The OF Blog: An almost-fourth anniversary post

Saturday, August 23, 2008

An almost-fourth anniversary post

The other day, I was reading Matthew Cheney's excellent blog, The Mumpsimus, when I belatedly came across his fifth anniversary post (I consider it to be deliciously ironic that the reason for my delay in reading it is due to my hectic but rewarding new teaching position). Although I doubt he knows it, his blog and his discussion of all sorts of matters has been a major influence on me over the years, first when I began the OF Blog and second when I decided that I had a lot more latitude in what I could discuss. So I owe him for that (not to mention for certain authors he mentioned that I checked out over the years, too many to recount here).

But after reading his post, I thought I'd check and see when I began the OF Blog, since all I could remember it was sometime in late August. Lo and behold the date is this upcoming Monday. Since I'm going to be absolutely swamped this week with grading and extracurricular activities, I thought I'd just make a post noting the occasion. Then I decided to read through some of the early years (I made maybe 100 posts my first three years, around 400 combined over the past 12 months or so) and I came across a writing from March 2006 that I felt deserved a second posting:

Sabremos cada vez menos qué es un ser humano. - Libro de las previsiones
This quote, which can be roughly translated as "We will know less and less what is a human being," is found in the epigraph to José Saramago's latest work, Las intermitencias de la muerte. Very fitting that I come across this quote today, as I've been struggling a bit to put to words my thoughts on something that troubles me a bit as an occasional reviewer/commentator.

A source of my recent trouble might be found in reading some of the feedback posted on Locus Online in regards to the recent New York Times column regarding science fiction. While I agreed with much of what the majority of the people there were saying, a part of me couldn't help but flinch, wondering who's version, who's definition of what constitutes 'science fiction' was attempting to dominate there. Then this weekend I read the link to Norman Spinrad's column, "On Books," that is part of the April/May issue of Asimov's. In it, he devotes a considerable amount of time delineating what is 'science fiction,' as opposed to 'SF' or 'sci-fi' or 'speculative fiction.' While many of his points were interesting, there just this sense of unease that crept over me as I read on. And then earlier today, when doing my semi-weekly read of Matthew Cheney's blog, I read his most recent column on 'Nonrealist Fiction.' Now I'll need a bit more time to process just how I feel about some of his arguments, but there was something in Cheney's post that touches upon a topic near and dear to my heart, that of relationships between the Reader (and by extension, human beings) and the Text.

In some senses, what I am writing now, what I've created (and of course whatever you have created or the person down the street or that imagined person at the antipodes has created) is a fiction. It is a construct, something that has a meaning and form that depends upon human interpretations. As a construct, this fiction (and let's go ahead and start using other terms to describe this, say 'real' and 'non-real') is subjective in and of itself, that it depends in large part upon what its Creator, its Author, wants to convey, but also on what its Recipient, its Reader wants this fiction to be. It is a communication process, one which depends in large part upon the ability of the Creator to affect the Recipient and also how the Recipient chooses to process what the Creator has established. It is a ying-yang relationship to some extent, but with an inherent instability due to the dynamics of that communication between the Creator/Recipient.

Times change. Languages alter, fall out of use. New ideas, new forms of 'what is to be' come into vogue, then are dumped into the dustbins of 'history.' Perceptions of the world changes and 'order' can mean something completely different to one generation as 'suffer' or 'quit' meant to people of another generation. 'Education' used to refer to the process of 'bringing up,' or of training someone in how to interpret the world around them. Of course, this has changed greatly over the years, as we've gone more and more away from the Greco-Roman template to a model of child rearing/training that focuses more on 'practical' applications, with a concentration on how or what things are and not so much of a focus as to why things are as they are (or not are). In this shift, many of our transmission signals have become garbled.

Thus we can have a full-fledged (and often entertaining) debates as to what constitutes 'realism' versus 'nonrealism'; what is 'science fiction' as opposed to those other forms that I listed above. But we don't tend to have as much paper (or electronic) ink devoted to the issues of why this and not that when we discuss a work of fiction. Before some point out (correctly) that there are still plenty of authors, in a variety of fields, that address issues of 'why,' I would like to take the time to note that I am referring here to how the Reader/Recipients process what they have consumed from perviewing what the Author/Creator has brought into being.

