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On the responsibilities of writers - Wemyss's Appalling Hobby:
From the Party Guilty of Committing 'Gate of Ivory, Gate of Horn'
wemyss
wemyss
On the responsibilities of writers


NB and ETA: COMMENTS RESPONDED TO HERE: 

http://wemyss.livejournal.com/166215.html




 

A fortnight ago, there was published in metafandom a closely reasoned, well-argued, and impassioned essay by stellaluna_ , concerning the responsibility that authors bear – or are said to bear.

 

It is, as I have noted, a closely reasoned, well-argued, and impassioned essay.  It is also, in its primary contention, rubbish.

 

It is there contended – and I have added my emphases to what follows – that:

 

Stories cannot be dismissed with statements like ‘Oh, it’s just fantasy’ or ‘Oh, it’s just a TV show’ or ‘Oh, it’s just fanfic.’

Statements like that imply two things: one, that if the work in question is ‘just’ [whatever], that talking about it at all is unimportant; and that, two, anything that happens within that work is, in and of itself, unimportant. And that, therefore, talking about what happens within that work is unimportant. Which is to say that not only is talking about general issues like characterization and setting and theme unimportant, but so is
discussing how the work in question deals with race, or with gender, or with sexual orientation/identity.
This, in turn, devalues both story itself and the broader social issues that may arise from that story.

As a writer, I have a responsibility to consider how I’m using my words. I’m not, for a second, suggesting that every story needs to have a moral, or that it needs to be uplifting. What I am saying is that I need to consider what my story is saying, and I mean that in several senses. I need to think about the story I want to tell and if I’m telling it well; I need to think about the characters and about whether I’m writing in a fashion that’s true to them; I need to think about what my story is saying the subtextual and metaphoric level as well as what’s happening in the surface action of the story; and I need to think about whether I’m making any unconscious assumptions regarding gender or race or sexual identity that I did not intend. I need to look at the story through a broader lens. 

 

It is when we turn to this alleged responsibility of the writer to espouse a party programme on (wait for it) ‘gender or race or sexual orientation / identity’ that things fall apart.

 

What do we mean – what does the writer of this essay, or any of the many people who commented favourably and approvingly on the essay, mean – when we or she or they say, ‘the writer has a responsibility’ to do thus and so?  Is this a moral imperative?  Is it a social obligation?

 

If the obligation is one of the essayist’s conscience, there’s no more to be said: the primacy of the individual conscience makes the question outside my remit.  Yet stellaluna_, clearly, is advocating this position as representing any author’s, all authors’s, obligation: she posits a general responsibility, a Kantian imperative.

 

And that is where, with respect, the contention stands revealed as rubbish.

 

I think it fair to conclude, based upon this essay and the comments appended to it, that stellaluna_ is on the side of the politico-philosophical divide that defends and celebrates, say, slash, and explicit content, and All That, and is opposed to the Unco Guid, the God-botherers, Mullah Issa, and the Paladins of Purity.  I am quite certain that, were she barracked for writing ‘dirty, ungodly filth’, she would reply, quite properly, with the Wildean aphorism,

 

There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written, that is all.

 

And yet – as Milton, who shouldst be living at this hour, well knew – the same Puritanism, the new presbyter as old priest writ large, comes in by the back door in just this fashion (you cannot drive out Dame Nature with a pitchfork, as Horace noted).  To go back over one’s story with a list of boxes to be ticked off in the name of political consistency is no different to censoring one’s work in the service of any other orthodoxy, religious, social, or what have you.  I do realise that stellaluna_ believes herself to be avoiding didacticism by not ‘consciously writ[ing] either of those into a story’ and not ‘go[ing] into writing a piece with the idea that I’m going to write about a particular theme’ (actually, every story wants and has a theme); yet in fact, by her prescribed habit of ‘working through later drafts of stories … and when I find those things, then, yes, I do want to work to bring them out more strongly’, she is in fact embracing the didactic and, in her own words, ‘writing something where the characters are bent, and perhaps warped, in service of’ her beliefs.  (I note that she is clearly using ‘bent’ of her characters in the American sense.)

