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On the Shoulders.

In my previous post, I quoted Jesse Kornbluth, who writes, "Writers—real writers—are formed by their reading. It can be vast, it can be selective. But at some moment, the process freezes. Heroes emerge. And then the writer sees himself/herself as an upholder and extender of the convictions and style of those heroes."

It got me thinking about who proceeded my convictions and styles. About who, basically, I've climbed on the shoulders of and fashioned my work from. I'm not talking about influences here. Personally, I take something from everything I read, view, watch, do, see. It's a subconscious thing for the most part, but everything that passes before my eyes is eaten and digested and shat back out somehow. They tell me that this is how you learn language: that when you're a kid, you learn by recycling words and phrases for the meaning, and that language builds from this. The older you get, the more language you know, the higher in diversity your words are. I don't see that it's any different with prose. I'm always reading, always consuming, always expanding my ways to say and do something, from the turn of phrase to an argument on something that I have never considered before.

When I stop learning, likely, it'll be that I'm dead.

This post, however, is about the conscious choices. The writers and musicians and artists and whatever, basically, that have work that influences me, that introduced me to styles and convictions that I have continued with. Due to the length that this post, i'm only going to focus on three, but the truth is, I could go longer. Still, even with those three, you might not be able to see the influences in my work, but then again, you might. Either way, there's something interesting in it for me, but you should probably be warned that this is going to be one of those wank filled self indulgent examination posts. With dick jokes.*

If you're lucky.

It's Complicated.

Fuck it, it's complicated.

You know, I considered ending the post right there. It'd make a nice joke, really. That whole long intro and then, "Fuck it, this shit's complicated." Maybe for some people it isn't, but for me, if it's not complicated, then it's long winded, and has a lot of stops at the different things I do. See, the problem is, I like diversity. I like to try one thing, then turn around and try the opposite thing. I'm not insane about it, however. I mean, you won't find me sitting there in a commune telling young children that they have to try everything once, and here's some cocaine. Fuck that. I don't need to eat dog shit to understand that I'm not going to like it. I don't need to try my hand at being a Doctor to understand that I'd be no good cutting open the flesh of humans and patching up their organs. Indeed, it's entirely possibly that my idea of doing different things is, to another person, a narrow and straight lane with a brick wall at the end.

Whatever.

My point is, when I write, I like to try different things. Different styles, different genres, different opinions. I don't know if there is a typical Ben Peek kind of story out there, and I suspect I just don't have the profile for an audience to even be able to answer that question given my low status in the world of authors (what am I now? Fucking scum, as pronounced by my peers with a sneer as explanation right before I'm ignored?**)... anyhow, given that, it is probably close to being a total wank to sit here and state that I like to try different things, but it's true.

But still, when you're talking about the styles and convictions (to be referred to as 'influences' from this point on, just to keep things simple) you've got to start somewhere.

For me, it was George Orwell. Pretty unfucking original, isn't it?

Orwell.

It's like I signed up to the cliche newsletter of literary influences by beginning with George Orwell. I'll be mentioning Hemingway after this if I'm not careful. I mean, shit, if I have to read another line that begins with, "Hemingway showed me..." I'll find an oven and bake my skull. Still, as much as it's a cliche, I find myself influenced by Orwell, and I can even pick the exact piece of writing that did it.

It's an essay called 'Shooting an Elephant' and it is, in the Harcourt Brace published A Collection of Essays, eight and a half pages long.

In it, Orwell tells a story of what happened to him while he was living in Burma and working as a Police Officer for the British Empire. It was the only time, he writes, that he has been important enough to be hated by large groups of people. (Later, of course, he would be hated again, but not in the same way, I suspect.) At any rate, in the course of the essay an elephant goes into 'must' and breaks out of its chains and attacks the town. Eventually, Orwell is sent out in search of it, and takes a rifle with him, just in case. When the locals see the rifle, he notes that the even changes for them. Whereas before it was a problem, it was now fun. They were going to watch an elephant die. Excitement. The form a crowd to follow him--unnervingly so, Orwell writes. Soon, he finds the elephant, quite calm and munching on some grass, it's 'must' attack over and with no need to shoot it.

But then Orwell turns to the crowd.

He realises, looking at their faces, that they want him to shoot the elephant. Indeed, they expected it of him, and that expectation meant that he had to shoot it. He had to do it. There was no way out for him. He was an invading figure and if the locals expected him to do something, then he had to do it. "A sahib has got to act like a sahib." The power that the crowd has forces him to become the thing he despises, forces him to meet their expectations and act so that he can keep control and respect in front of them. That is why he shoots the elephant, and it dies in the most awful agony, taking over half an hour with its rattling breath, caught in a place where Orwell's bullets could no longer hurt it. It's messy and brutal and just horrible.

