The OF Blog: Can you name...?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Can you name...?

While I'm avoiding commenting on RaceFail09 for the time being (those in the know probably won't blame me for not touching that with a 10 foot pole), here was something that occurred to me while I was reading over my 2009 reading list and noting the paucity of authors in certain categories: homogeneity is not always one's friend. So with that in mind, here are a few questions for you to answer here and perhaps post on your blog as well for others to read/answer/copy:

1. Name the last book by a female author that you've read.

2. Name the last book by an African or African-American author that you've read.

3. Name one from a Latino/a author.

4. How about one from an Asian country or Asian-American?

5. What about a GLBT writer?

6. Why not name an Israeli/Arab/Turk/Persian writer, if you're feeling lucky?

7. Any other "marginalized" authors you've read lately?


My answers:

1. Sarah Monette, Corambis. Or rather, by the time some read this in the next 24 hours or so, she'll have become the last female author I've read this year.

2. Octavia Butler, Parable of the Sower. Almost the only African-American novel I've read these past few months, but more is on the way.

3. Roberto Bolaño, Entre paréntesis. Excellent collection of his literary criticism pieces, I might add.

4. Michio Kaku, Physics of the Impossible. So it's non-fiction and is closer to Bill Nye than to Hemingway. Still, it's a very good book.

5. Hal Duncan, Escape from Hell! Read it back in late December and I want to re-read it sometime in the near future before writing a review.

6. The Turkish writer Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar's A Mind at Peace, set in post-Ottoman Istanbul, is a powerful novel that was recently translated into English. Highly recommend it.

7. Although perhaps not truly "marginalized" (I'd have to stop and think for a long while to name a book from another ethnic/gender group), the Ukranian writer/poet Yuri Andrukhovych's recently-translated The Moscoviad deserves a wider readership.


So...what about you and your reads?

36 comments:

Liviu said...

1. Madness of Angels by K. Griffin - currently reading and enjoying

2. This is an interesting question since there are a bunch of new authors I've read that I have no clue about race and at some even about gender; maybe Grayson Reyes-Cole Brightstar qualifies, maybe others; if not Clarence Thomas memoirs read early last year qualify for sure

3. I guess Leopoldo Gout Ghost Radio qualifies and seems to be the most recent from my records - have no idea if Daniel Suarez is Latino since that would qualify first

4. Maybe Janice Lee Piano Teacher qualifies; for sure Shan Sa (French-Chinese) qualifies; Michio Kaku I see you put and would be latest for me too

5. Again hard to say - from open ones that I know about - but again I have no clue about the sexual orientation of many writers - Steven Saylor is one of my all time favorites, Hal Duncan, Jim Grimsley

6. R. Alameddine, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Hedi Kaddour

Liviu said...

Actually of the 67 books read so far in 2009 - not counting GUD and anthologies - 43 were written by male authors and 24 by female authors, though 4 of the 43 are written under a female pseudonym so I have no idea how you would count those.

Since on tap I have 6 books written by women as opposed to 3 written by men, the ratio will get even closer soon

Charles said...

1) Sunstroke and Other Stories by Tessa Hadley.

2) I'm drawing a blank right now, although I've read short stories from the likes of Nalo Hopkinson and Nnedi Okorafor.

3) Gabriel Garcia Marquez but it's been years since I read it.

4) Easiest for me since I live in an Asian country. Philippine Speculative Fiction Vol. 4 is the most recent but there's a couple of local books that I've read recently.

5) Vintage by Steve Berman. Or 2008 Wild Stories edited by Berman.

6) Okay, I'm drawing a blank here.

7) Well, there's Carribean writers like Tobias Buckell. Or the French writer Sebastien Doubinsky.

Dark Wolf said...

1. I feel a little shame because I don't know if K.J. Parker is a woman or a man (I couldn't find any mention). So it goes to the anthology edited by Mark Deniz & Amanda Pillar, "Voices", and to "The Secret History of Moscow" by Ekaterina Sedia. And it will follow shortly Samantha Henderson's "Heaven's Bones".