 

Of the four major formative influences upon the English language, it can be argued that only one – Shagsper – was secular; the others of course being the Authorised Version – KJV to the Yanks – the Book of Common Prayer, and Bunyan.  Yet Bunyan, however didactic his purpose, has lasted because this untutored genius, a half-schooled Roundhead tinker, was a brilliantly poetic, clear, and gripping teller of stories.  Not even RLS can touch him, and I say that who am a devoted Stevensonian.  By contrast, I can read and re-read with enjoyment Jack Lewis’s Pilgrim’s Regress, but it cannot seriously be maintained that it is within hailing distance of the space trilogy, let alone the Chronicles, nor yet, of course, of Tollers’s work or indeed of Charles Williams’s ‘spiritual thrillers’ (I cease here by main force, or we shall wander off into GKC and Dunsany and God knows where).  There’s a reason, after all, why no one any longer reads Kingsley’s The Water Babies: strained didacticism simply ruins a tale.

 

The idea that it is a writer’s responsibility, if not to write to pattern, then at the least to go back and ensure that the work is politically Bowdlerised, is not only utter balls; it is the high road to writerly ruin.  The writer’s responsibility is to write the story that clamours to be written, take him where it may, and to write it in the best possible English.  The writer’s responsibility is to her story and its characters.  Failure to remain true to that responsibility is always fatal.

 

Take, by way of example, the canon in mine own fandom.  It is a commonplace to observe that La Rowling went rather off the rails in the late works.  An astonishing number of those who realise that, cannot quite seem to put their fingers upon just why this is so; yet surely it is obvious (rem acu tetigisti and All That).  La Rowling is capable, if not quite to Bunyan’s or Stevenson’s or Chesterton’s measure, of telling a cracking tale, full of humour and incident and occasional touches of inspired characterisation.  She began, almost unthinkingly, telling – or, better, retelling – one of the classic world-myths.  She did it well; well enough, certainly, to be noticed.  And it then suddenly broke upon her – and upon not a few critics, including those remarkably derivative minds at The Independent and the inmates who think themselves warders at The Guardian – that the mythos, which is older and deeper and higher (and, fortunately, far stronger) than she, was shockingly inconsistent with her own, bien-pensant views.  Hidden and dispossessed princelings, wise and wizardly mentors, Boys’ Own Adventures and young princesses to be rescued from basilisks: these are the stuff of the oldest myths, as ancient at the dawn of time as they shall be tomorrow (or so Thomas Mann argued); they are very much not the metier of a fashionably Labourite Grauniad-ista who writes affectionate chapter-introductions to the sad little books (on courage, of all ironic subjects) published under Gordon Brown’s name.

 

And, like a fool, she tried to have it both ways.  She betrayed her imagination and her story in the name of her personal politics; she chose something ephemeral over something eternal.  It’s as if Kenneth Grahame went back to insert the Thirty-Nine Articles – or perhaps the Shorter Catechism, as he was after all born in Edinburgh – in ‘The Piper at the Gates of Dawn’, or Tollers insisted on making Eru a Trinitarian God.  As Jack Lewis said of the Reich’s attempt to co-opt Wagner and indeed the Norse myths as a whole, the attempt to subordinate high art to low politics never ends well.

 

There are, Kipling observed, nine-and-sixty ways of constructing tribal lays; but in order that every single one of these ways be ‘right’, it is necessary that the motive and the object be in the constructing – retelling – the tribal lays, not in making parti pris points.  That is how a poem or a story is different to a party political.  This is hardly, I need hardly say, an original observation: Aristotle made it, and no one since has ceased making it in every generation.  As a writer and ‘consumer’ (o dire sociological construct!) of fanfiction, and indeed of AH (alternative or alternate history), I am by no means opposed to the impulse that says, ‘But what if we take the source material and do thus and so to it?’  However, this is not the same thing as imposing censorship, not least self-censorship, upon the tale as it wants to be told, and to do so for political or social or ‘polite’ reasons.  The sole responsibility of the writer is, I say again, to write the story that clamours to be written, to be true to the story and its characters, wherever it and they lead, and to write that story in the best possible English.  In fairness, I believe that stellaluna_ knows this also; yet she is, in some confusion, embracing what she has no doubt been carefully taught as a principle, that she must impose a politically satisfactory pattern upon the narrative as well.  The two principles, if they are both principles, which I beg leave to doubt, are inconsistent; and as between one’s duty to one’s story and the claimed duty to adopt a politicised ‘policy of thorough’, it is the latter – as a matter of intellectual and artistic honesty – that must go to the wall.  For the Left as for the Right, ‘There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written, that is all.’  Contentions to the contrary, however well-meant, are, simply, balls.

