"The familiar is beautiful until it becomes chic to prefer the different."
Elbert Peets, in his essay "The Century Of Progress":
"Familiar" and "different" are the aesthetic scales of most minds. The familiar is beautiful until it becomes chic to prefer the different.
Constant readers remember me talking about how the idea of the new is more palatable to people than the actual new thing. This way of phrasing it expands on that: the love of the new and the old alike are merely expressions of fashion, or as Milton Glaser put it when talking about it from a creator's perspective, loyalty to a style:
More on popular culture as a bad model for creator culture.
The other day a friend of mine linked me to a piece about how bad the Marvel Cinematic Universe is. Sour-grapes pieces about popular culture are not my cup of chai, not least of all because they're a little like complaining about the bad food at gas stations: they tell us nothing we don't already know.
Most of the complaints I see about popular culture revolve around how they're not successful as entertainment. I don't think that's the problem. I think most of them work perfectly well as entertainment, but set a bad example for other creators. They work under the assumption that the storytelling mode to strive for is one optimized for ticket sales. They reach lots of people, but not very deeply; when they reach people deeply, that seems more a by-product of the goings-on than the result of any actual effort on the part of the people responsible.
"All a writer’s real learning is done alone."
Thus spake LeGuin:
It is the experience or permontition of that loneliness, perhaps, that drives a lot of young writers into this search for rules. I envy musicians very much, myself. They get to play together, their art is largely communal; and there are rules to it, an accepted body of axioms and techniques, which can be put into words or at least demonstrated, and so taught. Writing cannot be shared, nor can it be taught as technique, except on the most superficial level. All a writer’s real learning is done alone, thinking, reading other people’s books, or writing — practicing. A really good writing class or workshop can give us some shadow of what musicians have all the time — the excitement of a group working together, so that each member outdoes himself — but what comes out of that is not a collaboration, a joint accomplishment, like a string quartet or a symphony performance, but a lot of totally separate, isolated works, expressions of individual souls. And therefore there are no rules, except those each individual makes up for himself.
LeGuin is not talking about the rules of grammar or spelling; those are the plumbing and electrical work in the house. She's talking more about architecture, décor, location-location-location — all the things for which there is no actual codified rule set, but just raw experience that has to be experienced.
Blogging has resumed.
Due to changes with my webhost, my blog software briefly stopped working, although I got it running again even if not quite at full speed. The good news is I've been migrated to a new server that runs much more snappily, and will soon be trying to bring everything back up to full speed.
Aside: My blog and all my other sites are brought to you in big part by the nice folks at A2 Hosting. If you're looking for geek-friendly shared hosting or servers, click that link and tell 'em I sent you.
Some recent writing and creative news from these shores.
I've been having both a very busy personal schedule and some technical problems with both my PC and my site, hence no posts for a few days. Things are sort of running again — not quite the way I want them, but we're at least functional. Here's what's new.
My current book bears no relation to its earlier incarnations save for its title.
The Fall Of The Hammer has been in the works for — let's do some fast mental math — about twenty-five years now. Give or take. This breaks one of my little rules, which is "Don't keep a project alive that is from a time when you were essentially a different person." But what it was way back when has essentially nothing to do with what it is now, and not only does that allow an end run around the rule, it's ultimately for the best.
On constraints as creative impetuses, and the fallacies that arise therein.
A while back when reading the new translation of Arkady and Boris Strugatsky's Roadside Picnic, I made mental notes about the way the Brothers Strugatsky had the whole apparatus of Soviet censorship to push against when trying to get their work done. They avoided some of the worst axe blades falling on their necks, in big part because science fiction was considered far less potentially subversive than other kinds of writing, but they still had their work nitpicked to pieces in some of the most inexplicable ways. (The new translations of their work undo the damage, and include some entrancing discussion of what was cut and why.)
"Fish s**t or coffee, sir?"
This is what I dreamed last night. (Warning, mildly un-worksafe.)
You miss out on less than you think.
This most likely sounds like get-off-my-lawn-ism, but bear with me, as I try to distract all of you temporarily from the flames leaping from our collective rooftops.
Reading Kenneth Rexroth, by way of his critical works, reminded me why I don't tend to pick something up just because it has an award or critical acclaim to its name. It's because such things have almost nothing to do with a work's actual quality, and everything to do with the social circles the work has traveled in.
AO3's Hugo: a sign of progress.
I don't follow SF industry scuttlebutt too closely, but even I've heard about how An Archive Of Our Own has been nominated for a Hugo Award. And on the whole, I think it's a great thing.
I'm not normally a fan of the idea that if something pisses off the "right people", it's a good thing, if only because that smacks of the sort of revanchism we've all had too many doses of lately. But I do think about how the old-school old-guard SF fans might well be reacting to this, and I suspect their reactions are going to be annoyance to apoplexy. That tells me such people are more interested in gatekeeping and freezing SF&F as some Eternal Untouchable Thing than they are in seeing it as a product of the very people who keep it going — in other words, alive and evolving.
"We choose virality instead of quality, and equate it to quality because of its resonance."
We choose virality instead [of quality and real diversity] — repackaged, reshaped, shareable versions of what has come before — and equate it to quality because of its resonance. Which is itself resonant because the irony of the web is that even though everyone can have a voice, the ones that we project are projected over and over and over again. This isn’t quality, or real diversity; it’s familiarity. We model ourselves on fandom, where there is no sense of proportionality — there is everything, there is nothing, and there is little else — and the space between now and the future, the space in which critics used to sit, increasingly ceases to exist.
Most of the talk about the death of criticism seems to be celebratory: isn't it great that we no longer have these annoying gatekeepers hanging over our shoulders, telling us what's what? Some of that was warranted; if your model for a critic is the likes of Bosley Crowther, sure. But not if it's Roger Ebert.