2. I believe is Uzodinma Iweala, but there might be some African-American authors I am not aware of.

3. Luis Fernando Verissimo - "O Clube dos Anjos"

4. Kaoru Kurimoto - "The Guin Saga: The Leopard Mask"

5. I don't know. I am truly blank when it comes the sexual orientation of most of the authors.

6. That have to be Amos Oz, but it has been a while since then.

7. At this one I really don't know.

Brian said...

The first 5 pretty easily and nothing on the final two (that I can remember anyway)

1. Dooley Takes the Fall by Norah McClintock

2. The graphic novel Incognegro by Mat Johnson

3. Making my way through 2666 (but haven't finished it)

4. The Foreigner by Francie Lin

5. Escape From Hell! by Hal Duncan. I've also been reading through some books on The Stonewall Riots over the course of the last year.

6.

7.

Syukran said...

Let's see.

1. Ladies of Grace Adieu - Susanna Clarke

2. Things Fall Apart - Chinua Achebe

3. 2666 - Roberto Bolano

4. Bad Samaritans - Ha-Joon Chang

5. Same as Dark Wolf

6. Mourid Barghouti, Khaled Al Khamissi, Ben Salem Himmich, S. Yizhar

mark c said...

1.Faces of War by Martha Gellhorn

2.On writing by Samuel Delany

3.I've read a lot of latin american lit - the most recent was Bolano's "Nazi Literature"

4.I've read a lot of early Murakami

5. Just finished "The Guermantes Way" by Proust

6. I bought an Orhan Pahuk book for my mum for Mother's Day last year!

7. also just read Escape From Hell! by Hal Duncan (and thought it was not very good)

Cheryl said...

1. Well I've just been an entire book, mainly by women, about Joanna Russ, but for actual fiction Eon by Alison Goodman.

2. I've been reading Delany's Triton recently. I have Nnedi on my "to read" pile and Toby Buckell on my "to buy" list.

3. Daina Chaviano, Island of Eternal Love.

4. A quick nod to Mary Anne Mohanraj for some great posts on Whatever, but for actual fiction probably Glenda Larke or some manga.

5. The aforementioned Delany, and the whole Queer Universes book.

6. Does Lavie Tidhar's new World SF blog count? Otherwise Pahuk.

7. Finland (Johanna Sinisalo), Serbia (Zoran Zivkovic)?

For extra points, how many conventions in non-English-speaking countries do you plan to attend this year? You can count Quebec if you want.

ediFanoB said...

1. Clockwork Heart by Dru Pagliasotti - in
2. I don't know
3. I don't know
4. Lone Wolf & Cub, Vol. 1: The Assassin's Road by Kazuo Koike
5. I don't know
6. I don't know
7. I don't know
For me it doesn't matter whether the author is male or female. It also doesn't matter where he/she comes from. Most important thing is that I like the story.

Regina Dinter said...

1. Penelope Fitzgerald - Offshore

2. Ousmane Sembene - Chala

3. Gabriel Garcia Marquez - One Hundred Years of Solitude, Cortazars Rayuela is due to be read in the near future

4. Sei Shonagon - The Pillow Book

5. Hal Duncan - Vellum, Val McDermid - A Place of Execution

6. Orhan Pamuk - My Name is Red

7. How about a Kyrgyz? Chingis Aitmatov.

I just had a conversation with a friend on a similar topic. We discovered that our reading focuses on the authors of just a few countries. Now we are planning a sort of world book tour. The aim is to read a book from every existing country in the world.

Anonymous said...

1. The Beans of Egypt, Maine, Carolyn Chute - read around Thanksgiving

2. Acacia, David Anthony Durham - read before Thanksgiving

3. The Shadow of the Wind, Carlos Ruiz Zafon - read in Jan

4. Nothing comes to mind

5. Probably Duncan's Ink when it was released

6. nope

7. Sherman Alexie's The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, perhaps?

- Zach

RobB said...

1. Currently reading Empress of Mars by Kage Baker, last completed was Wings of Wrath by C.S. Friedman earlier in the month and last week I tried but quit because I hated the protagonist of Death's Daughter by Amber Benson.

2. I don't even know, it's been more than a couple of years, I think outside of maybe a short story here & there.

3. Shadow of the Wind by Zafon in December-ish

4. Michio Kaku - I've been dipping in and out of Physics of the Impossible

5. Joshua Palmatier - The Vacant Throne

6. Can't think of any.

7. Tobias Buckell? Sly Mongoose

Vacuous Wastrel said...

