Thursday, 29 March 2007
So now I can start practicing. This feels like a really important step, especially since it's taken considerable effort and perseverance to achieve.
NZAPH exam is next, on the 22nd of April.
And then I have to decide - shall I use my powers for good... or for evil?
(I just had to pop that in, the post was far too serious.)
Wednesday, 28 March 2007
In the odd way that these things happen, it has a few coincidental overlaps with mine, which was started well before it was published in 2001 (and I guarantee, Mary, if you're reading this, I only just read it this week, and I finished my novel months ago).
The obvious parallel - that both Cities of Masks are inspired by Venice - is hardly surprising, since Venetian masks are well known. MH's city is directly and quite closely based on Venice, though, while mine has no canals - it's just an Italianate, early-Renaissance-esque city-state on a harbour. It owes at least as much to Shakespeare's Verona as it does to Venice, if not more.
Both books also have a city law requiring the wearing of masks, but in mine, it applies to everyone, not just unmarried woman, and is much more central to the plot.
One of the odd coincidences is that both of us have characters called Juliana (in my case) or Giuliana (in hers), though the characters are very different from each other, and mine is a much more central character. The other main coincidence, involving family relationships, one of the two old scholars and the woman who rules the city, I won't describe in detail since it's a spoiler for both books.
My central character, Gregorius Bass, is a foreigner, like MH's Lucien, but he is an adult (though a very innocent one), and isn't from our world. Nobody, in fact, is from our world; Bonvidaeo, my City of Masks, is without direct connection to our world, it exists in its own cosmos so alternate that even the geography is different. And it's non-magical, unlike Bellezza.
Oh, there's another coincidence; MH's city is called Bellezza, meaning "beauty", and mine is Bonvidaeo, meaning, approximately, "good appearance". The intent of the names is quite different, though; Bonvidaeo is "good appearance" in a sense indicating fakery.
As I hinted above, both books have two old scholars and a woman who rules the city, though MH's Duchessa is the legitimate and acknowledged ruler and my Countess is the covert and unofficial ruler. Both could be described as ruthless, but the Duchessa's ruthlessness is very mild compared to the Countess's. The two pairs of old scholars are also quite different from one another in their position within the city, the origin of their relationship and their studies.
In fact, the two books' differences are considerably greater than their commonalities, which is good, because I'd hate to end up in a plagiarism suit - not because I couldn't prove that I didn't plagiarize, but because I wouldn't want the hassle of having to do so.
It makes you wonder, though, about other plagiarism suits like that one over Harry Potter. Sometimes a coincidence is just a coincidence.
Liberal Christianity also arose in the context of modernism, and also takes on the modernist assumption that "real" truth is rational, verifiable and preferably scientific. However, where Evangelicalism asserts that religious truth is real truth (and hence rational and verifiable), Liberalism seems - I'm going here on inadequate knowledge because I've never been a classic Liberal Christian or moved in those circles, so correct me if I'm wrong - seems to say that religious truth is basically metaphorical truth, and tacitly accepts modernism's assumption that this means that it rates lower on the "real truth" hierarchy. So where extreme Evangelicals are sometimes motivated to show that anything in the Bible that sounds like an assertion is a rational, verifiable fact, even if its plain sense is metaphorical, extreme Liberals seem motivated to show that anything in the Bible that sounds like an assertion is actually a metaphor, or at least definitely not a fact, even if its plain sense is factual.
I have this mental image of a Liberal Christian who lives in a wooden house calling out to a couple of secular modernists who live in a concrete house. "Hey, look! Look over here! Wooden houses really are inferior to concrete ones, you're right! In fact, look, I'm setting my wooden house on fire right now. Do you respect me now? Huh? Huh?"
On the other side, meanwhile, an Evangelical in another wooden house says, "No, really, wooden houses are just as good, in fact, better. Look, totally fire-retardant," and he, too, sets his house on fire.
Upon which one of the secular modernists turns to the other and says, "These wooden-house guys really do suck, don't they? You'll never catch me living in one of them."
*I have no proof that anyone at all reads this apart from me, so these smug Liberal Christians are purely hypothetical.
Tuesday, 27 March 2007
I've been thinking a bit more about how different counterphilosophies interact with modernism, which is still the dominant philosophy of the time and place I find myself in. I'll start with Evangelical Christianity (EC) because the interactions seem reasonably clear to me and I know it fairly well.
I was an Evangelical Christian for over 10 years, from the age of 18 into my early 30s (I'd find it hard to put a date on when I stopped; it was a gradual thing, and the process isn't over yet.) This represents more than half my Christian experience and well over a quarter of my life. In this time I read widely, wrote stuff myself, heard many sermons and speakers - I think I know how Evangelical Christians think. (Outliers, exceptions, disclaimer, blah.)
