New Weird 4.5 : the net on both sides (Download new_weird_5.doc)
TTalkback: Harrison, M John: New Weird 4.5 : the net on both sides
By gabe on Wednesday, June 11, 2003 - 05:56 am:
Since New Weird 4 took approximately seven minutes to load on my screen, I'm taking it upon myself to create another thread. Hope no one minds. ************************** Bearing in mind that I grew up in a town in the desert where knowing the word "polysyllabic" meant you were either gay or foreign (sociological note: in sixth grade, I had a history teacher that was both, and not only was that Quite Alright, it was even To Be Encouraged for teachers... explain that one, why dontcha?), I'll try to formulate some thoughts in another language. Since the 1930s or so, we've seen the tropes of science fiction and fantasy (sff) codified, solidified and commodified until they've become a working set of not only 'protocols', but also 'clichés'. At the same time, sff evolved into its own subset of literature, primarily through the dichotomy of metaphor vs. literal. AKA "the door dilated", etc. While this helped to define our particular subset of literature, it also served to limit the readership of that literature; readers needed to be exposed to and 'taught' the protocols in order to read and appreciate sff. Ultimately, this led to the superiority complex that affects many a sff reader and/or writer. AKA "Fans are Slans", etc. And so we have this subset of literature, which is primarily the 'literature of ideas', and which we all think is Really Cool. After all, if we didn't, we wouldn't be having this conversation. We all know that the tropes and ideas behind sff are spiffy keen. Where we continually run into trouble is convincing OTHERS that it's spiffy keen, whether that's the average joe on the streets or the classically trained critic. The key here, I think, is the codification and solidification of genre tropes. What was originally a badge of belonging has actually become somewhat stultifying and limiting. As an sff writer, who can come in and mess with Asimov's laws of robotics? The weight of tradition and protocols weighs heavily on newer writers, who are constantly exhorted to read everything in the field, to attend conventions, to honor thy elders, etc. etc. etc. So now we have the New Weird. And to me, the New Weird (as I'm seeing it applied) seems to mark a departure point from the rigors of sff. To me (caveats abound, here!), the New Weird seems to be a reaction to the stultification of genre tropes. And because of that, it harkens back to the days of the pulps, when writers were really feeling their way through their stories, rather than rationalizing them in the context of the genre as a whole. So to us, New Weird seems Fresh and Exciting. But really, it's more like an unfettering of the imagination -- a letting go of the rigors of genre boundaries. So what else is the New Weird, in a practical sense? From my point of view as a would-be critic, I see the New Weird (formalized) as a convenient descriptive phrase that can be used to identify *appeal*. For instance, going back to China (who appears to be Ground Zero for this whole debate -- hiya China!)... how does one compare China to other writers? I honestly can't think of anyone that *writes like China*, so I can't use that as a reference point. But I can think of numerous writers that would *appeal* to people that like China's writing, and have been doing that every day for the past couple of years while selling books in the day job! "If you like China, then you'll like ." It's a selling point, a loose umbrella term that describes a particular set of writers that don't fit into other defining categories. Back forty-two messageboard years ago, someone said that the New Weird comes from a Peake-ian vs. Tolkien-esque tradition, but I can't really stomach that as a description. For one thing, Tad Williams has already written a bestselling series that came equally from both Peake and Tolkien, paying tribute to both. And I wouldn't say that baroque gothic atmospherics is a particularly prominent feature of what I consider New Weird. But maybe that's just me. No, I just think that the New Weird is a reactive style of writing that comes from writers realizing that it's a fuck of a lot more fun to write unfettered by traditions and genre protocols. Greg Benford said hard science fiction was playing "with the net of scientific fact up and strung as tight as the story allows"; New Weird is more like playing with a net that jumps into the game and starts playing both sides at the same time. --gabe chouinard
By Andrew Hook on Wednesday, June 11, 2003 - 09:14 am:
Gabe: "It's a freedom issue. And there are more and more writers that *want* that freedom, and are taking it. In effect, they're evolving literature by doing whatever the hell they want." Couldn't it be argued that at base level, and particularly in the independent/small press, that many writers have always chosen to write want they want, but that it's only now that editors of the larger publishing houses are publishing it. I'm sure there's one heck of a lot of New Weird writing out there which fell by the wayside and never got published. Shoeboxes chockablock of it in attics and under beds. If that's the case, then is the New Weird simply the new commercial angle to get that work published? I realise I'm dipping my toe in the ocean here, but it's difficult for me to understand a writer who wouldn't write what he/she wants.
By Luís Rodrigues on Wednesday, June 11, 2003 - 09:48 am:
Hi all, I've been following this (v. interesting) discussion for a few weeks, and will momentarily approach the campfire to have fun stoking the coals a bit myself. China said: "Addendum - related to the metaphor-machine thing, the human mind is a machine for making connections. That's why JeffV's notion of a category-less literary criticism is, I would suggest, a chimera." I agree. People will inevitably categorise their likes and dislikes, and publishers and critics will pick up on those labels for their convenience. However, you're approaching the naming p+rocess from the opposite direction. We're still a relatively limited group of people discussing it, and you can't control how people will use (and abuse) it once it's set loose on the outside world. If the term catches on -- as I believe you are hoping it does -- publishers and reviewers will be sure to latch bad or irrelevant books onto the "New Weird" for their convenience. What happens then? "And I don't agree that a focus on the New Weird precludes discussion or admiration for non-New Weird stuff. That would only happen if categories became automatically hierarchical, which is precisely the sleight-of-mind that the 'highbrow' literary critic tends to insinuate." Ah, you say that because you know better. Can you guarantee that it won't happen eventually, once less-sensible readers develop and entrench their affection for "New Weird" as many have for other categories? And reviewers? Even writers? If I could get a dime for every fantasy fan that bahs me when I mention Borges or Calvino, or for each sf fan that thinks himself infinitely superior to one who reads fantasy, etc. I'd be filthy rich. And then there's expectations, which is a matter I don't remember having been touched upon in this discussion (I could have forgotten, and not getting any sleep doesn't either). I'm out off the door, so I can't babble for long. I'd like to read your thoughts on these points, if you'd care to address them. Cheers, Luís
By Luís Rodrigues on Wednesday, June 11, 2003 - 09:50 am:
Man, that was some poorly phrased post. I'll return when I'm saner. Note to self: MUST SLEEP. Best, Luís
By MJH on Wednesday, June 11, 2003 - 10:25 am:
>>I realise I'm dipping my toe in the ocean here, but it's difficult for me to understand a writer who wouldn't write what he/she wants. An extraordinarily good point, Andrew. Wholly agree with you. Industry assumptions are limiting. They are deadening in their effect on people who actually write fiction. We've just had, for instance, an owlish, utterly burocractic explanation of Canadian sf subsidies. Was that serious ? Or was it a calculated and brilliant piece of New Weird theatre, designed to familiarise the ridiculous and defamiliarise the familiar ? Who knows ? But it has nothing to do with the established values of this discussion. We've also been treated to a post in which we learn Margaret Atwood has an "office", from which communications issue, to suitably reverent US anthology editors. No member of the New Weird will ever have an "office". As for Atwood herself: she doesn't belong here because she just isn't weird (although for all I know, her sponsors, the Canadian Tourist Board might think she is). She's also over-rated, middlebrow and, to be frank, a bit boring. Her use to the New Weird is as grim warning: if you get an "office", this is what you might become. I'm worried that this discussion, which started as a joke, then evolved a dignified purpose, is subsiding into being a joke again, and a joke of the wrong kind. Gabe's definitions of SF don't interest me. If I hear the Benford net metaphor again, I'll vomit. (It carries as its absolute a priori assumption that Greg Benford is somebody who makes definitions and will be listened to. Greg Benford sets the metaphor, then the net. Oh dear, oh dear, how dear. How easily deconstructible is that ?) I've heard definitions of SF before. Kathryn's explanations of the US publishing industry I've also heard before. I've also heard before many of the reductive dis-explanations of the New Weird (it's only this, after all; its only that). I'm not keen to hear the opinions, even second hand, of Gardener Dozois or David Hartwell. Not just because their agendas are their own and therefore clearly not New Weird agendas; but because they are not writers or readers of the New Weird--they are US industry professionals whose every opinion bears the deadening weight of 20 years' circular thinking. In tandem with that sort of drag, we hear that the only way to invent anything new is to invent it out of a sound knowledge of that which is established and old. The metaphor of "reinventing the wheel" (though I introduced it myself, and I really wish I hadn't) doesn't apply. Acts of imagination are not simple practical devices with a commonsense purpose; they are by definition, rich, bizarre and difficult to both produce and use. The New Weird is not an attempt to make a wheelbarrow. It is part of the absolute indefinable boil of the imagination of human beings. I am deeply sorry for introducing that cliche into this discussion, because it has enabled a great deal of ordinariness and recognisable old toss to be talked. This is a message board, as I've said before, not an action committee. The New Weird is a message board too, and not one for people who--to borrow a phrase from Bowie--have consulted their one inch dreams and decided it couldn't be done. Who assume that received wisdom is worthwhile or meaningful. Who are involved in dreary acts of carpet bagging. Who seem to exist only to remind us that their way of seeing things is the only way. Who are always ready to recieve anything new and turn it into something old. One thing Gabe said I agree with. The New Weird is about doing what you want. I don't want my original joke turned into the boring old industry-driven act of baby-smothering. The people we need to hear from are writers of the New Weird. If they don't feel they have anything to say, about their techniques, their content and their ambitions, if they're willing to stand back and listen to the same old publishing crap talked by their publishing elders, well maybe we don't need a message board anyway. If this thread looks like becoming a mechanism by which the New Weird can start to be tamed, I'll close it down instantly. It can go somewhere else and be boring.
By MJH on Wednesday, June 11, 2003 - 10:26 am:
PS: I don't mind you starting a new thread, Gabe: but why do you always have to invent such crap titles ?
By Kathryn Cramer on Wednesday, June 11, 2003 - 01:58 pm:
This is an interesting and energetic conversation. But a discussion of genre boundaries needs to encompass more writers, works, and publications than can be accomodated in a discussion of the New Weird. Defined by process of elimination, the New Weird is rapidly shrinking. Remaining New Weird writers are, by my count, MJH, China, Justina, maybe Gabe, and one or two drafted posthumously. Everyone else has been shot down or left. Al Reynolds is irretrievably New Space Opera unless he can be wooed away from accomodating reader expectations. We should pay very close attention to Jeff VanderMeer's departure (taking with him the crowd he publishes, I think), Jeff having concluded that he will not be using the term New Weird. With Jeff's departure, a significant majority of writers negotiating a new relationship with genre are out. As I stated (in my June 4th post), there is a widespread change in writers' relationships to genre boundaries that is different than Slipstream. I am now convinced that this is not the New Weird, but something else which is perhaps in need of naming. There is a thriving movement of small press magazines, anthologies, and web sites publishing off-genre fiction, fiction in dialog with genre while outside the parameters of what the major magazines can publish: Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet, Polyphany, Conjuctions: 39, Leviathan, Fantastic Metropolis, etc. These, too, are not New Weird. Neither China's nor MJH's influence can be conflated with the New Weird. The New Weird is narrow but the influence of Perdido Street Station and China's other novels is broad. And while China's work seems to me strongly in the tradition of Dhalgren, Delany is definitely not New Weird because he thinks genre boundaries serve a useful purpose (and I agree with him). MJH is widely influential in his lifelong attack on fantasy and science fiction tropes and his violating of readers' expectations. Some credit him with having destroyed the _old_ Space Opera in the early '70s. But again, we cannot count influence as equivalent with the New Weird. Influence, after all, is a function of reception rather than writer's intent.
