad that attitude works for you. Me, I'm not willing to discard anything that might work. In fact, I think your attitude right there says it all. It's about as ridiculous as if I were to sneer at people who write work for hire or who do say they write for a specific audience. Which I do not do. Again, you seem to have this either-or mentality.

This is why my favourite analogy for writing is that of painting a portrait from the wrong side of the canvas. You need to know just who you are writing too to be able to trust that those marks you're making are sparking things in ways you want them to. Whether this 'knowing' is implicit or explicit, seems to be quite beside the point.

****Whatever works for you. I think that was my point in an earlier comments section.

I understand you're likely saying that you are your audience - that you write primarily for yourself.

****Good job--cause that is what I said. Directly.

In certain sense, it's impossible not to do this - it's trivial. But you're actually using it to do quite a bit of work, both explanatory and evaluative. The implication is that, all things being equal, not writing for an audience is better than writing for an audience, the reason being that 'writing for your audience' tends to lead to something like 'pandering to your audience.' It seems to be an article of faith among many that 'pandering' is bad is bad is bad. The idea, I take it, is that it leads to trivial communication. When you pander to what readers already believe, no minds are changed. When you pander to what readers already know, little or nothing is learned.

****Sigh. That's your interpretation. I do what works for me. You do what works for you. I'm not saying your way is wrong. You're telling me my way is, which is, frankly, bullshit. I mean, my god, you use six words where one would do fine. How's that communicating to an audience?

So what makes pandering to oneself any better?

***You are again assuming an either-or situation that I have not posed. I begin to think I'm talking to some kind of machine that only registers certain kinds of stimuli and then spits out certain kinds of responses, without any sense of context.

If communication is about bringing perspectives together, and if communication is profound to the extent that it brings disparate perspectives together, then isn't 'writing for oneself' simply a recipe for writing something only the likeminded can appreciate? Or in other words, producing a trivial act of communication?

*****No...Do you need an explanation?

For me, writing is always a highwire act between pandering and and challenging. Genre is typically written off by the literati because it 'panders too much' and 'challenges too little,' but somewhere along the line, it seems to me, the Champions of Literature have forgotten that 'challenging' is a real live honest-to-goodness event, not an inventory of tactics easily recognized as 'literary' by the likeminded. To challenge, you have to turn to genre, you have to pander - the way Homer and Shakespeare and Dickens pandered. You have to write for different people. And to do this, you need to consider your audience - and quite carefully!

***Do you have a blog? You really need one, if not. I honestly don't give a shit what the Champions of Literature think. I don't even know who these Champions of Literature are. I think your ability to generalize and to create foundations of assumptions without defining your terms is absolutely astounding. But, again, whatever works for you. But don't make me part of your religion. I'm not a missionary and you shouldn't be, either.

If you believe, as I do, that communicative profundity is a necessary condition of something counting as 'Literature,' and if you believe communication is profound to the extent that it bridges disparate perspectives, then you could argue that there's precious little 'literary' going on it what's called the 'literary mainstream.'

***What a load of bullshit. I can't believe you're buying into the idea of genre and the literary mainstream being some kinds of monoliths. It's simply not true. If you can't see that this isn't true, you're simply not paying attention.

***I don't believe any one thing is literature. I just write. I don't think when I write. I just write. I feel like I'm a dolphin being lectured by a human being about what it's like to swim.

In fact, the kind of cultural balkanization we see happening now can be attributed to the insularity of the literary establishment - to the way they systematically degrade those generic forms where words actually reach out. They have transformed 'challenging' into yet another form 'pandering.' (I suspect we have the university system to thank for that, bent as it is on shaming us out of our 'childish' love of genre).

****This is bullshit, too. Absolute bullshit. You know as well I do that such an attitude varies from university to university. There *is* no monolith. Only people. Individuals. Specific detail. You know, the things you write fiction about.

This is why only Harry Potter inspires book burnings anymore. This is why I think what you and I are doing is so important - and why I wish like hell you would scrub that loathsome term, 'magic realist,' from your self-description.