EC inevitably defined itself in relation to modernism; it arose in the late 19th century but really flourished in the 20th. Modernism was the thing it had to define itself against. At the same time, any time there is as pervasive a philosophy as modernism, there are likely to be aspects of that philosophy that any critique of it will tacitly accept, without entering into discussion or debate; it's just "obvious to everyone".
(There's change over time and place and person, disclaimer, blah.)
Seems to me, what EC tacitly accepts is modernism's concept of truth: Truth is rational, propositional, literal, demonstrable, manifest and preferably scientific. It is firmly decideable. You won't see debate about this in the central regions of EC, because debating it pretty much automatically places you on the margins, if not beyond them. It's just a given.
However, EC explicitly denies modernism's contention that only what is material is true and real. Indeed, EC would contend that what is material, being temporary and temporal, is less true and less real than what is immaterial, some of which is eternal.
Herein we have a potential contradiction sitting at the heart of EC (and indeed at the heart of modernism, in a slightly different sense which I will probably talk about some other time). The contradiction is not acknowledged because, remember, the concept of truth isn't up for debate.
So we have this chain of logic:
A: "Real" truth is propositional, rational and provable (implicit, not up for debate).
B: Religious truth is real truth (explicit, not up for debate).
C: Therefore, religious truth is propositional, rational and provable.
And from this stem many of EC's problems, in my opinion. At the extreme, this leads to "creation science" and its desperate attempts to show that statements which were never, could never be, intended as scientific statements, which were made before there was such a thing as a scientific statement, are nevertheless scientific statements - because only if they are scientific statements are they "real truth".
If you put proposition A up for debate, however, instantly many of the problems go away.
As it happens, this is exactly the proposition which postmodernism directly challenges. However, postmodernism doesn't accept proposition B either; it is in tacit agreement with modernism that only what is material is "real" (a contradiction at the heart of postmodernism).
Which explains all kinds of things about why Evangelicals are uncomfortable with "postmodern Christianity".
Friday, 23 March 2007
This comes out of this discussion (originally on proselytism) over at “I would knife fight a man”.
I'm (more-or-less) orthodox, open-minded, skeptical and happy - not necessarily all at once, but certainly in rapid alternation... you know that optical illusion where you can see either the vase or the two faces, but not both at once? But you can switch between them by a bit of a mental adjustment? Like that.
So what does that look like, then?
Well, when I'm saying my Trinitarian rosary in the mornings while commuting to work, I'm in an orthodox mindset. I am sincere in that orthodoxy; I approach God as Trinity, Creator, Redeemer and Holy Spirit of Wisdom.
And yet at the same time - and by a small mental shift I can engage this mode instead - I'm aware that this is a finger pointing at the moon, "that art thou, and yet that also is not thou", that the Trinity is a cultural construction quite possibly rooted in paganism (which, being of Celtic ancestry and very slightly Christopagan leanings, I'm perfectly comfortable with). I'm also happy to consider other people's religious formulations which differ from mine as being, in this sense, equally valid - that is, equally lenses through which they look for God. (Think of it this way: We all have imperfect vision, so we all need glasses, but perhaps your glasses don't help me and mine don't help you. Doesn't mean that mine don't help me and yours don't help you.)
Hence openmindedness. While affirming orthodoxy, I feel no need to assert it as an exclusive truth in the modernist sense (I've given up describing myself as "postmodern" even with disclaimers, now; I'm going for "transmodern").
It's very important to me that I affirm the Incarnation and Resurrection, for example, but I'm not going to try to "prove" them in some propositional sense, as I would have once as a modernist Evangelical. (Much less do I feel the need to "disprove" them, as modernist Liberals often do.) They are meaningful for me and in affirming them I gain more ability to make sense of the universe.
Skeptical? I'm definitely skeptical. I went to a hypnotherapy seminar recently at which the presenter spouted pure New Age hogwash for about 60% of the time. We got Atlantis, we got the Indigo Children, we got the 2012 prophecies, the lot. At lunchtime I had to hold myself back from saying loudly, "I'm not really hungry now, after all that FRUITCAKE."
Any time anyone tries marketingbabble, businessbabble or bureaucracybabble on me, skeptical is definitely what I am. Being openminded doesn't preclude skepticism for me. My openmindedness (at its best) takes the form of, "While I don't actively affirm what you are affirming there, I'm not going to set out to deny it either; that's not necessary for me in order to hold another viewpoint. Maybe you're right and I'm wrong. I don't think so, obviously, or we'd think the same." My skepticism takes the form of holding things which haven't been convincingly presented to me, or about which I have causes for suspicion, in suspicion. They're innocent until proven guilty, but they're definitely under suspicion. I'm not going to believe them to be polite.