After it dies, the crowd strips the beast of meat, and the older officers tell him he did the right thing. But, as Orwell writes in the final lines, "I often wonder whether any of the others grasped that I had done it solely to avoid looking like a fool."

Eight and a half pages.

In those pages, Orwell proves himself to be honest, raw, and political. Orwell talks about the power of people over a Government, to suggest that they are, in a way, responsible for the actions of the political figureheads that they have. That they are not victims of circumstance, that even when invaded, people have a power. Remember that line: "A sahib has got to act like a sahib." Caught in definitions of his position of power, Orwell has no choice but to act, even as he notes that the mass of people do not fully comprehend that they have this power over him. It is a complex relationship between people and rule, and to me, that is where Orwell's influence begins, in that grey, messy, raw and honest complexity. There is no one "right" way to see something. There is no "evil" to be found in the crowd or in Orwell, but rather a decision to explore the groups and individuals and thoughts that motivated the actions, and in the end, the reasoning, while the reasoning comes back to Orwell's personal failings, there is only the grey shifts of power and choice and responsibility left to ponder.

This is one of the main threads in Orwell's work for me. You can find it in various shades and incarnations in his body of work. He is the Father of my convictions.

Punk.

Well. Fuck. This has gotten out of hand. I should stop, keep my sanity, but we're right at the bit where I take a turn and everyone goes, "What the fuck?"

By this, I mean punk.

I'm talking punk music here. Pick your punk band: Refused, Frenzal Rhomb, NOFX... I don't much care where your tastes go, but the short of it is that punk is short, loud, and one big fuck you to authority. Whatever that authority might be. As a music genre, punk can get a big messy on just who it's saying fuck you at, and nowadays, it can even be that it's not really being a fuck you at all. But to me, punk is all about the fuck you. No fuck you and you're not punk. Besides, that is what I like about it.

Plus, it's funny.

I don't know why, but I rarely hear people talk about the humour in punk. It's not always there, of course, as some of the political protest bands are a bit too serious to be funny, but there is, well, I guess a sub genre of punk that's funny. I mentioned Frenzal Rhomb and NOFX because they're the two examples that pop into my mind straight away, and so I'm going to use them. Now, understand, I'm no expert with music--my tastes, while I have tastes, are indiscriminate, as you might have picked up by reading this livejournal. I'm happy to jump here and there and I couldn't honestly tell you if the music is played well or not. I just got to like it and that's my explanation, and the part I like about punk is the fuck you humour.

You can find it in Frenzal Rhomb's song Russell Crowe's Band': Don't get a million bucks for getting out of bed. Don't get a million fucks when I punch blokes in the head. But even if we never get a billboard top ten hit--At least we know Russell Crowe's band's a fucking pile of shit.

How can you not love that? There are, of course, more examples of the band being politically savvy, but as an example of fuck you humour in punk, it's a perfect example.

That's how I like my humour. It's how I like to write my comedy, when I write comedy. What makes 'Dr Who (or the Day I Learnt to Love Tom Baker)' and 'R' stories my work is that they are, in one form or another, filled with fuck you humour.

'Dr Who (or the Day I Learnt to Love Tom Baker)' is essentially about how fucking shit Dr Who is--and look, don't chime in with your opinion to say otherwise about the show or the story, because I won't have any of it. This is my opinion and as such, the show is fucking shit and the story is about how shit it is. Shit shit shit, get me? (Might be bullshit.) I haven't watched all of Dr Who, but fuck, I don't care and whatever you have in Dr Who wear gives me the shits. That's my opinion of Dr Who and it amazes me that anyone is interested in the remake. You want to know how the story ends? Well, I take Tom Baker into the backyard and I set him on fire. Yes I do.

'R', of course, is a much more obviously a fuck you kind of story. It's about censorship. It is, as Ben Payne (benpayne) wrote in his review of it, a rebuttal of censorship. It presents a world where everyone wakes up with black squares over their genitals and it just goes downhill from there, ending in nastiness. At no place in the story is there a moment when censorship might be seen as a good thing. Fuck that. There's that Mark Twain quote about censorship, which goes something like, censorship is like banning steak because babies can't chew. That's my opinion of censorship and I don't care if so called reasonable people sit there and tell me what reasonable reasons they have for censoring things. It's ridiculous. It's stupid. 'R', titled after that Australian R rating which means that you have 18 years or older to view, watch, see, this, is a big fuck you to censorship.