****Do you even know what the hell magic realism is, or how it's influenced me? I don't think so. This is, quite frankly, where you completely lose your focus and turn your post into a veiled personal attack about someone who you don't know at all, about a subject you apparently know nothing about.

***I'm glad you think what you do is important. I just don't think in those terms. I try to tell the best story I know how, to express what I know about life and how we deal with things on a macro and micro level. I exist to create. I don't give a shit whether it's important or not.

The only way to repair this social short-circuit is to invert the terms, to make 'fantasist' a term of pride, and laugh at all the euphemisms academics cook up to maintain cultural hygiene. We need to yank the pigeonhole inside out. Fuck 'magic realism.' Long live Fantasy!

***That's an amazing conclusion. Have you not been reading anything in the field in the way of nonfiction in the past 20 years?

Which is to say, long live those forms of writing that actually communicate...

***"The sky is blue." There. That's my attempt at the obvious.

Hmm... This turned into quite a rant. Could it have anything to do with the fact an old professor of mine recently congratulated me for my success writing "children's literature" I wonder?

***I don't know. But if you're done self-congratulating yourself and preening over your erudite meanderings, Evil Monkey has something for you...

What I'm suggesting is that the devaluation of genre fiction needs to be turned on it's head: that those with writerly aspirations should be encouraged to write to audiences with sensibilities far different than the 'literate.' And that this would amount to Literature.

***Writers should be encouraged to write whatever they feel and think most strongly, irregardless of audience. You're making a great argument for the creation of crap.

But I do find your responses perplexing: what does my character have to with my arguments? All cultural critical theses are underdetermined - that goes without saying. This is the reason why I'm always so keen to hash them out. I really am in this for the debate, folks. If you want to call me names or make specious remarks regarding my character, or about what you could do 'if you really wanted to' or if 'Bakker didn't have his head up his ass,' or whatever, all I can say is so much the worse for you. The obvious fact is, you don't know any of those things.

***I'm just being more honest than you with your assumptions about where I'm coming from. That your assumptions are couched in dead language from the worst of academia, rather than from a writer's perspective, doesn't make your person attacks or condescending attitude anything more than much less honest.

Write from your heart if you have to. I would prefer you respond from your head, but I think we've all been around long enough to know that it never pays to write from your hackles.

***Thank you, professor. Appreciate the advice. Here's some advice for you--write a little less from your head. In fact, just write a little less.

 
At 8:20 PM, Anonymous Scott Bakker said...

LOL! And here I thought the worry was that I was putting too much weight on the word 'politics'! Amazing to see how much work the word 'bullshit' can do!

Just a note: you ARE completely wrong about the 'veiled personal attacks.' I actually have no idea what you're talking about. If I did so inadvertantly, I do apologize - sincerely. I argue hard, no doubt about that, but I'm loathe to make things personal. As for what you think of my tone, or whatever, there's not much I can do about that. I do admit the first round of name-calling irritated me some, enough to weave in a few jabs here and there. But there's few things more notorious than the 'tone problem' in e-exchanges like this. You don't think you might have been reading me with your 'he's-a-prick goggles' on? It certainly feels that way from this side of the screen.

Is there any way we can salvage this? We actually have a true blue difference of opinion on a matter of writerly import. Impugning my honesty, integrity, what have you, along with uncharitable interpretations of my argument isn't going to get us anywhere. I never said anything about 'monoliths' - in fact I was at pains to say I was speaking in terms of tendencies. Just because I think culture is fucked up and needs to be changed, doesn't turn me into a 'religious nut.' I said nothing about encouraging writers to write crap (unless you happen to think genre fiction is crap). You're simply not giving me the benefit of the doubt. Describing my style as 'worn-out,' 'unwriterly,' 'academic,' 'sanctimonious,' and so on only suggests bias on your part.

On the other side of the coin, I would like to hear more about the scholarly literature on fantasy and magic realism. I don't consider myself well-read on the topic at all. Also, I'm always wary of false dilemmas, and though, as I mentioned, I think cultural phenomena are too complex to be 'captured' by any theory, binary thinking bites us all in the ass from time to time.