And happy? I'm happy. That has a lot to do with having a positive self-image, good external life conditions, and personal flexibility (which is part of good mental health). Skepticism and open-mindedness don't render me unhappy because I'm happy to keep things in Schroedinger's catbox for extended periods. Orthodoxy doesn't render me unhappy because I use it, it doesn't abuse me.
I've rambled. I need to sharpen up my thinking on this. But, hey - this is a blog. This is why you don't pay me money for this stuff.
Oh, afterthought/edit: Back to the image of the faces and the vase. You can look at it and, by a small act of will, see faces. With another small act of will, you can see a vase. But with a third small act of will, you can see an abstract image that isn't actually a vase or faces, just some marks that suggest vaseness and faceness to your mind, which is primed to recognise patterns like that. That's important too.
Sunday, 18 March 2007
By the way, Shane, if you come across this by some oddity, I'd like to know how you're getting on - leave a comment or sign up on OldFriends or something.
Friday, 16 March 2007
- City of Masks is with Macmillans for consideration.
- The Journey in Four Directions I've just signed up with an agent who will represent it at some book fairs in Europe.
- I'm thinking about sending 'Gu' to a magazine, maybe today.
- Restarting the Alphabet is drafted up to the first third ('Maiden'), and sitting at the Glyphpress forum.
- Topia has been stalled for a while. I've finally realized what one of the main themes is: Letting, or not letting, your disabilities define you. I need to rewrite pretty much from scratch, I think, which doesn't sound like fun.
- City of Masks has had one playtest and I've included it in the MS I sent to Macmillans. It needs more playtesting.
- Errantry needs playtesting too.
- The unnamed third game is stuck while I try to figure out the mechanics.
- I'm signed up for Fred's Amber play-by-wiki game, starting at the beginning of April.
- I'm doing my Transforming Practice every morning, usually in the shower. Erin used it yesterday (when she got to work but before she left the car) and said it helped with her crappy day.
- I'm doing the rosary on my commute. It's good.
- Centering prayer about 5 days out of 7 (in the evenings). Mostly I get the kind of good where you call yourself back to attending, more than the kind of good where you are attending.
- Tai Chi with a bit of Qi Gong - I count this as spiritual practice, partly in order to defy Descartes. I'm probably doing that 4 or 5 nights out of 7.
- I've given up buying books for Lent, which I've been on the verge of regretting a few times but have managed to stick to.
- I'm working on getting my online booking system set up on hypno.co.nz. I'm now at the boring testing and perfecting bit, so progress has slowed.
- After that I'll turn my attention to finishing Unfolding Forms.
- I'm waiting for Roger to come back to me with a date for my interview. I strongly suspect, from what others have said, that I'll end up getting the diploma because I pass the Association exam.
- The Association exam is at the end of April.
- I'm reading Maxwell Maltz's Psycho-Cybernetics.
- On the business side, I've set up a bank account and got business cards and my room is pretty much set up. I'd like to get a better chair for myself, and a rug for the winter, and I want to get a standalone drive case so I can use the CD writer with the laptop to give people CDs of the suggestions to take with them at the end of the session. After the start of the financial year on 1 April I'll start spending money again on this stuff. Also a wireless network setup.
- I find I'm tired in the evenings, so I'm mostly reading light stuff (and finding good light stuff hard to come by - I read too fast and the best authors write too slowly).
- Psycho-Cybernetics is interesting; "Man is not a machine, but he has a machine", namely the subconscious, which is a goal-seeking mechanism according to Maltz. It's programmed by the various messages we receive but we can take conscious control of the process and reprogram it. I'm not sure I totally buy it, but it's interesting.
- The Tribe of Tiger is the other non-fiction I'm reading at the moment.
- I'm chiming in a bit on both "I would knife-fight a man" and Story-Games. Racism is one of the current hot topics at both.
Thursday, 15 March 2007
Originally posted on my Cityside blog on Thu, 08/03/2007 - 10:42am.
This is a thing I’m working on – in both the “have made but am still tinkering” sense and the “am doing” sense. Some edits after the original posting are in blue.
A Transforming Practice1. The Intent:
“I want to listen
to what is highest and best,
to all people,to everything that exists,
to my own body and my true self,so that I may understand and love more deeply.”
2. The Five Gladnesses: “I am glad that…”
Extra credit: Express a wish, hope, intent, affirmation or prayer for positive change which covers the people who annoy you and yourself, and addresses the issue that annoys you: “I hope we…”, “May we…”.