By Charlie Stross on Wednesday, June 11, 2003 - 02:00 pm:
Thanks for the [un]reality check, Mike. Vincent Omniaveritas said, about twenty years ago, that his novel "Schismatrix" (written under the pseudonym of "Bruce Sterling") "boils down the three-percent beer of space opera into a jolting postmodern whiskey". Except we all know that if you boil down beer what you end up with is Carlsberg Special Brew, not Talisker. So with this horrible example in mind, my current project is to distil the cheap lager of cyberpunk into something that gives you a vile hangover, makes you go blind if you drink too much of it, and in return offers only a fleeting out-of-head experience before you collapse pished in the gutter where the Neds of Singularity try to upload your mind with sharpened screwdrivers and DMs. It's not much of a manifesto, but it works for me ... It is with some relief that I conclude that I am not New Weird. (New Bampot, perhaps.) Seeya aroun, Jimmy.
By iotar on Wednesday, June 11, 2003 - 02:58 pm:
Returning to Andrew Hook's comments and MJH, over at the Light 2 thread: Definitely would like to see *this* (whether *this* is the New Weird or *this* is just the next novel I read) as being fantastic in a totally non-generic sense of the word. Something floating free from the agglomerations of commercial sense, generic sense or any sense whatsoever. I have mostly given up on fantasy and SF. The eerie buzz that you get from it when yr a teenager becomes a warm numb methadone duvet after a few years. If I want to read weird shit, I'll pick up religious scriptures, diaries of head cases like August Strindberg, the largely indigestible proto-surrealist madness of Lautreamont. And over the last few days I've realised why this is: it's because these fuckers aren't writing fantasy - they really believe it's happening. So who the fuck would want to read fantasy? If you have the slightest inkling that they might be having you on, or making it up, or playing a game - it's all ruined. Sod suspension of disbelief. Sod play-acting. I want full spectrum dominance, the walls melting, to fear for my own sanity. Read anything like that lately?
By gabe on Wednesday, June 11, 2003 - 03:02 pm:
"PS: I don't mind you starting a new thread, Gabe: but why do you always have to invent such crap titles ?" We all have our limitations, Mike. This is one of mine. --gabe
By Al Reynolds on Wednesday, June 11, 2003 - 03:29 pm:
Kathryn: Al Reynolds is irretrievably New Space Opera unless he can be wooed away from accomodating reader expectations Maybe, but just the idea of the New Weird is tremendously exciting to me, and makes me anxious to try all sorts of stuff in my writing I might have unconsciously prohibited myself from doing in the past. When I read PSS, it made me feel lazy and complacent. So did LIGHT. Both books were like a kick in the goolies. I want more of that, and I don't care what direction it's coming from. Al R
By MJH on Wednesday, June 11, 2003 - 03:33 pm:
Hi io. I thought I might try & shift the errant posts over here where they belong. In answer to Nicholas Lui, I wrote-- Hi Nicholas. I'm glad you enjoyed the interview. I'm flattered to be thought wise but worried about wisdom, inasmuch as it's sometimes associated with being pensionable. I'd sacrifice wisdom any day (and I hope I do, every day) for the greater privilege of being a nuisance, a threat and a clown of God. My ambition is not to be an emeritus professor but the drunk tottering about in illumination on the packaging of Tom Waits' Mule Variations album. That seems to me a very useful & dignified thing to be. You answered-- Wisdom as in Sophia? We can see the drunken clown on the Mule Variations sleeve following a hallucination of Sophia across the fire-blackened nightscape. How he avoids the bomb craters and loose rubble covering water-logged basements, God only knows. Hic! To which I responded-- On the button as ever, io. The problem of being a writer these days is what someone has just described to me in an email as "the dead hand of the infrastructure". Andrew Hook's recent comment on the New Weird thread was a timely wake-up call. In some odd way--perhaps it was the vision of all these undiscovered, and perhaps now undiscoverable, manuscripts in dusty boxes--it also made me think: Any kind of imaganitive fiction improves when it is written by people who *have no idea what imaginative fiction is about*, naive & angelic people who invent their goals as well as their tools. Who wouldn't rather have a genuine act of the imagination made by "someone who doesn't know enough about f/sf" than yet another clever rearrangement of the "tropes" by some professional tosser ? I'm not talking about Ozone here, I'm talking about Bruno Schulz or Dino Buzzati, or the utterly unbelievable Alfred Kubin--or for that matter, Mervyn Peake, who was hardly steeped in knowledge of the f/sf genre... Writing is subservient to the need to speak. If you have that need, and you want to use your imagination, all you need to know is that it's possible. It doesn't matter what bits and pieces you pick up out of the general cultural environment to enable that speech. Indeed the more random and untutored your choice, the more lively the outcome. What matters is the talent and the will, the metaphysical and intellectual vise in which you grip your crummy bits and pieces from the wasteland. That's not me speaking. It's the Sophia of the New Weird. To which Nels added-- Bloody Hell! I think that (MJH's 1:38pm post) has just eradicated the need for a bullet-point of the New Weird stuff, Mr Harrison! (Apart from maybe a reference to its quantum nature -- it's THIS, but it's this, this, this and THAT all at the same time, depending on what you use to measure it) (And also, now I think about it, the admonishment to "Professional tossers" could possibly be amended/expanded so that if they insist on coming to the table (word processor?) they do so as a clean slate, so hopefully they can stop bloody flower-arranging with tired old cliches and get on and write something interesting) Just a thought or two. Nels amplified his comment-- And one more piece of free-associated extrapolation for luck: I remember Jonathan Carroll mentioning why he doesn't read genre fiction : "It's just not very well written". (old Raintaxi interview) Spinning off from what you were saying about preferring to read a naive angel: D'you think that that is the main problem with SF/F/H, and the reason it is in the parlous state it is? D'you think that we can define NW-ness on the basis of how WELL it is written (and I'm not talking about Strunk and White's Rules of Grammar here; I'm talking about a visceral punch to the stomach, the soul or the brain, or, to once again pinch something off Mr Carroll "What breaks your heart?"), on how well it shows (or limnes) its own sense of the other? To which I responded-- Hi Nels. Certainly it should break your heart. Or take your breath. Certainly its refusal to accept mere recombination is an insult to as well as assault on tired old generic writing. I'm not sure how much of a New Weird there is yet, but it won't appear at all, in any worthwhile form, if it accepts a place in the generic/academic scheme of things as yet another accepted and welcome development of a development of a development. The interview mentioned is at Strange Horizons. To Nels, again: I'm happy with China's bullet-points, Nels. I don't neccessarily agree with them all, or in the entirety of every point. But I think if nothing else, they're a great basis for discussion. The race to name core texts and get a piece of the action doesn't interest me. I don't see it as part of my function to aid commercial strip-mining of something that ought to be an act taking place between each individual writer and each individual piece of fiction. As a result, I applaud the actions of both Jeff Vandermeer and Charlie Stross in flouncing off. I thought Charlie's way of putting it was particularly in the spirit of things--especially given my own Tom Waits-based image. I'd love to, but really can't take all the credit for destroying the Old Space Opera. It had been dead for years, and rightly so. No life, no imagination, no sense of the world it was generated from. The New Space Opera has been a much more interesting artefact since Iain, Ken, Paul and Al kicked it repeatedly in the head to get it going again. I deeply admire their engineering skills as well as their genius.
By MJH on Wednesday, June 11, 2003 - 03:47 pm:
>>just the idea of the New Weird is tremendously exciting to me, and makes me anxious to try all sorts of stuff in my writing I might have unconsciously prohibited myself from doing in the past. When I read PSS, it made me feel lazy and complacent. So did LIGHT. Both books were like a kick in the goolies. I want more of that, and I don't care what direction it's coming from. Thanks Al. That's all I needed to hear. That's what writing is about. That's the genuine process by which new stuff energises people. The rest is turf wars, as we all know.
By China on Wednesday, June 11, 2003 - 04:07 pm:
(The new stuff just hitting this thread, Mike's interviews etc, is getting way interesting, and I'd rather get with that (Hi Al! What a lovely post, thank you), but here's one last (overlong, sorry) attempt to put to bed some of the misunderstandings that keep on coming) Luís said: "Ah, you say that because you know better. Can you guarantee that it won't happen eventually, once less-sensible readers develop and entrench their affection for "New Weird" as many have for other categories? And reviewers? Even writers?" Nope. I can guarantee nothing, except that *I* have, do and will resist the hierarchisation of categories. It is (I know you weren't saying this) a baseline assumption of the vulgarest postmodernism that categorisation implies hierarchy. Kathryn Cramer said: "This is an interesting and energetic conversation. But a discussion of genre boundaries needs to encompass more writers, works, and publications than can be accomodated in a discussion of the New Weird. Defined by process of elimination, the New Weird is rapidly shrinking. Remaining New Weird writers are, by my count, MJH, China, Justina, maybe Gabe, and one or two drafted posthumously. Everyone else has been shot down or left." Um. At the risk of sounding shirty... "[A] discussion of genre boundaries" may "need" to encompass more writers, etc, as suggested but so what? That's not what's going on here, at least that's not what I'm doing. And I BANG AND BANG AND BANG my head against a wall at the thought that the New Weird can be "defined by process of elimination". It precisely *can't* be defined that way. We're back to sodding positivist bean-counting. New Weird - like most literary categories - is a moment, a suggestion, a tease, an intervention, an attitude, above all an argument. You cannot read off a checklist and say 'x is in, y is out' and think you've understand what's at stake or what's being argued. See Al's own reaction to 'NW' stuff, refusing to say 'well I do space opera so I'm "out"'. Things can be both in and out, some writers may think they're in but be out, others may despise the idea but be in, *this is as it should be*. And when the notion stops being interesting or useful - either because it *wins the argument* in some currently inconceivable way, or because it loses by being transmogrified into a checklist like this, then we should stop talking about it. KC's post reads to me like an attempt to turn a polemico-aesthetic intervention into a set of pigeonholes. I cannot parse the argument any other way than as meaning i) "here is who you all obviously think NW are", and ii) "that's too narrow to be useful, so let's move on". In other words, a misunderstanding of the nature of New Weird is used to argue New Weird out of usefulness and existence. (This, of course, is not a new methodolody of containment) KC: "We should pay very close attention to Jeff VanderMeer's departure (taking with him the crowd he publishes, I think), Jeff having concluded that he will not be using the term New Weird. With Jeff's departure, a significant majority of writers negotiating a new relationship with genre are out." i) So? ii) Not so. i) So? Because, for example, *it may be true* that some of the elements of JeffV's fiction (for my money, as stated above, the whimsical metafictional tropes) stand in antipathy to what I think iotar quite rightly identifies as the crux of the moment of radical alienation at the heart of New (and much old) Weird ("If you have the slightest inkling that they might be having you on, or making it up, or playing a game - it's all ruined"). Pace postmodernism, actually the most radical and interesting thing to do in art, is not to know but to *not know* that fiction stands in an artefactual relationship with reality. And if it's true that to any fundamental extent JeffV's fiction does that then fine, he's not NW. Just because we lose "a significant majority of writers negotiating a new relationship with genre" (a colossally questionable claim anyway) is irrelevant. and ii) Not so. Not so because "Jeff [or anyone else] having concluded that he will not be using the term New Weird" matters to me not one fucking iota in terms of whether I think the category is useful, or even whether or not JeffV should/can be thought of in those terms. That's the job of analysis and polemic. JeffV may not *agree* with how he's categorised, and he may make a good argument against being conceived one way or another, but that's hardly the end of the argument. (For what it's worth, it's my sense that JeffV is probably *not* approaching his fiction in the way most of the people I see as NW do, and so I suspect it may not be a useful category for thinking about him. As I've said elsewhere, that is no inherent argument about quality or interesting-ness.) KC: "As I stated (in my June 4th post), there is a widespread change in writers' relationships to genre boundaries that is different than Slipstream. I am now convinced that this is not the New Weird, but something else which is perhaps in need of naming." I don't think anyone would think these (the fanzines etc) are 'New Weird', necessarily, and whether or not they are is not relevant to the usefulness of this discussion. One might decide that NW is *one* stream among many trying to grapple with genre and its expectations (and if you want to give that larger estuary a name and try to figure any shared characteristics, fine, good luck), but NW still has its specificities. For my money, one of the things that is particular to modern NW is this thing we've been talking about the refusal to choose between the literal and the metaphoric. I think that's utterly key, because it is about a surrender to the internal reality, but a critical one. Take Kelly Link, who I think is utterly wonderful - her fairy-tale influenced stuff seems to me *not* to refuse that moment of choice, but to surrender to a formality of language and slyness of structure and precision of thematic which ultimately choose the metaphoric (broadly conceived) over the literal. Still absolutely blinding stories, but yes, probably not NW. So what? (Though not to be disingenuous, I think iotar is a hundred percent right, I too want "full spectrum dominance" and to fear for my sanity which is why ultimately I have a prediliction for fiction that does not know it is not true. That is why I am at best uneasy with much 'fabulism') KC: "Delany is definitely not New Weird because he thinks genre boundaries serve a useful purpose (and I agree with him)." Again - what Delany *thinks* is frankly no necessary block to me grabbing him for NW if I bloody well say so. And then if he disagrees we'll argue about it. As it happens, I think Delany is toweringly excellent, but not NW. Fine. But not just because he "thinks" something, I could care less what *he* thinks, it's about his *fiction*. (See again Gene Wolfe and Jane Gaskell) I am happy to debate New Weird itself, or the New Weirdness or not of anyone's work, but *not* on the basis that "they say they aren't" or "they don't think it's useful" or "they don't do this one thing you said was important to NW". I could give a tuppenny shite about that.