How are we meant to know the answers to these questions? For gender, writers often use pseudonyms and initials, where gender isn't clear.

Some african names are obvious, but if you're including African-Americans then there's no way to guess. Some people have listed Delaney for this question - I had no idea he was black. Perhaps there's meant to be some difference in the way they write, or their subject matter - but I'm from the UK, not the US, so if I can deduce anything from the writing it'll just be 'American', not specific to a skin colour.

Also, it seems odd to lump Africans and black-skinned Americans into the same category for this question - surely the black American has more in common with the white American than he does with the Nigerian (except for immigrants and those in immigrant-heavy communities, I guess)? And what about white Africans - do they get to go in this category or not? Some of your commenters seem to have distinguished 'Caribbean' as a different category, for some reason.

Not being American, I don't know what 'Latino' actually means - are we including south americans, or is it just Americans of south american ancestry? do we include Iberians? If so, do we include Italians? The French? (it would be perverse to include the Catalans but not the Occitans, I'd have thought, or the Sardinians but not the Corsicans). Romanians? They do speak their version of illa lingua latina.

I've no clue at all how you're meant to guess a person's sexuality from their name or their writing, or even from the brief biographies you get on covers. I don't know the sexualities of any authors I've read, I don't think, except probably Oscar Wilde (I know a few are married or have children, but then so did Oscar Wilde).

-----------

I suppose my point is: what's this meant to demonstrate? An inability to answer these questions doesn't mean we don't read 'marginalised' writers, whatever that means* - it just means we don't expend a lot of energy vetting the genetics, ethnicity, gender-identification and sexual orientation of people we read.

------

For what it's worth, my answers:
1. Probably the Left Hand of Darkness; maybe Fool's Fate. Can't remember which order off hand.
2. Is Ben Okri actually African himself? If not, he might be African-American - but it's possible he's Black British for all I know.
3. If Iberians count, then Saramago (he is Portuguese, isn't he? I don't know, perhaps he's Brazilian). All the Names. Otherwise... probably a short story by Borges, or else Of Love and Other Demons by Garcia Marquez.
4. Probably The God of Small Things.
5. Not the slightest clue.
6. I think Joseph Raz is Israeli - he's certainly Jewish and iirc has lived in Israel, but I didn't ask to see his passport so I can't be sure. Anyway, his 'Morality of Freedom'.
7. If by 'marginalised' you mean 'from another country', probably Milorad Pavic's 'Dictionary of the Khazars'.

------


*I don't like this way that we specify certain favoured classes of 'marginalised' people, by which we mean people who are different from 'the norm' but who are specifically different in an easily-classifiable politically-significant way. I'm white, middle-class and straight - yet I don't feel like I'm 'the Establishment', and I usually identify far more with the outsiders and the disadvantaged in stories because I've always felt like a minority.
[Partly because I am, I suppose - raised Catholic surrounded by Protestants, and half-Irish, in a town where the attendees of the catholic church basically formed a sort of comfortable bourgeois Irish ghetto. Mostly, however, it's due to personality and tastes]

I don't like identifying entire classes of people as 'the margins', because it leaves all the other outsiders even more isolated.

In this case, I'd say a fairly high percentage of speculative fiction writers are from 'marginalised' minorities in our society - chiefly the minority of geeks. They just don't get to put that on the census.

Anonymous said...

1. The Alchemy of Stone, Eketerina Sedia

2. Blood Colony, Tananarive Due

3. The Savage Detectives, Roberto Bolano

4. Real World, Natsuo Kirino (mystery); Cutting for Stone, Abraham Verghese (mainstream fiction)

5. Daughter of Hounds, Caitlin R. Kiernan

6. A Thousand Splendid Suns, Khaled Hosseini (mainstream fiction)

7. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian, Sherman Alexie (YA)

Susan Loyal

E. L. Fay said...

1. Merce Rodoreda's Death in Spring. Translated from Catalan by Martha Tennant. Very reminiscent of Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery," with a dash of Lois Lowry's The Giver. (Will be released in May.)