5. The Desire: “I want to use these practices throughout this day and throughout my life.”
CommentaryThis practice is short enough that you can do it in the shower, while waiting for a bus, while having breakfast, or in any of the many other interstices of everyday life. It is simple enough that you should be able to memorize it easily, or write it out on a small card to carry with you.
It is deliberately phrased so that it can be used by people of any, or no, spiritual background or belief. Although most of its inspirations came from the Christian tradition, including the Lord’s Prayer, there is nothing in its language, content or structure which restricts it to members of that tradition or any other.
2. The Five Gladnesses can be Five Thanks if you prefer. Credit: Marcus Borg, in his book The Heart of Christianity. The point here is to set a positive tone, to recall what is good about your life. Don’t feel restricted to five if you can think of more.3. This is the challenging part. What you are doing here is to acknowledge that what annoys you in others does so because it is an alienated aspect of your own behaviour that you prefer not to own. Possibly, too, it is something you wish you could do but feel you don’t have permission for, or can’t do as much as you want to because the other person is doing it – for example, they may be drawing attention to themselves, so you can’t have that attention.
The mere act of appending “just like me” begins reintegration, the recovery of your projections. Even more so if you can express a positive hope for yourself and the people who annoy you. Then, you become responsible to change. It’s likely that if you start to change – or even just admit that the behaviour is yours also – the other people will start to annoy you less, even if they don’t change.Credit for this exercise goes to Andrew Rockell, who developed it out of a comment Brenda made in a recent sermon from her reading of The Translucent Revolution by Arjuna Ardagh. The 'just like me' phrase is Ardagh's, the “three people” part is Andrew’s.
You can group several people who annoy you for the same reason together.
“C annoys me because she doesn’t listen, just like me. May we learn to pay attention to other people.”
“D annoys me because he’s negative and destructive, just like me. May we be able to let go of the critical voice within ourselves so that we don't have to criticize others in order to feel better.”4. The welcoming practice is based on the Welcoming Prayer, developed by Mary Mrozowski in the Centering Prayer tradition founded by Thomas Keating.
If I'm not aware of any particular emotions coming up, I just welcome the Big Four:
5. The Desire opens the practice out into the rest of your life.You are developing ways of dealing positively with life, and by doing the practice in the context of everyday life – in the shower or at the breakfast table – you set yourself up to use the parts of it at the times that they become relevant. It isn’t locked away in a special “spiritual” category, outside of normal life.
You're dealing with your stuff, so others don't have to.
I've mentioned to a few people my latest little project - a piece of digital medievalism. Namely, a geometric design based on medieval rose windows, executed in digital form and with digital photos of roses in place of the stained glass:
Here are links to the digital rose window, an article on creating the digital rose window, and an article on digital sacred geometry in general. (Sadly, somewhere in the process my diagrams lost weight and they're quite hard to read.)
Why would I do something like this? Well, because I want to bring a degree of medieval sensibility - something more organic and less mechanical - into digital art. Digital art is usually modern or postmodern, because, after all, what we have here is cutting-edge technology and so it should look technological, shouldn't it? Except, now it's not cutting-edge, it's been around for twenty years. It's just technology, and we can use it like we would any other technology - like a compass and straightedge with pen and paper, for example.
As I point out in the first article, it's not that hard to do, either. And because natural forms are generally geometrical or mathematical in basis (but not built on a grid), even when we use digital means to create art based on geometry it has an "organic" feel to it.
I like the result and will probably do some more like this. I'm planning to get an art print made at some point so that I can hang it on my wall - if anyone else would like one let me know and I'll have several done (about $70 for A3 and $90 for A2).
I'm old enough to remember the early 1990s from the perspective of a young adult, and one of the things I remember - along with the mullets and the satin shirts
Well, actually, no. Anyone could now produce amateurish brochures and flyers. While layout machines cost tens of thousands of dollars, only professionals operated them. They did it all the time, and (with the usual variation) they knew what they were doing, they were trained, and what they produced was generally professional in appearance and quite frequently spelled correctly.
Once a computer capable of producing a brochure was available for maybe $5000, any idiot could - and many idiots did - sit down and produce one full of poor spelling and grammar, in sixteen different fonts and with the layout all over the shop. Desktop publishing, by granting access to a much wider public, vastly increased the quantity of badly done material in circulation - as well as lowering the cost and the difficulty of producing good material.