By Nels on Wednesday, June 11, 2003 - 04:30 pm:
China, whilst you appear to be about this gaff (and having left something that amounts to almost an invitation -- "I am happy to debate New Weird itself, or the New Weirdness or not of anyone's work"), have you read any Mary Gentle? I'm thinking specifically of the "White Crow" books. It (these uber-sprawling NW topics) got me thinking --which doesn't happen often-- t'other day that she has been immersing unsuspecting readers in something like NW-ness for years. Mostly her refusal to pander to a lowest-common denominator readership, and the sudden dizzying twists of mental headspace one must make to accomodate the action in her books (bloke chatting up girl -- oh! She's a giant rat!/ God as an enormous scary stone dragon thingy et cetera). Did her take on epic fantasy (or rather, where she takes epic fantasy) have any bearing on your own stuff? I have a URL for a rant of hers in which she says a lot of stuff that's relevant to NW-ness, which I'll post if anyone wants. Cheers Nels PS: Thanks everyone for taking the time to respond/ answer/shoot me down.
By Justina on Wednesday, June 11, 2003 - 04:33 pm:
I think you just ended the conversation, Mike, Al.
By John Coulthart on Wednesday, June 11, 2003 - 05:26 pm:
>Sod suspension of disbelief. Sod play-acting. I want full spectrum dominance, the walls melting, to fear for my own sanity. Absolutely iotar. There's one flaw I see in this: publishers. Case in point--I did a cover painting a few years ago for a book by David Conway called Metal Sushi. Conway was in the original line-up of My Bloody Valentine but junked the music world to try writing. He fits perfectly the MJH definition of the gifted non-professional. The stories in the book are extraordinary: cyberpunk extrapolations bolted on to frothing-at-the-mouth Lovecraftian mania. Grant Morrison's introduction says it's "prose intended to be snorted rather than read." I've been boring people for years telling them that his story Manta Red is one of the most unhinged, perverse and downright brilliant pieces of fiction I've read in a decade. But here's the rub: these things were written at white heat so they're a bit uneven. Most major publishers (and their writers) would sneer at them for being "poorly written". I know it's an editor's job to sort out these things but I also know he'd sent stuff to a number of publishers and they weren't remotely interested. Fortunately the sainted D.M. Mitchell published them under his own Oneiros imprint. I know there's a small press world and all that but everyone here doesn't need to be made aware of the difficulty of distributing small press works or of raising awareness of what they're doing outside an often parochial and incestuous world. This applies even for established (and dead!) authors: Kubin is published by Dedalus, Machen by Tartarus (at great cost) and the only Buzzati books I have came from Carcanet, Manchester's "other" publisher. Even if New Weird became the great new thing of publishing tomorrow I bet David Conway still wouldn't get a look in and I'd also bet a lot of small presses wouldn't want him either. Nah, too weird, mate. Come back when you can write properly. Oh, and lose the sex stuff... Ask yourself this: who would publish Lautreamont today? John
By Steph on Wednesday, June 11, 2003 - 06:13 pm:
Hi, Nels: Please post the link for me. Thanks. And thanks for mentioning Mary Gentle's work in this context, it's set me wondering....
By Zali on Wednesday, June 11, 2003 - 06:29 pm:
John: I'm sure yr right. And I'm ranting from outside the industry, stamping my little booties and demanding what sort of prose I'd like to snort: the type of stuff that you wouldn't *need* a publisher for, because yr writing itself will secure you a place amongst the elect. (or damned?) And to look back to our conversation on Night Shade: would madness like The Duul's Phallus Dei be accepted by a major label these days? Certainly not! And who cares! That's why the major labels and the big publishing houses and even the small ones lack vision. I might add to my injunction that "If you have the slightest inkling that they might be having you on, or making it up, or playing a game - it's all ruined" - that if you have the slightest notion of marketability while you are writing - it's also fucked! Come on: I want to hear Satanic eruptions from the deepest closet of the unconscious - and so do you! Don't we all? Oh yes, I am advocating naivety and an outsider fiction (Des's outreism?) and the fractured insights of the clown who ate the mind of God, and I know this is, at least in part, a discussion about publishing and networking and genre/mainstream divides, but we've already got actors in that divide: if we can push it all open, if we can knock it over - imagine the possibility of being offered vertiginous insane shit that we all want to read rather than fantasy/SF. Useless dream? I'd say it'd be worth trying. If you failed to achieve a revolution of that extent, at least you'd be able to tell yr grandchildren what you did during the war with a clear conscience. (BTW: Zali is also iotar - I've explained this before, and it's all too tedious right now.)
By MJP on Wednesday, June 11, 2003 - 06:32 pm:
The initial couple of posts in this thread did seem to miss the point. At least part of the interest of this discussion (for me) is its willingness to destroy the polarised idea of fiction standing in opposition to fact; the *categorical* distinction between the real and the fictional is a trite and silly illusion I say. (A form of fiction itself? Yes. But also no.) This is what I am aiming at with phrases like: "the text is irreducible. It appears to have no origin." China seems to say something similar: "the most radical and interesting thing to do in art, is not to know but to *not know* that fiction stands in an artefactual relationship with reality" The phrase "it appears to have no origin" sums up for me the moment of recognition, the point when I become convinced that 'I do not know what I know' - so that what I know I can't grasp. There is a perception. And one that is real. (That is, is as real as anything else.) So, sitting down at a table with a bunch of books, with filing cards, and saying, "That's detective fiction, that's thriller, that's thriller + history, that's sf, subgenre NW 4.5, has nothing to do with it. Who's in, who's out, who left under what cloud taking his mates, because NW (subgenre 4.5) failed to contain any of the relevant sort of descriptions, it misses the point. It is not about types of fiction, but consists rather in the need to arrive at a perception of the possibility (and impossibility) of fiction as fact.
By John Coulthart on Wednesday, June 11, 2003 - 07:07 pm:
>And to look back to our conversation on Night Shade: would madness like The Duul's Phallus Dei be accepted by a major label these days? Certainly not! And who cares! That's why the major labels and the big publishing houses and even the small ones lack vision. Who cares, indeed. Acid Mothers Temple are the Amon Duul of now and they certainly wouldn't be entertained by a major. If you're merely at the consumption end of anything radical, groundbreaking, whatever..., you don't have to care where it comes from, so long as you can find it somehow. It's a lot easier now, thanks to the internet. However, I can't stress this enough: the situation is immeasurably difficult for those at the coal face. Publishers don't want innovation, they want easily-packaged units. You can force it on them to a degree *once you're on the inside* but how many people get that chance, especially if their raw vision prevents them from masquerading as something the publisher can deal with. The kind of cross-genre material being advocated here would be unlikely to receive support from a more daring smaller press like Creation because it's not what they deal with. This is a big problem. Always has been and it doesn't go away. If anything, with greater homogenisation and books being sold in supermarkets, it gets worse. If you want new writers to come in and run with this--and they obviously have to--they have to know there's a route to get to a readership. Right now I'm sceptical that it's there, editors are the company cops, after all. Anyone want to tell me different? John
By Steph on Wednesday, June 11, 2003 - 07:22 pm:
John: No. Though success of PSS opened up the market so NW new writers please push hard now & some may get through. Io: real insanity is totally boring, ersatz but still bellowing insanity only, please!
By Nels on Wednesday, June 11, 2003 - 07:23 pm:
Hi Steph. Glad to. It resides here: http://www.philm.demon.co.uk/Baroquon/MaryGentleArticle.html And as for mentioning her in the context of this discussion -- no problemo! I have been meaning to drop her in for weeks; she seems to me to have always been chipping away at the same complacent/idiotic mindsets and corporate mechanisms as the NW, and certainly her refusal to abide by elf-sodden cliché is a massive boost to my own neophytic scribbling. By the by, I'd recommend anyone read the article, simply because it's bloody hilarious. Take care Nels
By MJH on Wednesday, June 11, 2003 - 08:05 pm:
>>Though success of PSS opened up the market so NW new writers please push hard now & some may get through. This is a highly compressed version of something I was going to say. (I think.) I've had one or two editors over the years who gave me max support because they believed that without angels & headcases you don't get geniuses, and without geniuses you don't get whole new subgeneric slots opening up. I'm not saying China is a headcase: but his genius lies in the *difference* which made him an immediate success. It's up to Steph and other young New Weirders to push hard at the door China has opened, so that a good few of them slip through to further stir things up in the sad fantasy marketplace. It's clear from Steph's tone that she knows this & won't give up her chance. A metaphor from climbing: there are angels & headcases who have enough awareness of the world to survive and become great. They breach the envelope so the rest of us can see what would be possible if we had the nerve. Then there are angels and headcases who can't differentiate between climbing up a cliff and driving a car over a cliff; and while they burn awful bright, they don't last long enough to inspire anyone but their immediate social circle.