How many times have some of us gone to an internet site and read commentaries that concentrate so much on the 'what' aspects of a fiction (the plot, the characters, the scenes) and 'how' they affected that particular reader? Or how about seeing commentaries about a work that seem to be so directed as toward illuminating that Reader's point of view that the voice of the Author has been lost in translation? This has happened to me on a very frequent basis.

Now I could cite quite a few websites devoted to the 'discussion' of 'fantasy' or 'SF' (or however else you want to define what it is that's being read), but for brevity's sake, I will not and will allow you, the Reader of this fiction of mine, to go forth to your own favorite site or blog or whatnot and discover whatever you may for yourself. I just will state here, however, that it has been my experience that the 'discussions' are so centered around that particular person's vantage point that I sometimes wonder if there has been any attempt to listen to what the author has to say. One egregious example would be that of 'Classics,' in particular William Shakespeare. Countless are the times that I see comments to the effect that Shakespeare is 'overrated,' or that 'he just didn't know how to write.' While part of me wants to dismiss such statements out of hand, there is something to be said about them. Like it or not, they demonstrate a very real concern of many in regards to the loss of efficacy when one reads (or better yet in my opinion, sees performed) Shakespeare. Somewhere in the march of the centuries and the many subtle or drastic changes in the English language, a connection was weakened or even lost in some cases. The world-view of 400 years ago is not that of today and the plays of Shakespeare's which appealed to both the elites and the common folk of his day are now more and more losing their direct hold on the average person's mind and sentiments. This is not to say that Shakespeare is any less or more important today as compared to 1606, but only to serve as an illustration for the fragile nature of the communication that we Readers have with our Authors. Maybe instead of 'we will know less and less what is a human being,' it will be 'less and less what the Author wants to say to us.'


Kristen said...

Happy (almost) anniversary! I hope this blog has many more.

Larry said...

It ought to, unless I change professional gears again and go overseas like I've contemplated doing for years now. However, three weeks in, my new teaching position seems to be promising, so that might be years away.

Dark Wolf said...

Happy Anniversary! And keep up the excellent work you make here, Larry :) You know over the years yuo and your blog became a source of inspiration too.

By the way, where would you have liked to work overseas? I mean in which country and in which field.

Larry said...

Thanks, Mihai! As for preferences, ya hablo español, me gustarìa enseñar inglés como un idioma segundo en Buenos Aires o Santiago de Chile. I also wouldn't mind Eastern Europe, but until I get my graduate degree in ESL, I can forget that (I hope to start work on it in the Fall of 2009 or 2010). Answer your question? ;)

Charles said...

Happy anniversary!

Matthew Cheney said...

I'm thrilled to have been able to provide whatever bit of inspiration I could -- a very happy anniversary to you, and may there be many more!

Dark Wolf said...

You would have problems doing that in Spain too :)
I dream on visiting South America, Argentina and Peru in particular, but Central and North America too. I hope someday you'll visit Eastern Europe and we will meet ;)

Dark Wolf said...

I meant you woudln't have problems, sorry :)

Anonymous said...

Oh. My. God. Can you please move over seas? Somewhere that doesn't have internet access would be ideal.

But then, who would do all your work?!!

Larry said...

Ah, my first troll! Hi! You here to do my work for me? I can afford only the going prison rate of 12¢/hr., but doubtless there'll be benefits in the future. Just keep checking in for more info later.

As for the others replying, thanks for the well-wishes. Time for me to crash. More stuff later in the week.

Larry said...

Oh, having checked the IPs, looks like I should have known...oh well.

SQT said...

Wow, a troll. You have arrived!

Congrats on the anniversary. FWIW I will always love the Bard.

Larry said...

Unless I was mistaken, the troll was someone who visited this blog from wotmania's Admin-only section (the time was three minutes between that visit and the response, with no others within 15 minutes), so I'll just chalk that up to "professional" envy :P

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