2. Huck Finn? *winces*

3. Rodoreda again.

4. The first volume of Kohta Hirano's Hellsing series. Does manga count?

5. Esther Tusquet's The Same Sea as Every Summer. She's also Spanish.

6. Um, do the detective novels of Faye Kellerman qualify? She's not an Israeli (American), but she is an Orthodox Jew.

7. ...I suck

Wow, I'm really glad you asked this. Honestly, I had no idea how bad I was.

The Witchfinder said...

How bad? Are we supposed to feel guilty for not being multicultural enough in our reading habits now?

That said, this entire subject matter suddenly perfectly explains the heading in Hal Duncan's blogspot- =P

E. L. Fay said...

Well, I'm not going to read a book just because it's written by a "marginalized" author. But still, the lack of diversity in one's reading habits is something to consider.

Anotherevilbadguy said...

1. I think the last i read was Kushiel's Justice by Jacqueline Carey, but cant be sure.

2.I really have very little clue about the race of the writers have i read, although i cannot remember of a picture of an author i have read who wasnt white, but then again my memory is shit.

3.I am part way through Shadow of the Wind, but i do agree with Wasterl that the term Latino doesnt translate well in European terms.

4.I am not aware of any asians writers, although i thought China Mieville had asian roots, but that could be just psycological bollocks associated with his name.

5. I am pretty sure Ricardo Pinto is gay, so his book The Chosen, which was really good for a random amazon pick; but again could be others who i am unaware of.

6. not that i know of.

7.probably

Have to agree is a bit of an odd digging post, seems to be counter to what you tend to write. Although it is the first time i have posted a reply to a blog after a few years of reading, so getting a reaction it works well.

Anonymous said...

1. Kay Kenyon - Bright of the sky.

2. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie - Purple Hibiscus.

3. 2666

4. Ha Jin - War Trash.

5. Catherynne Valente - Cities of Coin and Spice.

6. Elif Shafak - The Bastard of Istanbul.

7. Keewaydinoquay - Stories from my Youth (bet no one else has read that one!) She was an Ojibwe woman who was an herbalist, trained in traditional Ojibwe herbal medicine. She was also my Middle school science teacher and is largely responsible for my love of science. She later taught ethnobotany and philosophy at the University of Wisconsin. The book was published posthumously.

Mary C

Anotherevilbadguy said...

p.s. as it seems I cannot spell or write coherently, please try to read around these problems.

Anonymous said...

Vacuous Wastrel -- you make some very good points. I certainly didn't mean to classify Keewaydinoquay as marginal. She was a fascinating woman who became an influential Medicine Woman (as well as a university professor) who integrated both traditions into her teaching methods.

Mary C

Nephtis said...

Hal Duncan is Asian?

Several people have raised a fair point - how is one to know the gender/race/ethnicity of an author? Perhaps the questions should be asked twofold to also include, "What's the last book you read that had a female/black/gay/Asian protagonist?"

1. Out of 22 books I read so far this year, 15 have been by female authors.

2. African or African American: none. Too few to choose from, sadly. Although I bought The Living Blood by Tananarive Due recently. And Laurie J. Marks' Fire Logic featured a protagonist with black skin (read this year).

3. Angela Gorodischer Kalpa Imperial, last year. Although her country of origin doesn't show in the writing at all. I wouldn't have guessed that she was from South America. Karin Lowachee was born in South America although moved to Canada at the age of 2. Does that make her Latina?

4. Geoff Ryman's Air is set in China (read this year). Does that count?

5. GLBT - this one, at least, is easy. The very last book I read, Paul Witcover's Waking Beauty featured gay and bisexual protagonists. The one before that, a collection of short stories Dangerous Space is written by Kelley Eskridge. Tanya Huff, author of Heart of Valor is gay, and so is Geoff Ryman (I had to dig for a bit to ascertain that). Laurie J. Marks I already mentioned.

6. Israeli/Arab/Turk/Persian authors of science fiction or fantasy, translated into English and published in the U.S.? I'd love to hear some suggestions. Aha! Vera Nazarian is Armenian (and her Dreams of the Compass Rose some exotic Middle Eastern flavors), which is definitively not Europe and very nearly Turkey/Persia, although they would be appalled at that suggestion. I re-read her books regularly.