By Cheryl Morgan on Wednesday, June 11, 2003 - 08:21 pm:
Wonderful article, Nels. Thank you. (And thanks to Mary too, of course!) MJH: It seems to me that there is a fine line to be drawn between sliping through a door that China has opened and becoming part of a "more like China" genre. The trick, I guess, means writing well, not just picking out a few obvious images and copying them. Whether that will get past the marketing guys, who will be looking for copied images, is another matter.
By JeffV on Wednesday, June 11, 2003 - 08:47 pm:
Back for a moment. It's flattering for Kathryn to suggest a sudden withdrawal from New Weird (which many of them probably aren't even aware of yet) of a whole "posse" of Vander-published/championed writers, but I doubt it's true. Each of those writers has his or her own opinion on this subject, and that opinion is independent of my own. Second, to clarify my previous point about "New Weird"--I'm not necessarily against "labeling". I'm against labeling before we even know what it is we're looking at. (Cue cliche: a blind man, a deaf man, etc., and an elephant.) Third, you can have the moment of radical alienation at the same time that you're told you're reading a story. It's not an either-or proposition. Fourth, if New Weird is defined by *both* China's writing and MJH's writing, then it is two *very* different things indeed. Fifth, an attempt to define certain works as "New Weird" will suck much of the complexity out of those works re reactions to those works. No good, challenging fiction is just one thing or one approach. A truly revolutionary fiction may contradict itself, it may be in constant argument with itself. It may never settle down into a definable, finite, consistent beast. Seventh--China, read Veniss Underground. Then come back and revisit your comment about "whimsical metafiction". It won't make any sense at all. Sixth, none of us will necessarily recognize the new thing when it is in our midst. And the new thing hasn't arrived yet. As far as I'm concerned "New Weird" is already the old thing. JeffV
By JeffV on Wednesday, June 11, 2003 - 08:48 pm:
Er, Sixth, Seventh. Well, you get the idea. JeffV
By Andrew Hook on Wednesday, June 11, 2003 - 08:48 pm:
MJH: Glad that my post seemed timely. Wish I could make such killer punches with my fiction. Viewing from the outside it did appear that once the New Weird were named, grouped, and groomed (not necessarily by those posting here) they might become evaluated and re-evaluated ad infinitum. What we don't want to end up with are: i) NW writers in a rut of NW writing which becomes an ever decreasing circle as it gets further defined. In expansion: writers becoming constricted to only write NW for fear of losing the "NW label", thus frustrating their own development; and ii) publishers hitting on the NW and running with it - recruiting all number of spurious NW names for dubious moneymaking enterprises (similar to a pop world scenario which creates manufactured copycats eschewing real talent); and iii) Readers, once the NW ideology (publicised by publishers) becomes apparant turning snobbish and NOT reading anything other than what is sold as NW, simply because it is not NW. There are dangers of cliqueism (if that's a word) within readers as well as writers. I wonder what the bookshops would be like if publishers *only* published the books that they personally *liked*. Frighteningly, perhaps not so different. Although as a recent addition to the small press publishing world with Elastic Press I'm fortunate to be able to
By MJH on Wednesday, June 11, 2003 - 08:49 pm:
Clearly a danger, Cheryl. I think you have to know who you are to be able to carry it off. Also, you have to be fast on your feet. Steph has a considerable understanding of what she's doing and how it relates to what China's doing. Also I suspect China has opened up quite a large territory. Editors are already beginning to recognise that, in the UK at least. It's a bit like "Egnaro". It's a bit doradista. We've got the scent of it in our nostrils. That's what lies behind these turf wars. My concern is that in the midst of all the expeditions being launched, some of the people who can really bring back the goods get a little of what they're due; and that we don't lose too many of the core values and possibilities on the way.
By Steph on Wednesday, June 11, 2003 - 08:57 pm:
Thanks, MJH, that's what I meant (I have back pain so not typing much today). Cheryl: Agreed. From the writer's point of view, the danger is laziness. It is easy to be weird, but hard to do it well. If a writer can only be weird they’re not going to last. It’s not an end in itself, I’m interested in techniques to wring an effect out of it for the reader's enjoyment. JeffV, fourth: There is the same degree of difference between two New Weird books as there is between a NW and a non-NW.
By Andrew Hook on Wednesday, June 11, 2003 - 08:58 pm:
Or to put the above more succinctly: once you name it you limit it. Just write the story as it comes.
By MJH on Wednesday, June 11, 2003 - 09:02 pm:
Jeff, I'm really interested in Third and Fourth. I'm wondering, could Third be the resolution of the apparent paradox raised in Fourth ? Or am I just being facetious ? "A truly revolutionary fiction may contradict itself, it may be in constant argument with itself. It may never settle down into a definable, finite, consistent beast." I think almost every one of us has said this at some point in the last six or seven weeks. We could be absolutely certain of it as a core principle, no ? Andrew: I think all of these scenarios are likely (see Cheryl's post above). But except in the small presses, writers are always in a rearguard action against this anyway
By Andrew Hook on Wednesday, June 11, 2003 - 09:04 pm:
Ah, I see I fucked up the end of my earlier post (8:48)...on the other hand, let's leave it at that.
By Cheryl Morgan on Wednesday, June 11, 2003 - 09:20 pm:
Jeff: The way I saw it was that Fourth showed that you'd missed what people here were trying to say, and that Fifth, as MJH has just pointed out, contains exactly what people round here have been trying to say. Really, there's a lot less difference between you guys than you think. Apropos which, I suspect that you and China are disputing over the meaning of "whimsy". China is taking a British definition of it, which I understand, but I expect your definition is somewhat different. Meerkats are cute and comical, right? And utterly creepy in Veniss. But not whimsical by a British meaning of the word.
By JeffV on Wednesday, June 11, 2003 - 09:43 pm:
MJH: The answer is...No. Cheryl: I wasn't aware China and I were disputing. But point taken re whimsy. Jeff
By MJH on Wednesday, June 11, 2003 - 10:29 pm:
Jeff: well, I think me & China would be sad to be thought an either/or proposition, an inadmissible paradox among admissible ones. So I guess we'll just have to argue that we're not as mutually exclusive as you suspect. Clearly *we* don't think we are...
By MJH on Wednesday, June 11, 2003 - 10:54 pm:
No, scratch that. I *am* just being facetious, and it's got to stop.
By Cheryl Morgan on Wednesday, June 11, 2003 - 10:59 pm:
Interesting post over on Nightshade. Jeremy Lassen commented that NW was a bit like a quantum particle. If you try to observe it (which is what the likes of Kathryn and I tend to do) then it collapses and becomes something un-quantum and mundane. So you can't talk about what it is, you just have to be it (or in our case write it).
By China on Wednesday, June 11, 2003 - 11:34 pm:
(Some of my response to JeffV I'm emailing to him personally as it's not germane to the wider discussion.) I think the point made by several people above about his Fifth point being just what's going on here is very good. Two specific responses: "Third, you can have the moment of radical alienation at the same time that you're told you're reading a story. It's not an either-or proposition." This is a very interesting argument (and may in fact be key to the whole debate over 'whimsy' (and Cheryl is right, it's a nebulous term)). See, though I'm willing to have my mind changed here (and indeed used to feel very differently, and was a big-ass fan of Calvino et al, who now rather irritates me), I think I would dispute this assertion. It seems to me that being told you're reading a story is not in and of itself a radical thing to do, as we all *know* we're reading a story. The question is what is the *point* of that moment of self-reflection? It is my sense in most of the metafiction I've read, that the very telling that 'this is a story' is pitched as some kind of subversive revelation, and I don't think it is. It is at best rather banal, at worst *actively destructive* of the subsumption and alienation the writer has achieved (see the countless egregious witterings in late-80s comics when comic characters *meet their artists/writers*, golly gosh). This, don't forget, is a game that *Chaucer* played in the Canterbury Tales, so if it does have an effect (which I non-dogmatically question) it's certainly not the Shock of the New. "Fourth, if New Weird is defined by *both* China's writing and MJH's writing, then it is two *very* different things indeed." Bang bang bang head bang bang bang. It's not *defined* by either of us.
By Rick on Thursday, June 12, 2003 - 12:09 am:
Zali: re. your post here (about number 9?)... Yep. That's the stuff.
By Night Shade Books on Thursday, June 12, 2003 - 01:46 am:
Just to pop in for a moment. Andrew said "I wonder what the bookshops would be like if publishers *only* published the books that they personally *liked*." Well, actually, that's what quite a number of us do. Not much point to it otherwise. Jason
By MJP on Thursday, June 12, 2003 - 09:28 am:
Regarding JeffV's "the moment of radical alienation at the same time that you're told you're reading a story" There are all sorts of ways to be told you are reading a story, and they don't have to be 'metafictional'. (They can be innocent of theory, which is perhaps necessary here.) Shakespeare uses this device in his frequent 'play within a play' scenes. You watch the play, which is a transparent fiction, but within that you watch a further fiction that treats the base fiction as real. The fictional play reflects off the 'actual' play, which then takes on a dimension of seeming more real even while its formal nature, emphasised by the play within a play, suggests that it is *less real* - i.e. just another play. Shakespeare constantly emphasises the unreality of his plays ("poetry is the most seeming"), while simultaneously using devices that consolidate their real sense. I would describe that as a modal strategy. It isn't generic (it can be used in any sort of play, about anything; as Shakespeare does use it); it touches on an idea of the real without boundaries.
By iotar on Thursday, June 12, 2003 - 10:03 am:
>>Io: real insanity is totally boring, ersatz but still bellowing insanity only, please! Steph: Oh yes, completely. I think in the fervency of my gibberings I may have used "insane" rather loosely. My usage was in the light of the images of holy fools and heretical pilgrims drunk with revelation that preceded that posting.
By Andrew Hook on Thursday, June 12, 2003 - 12:30 pm:
Jason: Naturally I agree with you, but as a publisher Nightshade isn't targeting the lowest common denominator to generate sales (personal assumption). Other publishers appear to be - my point was whether *those* publishers enjoyed what they published. Silly question really, best forgot.
By MJP on Thursday, June 12, 2003 - 01:09 pm:
Other 'modalities' would be - ? The statue that comes alive. (Pygmalion.) The picture that one can step into. (MJH uses this - obliquely - in his 'Old Women' story.) The fake history. (PKD's 'We can remember it for you wholesale.' Robbe-Grillet's work in general. Darieauseque's (sp?) 'My Phantom Husband'.) The transformation. (Man into pig etc.) And so on. These are pretty well used forms, but that doesn't mean they can't be re-used again and again in new ways. (So that you don't even notice them.) These are modalities rather than genre forms.
