Sunday, March 30, 2008

Writing about nothing about writing

The danger of being a writer is that as writers we are supposed to write about the world, and if we become completely involved in writing then writing becomes our world. At that point we are writing about writing, which means we are writing about nothing because there is at no point a proper subject matter. At this point we build our subject matter, and it looks rather silly because it has no grounding in anywhere but our own heads. We take it apart and try to figure out what went wrong. Once it is taken apart we find we have no glue and therefore we are left without any subject matter at all.

Therefore we buy black hats and wander about at cafes talking of how we cannot speak. Happily this gives us subject matter and so we hurry off to write about our experience. We send it off and everyone loves it because they are having exactly the same problem, so they write the same thing. At this point we aren't writing about art, but writing about writing about art...or something down the line.

Now to be serious: Draw the line at some point. If you are to write you must love more then writing. Do not quit your day job, become a mathemetician, go for very long walks, or work in the garden. There is no harm in loving writing and if you do not you ought not to write. But I love writing too and I say that those who see it as the singular aim of life do it great harm.

Of course they say that us fantasy writers are foolish and dishonest fools, so I suppose I cannot do much good here. If I'm writing about writing does that mean I'm writing about nothing right now?

Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Gutenberg Project

Project Gutenberg is the first and largest single collection of free electronic books, or eBooks. Michael Hart, founder of Project Gutenberg, invented eBooks in 1971and continues to inspire the creation of eBooks and related technologies today. -

I love the Gutenberg project and it deserves all the attention and support we can give it. Therefore, attention. Any book with an expired copyright falls into the knowledge commons, and anything in the commons is candidate for this collection.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Drawing lines and Artistotle

Since I ought to be writing a paper on Aristotle right this is a most fitting topic. His writing on ethics discusses Eudaemonia (how to life well as a human being). I am discussing how to write well as a fantasy author. I should point out that I am not discussing either how to sell your writing.

Steve Thorn's comment on my previous article reminded me that I tend to sound like an extremist at times. I am very much for the history and precedent of things, so much so that a book can be spoiled for me is I think they have written about elves in the 'wrong' way. Still not sure what the 'right' way is, but according to my tastes it isn't that.

< utterly meaningless)----------------------------------------(completely unoriginal >

The best place to be, for life or writing or both, is somewhere in the middle. I tend to balance in a rather more peculiar way. Half of the things I write would be utterly meaningless without the other half which happen to be completely unoriginal. I'm not really sure that is the proper way to go about it though.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Werewolves, vampires, and orginal content

Now the obvious flaw of inclination is that people are often inclined to write fanfiction. I shall not here condemn fanfiction, I admit that I am not in favour of it but there are good arguments for its creation and its existence does not do us harm.

The trouble here is who is choosing to write. Inspiration is a wonderful and powerful thing but that does not make it useful. It is amazing what power stories can have over us and if all we desire is an emotional reaction to a particular story then fanfiction is acceptable. If we desire to be writers then it is a different matter. There is a drive for originality and no one who wishes to be a writer can allow themselves to fall completely under the power of anothers stories.

So we must not fall under the power of other writers, we must write stories that are our own. This falls into the originality debate. I like tradition and I like structure and I have a great affection for literary allusion. Therefore we can say that we do not need complete freedom from influence (which leads to scary things like postmodern toilet art) but instead we need to draw upon pure sources.

Clearly another writer, one writing in our generation cannot be a pure source, it is impossible to tell what is lasting and what is transeunt. So, to be specific, what is fantasy? It is stories that draw on other times and ideas, that permit things which cannot exist within a basic scientific understanding. It is not breaking new ground but reiterating old. Such, at least, is my view of fantasy. Therefore the appropriate source material is that of old things. Ancient culture, ancient mythology, and old folk and fairytales, along with general history and the various understandings of the world make up the material with which fantasy can play. Therefore to avoid the trap of influence we look to the past, and isn't that why we write fantasy to begin with?

Monday, March 17, 2008

Derisive originality

Despite my hatred of word murderers I still have a tendency to play with meanings, often to my own detriment. Derisive originality is one such toy.

Originality, as the creation of a new or primary thing, cannot be called bad. It is, by necessity of our situation if nothing else, inherently good.

