January 30th, 2006


Literature and Politics.

Jeff VanderMeer (vanderworld) writes about Politics and Fantasy over at the new Emerald City.

Sometimes the reader has a responsibility--and in the case of the political, that responsibility includes not screaming "didactic!" any time a writer raises important issues in his or her work. Readers who care about writing need to recognize that sometimes the entertainment value of a piece must be weighed against the depth of what is being said, that sometimes a story may need a certain slow pace in a section, may need to build, and may even need to, yes, lecture, to achieve its full effect.

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

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

I am, of course, all for politics in art, so it's no surprise that I'm linking this.

But I come from a different angle to Jeff, I think (or, alternatively, maybe not). I like politics (in all its permutations, from feminism, culture, whatever you've got) because it gives art a bit more teeth. That's a general comment, of course, and it's not one that you can stand behind for everything, but still. Teeth, by the by, equals passion, and I like passion, even if I mightn't follow that passion a hundred percent.

Last week, I had this thought about the sedated generation. It was, believe it or not, while I was listening to Henry Rollins, and he was urging young people not to smoke dope, but to use their minds, which I thought was a curious position for an alternative rock icon to take. Personally, I don't much care if you take drugs or not, since it's your choice, and I'm certainly not going to tell anyone what they should or should not do with their time. Pot should be legal, anyway, like a lot of things should be legal in our society. So fuck it, do what you want. But I thought, just for a moment, how it's kind of strange that it appears, at times, that the way to rebel in today's society, is to take drugs. Social rebellion isn't protesting, marching, burning, forcing left wing politics into the world view, no, it instead can be argued that rebellion is about sedating yourself, about simply having a form of recreational escapism turned into a lifestyle. There is a War on Drugs, after all.

I wonder, you know, if fantasy--big, chunky fantasy with the politics and beliefs of naive teenagers--is not just another form of sedation. Another form of over the counter sedation. Shit, maybe literature and film and music has just become it, in a general way. Do we read/watch/listen for escapism? Our art will never be outlawed, but is it now performing the same task as a big bag of dope? Heh. Now there's a statement you can all get snotty over. Indeed, right now, there's a cat howling in the street in protest.

I've got no idea, of course, and these are generalised statements. Thoughts in motion.

Review of the Aurealis Award Finalists.

My review of the fifteen short story finalists in the science fiction, fantasy, and horror categories of the Aurealis Award is up at Strange Horizons (sh_reviews). It's called 'Scalpels and Surgical Masks: A Review of the Aurealis Awards Short Fiction Finalists' which is a bit of a mouthful, I know, but there you go. So, go and read, and digest, and speak.

But speak at my board and not here, because I'm turning comments off. I'm doing this simply because if, on the odd side the review generates the kind of traffic the last mention of the Aurealis Awards did, then livejournal's commenting system will collapse comments and make it difficult to follow. I've got a board, so, use the board. There is also a comments thread on the actual review.

I heard today that something close to three quarters of the eligible fiction for these awards was not considered. Food for thought that, yeah?