By MJP on Friday, June 13, 2003 - 01:39 pm:
I know this topic is dead (everyone having buggered off somewhere else, via Luton) - *But* I have just thought of a new angle, just for my own purposes (you can ignore it). Interesting that Rick said the NW discussion made him feel claustrophobic. It is symptomatic to feel that way, I believe, because what is being attempted isn't available to us, it is literally something that we can't articulate. Someone commented, "NW [is] a bit like a quantum particle": it keeps changing every time you look at it. A 'mental cramp' is experienced: it seems impossible to *think* ... "What in the world is all this talk *for*?" It amounts to an attempt to define an aesthetic. But of course it is precisely the aesthetic that we can't say. Like a piece of music. You can *hear* the music, but nothing meaningful about it other than a gesture, a "That's nice" or "Mm, moving" (Or “Bloody hell!”) can be uttered. Sf represents this issue, this quandary of inarticulacy, in a very interesting way. For one thing, it often isn't particularly ‘aesthetic’ in its formal rendering (in fact it can be spectacularly not so) even though there are aesthetic things in it (typically this taking the form of a sense of wonder). (Example, Piers Anthony can write very badly, but there are moments when his lack of artistic inhibition pays off: as with a shape changing alien who one moment is a blanket, the next a snake &c. There are few writers who can be so imaginative so literally, so naively.) There is a kind of junk wonder: it ain’t pretty, but it is wonderful all the same. It reveals sf to be at the site of a fundamental conflict. Science (as the touchstone of the mundane world) represents an absolute; as such it is the most powerful, persuasive force for change that has ever existed. It generates its own sense of wonder. And yet there is something static, paralysing, about it. Somehow, it seems not to be (not to contain) what we are. So that sf can be read as a direct response to this: to the feeling of invasion, alienation. That is understanding it as a response to this 'indescribable intuition': that somehow a fundamental loss is being enforced on our lives by science. What I am saying is that sf brings the idea that there is something that we cannot articulate to boiling point. So that, paradoxically, this is what it is about *in essence*: the aesthetic! (The de-natured aesthetic …) This is what it is about, only it doesn't ('can't') know it! A folly is engaged in, like some sort of two-headed monster; twins battling it out with each other. They are unable to realise their equality, their sameness, so that the one struggles with the other. (To give a perhaps somewhat feeble example.) Conclusion: the New Weird is to do with getting at this problem directly, because of its increasingly obvious nature; it is becoming ever more tantalising. (A whole new area opens up here to do with how this might be undertood politically, maybe starting with Zizek. But also maybe it's time to take a rest. :0)
By Justina on Friday, June 13, 2003 - 05:44 pm:
I think that we've realised that there are 2 things going on in this discussion - one is the writing of realism-bending fiction and one is the philosophical enquiry about the nature of inner reality and its projection into the outside world. For the writing side, I think we've said all we can say. On the philosophical side I think there's a long way to go. MJP wrote: a fundamental loss is being enforced on our lives by science Every time someone coins a fact, another metaphor breaks down. Isn't that part of this sensation? I think many people feel that science shuts the door in the face of imagination. I don't feel that way at all, but it's a common response to SF and 'geekdom' in general from many artistic sources. Also, there's a great frustration in that all our efforts to use science and technology to create great living dreamworks of social bliss have all conspired to make the actual world, and fallen very short of our aspirations. This in spite of all the good they've brought about. Politically I think we're all suffering from a clash of dream vs reality and this writing and much subsequent writing will be the sparks flying off that point where one grinds against the other, as usual. Technology makes you believe so wholeheartedly in the vision of social progression it's hard to believe that we haven't all come to an enlightened peace. It's hard to see that this dream is only a dream. Blah, I'm wiffling.
By Charlie Stross on Saturday, June 14, 2003 - 08:46 pm:
No, you're not wiffling -- you're making a lot of sense. The development of a critical or philosophical theory is distinct from the development of a new writing style. The politics of technology are, of course, another matter again. I've had discussions with Karl Schroeder about this; his position is that any technology (and let's keep that separate from science, the experimental pursuit of knowledge) is implicitly political. To some extent he's right; what interests me is the way in which the political implications of particular technologies skew our perceptions of technology as a whole, or (to stand it on its head) the way in which politics determines the technologies into which R&D money is invested.
By MJP on Sunday, June 15, 2003 - 12:01 pm:
Charlie Stross, "his position is that any technology (and let's keep that separate from science, the experimental pursuit of knowledge) is implicitly political" On the contrary, science is as political as anything else: it operates as a function of our sense of our own importance. I will have to admit at the outset, this issue puts me in a (rather contradory) blind rage. All kinds of 'scientific facts' - that is, concepts that structure our ideas of what is real - are not facts at all; they are value judgements. For example, that we are the top of the evolutionary tree. Whichever way you look at it that is a value judgement. E.g. more complex is better. You could argue that value judgements are inevitable. So, perhaps they are. But that also means that they need to be argued. My argument is: these value judgements are nothing more than reflections of our sense of our own importance. They are the milk of human shite.
By MJP on Sunday, June 15, 2003 - 01:07 pm:
My god that is a bad tempered post (by me). Looking back over other posts, I said: "a tv is simultaneously a piece of hardware and a 'myth'. That is, simply by existing or being conceivable, it implies a sense to reality. Similarly for other such things, robots, cameras, computers, mobile phones: they are myths as well as technologies." Where does the myth begin? If a robot is a mythical being, a phantasm, yet, simultaneously, an 'anti-mythical' reality.
By Charlie Stross on Sunday, June 15, 2003 - 01:57 pm:
MJP: I don't think it's a coincidence that the one example you cite of 'scientific facts' that are value judgements is one that also gets evolutionary biologists up in a frothing rage because it's a grotesque misinterpretation of what they're saying. (You might find "Wonderful Life" by Stephen Jay Gould an interesting read on this issue -- a bit long in the tooth as his more extreme position has been to some extent refuted, but he was no fan of the judgemental concept of an evolutionary ladder either.) I'd further go on to say that if something is represented as scientific fact in the popular media it generally isn't, or is grossly oversimplified and misunderstood. Which is one reason why many scientists tend to get very angry when their ideas are parodied or pigeon-holed this way, and value judgements are ascribed to them that aren't anything to do with their research. As for the myth/technology dichotomy -- robots existed in fiction long before anything more complex than clockwork automata existed in reality. TVs likewise. Mobile phones. We imagine these things and they show up because we imagined them, we desired them, and they're feasible.
By MJP on Sunday, June 15, 2003 - 11:20 pm:
Charlie Stross, Fair point about SJG. I had forgotten that. I am getting too repetitive so I am going to try to shut up for a while. But what I was attempting to say with the robot example is more peculiar than how you have understood me. Lots of modern inventions were imagined by Francis Bacon in the 17th Century. But that is part of the argument. He realised the pragmatic possibility of a world governed by technology. Going back to Justina's key observation, "Every time someone coins a fact, another metaphor breaks down." This is not a little crisis. It has been working itself out over centuries: from the aesthetic of the Romantic poets through to the individualism of Nietzsche, through the depersonalisation of Dialectical Materialism, down to National Socialism, the Dadaists, etc etc: what place do we have in the world? A tv *is* a myth. That is what I am saying. Not that it once was, and has since become fact. It is one, irreducibly. It blasts in at us from every angle, but because it is so ubiquitous, because it is so much the world, so various and qualitatively changeable, and (more than that) because we think that 'facts are facts and myths are myths' we don't see it. What I am suggesting is that a fact is *itself* a myth: a concrete, all-encomapassing myth, that leaves us in crisis because of our inability to realise these two things simultaneously, in one and the same thought: it is a rational impossibility, confronted with which, we choose 'fact' over 'myth' - we choose to believe the two things mutually exclusive; it forces out sense. The politics of technology as seen by writers like say Virilio inevitably touches on this problem. In order to be able to say anything meaningful about the militarisation of technology Virilio has to revert to (often extravagant) metaphor. He (Virilio) often fails at being rationally coherent in this; but it remains that he is able to be suggestive about it in his investigations because of the way that the mythical nature of technology is made palpable by this means.
By Rajnar Vajra on Monday, June 16, 2003 - 01:41 pm:
MJP -- the "modalities" you mentioned earlier: The statue coming to life [robot/AI], the picture one can enter [VR], the fake history [suggestion-induced memories], and the transformation [genetic modification], support your myth/technology insight. Seems to me that as technology evolves (assuming we don't kill ourselves off in the process) and our powers become more godlike, our experience will become increasingly tinted with mythic aspects. But maybe that's just my coffee talking....
By Charlie Stross on Monday, June 16, 2003 - 01:52 pm:
MJP: I do not understand your use of the term "myth" to describe technologies. You seem to be asserting that they're metaphors. This is, frankly, a wholly alien way of looking at things to me -- it smells of magical thinking, and I can't help thinking that we're probably stumbling around on opposite sides of the iron curtain separating C. P. Snow's two cultures.
By MJH on Monday, June 16, 2003 - 01:54 pm:
MJP, I haven't anything to add, but I am beginning to think this is *so* cool-- "What I am suggesting is that a fact is *itself* a myth: a concrete, all-encomapassing myth, that leaves us in crisis because of our inability to realise these two things simultaneously, in one and the same thought: it is a rational impossibility, confronted with which, we choose 'fact' over 'myth' - we choose to believe the two things mutually exclusive; it forces out sense." Because fiction can *do* the moment of suspension; or *be* it. Really, thank you for this.
By Justina on Monday, June 16, 2003 - 03:36 pm:
Charlie: I was thinking over your and MJP's exchange and I thought, trying to sort it all out - what is a house? It's a building of various dimensions. It has physical reality, but it's also the place a family lives (or doesn't), a place that carries enormous meanings, it's Baba Yaga's hut and it's my house here and now, it's safety from the outside world, it's Me and not You, it's In and not Out, it's permanence over transience, protection against change and the weather...you can go on and on. It's all of those things at once. When you 'fact' a house, we're talking about breezeblocks and carpets. But if that's all it was, then nobody would care about it. People only care about the mythic, the meaningful elements of things. They want to watch TV that emphasises the mythic power of homes (Changing ROoms, Home Front etc), family and property and self. It's all inextractible. It's not only fiction that can do the suspension. We do it all the time and we THINK we're talking about bricks and mortar, but that's the last thing on our mind. A house is a technological product but a house is a myth first, and so is everything else not direclty appearing from the natural world. Else why does advertising work - to go back to Mike's cars and dolphins.