I could go on, or would you rather that I simply leave you alone? This is your blog, dude, and you definitely seem to be getting bent out of shape.

Just a note, Shev. Lots of food for thought (though I admit, I initially expected you to go ad hominem as well), but I'm running out of steam... (or welcome, as the case may be)

 
At 8:53 PM, Blogger Freebird said...

Scott,

Maybe I'm out of place here (and I hope I'll be corrected by Jeff or any others that read this), but I think much of what happened is that at some point in this long and winding thread, you went from talking about one point out of Jeff's original article to talking about a wide range of issues in a way that sounded to the people who've never conversed with you for long as being 'pompous.' You're too institutionalized! That's why it came across, I suspect, as being very condescending, at least to those who've never argued with you at length over the course of many different threads.

Sadly, a lot of people all over this blogosphere and that dern intarweb are getting such a vibe, based on what I've been reading. I just think it's a bit of honest difference of opinion, mixed with a bit of frustration and irritation, and topped off with a fervent wish that the topic move on that's led to all this. Tone is very hard to reproduce here and I've seen countless examples of honest people getting irritated at one another for a little bit on this medium because tone just ain't bein' conveyed right. So...

If you want to talk about some of the points you've raised in a more private setting, you know my email address, right?

 
At 1:16 AM, Blogger Shevchyk said...

though I admit, I initially expected you to go ad hominem as well

"go ad hominem"?

*reaches out and grabs ahold of Scott by the scruff of the neck*

You *thwack* will not *thwack* use *thwack* wanky academic *thwank* terms *thwack*.

 
At 4:02 AM, Anonymous Scott Bakker said...

Just looking for a debate, freebird. Never said I wasn't a pedantic ass, but no matter how hard I try I can't seem to shake off who I am.

Even still, it would be nice if people asked me what I meant, rather than jumping to the first negative conclusion. And the name calling... C'mon.

Made for a lively thread, though, even if it was Shev who ended up spanking me...

 
At 6:59 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Okay, so I’m a bit confused about this entire event. When I first saw your article posted on Emcit I assumed that you wanted people to read it. You just released a new book, Emcit is a platform for the genre, and you had an opportunity to promote yourself. Is that all you wanted? Now I’m sure you’re a very nice guy. You certainly seem so, and your choices in music reinforce that sense for me. But what did you expect? Did you want everyone to read it and smile, and say “what a sensitive, well spoken author,”? Or did you want to generate interest in the subject you raised, politics in fantasy? Was your choice to post this article a strategic one? A political one? I have to believe that this occurred to you before you posted your thoughts on so public an arena.

I’m not arriving late to the party am I? To be honest, I was actually brought into this from the beginning when I was alerted to an article in The Fantasy Times on 2/9 that discussed what you said at Emerald City using my books as an example of how to integrate political and philosophical points of view into genre fiction without being didactic.

Politics? Manipulation? Publicity? Well, you’ve got it all right here in this little discussion. It just didn’t come in the form you may have anticipated. But it all has to do with politics, both within and without the books themselves. Is it a coincidence that Scott too has a new book on the shelves.

I’m not certain how your discussion degenerated so easily and so quickly. Was it just that you were unprepared for a challenge to what seemed like such an innocent and innocuous article? It’s unlikely that you’re a prick, and I can tell you that Scott’s not a prick. Not by a long shot. But what’s so interesting about all of this is how shocked you seem to be by his interest in debating issues that you raise to begin with; why we write, who we write for, what we write about and how our writing is perceived by the public.

I’d very much enjoy hearing your thoughts on why you write and how much your ethical mindset influences your books. If you have a clear perspective, if you know what’s important to you, do you feel compelled to express that in your stories? Do you invest any of your characters with that perspective as your mouthpiece? Ethics infuses everything we do, every choice we make, consciously or unconsciously. We make choices all the time. We must. And when we write, we make those choices too. So it is interesting to me, incredibly interesting, to know if you write for yourself or for your reader, or a comibnation of the two. And I don’t mean you alone, Jeff. I mean author's in general, but particularly genre authors. Can a book truly be an exploration? Or must it be a lesson?