It was neither the first nor the last technology to do so, of course. Printing itself was an order of magnitude cheaper and more accessible than manuscript copying, and by the 19th century it had been around for 400 years, industrial processes had recently made it even cheaper, and increasing literacy had expanded the audience in a bootstrap effect. (Cheap printed books make it worthwhile for people who have less money to learn to read, which increases sales of books and makes them cheaper to produce because of economies of scale.) This was the era of the "penny dreadful", a precursor of "pulp fiction" (which itself was named after the cheap paper on which it was printed in numerous magazines which flourished before World War II). These were novels of, basically, zero literary merit which were sold very cheaply to the newly literate lower classes. Great outcry was had over them at the time. (These days, there would probably be rejoicing that people were reading books at all.)
And since the 1980s, technology has continued to roll on, and now you can use your computer not only to produce brochures and flyers, but to record music or even make films (with the addition of a video camera - new ones of which are now selling for under $1000 even here). Additionally, our friend the Internet provides locations where you can self-publish your novel "print-on-demand" at no or very little cost, put up your comic, your music, your movies, your digital art, your photographs, your short stories, your Harry Potter fan fiction (the opera of the fandom), and make it available to anyone who's interested - or just have the satisfaction of having produced it. You now don't need a studio behind you to make a movie or a CD, just a bit of relatively cheap gear and lots of time. Movies have been made for under $1000; people have sold their old banger of a car and financed a movie with it. The barrier to entry is incredibly low.
This means two things. The thing which is publicised, especially by the sites concerned, is that now if you have talent you don't have to convince a gatekeeper like a publisher or record company or film studio; you can go direct to the public. And this is very fine, I am 100% behind it, and I am not suggesting that the sites are being misleading (unless they imply that you will automatically be successful as a result). Publishers, record companies and film studios (and large videogame companies, who are in a business which out-earns the movies now) have a built-in problem: They are risk-averse, because they are big businesses. This means that what they make is generally what was successful last year. But what was successful last year was usually successful because it was different, not because it was the same, so what these large companies are giving us is not, in many cases, what we actually want, or what we would choose if we were aware of some of the properties that are being blocked out by the big companies because they are too different.
More and more, it is the case that we can be aware of such properties, and this is fantastic for us and for the creators, and alarming for the big companies, who see their easy money walking across the street from their symphony hall and being dropped into what, to all intents and purposes, is a guitar case on the footpath.
The other thing all this easy access means, of course, is that there is now a vast amount of crap available from which we need, somehow, to filter out the good stuff (for our definition of "good"). If it's easy to make a movie it's easy to make a bad movie (after all, the big studios manage it regularly, using professional casts, crews and scriptwriters and spending millions of dollars - as a visit to any video store underlines). This has led to at least two things: Recommendation networks, using that same Internet technology, which help us find things we'll like based on the experience of others who like the same stuff; and the Crap Art Movement.
The Crap Art Movement celebrates how easy it is to produce bad art. It seems to come from the position that the process of producing art is worthwhile and enjoyable in itself, even if the product is something that nobody else would be interested in. Pretty much the same rationale used by kindergartens, in fact, and you have to wonder, why not? If it's good for the kids to make stuff, even if we wouldn't hang it in a gallery, then maybe it's good for us to make stuff that is (allowing for better hand-eye coordination and so on) not actually any "better".
Often, Crap Art takes the form of art produced very quickly. There are film competitions in which the whole film must be scripted, shot and edited within 48 or even 24 hours. There is National Novel Writing Month, where every November people from around the world (the "National" is basically irrelevant) attempt to write an entire 70,000-word novel between the first and the 30th of the month. There is even a site called Album-A-Day, explicitly part of the Crap Art Movement as such, which promotes the creation of an entire album (20 minutes or 30 songs) in a period of 24 continuous hours, and lets you post the (probably) crappy result.
A famous scientist, and unfortunately I can't remember who (not Einstein), once suggested that the essence of innovation was learning to fail really quickly. To me, what these sites are doing is not only encouraging people to explore their creativity without obsessing about the quality or, importantly, the marketability of the product (which is a significant thing to do in a consumerist society), but also providing a context for people to fail really quickly and so move closer to the next really exciting innovation.
I remember giving a talk to the New Zealand Christian Writers' Guild sometime in the mid 1990s, when self-publishing was becoming more and more accessible (though not anything like as accessible as it is now). I had been asked to speak because I was then working in the publishing industry as an editor. My advice, as a young "expert" who was very conscious of the amount of value I added to the book publishing process, was "We're trained professionals. Don't try this at home."