That said, 'originality' is a damaging ideal and one that I find more reason to hate then to love. I sometimes enjoy using 'originality' in a derisive manner, to refer to something that is sub-standard or unworthy of my consideration. I did not realise see anything amiss in this tendency until I used it outside of the writerly context and found myself an object of ridicule. Or, to be more precise, I was accused of being a communist. My opinions of communism are varied but that is not the issue at stake. The point highlighted the negative aspects of both communism and my apparent view. Conformity. Conformity, of course, is a very bad and nasty thing, especially when created at gunpoint.

Oddly enough this was precisely my point. Originality, innovation, this is conformity. It is not conformity in its denotative value, but in application. It also seems strange that we would become original at gunpoint, considering this is not a communist state and no one is holding the gun. But such is the case. We, we as writers and we as students and we as human beings, are told repeatedly that we must be new and different and shiny. And if we are not? Then we are not good enough, and we are not living up to the standards of society, and we are in general degenerate.

When I call someone 'original' in a snide and derisive manner I am saying that instead of doing what they wanted to do they allowed this invisible gun to control their actions. Such people do not follow their natural inclinations and abilities. Instead they listen to that incessant whispering which tells them over and over what is acceptable.

I shall speak as a writer because that is what I know. It is not acceptable to write about elves. It is not acceptable to discuss idealism. It is not acceptable to have heroes, and it is even less acceptable to have villains. Such things are clich├ęs. Over done. Dead (because you shot them?). You must go somewhere else, you cannot stay here. Do not write of fairyland; make up your own world instead. Do not write about elves; make up an alien race instead.

True, writing of elves is not new. True, it is difficult to do it well. That does not matter. What matters is that I want to write about elves and I do not care if I am shot in the dead because I do not believe that they gun even exists. I mean, an invisible talking gun? Come now, be rational.

If you are truly desire to create that world, to create those people in every loving detail, to make them your own, heart and soul, then that is originality. That is how I feel about elves, though I do not create them. If it is, however, not the desire to explore a strange land breathing under purple but merely the compulsion to be original then you are dishonest. If you are not dishonest, if originality is the only thing that you love and live for, then you are truly a sorry creature. Those who pursue art for arts sake I respect: those are called artists. Those who pursue originality for its own sake well deserve my contempt because they deny themselves.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

How words die

I took a course last year on the history of western thought. My professors told me many things that stuck in my mind. One was that evil is dead, according to both Nietzsche and Derrida, and the other is that we live in an age of profound skepticism.

At the time I was surprised. I wondered what the average person would say if they were told that we are profoundly skeptical. I’m still quite sure they haven’t noticed.

As a writer I am rather disturbed by the death of words. It is like finding the grave of a friend you never knew was dead.

Take morality. The Greeks, particularly the sophists, began to doubt the existence of morality. Those who lost the reality of it sought to convince others of it. It died for some that that death was spread to others until all were infected by it, then it was cut away to allow for new growth.

The trouble is that morality can die for some without dying for others. Why should reality be destroyed completely just because in one man it is dead? Why should reason be killed completely just because it is dead for me. Is it even dead for me? Yes. If I can question it it is dead. I said that dissecting an idea kills it, but it seems that the ideas are already dead when they are dissected.

Unless...unless we are like Aristotle, digging up the bulbs to look at them because they die every spring. Maybe reason will return when it is warmer and we are closer to the sun. Not for me, but for others. We are rational and we are a-rational. I must accept that I am part of the latter.


There is, of course, no excuse for inactivity. My only defense can be that I did not only give up blogging for some other activity, but in fact gave up all creative activities. I was supposed to edit my novel, I was supposed to finish a story, I was supposed to paint. I did none of these. I did write, but not by choice. So I make my inexcusable excuse and say that I have been concentrating on my studies.

I did, however, write a study-relevant poem:

Oh, Justice, creature good and noble!
You who love the littlest creature
who protects the old, the young, the weak,
the dreamers, the workers, the else.

Oh, Justice, I invoke thee
(in the vocative!)
creature good and noble,
come smell your way to us
return to us, for we love you
you are our teacher, our protector
you are good and you are kind.

Oh, Justice, blindfish, mole,
protect the children of the words,
the children of democracy,
the old, the young, the dreamers and farmers,
we, together, call thee forth.