By Simon on Monday, June 16, 2003 - 03:41 pm:
MJP, let's now take your post and pin it to the forehead of the very next radio pundit who talks about something existing only, or emerging at last from, or being consigned to, 'the realms of science fiction'. As compact an example (though inane) of the sort of cognitive dissonance you're getting at; that is, if I'm reading you right. Charlie, you are making difficulties for yourself by citing CPS. What you're hitting here is not some big cultural iron curtain but the friction between an aesthetic which values objects as sculptures (yours) and an aesthetic which values objects as parts of the landscape (MJP's -- again, if I'm not misreading him horribly -- always a possibility). Even so, there's no real contradiction for you to have to hurdle, as Paul Shepheard's ur-novel 'Artificial Love' demonstrates. Shepheard corrals both the 'made alien' of sculpture and the 'natural signature' of landscape under the umbrella term 'architecture'. Architecture is at once an intentional act and an ingredient of landscape. Intentionality exists, but not for everyone. Some things which one group 'intended', are for other groups simply 'there'. For him, it's reading _architecture_, rather than reading fiction, which 'does' the moment of suspension, in which individual acts of intention reveal themselves against a ground which is apparently 'natural', apparently 'inevitable' (equally, in which intended acts reveal their evolutionary fitness; one might even dare to say, their inevitability). This is a matter of ontology, Charlie (and from here-on in I am strictly on my own and winging it). For things to exist, they MUST also be fantasies. The very act of recall is an act of fantasy. The very act of perception is an act of fantasy. That the more fantastical fantasies have the edges rubbed off them by SOMETHING (which we'll call, with jaw-dropping glibness, the phenomenological world) does not make them any less fantastic. An example, from your own experience and considerable competence, of the fantasticalness of things: You, of all of us, can quote chapter and verse about what a computer 'is'. The first thing you would surely say (remembering our conversations) is that a computer cannot be talked about in the singular: it's a temporary historical manifestation of numberless interests, from artificial life to game theory to ecology to ballistics to telegraphy to puppetry to God knows what. The term 'computer' hasn't 'realised' those interests: it's simply _manifested_ them in a particular pattern, at a particular moment. To claim any more for the actual, physical machine at which you and I are sitting is INSANELY reductive. Now I would argue that EVERY _artefact_ is an absurd reduction of a set of larger _interests_. Plato had it arse-about face. There are no Ideal Forms in the beyond, only Reductive Forms in the here and now. The pity of our moment in history is that our Reductive Forms are being sold to us as though they were Ideal Forms -- in other words, as though we might attain the Beyond through them. "The Ultimate Breakthrough In Something Or Other!!!!" Think about the meaning of that word 'ultimate'. The sheer fucking dishonesty of it. The world is bigger than we are. We use fantasy as a tool to percieve and process the world. We hurl it at the world, constantly, and pick up the echoes. The invention, last century, of the TV, doesn't satisfy our general desire for TV, any more than last week's hamburger satisfies world hunger. Our idea of TV is bigger and more protean than any TV. No TV could ever satisfy it. The use of the very word TV reduces our desire to an absurdity, and tears it, bleeding, from out of the mesh of interconnected interests, ideas, and myths which have found, and will continue to find, fleeting, momentary expression in the actual, material article. Erik Davis -- a light, sardonic writer, but a very smart one -- argues that we should enjoy our artefacts as _manifestations_ of myth, not _realisations_ of scripture.
By Charlie Stross on Monday, June 16, 2003 - 04:47 pm:
Justina, Simon: I think my problem with MJP is that he seemed to be mythologizing technology. Techne; art, craft. As if it's distinct from any other kind of human experience. I don't see it as such; technology seems to me to be a term we apply to those of our productions that are so complex that we, personally, don't understand how they work. One guy's technological miracle is another guy's boring bundle of widgets that fit together in a perfectly obvious way. Nor do I buy the idea that technology has any kind of direction (other than the emergent imperatives of naked ape socialisation). It's just something we do, like sea otters with stones and abalone shells. In fact, myth-making is a technology. Mythologizing TV, or houses, or caves under the hills, I can get a handle on, though. "Every time someone coins a fact, another metaphor breaks down." Let me see if I can paraphrase this: "technological progress is destroying our myths about the future". Seeing US Navy aviators with crew cuts playing golf on the moon on TV destroyed all those Golden Age stories about the first lunar expeditions. Reality TV shows make it very difficult to spin myths about the possibility of reality TV shows without explicitly referring to the thing itself, as it exists. And so our options as writers are constrained in ways that our predecessors didn't have to put up with. Hence the need for a new approach to myth-making. (Am I on target here? Let's see if I can get enough of a handle on this discussion to contribute something useful ...)
By Simon on Monday, June 16, 2003 - 06:32 pm:
Ach Charlie, I'm really torn now. I think you're putting words into MJP's mouth, for a start. On the other hand, I agree with your first paragraph pretty much completely. As for your third paragraph, I suggest you re-read De Lillo NOW. The myths do not go away just because a bit of material manifestation happens to coincide with them. Horatio still holds the bridge, and the Fisher King still maunders by his fire. Mythology is NEVER realised, only manifested. Only accreted.
By Charlie Stross on Monday, June 16, 2003 - 07:17 pm:
Simon: I take your point on accretion. Nevertheless, I still hold that it's impossible to write a first-man-on-the-moon story without being aware of the way events have overtaken myth. "Destroying" myths is possibly too strong a way of putting it, but rendering them unappetizing or hard to suspend disbelief in ...
By Al on Monday, June 16, 2003 - 08:53 pm:
Evening all! >> "Destroying" myths is possibly too strong a way of putting it, but rendering them unappetizing or hard to suspend disbelief in ... I think what's going on here is something very intriguing; I'm not sure how much it has to do with destroying myths. Most science fiction is predicated on things-that-might-happen, whatever form it takes. When a moon landing or similar happens for the first time, the thing happening moves from being a thing-that-might-happen to a thing-that-has-happened. From the point of view of a science fiction writer, that radically changes it; it's no longer a subject for speculation, it's something that has in some way happened and that happening has to be dealt with. Maybe the difficulty Charlie's describing isn't related to the destruction of myth but rather to the difficulties that a particular way of seeing the world has when its previously mythic creations step out of its collective mind and become manifest in the here and now. So this isn't neccesarily a broader crisis of mythic identity, but rather a specific crisis of a particular kind of writing / associated world view. After all, when the prophecies are coming or have come true on their own, what do you need the prophet for?
By Charlie Stross on Monday, June 16, 2003 - 09:30 pm:
"After all, when the prophecies are coming or have come true on their own, what do you need the prophet for?" Thank you, Al, I think you've just seeded my next novel (after the one I'm mired in) ...
By Rajnar on Monday, June 16, 2003 - 10:09 pm:
"After all, when the prophecies are coming or have come true on their own, what do you need the prophet for?" Perhaps you need a prophet more than ever, but one with better vision.
By MJH on Monday, June 16, 2003 - 11:01 pm:
You still need a prophet because it was never in the job description of a real prophet to predict the arrival of some piece of machinery or another. That's not prophecy, it's futurology: a cheap notion which already lies on MJP's "fact" side of the division. Prophecy, as Rajnar is on the edge of pointing out, is a more dignified and less low rent discipline. This is like confusing telephony with telepathy. The comparison is reductive, geeky and absurd: there's no richness to it, or the metaphors that can be made with it.
By Al on Monday, June 16, 2003 - 11:50 pm:
>> The myths do not go away just because a bit of material manifestation happens to coincide with them. >> You still need a prophet because it was never in the job description of a real prophet to predict the arrival of some piece of machinery or another. And that for me goes to the heart of what good writing / work in general in this kind of field is. If it can be confused by the future, its prophecies trumped by lived reality, then it's not doing the job it needs to; it's MJH's futurology, little more. But if fifty or a hundred or however many years go by, and it's become news that's stayed news - fresh, insightful despite the obsolescence of trivial parts of its framework - THEN it's doing what it needs to, throbbing away into the future and surprising and moving people and changing them. So - Rajnar's absolutely right - when the prophecies trump the prophet, >> you need a prophet more than ever, but one with better vision.
By MJH on Tuesday, June 17, 2003 - 10:35 am:
Couldn't agree more, Al. But also, MJP's sort of suspension: willed ambivalence. Is this literal, or is it a metaphor ? Is this fact or is it fiction ? Am I being asked to suspend disbelief or am I not ? Inside something that rich is where your values find their elbow room, get their dime in the deal. Writing is about prophecy is about values. Charlie's prophecies--because he's prophesying in the real sense every time he opens his mouth, he's nothing if he's not a true, prosyletising prophet--are based firmly on the adventures of the double-G chromosome in the 80s & 90s. The thread reeks of Geek testosterone and dot com startups whenever he's around. I love it. It's heady, like a whiff of ancient adrenalin, a whiff of the past's idea of what the future was going to be.
By Charlie Stross on Tuesday, June 17, 2003 - 11:37 am:
Mike: be glad you got to watch the dot-com crash from outside. When you wake up one morning, find you're living in a 1980's William Gibson future, and you want out, it's no fun! (Incidentally, if you want to get a whiff of the geek testosterone in action today, naively optimistic start-up culture and all, and if you happen to be in Boston, you could do worse than get in touch with the MIT Media Lab and arrange for the guided tour. I think my suspension of disbelief blew a fuse somewhere between the Disruptive Technologies Laboratory and the Department of Bits and Atoms ...) I've toyed with the idea of writing a historical novel set in a dot-com in 1999. Just to recall the whiff of doomed utopianism, the manic enthusiasm, and the feel of what it was like when the sharks began to move in. The SFnal reinterpretation would be to project forward a decade or two, to make it a nanotech industry startup (real Drexlerian nanotech, not the glorified chemical engineering that's currently being touted as "nanotech" in search of grant body funding). But is it going to smell the same? (I'm obsolescent, too old and slow and burned-out to be part of the next revolution: I'm a good predictor for the last decade's future, not the new one.) And if not, what's it going to smell of?
By MJH on Tuesday, June 17, 2003 - 03:27 pm:
I enjoyed the show, Charlie. I enjoyed the sound of the great bull market coming down, & all those guys beginning to find out firsthand what they'd actually meant when they said, "Money has no morality." Cool. You should write it as a historical, that book. Are there any good New Journalist style accounts of those times ? I'd love to read one.
By Charlie Stross on Tuesday, June 17, 2003 - 03:41 pm:
I was too damn close to it to be reading journalistic accounts. I went into a start-up as programmer #1, two weeks before it was formed, and came out two weeks after the IPO -- it's still going and actually showing a profit, incidentally, although they're bloody lucky given all the sharks in armani suits who showed up when they scented money in the water. ("Lobsters" was what I wrote in order not to have a nervous breakdown -- now I'm writing full-time instead, chewed up and spat out on the spoil heap of the information super-pileup, I'm a lot happier.) Mind you, there's always Neal Stephenson's seminal ninety-page travelogue from Wired: Mother Earth, Mother Board. It's about bandwidth and cable-laying rather than the dot coms, but it has something of the same manic stench to it ...
By Al on Tuesday, June 17, 2003 - 04:01 pm:
I was doing some research about that time for an abortive film script, incredible time - couldn't believe the amount of manic bullshit that was generated! And people's ability to believe it. A headhunter friend once told me that she'd met a lot of people who'd been ruined by it all, had received insane salary, expectations etc in their early to mid 20s and would never find anything like it again. They've lived in fantasy, for sure. Will put up some of the books I was reading when I get home tonight, if you're interested. A friend gave me a coffee table 'major players' book from the time, incredible stuff, reads like pure PR puff for the share prices of everyone involved now. A huge scam.
By Charlie Stross on Tuesday, June 17, 2003 - 04:24 pm:
Some of it was bullshit -- and some of it wasn't. (Web sites to help people buy trainers? Gimme a break!) But what I found myself in ... A couple of guys I knew were working for a business publishing company -- the sort of folks who published company reports. They'd got the idea of selling them via the web, then hit a brick wall: as of 1996, there was no way of hooking a web server up to Natwest or Barclays or the other banks so that a user could type in their credit card number and make a payment. So they spun off a small company to figure out how to do that, said, "Charlie, can you figure out how to hook this web server up to Natwest and Barclays? And Lloyds and the Royal Bank of Scotland and ..." and that was basically it. Datacash. We sold dot-coms the rope to hang themselves with. Follow the infrastructure. Shops need plumbing; online stores need online plumbing. What took us by surprise was how fast everything moved. A business that grows 30% per year is a phenomenal success, in most fields; we hit 30% per month at one point (which gives you a very acute feel for how sharp an exponential curve is). Of course, all that makes it sound mundane (which in some ways it was) and boring (which it wasn't). There was a hell of a lot of pain there as we worked like maniacs to build up something that would make us all rich -- you don't work eighteen consecutive months without a holiday and not look kind of pasty-faced and wild-eyed at the end of it. And then it didn't make us rich, after all. The guy above me got a million quid's worth of shares at IPO price, along with a twelve month lock-in ... just in time for the bottom to drop out of the market, taking everyone with it. Me, I got two bent farthings and the pleasure of telling our CEO to go fuck himself. Other people got even less. But it was, as they say, an unforgettable learning experience -- and if I ever get a book out of it, it'll be the final irony because doing this shit probably put my writing career back half a decade.