 

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[1] [2]
blamebrampton From: blamebrampton Date: December 14th, 2008 09:21 pm (UTC) (Link)
If forced to label myself I would be squarely among those who disapprove of the use of chairman as a generic term, and yet I find myself firmly believing that it is the morality of the reader, not the writer, that matters. But then I also believe that manners and ethics ought to be taught in the home rather than only at school, so clearly I am nearing obsolescence ...
wemyss From: wemyss Date: December 14th, 2008 09:32 pm (UTC) (Link)

Obsolescence?

At twenty-nine years in age? Nonsense.

Let us be scandalously old-fashioned together, then.
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wemyss From: wemyss Date: December 14th, 2008 10:24 pm (UTC) (Link)

Censorship or attentiveness? Well, obviously, I read it as the former.

Possibly because it is couched as being a matter of duty and moral obl- - I'm sorry, I'll read that again: of Duty and Moral Obligation, or so it seemed to me, with the initial capitals of portentousness duly implied.

I am altogether in favour of our 'get[ting] characterizations to progress beyond stereotypes, and get[ting] cultural details right'; what I do not agree is the proposition that one must or ought go through and make sure that one is guiding the reader by the hand in the proper direction in 'thinking about gender' or whatnot.
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pathology_doc From: pathology_doc Date: December 15th, 2008 12:32 am (UTC) (Link)
I need to think about what my story is saying [at] the subtextual and metaphoric level as well as what’s happening in the surface action of the story; and I need to think about whether I’m making any unconscious assumptions regarding gender or race or sexual identity that I did not intend. I need to look at the story through a broader lens.

Except it seems that what she's actually advocating doing is deconstructing (and possibly reconstructing) it through an ideological and subtextual microscope - as narrow a lens as one could hope to find. In addition, my subtext may not be your subtext or the next person's; so however broad it is, the lens through which one looks carries an inbuilt Heisenbergian imprecision, an imperfect veil whose piercing is a veritable literary labour of Sisyphus.

I'd like to know what these unconscious assumptions are.
wemyss From: wemyss Date: December 16th, 2008 02:53 pm (UTC) (Link)

Quite so.

‘I’d like to know what these unconscious assumptions are.’ Well, yes, precisely.
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wemyss From: wemyss Date: December 16th, 2008 02:54 pm (UTC) (Link)

There goes MY brain. Ack.

Yet I thank you.
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wemyss From: wemyss Date: December 16th, 2008 02:55 pm (UTC) (Link)

Cue the Handel.

Oh, quite. Thank you, I’m greatly obliged.
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nextian From: nextian Date: December 15th, 2008 10:27 pm (UTC) (Link)

from MF

Hmm. Censorship, to suggest that people avoid hurting other people? If it's great fiction it will be forgiven a great deal, but the thing is, it isn't some "party line" "political correctness" thing to suggest decency to others. In a culture where gross inequality is a way of life (and I basically mean any culture on Earth) it is not toeing the party line to consider how one's words would impact a reader who has suffered many indignities in their life already.

Is it the responsibility of the reader to avoid things that make them unhappy? Yes. Is it the responsibility of the writer to make everyone happy? No. Is it, however, maybe not so much to ask that people set a baseline standard for consideration (as opposed to censorship -- she's not saying don't do it, she's saying think about it carefully first)? We ask the same for grammar and spelling and internal consistency and theme and plot. Great works can of course break all these rules, but when those rules are broken no one is actively hurt.

This is not an academic question of style, it's the Stranger than Fiction question: If you know that your writing is hurting another human being, a real one in the real world, surely it's best to think before continuing to do so?
wemyss From: wemyss Date: December 15th, 2008 11:36 pm (UTC) (Link)

I’ve always said we’ll never have peace in the Middle East…

… So long as everyone’s on a four-day week (the Muslims pray on Fridays, Saturday’s the Sabbath, and the most secular and unchurched of Western diplomats insist on having Sundays clear on the calendar). Similarly, the great problem with a global fandom is that one posts in GMT and finds that the Yanks and Aussies, the Canadians and the Kiwis, are replying when one is otherwise occupied – or, indeed, asleep. So I am very sorry to start a hare here and then retire before we course it.