I'm pretty sure that this influence isn't much of a surprise for people. Ben is influenced by a choice that is summed up as "Fuck you"... Yeah, everyone is picking themselves up off the floor in shock.

You know what I say to that.

Leiber.

My final influence to be written about here is Fritz Leiber.

A lot of people write about how speculative fiction is literature and should be taken seriously. Take it out of the gutter, they cry, but I'm not going to bother writing about that. Spec fic, sci fi, fantasy, whatever the fuck you want to go with today, it is literature. It's a genre, it's written in prose, and you know, that means it's literature. That also means there are examples of it being good, being shit, being fantastic, and being filled with freaky sexuality that involves being unpleasant to women.*** After that, I just don't care about if it's getting respect from whoever it is that gives respect labels out in this world.

But, you know, I write speculative fiction. That's what I call it when I talk to other people in the genre, and when they're not in the genre, I say, "I write weird fantasy stuff."

You learn your genre rules from somewhere. I learnt my noir detective rules from Raymond Chandler, for example, and I learnt my speculative fiction/weird fantasy stuff rules from Fritz Leiber. As a writer, he had a diversity that allowed him to jump from sword and sorcery to science fiction to horror and to places in between. And yet, the entire time he did this, everything he wrote was beautiful and intelligent and always, in the end, literature.

That's what I took from Fritz Leiber.

"...the Marsh Gate was the nearest way out of the great and glamorous city that was now loathsome to them, indeed, not to be endured for one more stabbing, leaden heartbeat than was necessary--a city of beloved, unfaceable ghosts."

From 'Ill Met In Lankhmar'.




* It's a Bill Hicks joke.

** Simpsons Joke.

*** Gor. That's all I'll say.

Comments

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nick_kaufmann
Mar. 10th, 2005 05:53 am (UTC)
Is my icon giving you the shits right this minute?
benpeek
Mar. 10th, 2005 06:00 am (UTC)
naw. reminds me of a trash can, though.
ironed_orchid
Mar. 10th, 2005 11:30 am (UTC)
I haven't much to add but that I'm glad you wrote this. And am relieved that you cite Leiber as an influence and not John Norman.
benpeek
Mar. 10th, 2005 11:39 am (UTC)
thanks. i'm figuring most people are skipping this due to its length, but i found it interesting, just for the putting ideas down thing.

i could've even go near norman. did you ever read any of his stuff?
ironed_orchid
Mar. 10th, 2005 11:48 am (UTC)
The bf bought a couple of his books out of curiosity and probably thinking that anything with slave girls in it ought to be at least a little entertaining. How wrong he was, Kajira of Gor has got to contain the most horrible awful prose ever. It's like the stream of consciousness of a really confused person who repeats everything to themselves 3 or 4 times. No, I am not joking, that's how it is written!

Oh, and we rented a movie, which was very bad in different ways, but had all the trademarks: our hero is scorned by nasty bitch feminists, then he's transported to Gor where the women are slaves and are scantily clad. Hooray! Then a lot of walking across a desert and bad 80s blowdried hair.

Some visiting scholars who were here last year said they had worked in the same campus as Jon Norman (well, whatever his real name is) at the time when he was outed as the author of the Gor books, he is or was an English professor.
benpeek
Mar. 10th, 2005 12:07 pm (UTC)
heh. what happened to him? or didn't they say?

i've read a bit of the gor stuff. just things people have jammed in front of me and said, read this! slave girls, but in a nasty way. i can't remember if it was badly written because it was just so... well, bad.

a friend of mine once told me about the gor subculture and how icky it is. how it attracts a certain kind of desperate person to it.
ironed_orchid
Mar. 10th, 2005 12:37 pm (UTC)
I think it was seen as embarrassing, and the women's dept protested.

& yeah, I fist heard about Gor through furtive mentions on IRC. Personally I don't see the point in wading through that godawful prose when there's other varieties of submissive slavegirl porn out there. I guess the books were out before the intraweb, so might be something that people stumbled onto and somehow a following was built.
benpeek
Mar. 10th, 2005 12:57 pm (UTC)
maybe, but i mean... surely there were other submissive slave girl books out there before gor?

still, i'm told it was quite big in the seventies. it's mostly a joke now, though, so there's probably something to your point.
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