I would now give rather different advice. I am probably going to self-publish at least one, and quite likely two, books this year [Note: That didn't happen], largely because the kind of books I'm writing don't fit into publishers' neat categories. (I had a rejection letter from the acquisitions editor at one very major publisher that made this clear: "While an interesting idea, I am afraid that this is not suitable for our list". Of course, she may say that to everyone.) My plan is to mobilise my network, which includes people who have done book design, people who have painted book covers, people who read a lot of books and people who have a lot of contacts who might be interested in what I'm doing. I want to produce good books, but part of my preparation for doing so has been writing some pretty bad books in the past and learning from them. Perhaps if I had been doing so more quickly (and exposing the results to the world) I might be further on than I am.
So I suppose what I'm saying is: If it's important to you to do a good job of your creativity, good for you, and take advantage of the technology which now makes it possible to do the job at all. But if you just want to have some fun and aren't too worried about the outcome, consider making some crap art. You might also learn something.
Comic Genesis hosts webcomics for free.
Myspace hosts music for (I think) free.
Poetry.com hosts poetry for free (though they will try to tell you that your poem is good in order to convince you to buy vanity merchandise from them).
Cafepress produces books (and CDs and T-shirts and lots of other stuff) print-on-demand with no setup fee.
Lulu also produces books print-on-demand with no setup fee. They have added DVDs, CDs and calendars recently - also no setup fee.
ComixPress produces comics on-demand for cheap (they charge a setup fee).
Customflix produces DVDs on demand; they charge a setup fee and an annual renewal fee. (Disclosure: The link there carries my C-Side Media affiliate number, so if you buy anything or use their service I will get a cut.)
Openphoto.net lets you release your photos to the world for free, as long as you use a Creative Commons license.
Zoetrope welcomes your screenplay and offers tools to improve it and maybe get it filmed.
According to Wired News, "amateur" Internet TV is the next big coming thing.
[Incredibly, this was written before YouTube. Yes, it's that recent.]
The 24-hour film contest
National Novel Writing Month
Crap Art: Album-A-Day
I have also collected a couple of thousand categorised links for creativity resources of all kinds on C-Side Media, which itself will host your creative works for free (only charging a percentage if you sell copies).
I welcome suggestions of other good sites for getting your creative work to an audience cheaply or for free.
"The imperfection of the Web isn't a temporary lapse; it's a design decision. It flows directly from the fact that the Web is unmanaged and uncontrolled so that it can grow rapidly and host innovations of every sort. The designers weighed perfection against growth and creativity, and perfection lost. The Web is broken on purpose."
Which kind of reminds me of Mark Pierson's "anti-excellence".
* I should mention that I never had either a mullet or a satin shirt. I remember them on other people.No, I'm serious.
I was going to review John Barth's postmodern novel - or "narrative" - Coming Soon!!!, but I felt funny about reviewing a book I hadn't finished, so I'm going to blog about it instead. Blogging being what it is I feel free to just rant on without any particular structure, which is actually not dissimilar to what Barth does, or at least gives the impression of doing.
It's more or less a novel about a novelist having trouble writing a novel, which Barth (who taught as well as practiced creative writing for many years) acknowledges as the worst kind of undergraduate approach to getting around writer's block.
No undergraduate work this, though. Although part of the fiction is that a student at the university from which Barth has just retired is writing something which sometimes is another novel about the same material, and sometimes is the same novel, and sometimes an electronic fiction, and sometimes a musical show for performance on a showboat called The Original Floating Opera II (based in turn on a showboat in Barth's first novel). And so forth. Complicated, self-referential, continually shifting, etc. Postmodern. Memorably defined by Moe of The Simpsons as "weird for the sake of weird".
The verbal fireworks start on page one and don't let up - after a while they became pretty wearing, actually. And (to change the metaphor) eventually I got the sense that a talented magician was performing extensive patter and misdirection but failing to conceal - in fact, drawing attention to - the fact that he not only hadn't produced a rabbit, but didn't possess a hat.
So I stopped reading on page 288 (of 396) when it was looking fairly clear that nothing was actually Coming Soon!!!, that it would just be more of the same.
I'm giving the impression that I didn't enjoy it. I did enjoy it, for its sheer artistry and complexity and wit, but that's the thing about the self-consciously postmodern - I can appreciate it intellectually as being obviously very hard to do, very clever, but often my emotional reaction is that it wasn't worth doing.
One of the improvised songs for the show raises the question well:
Are we Postmodern?
Is this the end of the road?
Or is recycled self-conscious irony just one more passing mode?
If we're Postmodern,
How come I feel so passé?
- to the tune of "The Party's Over".