Yet start it I shall. If you will look at your own unexamined assumptions, you will readily see that you have presumed that the ‘people who might be hurt’ are those who think as do you. Or so I must conclude, for I cannot imagine that you are positing, as a Kantian universal imperative, that one must always consider, before publishing, the possibility of anybody’s taking offence. After all, if we must – as a moral obligation – consider that, say, fundamentalists of one or another religion may be offended by a positive, or simply by a neutral, non-condemnatory, depiction of homosexual orientation and behaviour, and we may offend them only with trepidation and only if we cannot write a story in any other way, where do we end? And say that we do conscientiously tailor a story so as to avoid offence to these same fundamentalists of one or another religion who may be offended by a positive or simply by a neutral, non-condemnatory, depiction of homosexual orientation and behaviour: are we not – in addition to being false to the story – thereby offending those who are offended by negative or non-accepting or non-celebratory depictions of homosexual orientation and behaviour? The fact of the matter is, whatever choice one makes, someone, somewhere, is going to take offence. And if that is allowed to govern the decision to publish or not to publish, we may as well close up shop and leave off pretending to be a free people; for then it will those who do not publish who, as the duke of Wellington might have said, prosper and yet are damned.

This is not a mere debater’s point. Let us take as our text the increasing British habit of serving only halal food in the State schools, and even in such places as C of E schools. It seems harmless enough: it makes the Muslim students happy and doesn’t really matter a damn to the average nominally Christian (if that) student – or parent. Unfortunately, the consumption of halal foodstuffs is no minor peccadillo to the Sikh population, to whom this is forbidden and who are – metaphorically – up in arms over the situation.

Invariably, in fact, the attempt to make special accommodations – out of a misplaced fear of offending one group – leads one into just these sorts of thorny tangles. Grievance is nowadays so nearly an actual industry that one can hardly fail to offend someone by any given action or any given inaction or refraining from action.

And at that point, obviously, the posited universal moral obligation ceases to be a universal moral obligation. I should anticipate, from what you have said, that you would resort to measuring the degree to which categories of persons want to be protected from offence, by your view of how oppressed they are. (Here’s a thought-problem for you: Iran notoriously murders its gay and Lesbian citizens. Is it more important to refrain from offending Shia Muslims, or gays and Lesbians?) At that point, the purported ‘universal moral obligation’ becomes in fact what I carefully refrained from calling it in my observations and what you argue it is not: political correctness.

To this consequence, and to self-censorship even on the highest motives, I cannot subscribe.

(I shall catch up with the comments of others tomorrow.)
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elfwreck From: elfwreck Date: December 15th, 2008 10:49 pm (UTC) (Link)
I can perceive a need to step back from one's story, attempt to read it with a fresh mood, uncluttered by the backstory and undeveloped threads that exist in the writer's mind. And checking for unexpected/unwanted assumptions, rudeness, or other messages is part of that--because if you were unconsciously rude, then your story that is received may not be the one you wanted to send.

But "should be checked for" is not the same as "should have all aspects of removed."

(And I don't know that Stellaluna was claiming or even implying that. But very often, the warning, "you need to pay attention to this" carries the unspoken corrolary, "... and of course you will fix it if you find it!")
wemyss From: wemyss Date: December 16th, 2008 02:59 pm (UTC) (Link)

Indeed, it often does.

Wherefore my attempt to clarify and to define our terms as to what is meant by a writer's responsibility, her moral obligation.

Otherwise, I think we are in greater agreement than may first appear.
wychwood From: wychwood Date: December 15th, 2008 10:54 pm (UTC) (Link)
I want to take issue slightly with your reading of stellaluna_'s post - I don't think she was saying "THOU SHALT OBEY ALL THE RULES OF POLITICAL CORRECTNESS" so much as "everything we write contains within it assumptions about all sorts of issues, and it's important to be aware of the gender / racial / etc subtexts of our writing". At least, that's certainly how *I* read it at the time (and I will readily admit that I agree with her that addressing our assumptions is important). It doesn't mean one has to self-censor or Bowdlerise, nor even *change* any political message embedded in the text - only be aware of it.

