If you embrace the form, strive to entertain above all else, there really is no limit as to the crazy cerebral contents you can give the reader. I take the success of The Prince of Nothing as proof positive of this. The problem is that most writers interested in arguing with readers go to university, where they’re taught that forms, particularly popular commercial forms, are the devil. So they generally go on to write cerebral fiction that violates or “plays” with generic conventions, and as result end up generally writing for people who share their education and values. All their talent is squandered on people who already share the vast bulk of their thoughts – they simply become high end entertainers. Intellectual buzz merchants.What Bakker says here is similar to certain thoughts that I've been having for quite some time regarding genre/literary discussions. While I would quibble on some particulars (namely, this does sound a bit too monolithic of an opposition), I have noticed on a few forums where I am a regular that there are many readers who are concerned with issues of "accessibility," even if they couch it in other phrases, namely "entertaining" and "not full of mental masturbation." But yes, it is the "form" and the "presentation" that shapes much of the reticence that editors and genre/literary readers alike have in picking up tomes that risk containing elements that run counter to their preferred comfort zones.
The editorial bias against intelligent genre fiction, I would argue, is the result of a pretty understandable equivocation: it’s the violation of form, the beloved rules, that turns off popular audiences, but since it’s so regularly paired with cerebral content, the latter ends up taking the blame as well.
The situation is certainly more complicated than this: there’s definitely issues of vocabulary and comprehension that are going to impact the overall accessibility of any book, but I’m arguing that it’s primarily the form and not the content that selects for or against certain audiences. Like I said, if you look at a set of generic rules as an opportunity to communicate with people at large, rather than the corporate devil, you’d be amazed with what you can get away with.
But I cannot help but to take this a bit further and in directions away from that which Bakker was postulating. If there are certain "forms" that have to be met for certain editors/readers to consider picking up the book in question, then what does this say about the discernment of such people? Could one argue that in the very act of tacitly (or openly) agreeing that there is some sort of "divide," that the erstwhile arbiter of elegance has made choices that might be self-delusional or "wrong?" Some argue that SF is this, this, and this, while others note that it differs from "mainstream" or "literary" writing due to X, Y, and/or Z. Schemae have been constructed; impressive towers of argumentation have been built. Perhaps all on very shaky foundations.
Outside that, I have an evangelical bent. I believe in human stupidity (my own included!) so fervently that I want to shout it out to the world. Look at history. Hell, look at the evening news. We’re surrounded by evidence of our folly, and yet all we do is congratulate ourselves all the time. Our kids spend two decades being educated, and nowhere – nowhere – are they taught anything about themselves, about the cognitive shortcomings that will lead to their divorces and their addictions, to their prejudices and their self-serving delusions. They come out of university not only ignorant of their limitations, their weaknesses, but convinced that they’re tough-minded critical thinkers.
I actually have a bad habit, which I’m sure has alienated many an acquaintance. Whenever someone tells me they’re a critical thinker – and let’s face it, everyone but everyone thinks they’re a critical thinker – I always ask them “How so?” Usually the answer is that they don’t believe everything everyone tells them. They make fun of Mormons, distrust corporations, or disagree with Fox news or some such. But when I point out that no one believes everything everyone tells them, so that can’t be a criterion for being a critical thinker, they get freaked out.
You get lots of valuable procedural knowledge in school, as well as a smattering of dogma, but nowhere – not even in most philosophy programs – are you taught how to think critically. We are hardwired to bullshit ourselves, and that’s a bloody fact Jack. And what are you taught? What does our system drum into your head at every bloody turn?
To believe in yourself! Believe in yourself when all the research shows that you are in fact the least credible person in the room. Though it seems the other way around, we’re actually much better at critiquing the claims and predicting the behaviour of others than we are ourselves. Check out David Dunning’s Self-Insight if you don’t believe me.
Ignorance is invisible, and so long as we remain ignorant of our cognitive shortcomings we will be slaves to them, we will be condemned to repeat all the same mistakes over and over, only with toys and tools that grow ever more powerful.
I must admit that I have conflicting reactions to this. Part of me wants to dismiss this out of hand, all the time knowing that this is just avoidance on a meta level. Another part wants to argue, to probe this, to find holes in the argument. Then another part of me realizes that in referencing such "parts," I am trying to distance myself from the conflict by pretending there are two "real" and discernible "parts" to me. I suspect much of what Bakker is talking about here refers to the efficacy of doubt and how self-doubting can be employed as a sort of meta-cognitive "spell checker," making sure that certain errors can be identified more readily. Whether or not one chooses to "correct" those "errors" is an entirely different matter, one which I've known from personal experience with Bakker is something that interests him keenly, that being the fallacies of certainty and conviction. Personally, I'm more of a Functionalist and have been for over a decade (those of you reading this who are familiar with arguments regarding the Final Solution ought to be familiar with that application of the term. Just take it further and apply that view to matters of religion and other cultural artifacts.) I suspect that while Bakker's arguments on this point probably are closer to being "correct" (whatever that might mean) than that of most, I cannot help but to wonder if the application of those ideas might be so unsettling to many (such as myself, as I did have some nightmares in the form of imagining a devastating argument in my dreams after reading that book of his) as to inspire all sorts of irrational behavior. Is there a risk of Pandora's Box being opened anew?
There is much more to consider in that interview and while my comments above are just the musings of the moment, I can't help but to want to reject much of what Bakker has stated. Not because I have a more plausible model to present (and I don't trust in pre-fab models here to explain away his questions and tentative conclusions), but rather because the implications of what he notes is anathema to me. Not many people have managed to present arguments that inspire such a reaction, but even two years later, I still find myself on occasion trying to come to grips with the possibility that I'm flat-out wrong on views regarding life, the universe, and everything. But yet, there's that comforting possible self-delusion that seems to serve a nice function in my life, however, that is a topic for another time and place. Right now, I want to get sleepy before my brain chemistry changes for the worse.