By Al on Tuesday, June 17, 2003 - 04:41 pm:
I saw some of the other end of it - started working for a Technology PR / Marketing agency shortly after the crash. They expected massive growth, I ended up going to First Tuesdays in the Atlantic Bar with three other people reminiscing about how you couldn't move for venture capitalists 6 months ago, meeting lost tech focussed MBAs who'd just got out of business school in time for the whole bubble to burst...
By Rajnar on Wednesday, June 18, 2003 - 04:27 pm:
Returning for a moment to the New Weird: by my lights, one of its defining characteristics (and a primary reason it fills my creative sails) is that it combines waveforms that are normally disparate or even immiscible. These waveforms can be biological, cultural, psychological, historical, scientific, magical, etc., but the well-chosen hybrids can strike electrifying notes from the bell of strangeness. Analogies are slippery devils, but in musical acoustics, combining waveforms carries the risk of creating muddy sounds rather than intiguing ones, and I think writing has equivalent risks -- particularly when three or more waveforms are combined. One author I haven't heard mentioned in the New Weird context but who may well have provided a seminal influence is Tim Powers. He's certainly combined some interesting waveforms and the results have seldom been muddy.
By MJH on Wednesday, June 18, 2003 - 05:11 pm:
I wouldn't want to see pure combinative principles developed, because they would imply combination for its own sake. Leading at best to an aesthetic, at worst a bullet-point in a list of submission guidelines. For me the recombinative aspect has to be leashed--or unleashed--by purpose. You ask: Why would the piece require this ? Another thing: much of the time you aren't in search of nice. No mud, maybe, but a big bunch of dischords--you are combining to derail and undermine, because bringing the reader up against that very "immiscibility" acheives something like the suspension of either/or MJP describes.
By Rajnar on Wednesday, June 18, 2003 - 05:33 pm:
By MJP on Saturday, June 21, 2003 - 12:52 am:
Has anybody seen those two gigantic inflatables outside the Tate Modern? One is male the other female. (Forgotten who the artist is.) They are next to the grass areas so you see people picknicking next to them. Very appropriate. What interests me most is the male figure. He looks sort of like a Disney, Mickey Mouse figure, but not quite. He has a giant nose, like a ruler straight erect penis, and a mouth into which the nose would fit. No eyes. It expresses surprise, neediness, infantilism, blank emotionalism. The figure is wholly black and appears to be sitting on a neat pile of books or albums, with his two three fingured 'hands' (paws) resting on his knees. What he exemplifies, I think, is our grasp of mythic sense in the present day. It is utterly simple, infantile, needy, and blank. Masturbatury even. Essential to his sense is his gigantism. He is the size of a house. (Re Justina and the question about a house.) This is where we take our picnics.
By Justina on Monday, June 30, 2003 - 02:36 pm:
Has anybody read Mary Midgley's "Science and Poetry"? I'm only part way through but she seems to be heading towards territory we've been covering here. She even explicitly mentions the fact that SF has been marginalised and ignored stupidly on page 22. Here's a quote for interested souls from P38, The Cognitive Role of Poetry: "...poets - including of course imaginative prose writers - are prophets, not in the sense of foretelling things, but of generating forceful visions. They express, not just feelings, but crucial ideas in a direct, concentrated form that precedes and makes possible their later articulation by the intellect and their influence on our actions." MJP - is this the kind of philosophy you felt would underpin a sensible appreciation of literature within the context of human ideas?
By MJP on Monday, June 30, 2003 - 04:33 pm:
Justina, that book sounds interesting. I have heard of Midgely but not read her. I see all the questions we are discussing as involving intricately related issues; issues that have to be thought about conceptually in a connected way in order to make full sense of them. Including the issues of freedom and morality. That phrasing she uses is good because it doesn't commit the reader to an epistemology. It doesn't suggest a theory of knowledge but just says that imaginative writers discover 'things' in a visionary way. My view of what those 'things' are is paradoxical, that they cannot be articulated, even though that is what a poem, story etc consisist in - articulated thoughts &c. However, with time that area of 'what cannot be articulated' changes, as circumstances change. The primitive response to time and the seasons of the early Greeks, in which gods were used to describe the season's causes and conditions cannot be reproduced in the present because too much is understood (or seems to be understood); we can articulate too much. It is false to try to speak as if those gods still existed, in these terms: they are ersatz .. and yet still (in a way) one finds them convincingly reproduced, as in Mike's CoTH. Somehow their sense is still primitively realised. In other words, Mike finds a way of articulating what cannot be said. There were also passages of your book Natural History where I felt you managed a similar thing. So - the problem that understanding literature more realistically, or truly, in order to avoid the reductive "Middlemarch *is* literature" thinking that much modern criticism represents, is that it brings us towards things that we cannot articulate, with this condition representing its value. We are in a double bind. The natural world *can be* articulated - explained; rendered intelligible - without recourse to art or mysticism (unlike in Greek times); which seems to show that all effort to say otherwise is a category error. I don't believe it is a category error, but it requires a fundamental repositioning of what science is and does in order to see that. Science teaches us to know but it also teaches us to not know. It is the teaching us to not know that sf investigates, but this is barely understood. It needs to be put at the centre of our critical understanding but this is where it seems irrelevent, precisely in this application. We can't say what is of value in sf but that is what is of value, what can't be said! All that there are, are myths of disappearance.
By MJP on Tuesday, July 01, 2003 - 09:16 am:
Don't know if the above makes all that much sense. I was reading Barthes Mythologies this morning. In a section called 'Myth Today' he says, "A tree is a tree...But a tree as expressed by Minou Drouet is no longer quite a tree, it is a tree which is decorated, adapted to a certain type of consumption ... in short with a type of social usage which is added to pure matter." There is an irony here. Barthes' concept 'pure matter' is of course itself a myth. But it is a myth that isn't realised for what it is.
By Justina on Tuesday, July 01, 2003 - 09:39 am:
MJP - very interesting. Mary goes on to write about the false dichotomy between science and the arts: how it arose, why it persisted and what its results have been for thought - namely that the philosophical underpinnings of the approach to both art and science have been ignored as their determination to view the world in different ways (for a host of reasons) has been too powerful to naysay, e.g. the persistence of that godawful behaviourist toss in psychology (my phrases - shes' much more eloquent, natch). Reading Midgley makes me realise what you can achieve if you don't switch your brain off. She is highly readable and very precise too, except for some reason my edition was printed in 8pt (saving paper I assume) which makes it eye-watering.
By Bogshed on Tuesday, July 01, 2003 - 10:05 am:
In The Age Of Wire and String, Ben Marcus complained of: 'professional disclosers, who after systematically looting our country of its secrets, are now busy shading every example of so-called local colour into their own banal hues...' It's the magic and mystery of existence (or non-existence) we should be celebrating and demonstrating. Marcus's book is a great example of how to do it (although a story might have helped). Tove Jansson had it too. Science can ruin, as well as fuel the imagination.
By Steph on Friday, July 04, 2003 - 09:25 pm:
So much wonderful weirdness being generated in London. If you are around the area, try the Medicine Man exhibition. http://www.wellcome.ac.uk/en/1/pinpubactexhbri.html ...Hmm, when my website's built I'll have a thread for 'recommended weirdnesses'. For Londoners: the Old Operating Theatre,& Southwark Market - walked through this today very faint on my feet after cortisone jab. 'I was the dreamer, they the dream/I roamed delighted through the motley spectacle.'
By Steph on Friday, July 04, 2003 - 09:52 pm:
And just to prove that I'm not London-centric, here are two more: Anything architectural by Burges: http://www.castlewales.com/coch.html interesting museum: http://www.nhm.ac.uk/museum/tring/ ...Hmm, cortizoned-out. Better stop blogging on MJH's site! 'These things were revealed to me in Interzone, where east meets west coming round the other way.'
By MJH on Saturday, July 05, 2003 - 11:49 am:
Always welcome, Steph. How's the shoulder ?
By Steph on Sunday, July 06, 2003 - 09:41 pm:
Hi, Very painful, unfortunately, but the treatment is working - in the sense that it still hurts, but I no longer care. I'm checking out 'Le Grand Meaulnes', Alain-Fournier, right now. It looks wonderful - just the thing! Thanks for the tip. Can discuss technique in novels for hours. Anybody interested? Is telling of odd things happening to odd people with an odd structure an oddity too far...? Maybe not, as long as the writer has the talent to do it. But that's a rare genius. SF Catch-22, anyone? With me it's Dumas (Alexandre Dumas, all of it *enthuse*), because he plays every card he can to grab the reader. Fantastic manipulation of storylines - but he still sometimes digs enormous holes and jumps in them - the slow, slow, start of 'Count of Monte Cristo'. If I hadn't been stranded on Eurostar I might have given up. Dumas is writing for newspapers, so technique was completely unsubtle, with cliffhangers etc. It was speedy, too, the amount he (and Co.) was turning out. I still love it, though.
By MJH on Sunday, July 06, 2003 - 11:33 pm:
Cortizone never any fun. >>Is telling of odd things happening to odd people with an odd structure an oddity too far...? I think as long as you maintain strong narrative push-through at the level of the scene, the reader will follow you most places. (What happens when they get where you were taking them & find out it wasn't entirely where they wanted to be, that's another matter. You'd better have something in reserve for them then...)
By Al on Monday, July 07, 2003 - 09:37 am:
Hmm - have always meant to read The Count of Monte Cristo, have had it described to me as having the perfect plot. This summer's beach read... Is that the best Dumas starting point? My Grandad used to regularly reread The Three Musketeers, that and Pepys diaries his two favourite books. Read a couple of script versions of CofMC at various points (one pretty faithful, one re-set in the American / Mexican West) and they both seemed incredibly condensed - far too much *stuff* in there to fit into 120 pages of script. Still go back to Dickens for my popular perfection, tho' come to think of it they were writing under very similar circumstances - episodic, tight deadlines, keep 'em hooked, keep 'em turning the pages.
By Steph on Monday, July 07, 2003 - 12:29 pm:
Hi, Al - in my humble opinion 'The Three Musketeers' is the best Dumas starting point, follow it up with 'Twenty Years After'. I don't like the middle two books, though, I suppose that is because (as MJH says above), the plot went somewhere I didn't want to follow, and they had no subtext, metaphor, symbolism, or even any historical reference in reserve. Second-guessing what the reader wants causes problems, then. (If you like Pepys... I do... check out Defoe 'Journal of the Plague Years.' Johnson & Boswell did a journal of a tour to the Hebrides that's great, as well.) The first third of CofMC drags a lot (yes, he's still in the prison and yes, he's still annoyingly perfect). Then it just takes off!