(Hey, I have a book coming out in April. Is it politically smart for me to get involved in this now, or is it too soon? Can we do this again in April?)

Gary Wassner

 
At 7:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excuse me, Gary. I have been following this train wreck of a discussion for the last couple of days and frankly I am a bit surprised. I am quite sure that Jeff expected his article to generate some discussion and debate, but unfortunately that is not what happened here with Scott's reponse and subsequent posts. Instead Scott took it upon himself to lecture Jeff and not even on the subject of his original article!

If you want to talk about those questions posed at the bottom of your post, that's all fine and good, but stick to the topic and don't lecture!!!!!

Every writer has his or her own reasons for writing. And they also have their own approaches to it. Each one is valid FOR THAT WRITER. Got it????

"A reader who is tired of it all"

 
At 8:59 AM, Blogger Freebird said...

Scott, I agree that much of this comes down to define, define, define in a way that isn't negative (or positive) in nature. Some of that, however, deals with relating with the other - if he/she honestly believes that the definitions given are good enough for him/her, then belaboring the point (even with the best of intentions) tends to lead to harsher words than necessary, especially if the people involved don't know each other well. So, umm...where do we go from here?

Maybe everyone read each other's works first (and I just read) and then get back and discuss all this with a better idea where people come from on the issue of Writing, Politics, and the Art of Punditry?

I'm just very interested in hearing what all of you have to say on the issues raised. I just hope to hear more of this later without any perceived invectives tossed in.

Cheers and beers?

 
At 8:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Trained academics will tear non-academics to shreds every time in a civil argument, either through confusion or provocation. It is known. Which is not to say they are right, just that they are better at arguing ;)

 
At 9:07 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Scott, I think you do owe Jeff an apology. I don't think you consider that at times regardless of your intent you come off as condescending -- but using the word "pandering" is not a good way to be amicable. As someone who has dabbled in academia, I think this is more you being used to a different venue of debate. Consider your audience man! :-)

At the same time, I think you are making valid points, but if anyone is still out there here is my suggestion:

In one paragraph, at the most, tell me your position. Then in a subsequent paragraph, tell me what you think Jeff's is.

In other news, I've been trying to make my friends realize how conditioned they are in their lives...little Dunyain, if you will. :-)

--Sciborg2

 
At 12:45 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"But "politics" in fiction is not just about using a backdrop of war or atrocity or city dynamics at the macro level to explore questions that affect us in a longer-term, broad way. It is also about understanding that all people are political in some way, even those who seem apathetic, because politics is about gender, society, and culture. Every aspect of our lives is in some way political. So if we don't, at some point during our writing, think about this consciously — if we simply trust our instincts as writers — we may unintentionally preserve cliché, stereotype, and prejudice."

Tack on an Imho; all the rest follows.

Well, I agree sometimes Scott is pedantic and all that, but that's not a reason to say he's full of bullshit. He's not really - his points are usually cogent, follow a logical progression and he's not pulling anything out of thin air. And please don't interpret this to mean that anyone else might be..

Yes, the terms are technical, and they probably have a certain defined value or whatever the hell literary criticsm school call it, but what's wrong with using technical terminology ? Scientists do it all the time, and with good reason - you don't say 'speed of light ' everytime, you just say 'c' or whatever symbol.

I used to belong to the school of Art for Art's sake, too. And it's nice to have the opposable viewpoints in your head - political fiction/art and just Art for Art's sake; as Jeff points out to Evil Monkey; but isn't it a bit....kinda teenagerish - it really seems that you want it both ways. Cake and eat it.

Also - someone very nicely made the point that maybe politics is the social - if there are two people involved, and there's any kind of relationship between them, then it is political. That would exclude the atoms and the Big Bang and all that jazz...

 

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