I don't think you're intending to promote this argument, but it is a persistent problem that people in positions of privilege (white, male, straight, whatever) complain that people who want to talk about problems with that privilege are "politicising" things. But adopting the status quo unquestioningly is *also* a political choice. If someone chooses to support the status quo actively, then that's their choice, and I'll leave them to get on with it (I may or may not read their fiction, but I acknowledge their perfect right to do so). But everyone should be aware of what they're saying (whatever that may be) and the implications of that. To do otherwise is to do the story a disservice - if Rowling "sold out" her story for the sake of an ideology, that's bad, but so is it wrong to the story to write a tale which is hopelessly undermined by a subtext which contradicts the overt text. There is more than one duty to a story

Or so I will continue to argue.

(here via metafandom)
wemyss From: wemyss Date: December 16th, 2008 03:03 pm (UTC) (Link)

Awareness is a beneficial thing.

I don’t believe we are in much disagreement here, you and I, save as in how we read stellaluna_’s essay – and, I should stress, the colloquy in comments. Awareness and self-awareness ought always to be undertaken; the unfortunate result - and, yes, this is very much an argument of the slippery slope - the unfortunate result of trying to erect a moral obligation to be super-aware of anything that may - quite legitimately, in many instances - offend someone, is the ground of my concern.
beccaelizabeth From: beccaelizabeth Date: December 15th, 2008 10:57 pm (UTC) (Link)

here thru metafandom

Every story has a political agenda.
Some of those agendas have been dominant for so long they have persuaded many they are natural and eternal while alternatives are political and historically contingent. This is never true.
Everything human is cultural, ideological, political.

When any writer creates a story they promote a particular ideology. To do so without examining what they have made is like voting without knowing what the names mean. stories have power, ideas have power, and we lend ideas power whenever we write a story.

You can say The writer’s responsibility is to her story and its characters. Failure to remain true to that responsibility is always fatal.
but it is difficult to be fatal to characters, on account of they aren't alive in the first place. which is also why it's difficult to have a responsibility to them.

People do in general have a responsibility not to cause harm to alive people. Like readers, and people who might be affected by readers. Anyone a powerful story moves. Story will move them in a particular direction, perhaps in sympathy with one group, antagonism with another. Stories can make people feel excluded or included, persuade them poor treatment is justified, or expose injustices.

Gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, class, generation, these are all social divides which have been involved with power inequalities supported by a combination of force, laws, and stories.

I'm in the middle of writing an essay about Chaucer at the moment. There's a bit in the Wife of Bath's tale where her husband reads bits from a book about evil women throughout history. Such books were meant to persuade women they were themselves wicked, and their subjugation therefore necessary. That kind of poison still hangs about in a lot of stories, in subtler variations that can still support social controls. I just finished a module on children's literature where I read how children's books, circa 1977 when Dixon was writing, mostly had active male characters making choices and teaching things and passive female characters being effected by choices and learning things. Men do, women watch. That was the social dominant at the time, that was what a lot of children were being taught through stories, and that persists to be present in stories even in the 21st century. Since it has been 'normal' for so long, an author can end up copying the pattern without thinking much about it. Then they can end up with characters that persuade, in their own small measure, more women to accept the status quo. Is that a responsible use of power? Very much depends on what you think of the status quo.


Basically one foundation of cultural studies is that story is used for power and control. So I would say that yes, every author has a responsibility to at least consider what messages their story sends, because they are participating in structures of power.
beccaelizabeth From: beccaelizabeth Date: December 15th, 2008 11:02 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: here thru metafandom

also you say
I am quite certain that, were she barracked for writing ‘dirty, ungodly filth’, she would reply, quite properly, with the Wildean aphorism,

There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written, that is all.


unless this is a direct quote, you cannot be certain. I write slash and I'd never agree with Wilde in that quote.
etrangere From: etrangere Date: December 16th, 2008 12:01 am (UTC) (Link)
I think the responsibility of a writer is to write a good story, yes. But the responsibility of a human being is to not intentionally perpetuate discriminations. I don't think a writer's responsibility absolve them of their responsibility as a human being.

I also think that in the great majority of cases, a thoughtful reading for such noxious undercurrent in one's writing would actually make a work stronger, deeper and more powerful than just playing along the various racist, sexist, etc. stereotypes society imprinted on us. I think the trouble with JKR, to use your example, is more the fact that her effort were not thoughtful or as enlightened as they could have been, than the fact she bothered at all.(Trying in the middle of a work, if I believe your narrative of the process, probably doesn't help either).
wemyss From: wemyss Date: December 16th, 2008 11:12 pm (UTC) (Link)

Perfectly true and wholly unexceptionable.