On the back of the book (Houghton Mifflin, 2001, ISBN0-618-13165-5 if you care) is a quote from the Chicago Sun-Times which I entirely agree with: "Barth is extraordinarily clever and a master of language." And that is what makes him such a great postmodern novelist, because cleverness and mastery of language are the heart of literary postmodernism (and a lot of postmodern visual art, too, where almost all of the skill is in the piece's clever title). He is playing an extended game, and playing it very well and with great flair and often very amusingly, but never allowing us to forget that it is a game, and therefore ultimately trivial.
Seems to me (and what do I know?) that the main achievement of postmodernism is to point out the emptiness of modernism. However, in so doing it also displays, in fact points at, its own emptiness, which is an even greater emptiness, because it is (supposedly) empty even of the modernist claim that it is telling a true and important story - in fact, the true and important story.
Whatever it is that I am - I don't have a name for it; I've sometimes said it's postmodern, but it isn't really, it's something between post-postmodern and neo-medieval, but that too leaves out a lot; maybe transmodern - responds to this postmodern perspective by suggesting that modernism is not so much empty as emptied. Modernism at its extreme has deliberately removed the spiritual, the mystical, and ultimately by association the personal and emotional, denigrating these and elevating the physical, the rational, the "objective" and the intellectual. Postmodernism - in one of its forms, anyway - takes this as its starting point and turns the intellectual cleverness of modernism back on itself, doing for its myth what it did for all the myths before it and declaring it, too, to be empty and illusory.
I, on the other hand, want to re-examine some of the value assumptions of modernism and say, wait on, what makes rationality necessarily more "true" than the other aspects of humanity? In order to be fully human we cannot only be rational (though we need not be irrational either; rationality is also an aspect of humanity, and attempting to abandon it is an overreaction to modernism). Yes, the emperor has no clothes. That's because he took them off - not because clothes don't exist.
Thinking about what I've learned from reading Barth has also helped me to figure out why I can't abide Gene Wolfe, a somewhat postmodern speculative fiction writer: Wolfe's characters don't act like real people (Barth's do, they just have the normal level of alienation for late 20th-century Americans). Wolfe's people are too completely alienated from each other (and themselves, and their world) to have deep relationships of affection and care - sexual attraction and tribal loyalty is about as good as it usually gets. So they don't respond like the people I know would to the events of their lives.
I've been trying (unsuccessfully) to like Wolfe because some people I respect, like Neil Gaiman, think he's brilliant, so I recently read his novel Castleview. Quite apart from the fact that nothing in the plot makes much logical sense (people keep apparently dying and then returning to the action with minimal explanation, for example), it makes no emotional sense whatsoever. At the end, a teenage boy whose father was killed violently a couple of days before hears another man in his mother's bedroom. His mother loved his father but is apparently having no problem transferring her affections to this man. He listens, and identifies the man; oh, it's the doctor, he likes him. He wonders if he will tell his girlfriend. Just wonders, in an unemotional fashion - despite the fact that all of them, he, his mother, his girlfriend, his girlfriend's mother, have recently seen the doctor concerned (who is apparently King Arthur) kill his girlfriend's father in a battle in Faerieland in which they were champions of opposing sides. (Except his girlfriend's father isn't actually dead, as such, but the boy doesn't know that.)
Gene Wolfe is extraordinarily clever and a master of language - and also knows a great deal about myth and legend (in which, now that I think about it, sexual attraction and tribal loyalty is often as good as it gets in terms of connection between people). But - speaking personally - I can't stand his books, not only because they're such hard work (his Wizard Knight speaks so cryptically and tersely that half the time I couldn't follow his dialogue at all, and although I have an unusually strong background in myth and legend myself, I miss a lot of his references), but because the characters are emotionally hollow.
In fact, a lot of science fiction and fantasy characters are emotionally hollow - science fiction being a quintessentially modernist genre. Actually, when you think about it, all of the genres of the old pulp magazines arose in modern times except for the romance, which is medieval, and is notably the one which is centred on positive human relationships (however unrealistic the treatment may sometimes be).
The detective story explores the dark side of human nature and relationships; the spy story traditionally involves transitory and superficial relationships with people who are usually killed if any close emotional connection looks like being formed; the horror story uses the fear of the Other and the Uncanny (which we don't really believe in any more - or do we?) to produce a thrill, as the often lone protagonist attempts to escape the inescapable; the Western tends to concern loners, itinerants and misfits in a changing and non-cohesive society. Even fantasy fiction, in hands less skilled and minds less steeped in medievalism than those of Tolkien and Lewis, often becomes merely dark and brutal. Not that medieval stories weren't dark and brutal, of course, but there was usually some point. Often modern fantasy is little more than an echo of the worst aspects of the World Wars, which brought such disillusionment about modernism and paved the way for postmodern consciousness.