By Colin on Monday, July 07, 2003 - 04:35 pm:
Steph, I don't think "have something in reserve for" the disappointed, confused, or simply surprised reader is necessarily the same as second-guessing them - especially not, as Mike is saying, at the level of the scene. What would Dumas do? Ok, I've never read Dumas, but you've told me about him now. Or as Al says, Dickens? Easy. Give them another surprise. Have two characters fall in love. Have a man come through the door with a gun. Have a messenger arrive with a black nightingale. It's all the same thing, at that level. Odd things, yes, happening to odd people, yes. My feeling these days is that odd structure is fine as long as it's organic (or cunningly contrived, yes yes, to look organic) - the sort of odd structure that anecdotes get in the pub. So anyway, this bloke, this other bloke - no, not the Scotsman, he was from Barnsley. Oh yeh, lived all his life in the house his granddad built, all except the war, when he was in Afghanistan. He reckons there's so many caves and tunnels in Afghanistan that Osama Bin Laden is probably still down there. Anyway, he picked up the envelope, not realising there was a thousand quid in it, and anyway, that morning he'd only been and put a deposit on a new car... I was reading a bit of academic fiction the other day - a story by the Other Nick Royle, in fact, and that had a tricky structure that was anything but organic. It drew attention to itself at all points. Threw you out of the text again and again. I don't really enjoy that. I want to know what happened, not how anxious the author is about the inadequacy of narrative, or language, or shared assumptions. In the Guardian Review on Sat Toby Litt was going on about something similar in Nadine Gordimer's stories. I say, Yes, of course narrative is inadequate, and so is all language, and so are you and so am I, now will you just sit down and tell me?
By Paul McAuley on Monday, July 07, 2003 - 07:51 pm:
Part of the reason for Dumas's incredible output was that he used a ghost writer who helped fill in the plot lines with prose. Arturo Perez-Reverte makes good use of this in his The Dumas Club. I read The Three Musketeers too many years ago; now I feel like another go around. But as far as I'm concerned, the master of pure spare descriptions of action has to be Robert Louis Stephenson, most specifically in Kidnapped.
By Al on Monday, July 07, 2003 - 08:28 pm:
OK, that's The Three Musketeers definitely down as a beach read for the summer then. Will check out the Boswell / Johnson at some point also, but there's so much to read! Very frustrating. Have prohibited myself from any serious book buying until I've read through my current bedside pile. Odd structures, odd people, odd things - I've always thought you can do anything, as long as there's some form of emotional connection or resonance. Thinking about it, that's why I just can't handle metafiction; as soon as I'm reminded that all I'm reading is cleverly arranged words, that's it, I've lost it - nothing else there but ink on paper, so no interest beyond that.
By Colin on Tuesday, July 08, 2003 - 07:59 am:
I think there is good metafiction - Italo Calvino, Flann O'Brien, some of B.S. Johnson... For me, it's just that it's got to contain something else. Fun, preferably; or feeling. Writing that's just about writing - who cares? So much of it is bad faith. Eric McCormack's Paradise Motel. Promise the reader a story, refuse to deliver it, then congratulate yourself on being so clever. There I'm with Al. Literature is only words on paper? Good Lord! I never knew! I remember Bruce Sterling saying one year at Milford: "I don't like books about people writing books, or movies about people making movies, or songs about people writing songs. If there were topiary hedges in the shape of a guy holding a pair of shears, I wouldn't like them either."
By MJH on Tuesday, July 08, 2003 - 10:44 am:
I agree totally with Colin that if all you've got to offer them is a box of tricks, most people aren't going to be very pleased. If you aren't going to offer narrative closure, you had better offer them emotional closure, or *something*. Or if you are going to offer them an enigma, something to chew on, a throwing-forward of the original mysteries of the text past the end of the text, you had better make it a fascinating one. One interesting thing to do is look at the contraptions made by the great mystery writers like Cornell Woolrich. They work perfectly. The narrative drive is fiendish, the box of tricks is perfectly made, narrative closure is immaculate. But they aren't brilliant fiction because you don't really care about the cyphers used for "characters", or the literalistic codes used for "motivation". There's no real emotional closure. My point: emotional closure, emotional "meaning", fights more than its apparent weight, and you can use that to make up for everything else you've witheld. There's also a reader/writer dichotomy here, especially in Al's comments. It's a readerly position to be disappointed by textual reminders that a text is only a text; it's the writerly position to *know* that but do a job for the reader anyway. Readers don't get writer kicks; writers can't expect reader kicks, at least not from their own texts. A lot of the arguments on these boards seem naive to me because people haven't understood this: and the most naive people in the context seem to be editors, who have vested psychological interests in both positions. Paul: RLS, what a genius.
By Steph on Tuesday, July 08, 2003 - 12:30 pm:
MJH: That's the best summing up I've ever seen. (Write what you want to read, and vice versa.) Colin: >>I don't think "have something in reserve for" the disappointed, confused, or simply surprised reader is necessarily the same as second-guessing them Yeah, I realise that. I only meant in terms of Dumas focussing on romantic interest specifically for his newspaper audience in the middle two Musketeer books, whereas the first two and last one have more military action. Agree that second-guessing the audience is a seriously bad plan. As you say, you could carry plot on to a point where the reader and author are more comfortable. Paul: Perez-Reverte! Isn't he fantastic? Dumas Club being one of my all-time favorites, the incredible depth & number of references. In fact, I like all of his & the little ways they are tied together. I spot a new gem every time I go back to them.(/rant) But not "Nautical Chart" so much - Reverte is more at home in a library than on a boat ;-)
By Paul McAuley on Tuesday, July 08, 2003 - 02:08 pm:
Steph, The Dumas Club has that tricky tongue-in-cheek po-mo structure yet also delivers. A very rare thing indeed. Much better on the antiquarian book market than the movie, too. I thought the Seville Communion didn't quite come off (but maybe that's because I guessed the crucial ID) but there was still plenty to enjoy. Didn't realize they are all tied together, but as I have The Fencing Master and The Flanders Panel on my reading pile I'll look out for links. I don't think *he's* in the second-guessing business; he assumes we're as smart as he is.
By colin on Tuesday, July 08, 2003 - 02:44 pm:
Good job I didn't post my reservations about TFP then, Paul. You'd have guessed it at once. That's not a clue, btw. Just a tiny squeak of frustration.
By John Coulthart on Tuesday, July 08, 2003 - 07:58 pm:
Just to show that being a first-class tale-teller doesn't exclude playing around, anybody seen Robert Louis Stevenson's small moment of metafiction? 'The Persons of the Tale' was one of his Fables, written in 1895. It's a short piece taking place between Chapter 32 and 33 of Treasure Island in which Captain Smollett and Long John Silver step out of the story to smoke their pipes and discuss the narrative and their own status as fictional characters. You'll usually find the Fables in old copies of Jekyll & Hyde. However, in the Tusitala edition of collected works (1923, 35 volumes, collect the set!) this particular fable has been moved to the end of Treasure Island. "...But there's the ink bottle opening. To quarters!"
By Steph on Wednesday, July 09, 2003 - 12:52 pm:
Hi, John - that's something I'll look out for. Paul: The 'links' are just Perez-Reverte enjoying himself and chuckling, for example - the book on which 'The Fencing Master' is working, is one Corso collects. One of the bidders for 'The Flanders Panel' is one of Corso's buyers in 'Dumas Club' (etc.) Agree that Seville Communion is not as convoluted a mystery as the others, but it has winning characters and the sunlight in the town is described so beautifully it's practically a character in its own right. Perez-Reverte's unbelievably clever, I wish that he had not opted for the action adventure of 'the nautical chart', that was just so six-part-tv-series. The Dumas Club film got the character wrong. Corso pretends to be like a rabbit but is really a wolf. (Know a lot of book dealers like that.) Depp played him all rabbit. (Can move the conversation to the 'books' thread if anyone is interested in replying).
By John Coulthart on Wednesday, July 09, 2003 - 04:40 pm:
Keeping this resolutely off-topic (my apologies, Mr H--unless Perez-Reverte can be classed as NW at all), I'd put up a small defence for The Ninth Gate (The Dumas Club film, in case anyone isn't aware.) Not a patch on the book, of course, but then films rarely are. However, I liked that they'd kept the whole bookish atmosphere largely intact, even if the Dumas element had been dropped in favour of Dennis Wheatley-style shenanigans. How many times does the Hypnerotomachia of Poliphilus get mentioned in a feature film? Great photography, great music, great production design by Dean Tavoularis who works on just about everything Coppola does. Not one of Polanski's best but he's made some really great films so he can be excused--it's not Pirates, by any means. I'd love to know what the original script adaptation was like. The first draft was one of the last things Anthony Shaffer (Sleuth, The Wicker Man) worked on yet he doesn't receive a credit. I'd guess he would have kept closer to the book. I'd also guess that Polanski would have kept to the book, if allowed, he once said that if an author had put something into a novel he was adapting he felt he had no right to alter it. This is generally true in his other films although in The Tenant he makes it plain at the end that Trelkovsky is imagining his persecution, whereas Roland Topor's novel is a lot more ambiguous and disturbing.
By Paul McAuley on Wednesday, July 09, 2003 - 06:48 pm:
Post away, Colin - just because I think someone assumes I'm smart doesn't mean that I am. And by the time I get around to TFM I'll probably have forgotten everything anyway... Steph, sounds like just the right amount of playfulness - no heavy hand there. Agree with you about the good location work - and the trio of inept villains, who deserve a book of their own. Are we entirely off-topic here? Perez-Reverte certainly likes weird wainscott subjects, and uses them in weird ways we can admire (or not, if yr Colin). Any others like him?
By MJH on Wednesday, July 09, 2003 - 07:06 pm:
Bearing in mind there's no New Weird unless someone in the US says there is; and that even in the case of gaining US approval we wouldn't be encouraged to define it by what it resembles (& therefore by what its techniques & contents might be), but only by giving lists of hot core authors & texts for the use of academics, anthologisers & academic anthologisers, I'd say... well, fire away. It's our message board & we can say anything we like.
By NickM on Monday, July 21, 2003 - 11:18 pm:
To dredge up a discussion from s month ago(modern technology as myth). Post-catastrophe fiction seems to offer an angle for exploring this area. Wyndham's Crysalids, Russell Hoban's Riddley Walker, John Christopher's Prince in Waiting Trilogy etc all present the 20th century as variations on a mythical golden (but sinful) age and extinct technology as ancient magic. In post-catastrophe work TV most certainly is a myth. From this perspective it would also be possible to write about the first post-catastrophe lunar expedition, for example. Any thoughts on this?
By Al R on Tuesday, July 22, 2003 - 10:00 am:
Perez-Reverte: I'm not sure I'd heard of him before seeing his name in this discussion (I've never seen the Ninth Gate, either). I liked the sound of his books though, so the last time I was in town I picked up a copy of "The Nautical Chart". Judging by the above it's probably not the best place to start, but it was the only one of his they had in Leiden so I thought I'd give it a shot anyway. I'm enjoying it rather a lot, but the translation seems a bit awkward in places; certainly not as seamless as - say - Eco's translated stuff. I think it would have benefitted from a decent once-over by someone who knew a bit about the conventions of thriller writing,too: the hero keeps talking about "guys" a bit too much for my liking. Good stuff, nontheless, and I can't wait to read his weirder material. Ta!
By Paul McAuley on Tuesday, July 22, 2003 - 09:48 pm:
Al R - That is you, isn't it, Mr Reynolds? The Dumas Club is definitely the one you need to find. Don't think he's really New Weird tho'....
By Al R on Wednesday, July 23, 2003 - 12:58 am:
Paul: yes, it's me. I'll keep an eye out for the Dumas Club, definitely.