I'm obliged.
la_vie_noire From: la_vie_noire Date: December 16th, 2008 12:01 am (UTC) (Link)

Via metafandom

Oh, please.

You can write whatever shit you want to. I can't say I know exactly what she meant, but I'm pretty sure everybody was conscious that nobody can control what other writers write.

What she advocated, I'm pretty sure, was to be morally conscious of what you write, and of what is written. And that it's important, because you kow, you can hurt people. Yeah, you can put all that "it's moral relative" argument and say "it's not important if I hurt or stereotype another group over which I have power, because it's fiction!", but the reality it's pretty different. And yeah, she was taking a moral standpoint. No, I don't think she wasn't advocating censorship, she was advocating responsibility.

Yeah, you can say a bunch of racist crap and claim that "it's all moral relative, you are the puritan." That won't change it was wrong. Of course, from my moral standpoint, where racism is wrong.

It is when we turn to this alleged responsibility of the writer to espouse a party programme on (wait for it) ‘gender or race or sexual orientation / identity’ that things fall apart.

And that's why...? When you are privileged enough to not get hurt by fiction depicting you in a offensive way? Yeah, you call it 'race/gender/sexual identity' program.
malfeasanceses From: malfeasanceses Date: December 16th, 2008 02:05 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Via metafandom

Yes.
alias_sqbr From: alias_sqbr Date: December 16th, 2008 12:28 am (UTC) (Link)

Also here from metafandom

I think the main problem here is not that you and stellaluna_ disagree about the ethics of writing, but that you disagree on the ethics of behaviour in general.

My interpretation:
The unspoken assumption of stellaluna_'s post is that everyone reading is, in principle, interested in trying to make sure their actions aren't racist/sexist etc. Her point is that a work of fiction can have racist/sexist etc effects, and this is something to look out for.

From the little of your opinions I've picked up from your posts (and I could be wrong) you think any actions to preemptively prevent your actions having a racist negative effect on POC etc is counterproductive. Which is something I (and I assume stellaluna_) disagree with, but that's a different argument which has nothing in particular to do with writing.

Now I also disagree with "The sole responsibility of the writer is, I say again, to write the story that clamours to be written, to be true to the story and its characters, wherever it and they lead, and to write that story in the best possible English". A writer is a human being, and their actions as a writer bear the same ethical responsibilities as their actions in general. What those responsibilities are depends on your POV, and in some cases the worth of the work might outweigh certain ethical qualms, but they don't suddenly get negated because it's Art. To make an extreme example, if I got inspired to make paintings out of human blood I wouldn't be divorced of responsibility for killing people to get it.

In my opinion, every human being should consider, and is responsible for, the probable and forseeable consequences of their work. Now they might decide that while their work has probable negative consequences they are outweighed by the artistic merit of the piece..but that decision is still their responsibility. An example I saw someone give (to defend your POV, actually, only about child porn) was that popular stories about suicide often drive up suicide levels in the population. Does that mean noone should write about suicide? No. But anyone writing about it should at least stop and think "Is this likely to drive up suicides? Is there any way to make it less likely to do so, and what effect will it have on the work? Is it worth it?" I mean, having met a lot of writers and artists etc, most of them have at least some awareness in the back of their minds about what will sell, I don't see how considering ethics is any heavier a burden.
wemyss From: wemyss Date: December 16th, 2008 03:43 pm (UTC) (Link)

I shall return to this when I've the time it deserves.

Ad interim, my inner Paul Johnson cannot resist suggesting that, were you inspired to become a serial killer and paint in blood, you'd quite likely end by being shortlisted for the Turner Prize, these days.
niennah From: niennah Date: December 16th, 2008 12:44 am (UTC) (Link)
The sole responsibility of the writer is, I say again, to write the story that clamours to be written, to be true to the story and its characters, wherever it and they lead, and to write that story in the best possible English.

You seem here to say that a story itself has autonomy, agency. Can a story clamour to be written? It feels like that to writers now and then, but it is not the case. It's a romantic claim, one that invokes the idea of the sole author, the conduit for this mighty thing, inspiration. Such an author is dead. He has been dead for many years now. Barthes killed him.