So do I have a point, or am I just blogging on about anything that enters my head when I should probably be constructing a clearly reasoned book to unpack all this dense material?
Well. I think my point is that, in reading fiction which is consciously postmodern, I have come to understand the defects of modernism (and postmodernism) better, and the key defect I am identifying is that the connection between people (and to the transcendent) which was so central to the medievals has been marginalised, emotion and mystery denigrated, and an alienating tyranny of cold rationalism put in place. You can see it in the characters in these novels, disillusioned and tortured because they are incapable of simple genuine connection and have nowhere to belong.
And this in turn stimulates me to write what I know, to portray characters who have non-sexual affection for one another, who act kindly to others, who feel their losses (and others' losses) keenly, who believe in non-material goods, who are communities. Still, of course, with conflict and passion, their interactions driven not only by their connection but by what they desire and fear and hate and want to protect. But neither alienated monads nor fluffy New Age bunnies.
That's my ambition, at least.
Wednesday, 14 March 2007
I do. So, herewith, context.
I debated with myself about what to call this blog (and I may yet change it). I thought about Digital Medievalist, which while accurate is not everything about me. I settled on The Innocent Man, after the main character in my (as yet unpublished) novel City of Masks. (It's with Macmillans for consideration - at least I hope it is, you never know when you email stuff.)
Gregorius Bass is a naive foreigner in the City of Masks, where everyone must wear a mask and comply with the expectations around that mask. He must be protected by wearing the mask of the Innocent Man:
We talked for some time longer, and then Corius fell to suggesting with the old man and his secretary masks that might fit me; as, "Gentle Knight", and they murmured, "No, for we want no provocation"; and "Honest Courtier", and they said, "No, too rare, too obscure; and there are risks attached to that one, which you may not be aware of"; and some more I have forgotten. Often, Felkior and his secretary fell to arguing some point of philosophy, and Corius had to return them to the topic. Their talk was filled with many terms and references which I knew not, being foreign, and I was soon lost. I had ceased to attend, and was watching the passing traffic from the window (for none of the sage's many books looked light or amusing), when one of them – Tamas, I think – cried, "Of course. The Innocent
I turned around – for his voice had been loud – and surprised an odd expression on the face of Corius, which changed, however, in an instant; it had looked like amusement, but what with the mask it is always hard to tell expressions, and it may well have been rejoicing only.
"Aye," said my servant, "the Innocent Man. Ideal in every way."
"It is true," I said, "that I am guilty of no wrongdoing; but what is this 'innocent man'?"
"The Innocent Man," explained the sage, "is a mask worn rarely, for it is rare, as you know, to find a man without any guile at all. Its significance is this: that any question asked by the character is to be taken, not as a veiled insult or intended blasphemy, even if such is the plain meaning of it, but as the question of an uninformed innocent who means no harm thereby."The Innocent Man has no enemies, for he offends nobody. He is openhearted and generous. It is always wrong, and always an offence, to challenge him, or to attack him; he should be protected, rather. The only thing is this, that he is not known for courage (though he is not known for cowardice; the Innocent Man is simply not placed in situations which require courage), and he is not unusually courteous – not so as to be remarkable for it."
One of my hesitations about having a blog, apart from the time commitment, is that I would inadvertently say something stupid or controversial which would haunt me. So here's my attempt to head that off. Treat everything you read here as the words of the Innocent Man. If something appears offensive, that's probably not my intention.
I realised last night, talking to Andrew (my spiritual director), that my online presence is kind of scattered and that reflects a slight lack of integration in my life.
I have a blog over at the Cityside community which I only post to occasionally, because I only put things there that I think may hold some sort of interest for that community (and at that I'm probably wrong half the time).
I have an old website at Geocities which is kind of an archive of my old articles and such going back 20 years. Most of it doesn't reflect what I think any more, but it may be helpful to people who are still at that stage of faith (in fact, sometimes they write to me and say it is), so I keep it.
I have my creative website, C-Side Media. I could blog there but then I'd have to build a comments feature (most of the code is my own), and creativity isn't all I do. Much the same goes for my hypnotherapy website, Hypno NZ. That's set aside for what I hope will be my new profession; a lot of my interests don't really fit there (and again I have written most of the code and don't need the grief of writing a proper blogging app).
I post on several forums. Story-Games is the one where I have posted the most - it's a forum for people who design and play narrative-focussed roleplaying games - but that's led me to the quirkily titled I would knife-fight a man, where the discussion includes sex, God and roleplaying games. I mostly weigh in on the God discussions.
And some of my fiction is at Xenoglyph (you'll have to get a user account to see it).
So that pulls together my online presence. I'll probably copy some of the posts I've made at the other sites over here too.