The claim to "the best possible English" is itself a political claim situated firmly in class, race and gender. The priveleged class, race and gender (white bourgeois males, and QD Leavis) have traditionally set the paramaters in terms of aesthetic taste; ergo the battle popular (mass, working class) cultures must still fight in order to be recognised as valid and genuine forms of cultural production. I note that in this essay you seem to rely heavily on your own cultural capital for the authority to make your claims; your piece is littered with literary references straight from traditional canon. Those who invoke such authority are often so heavily mired in an uninterrogated political position that they cannot see the wood for the trees. Your desire, then, for apolitical art rings hollow.

the attempt to subordinate high art to low politics never ends well - What is high art? What are low politics? You are referring to gender or race or sexual orientation / identity, as quoted from stellaluna_, as low politics? What you do not acknowledge is that cultural production - art - is already inextricably entwined with gender, race and orientation. It must be, because art does not exist in a cultural and political vacuum. stellaluna_'s desire to tease apart her own cultural assumptions along these axes is a hugely worthwhile endeavour; an endeavour I am happy to call responsible, in our historical, cultural and political moment. Who knows what difference it would have made had more writers throughout history attempted to do the same?
countess_baltar From: countess_baltar Date: December 16th, 2008 11:37 am (UTC) (Link)
Can a story clamour to be written? It feels like that to writers now and then, but it is not the case.

Oh, you just had to have a GINO [1] icon...

Yes, a story can clamour to be written. The characters can have as much validity and personality as real people to a reader or author. Starbuck and Baltar wouldn't leave me alone (so to speak) until I reinstated something of their original characters into the world in some small manner.

[1] Galactica In Name Only
From: threeoranges Date: December 16th, 2008 01:32 am (UTC) (Link)
I hate generalities. Let's talk specifics, and apply your general rule to them.

I'm thinking of a popular YA fantasy-based series (which shall be nameless here, though those who know it will doubtless recognize it from my descriptions of events contained within).

In one scene, a villain holds a victim hostage. The villain explains to the "heroine" that the heroine has two choices: the heroine can either share her magic with the villain, or the villain will sacrifice the victim and gain power that way. The heroine has a bow and only one arrow. She cannot hit the villain.

The heroine aims directly for the hostage's neck and kills her outright, thus rendering her useless to the villain.

Now, would you agree that issues of "morality" or "immorality" should not be applied to this situation? Would you really say that there is "no such thing as a moral book or an immoral book" when faced with a narrative which applauds an act like this as the first and finest thing a heroine should be capable of?

Here's another message from the same series of books. In this series, the (white British) heroine is given protection by an Indian teenage boy of the same age. His older brother died trying to protect the heroine's mother from an evil force. The boy gives similar protection to the heroine, shadowing her, protecting her, giving up the only family he's ever known in order to be with her, undergoing torture for her sake, and FINALLY sacrificing his life and willingly choosing a living death so that the heroine can be spared.

One Indian male dying for a white woman can be excused as possible, perhaps... but two Indian males? It's not too much to see something offensive in this repeated pattern of "Indian Male Dies So That White Woman May Live", is it? And if it was offensive back in the 1950-60s, when People of Colour regularly sacrificed themselves for whites in films, how can it be brushed aside now with "the author had to go with what the story dictated"?

Being "true to the story" is, in the end, a bit disingenuous: it's just another way to allow the author to distance him/herself from any criticism. "I wasn't being racist, I was being true to the story!"
blackjackrocket From: blackjackrocket Date: December 16th, 2008 02:12 am (UTC) (Link)
I don't see the first one as offensive to any groups. The heroine (and actually I have no idea what book you're speaking of) is making sure that the villian cannot get the power from the hostage, who was going to die anyway, or herself. Some times there are no third options.

And in the second case, did they really die because they were Indian and the main character was white? Or did they die because they were people defending another person? The telling can change perception and meaning of the whole thing, and as I said, I don't know what books you mean so I don't know what the telling *is*.
Like how people mock...damn, I can't think of the name of it, but it's this anime about a girl who has a magic book. Anyway, most of the main cast dies to save her at one point or another, but no one says they die because they're men saving a woman. They say they're people who died because the main character is an idiot.
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malfeasanceses From: malfeasanceses Date: December 16th, 2008 02:08 am (UTC) (Link)
All you really had to say was, "I don't care whether I hurt people."
wemyss From: wemyss Date: December 16th, 2008 03:40 pm (UTC) (Link)

Oh, rubbish.

Do try reading it again.
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