7. You mean, like, poor, struggling, and underappreciated ones?

Larry said...

Wow, quite a few responses already! Sorry if I don't address any individually right now (it's past my bedtime already), but I will say that this post was born out of my realization that I was neglecting certain authors unwittingly and I thought it'd be interesting to see what authors readers would name, as it might lead to some new discoveries. Needless to say, there are quite a few names to investigate!

More later, once I've had a proper night's rest...so, Saturday?

mark c said...

vacuous wastrel said

In this case, I'd say a fairly high percentage of speculative fiction writers are from 'marginalised' minorities in our society - chiefly the minority of geeks. They just don't get to put that on the census.

and they also haven't had to deal with the consequences of years of sytematic legal and institutional inequality in the way that lbakcs, women and gays have.

You may not like the fact that certain "favoured groups" are marginalised (you mean the way blacks are "favoured" by being subject to racism, lucky them!) but the reason they are listed is because of the real life consequences of the actions against them.

you're basically saying "I don't like being reminded that some sections of society are discriminated against."

Vacuous Wastrel said...

Mark C:

First, I'll say that I thought I lost that post in the machine, and I had intended to edit it a little more.

Second, perhaps I'm unwise to have ventured beyond the domain of my own blog, where I'm the only audience I need to satisfy, the only giver of rules. My attitude on my blog, that I've followed here, I'm afraid, is that what I say should be taken not as literal truth, nor even literally as what I believe wholeheartedly, but merely as challenges to think differently. I studied philosophy; I tend to oppose anything that does not seem sufficiently thought out, even if it is right - so if I sound strident or dogmatic, it's the rhetorical position of wanting a minority position to be heard, not the inflexibility of a man who is certain. I'm not certain of anything - but I believe that better beliefs are generated from a strong conflict of alternatives, and to speak for one of them with doubt is to prejudge the eventual conclusion.



To address the point, however:

Groups aren't discriminated against. People are discriminated against. In varying ways, everybody is discriminated against, although of course to vastly different degrees.

Now, people are discriminated against because of their characteristics (real or perceived).

When we look at those facing bad discrimination, we can often find characteristics that they have in common (either through correlation or because the common features have actually triggered the discrimination). It is tempting to divide these people up into neat groups on the basis of these common features (and sometimes they do this themselves). Then, when we become a little more enlightened, we can use these groups as a metric for who needs to be protected and/or compensated. So we establish certain groups with 'protected status'.

This has good reasons - the people in those groups do (often) need special help from society's better side, due to the special problems they face from society's darker elements.

The problem is that this does not resolve the problem of intolerance. We start out thinking "x is normal and good", and end up thinking "x is normal and good, but y and z are OK too". These groups are established as exceptions to a general rule of intolerance. And the more people are on the "we're OK" side of the equation, the harder it is for those who are not members of such groups to escape marginalisation.

A good example might be the various arguments over gay marriage. Proponants say (correctly) that is should be allowed; opponants say 'but this is the thin end of the wedge! what'll it be next, threesomes!??'; proponants say 'oh don't be silly, gay marriage is perfectly fine and respectable really, we're just like you, we're nothing like those polygamists'. And the (would-be-)polygamists will then have to drumm up support for a 'legalise polygamy' bill - which will be harder for them to get than a 'let people marry whomever they like' bill, because a lot of the people who would have supported that will forget about it once they get their own group catered for.

There are commonalities between the discriminated; but the specific groups we delimit for protected status are arbitrary (as I tried to suggest in my first post). Homosexuals have become a protected group (at least here, and they're on the application list in many areas). The polyamorous are not (no, I'm not one, it's just a convenient example). Buddhists obviously are. Stoics and Epicureans and Cynics are obviously not (though they're as close to 'religion' as some forms of Buddhism are, and the latter two are fairly thoroughly discriminated against in our society, even if they don't give those names to their beliefs and practices. There's an awful lot of middle-class households where anyone seeking to practice Epicurean or Cynical disengagement from the capitalist system would face more disopprobrium from their parents than they'd get from coming out as gay).

I don't have a problem with using simple metrics like skin colour or the average genital configuration of a person's sexual or romantic partners as an easy guide to where State (and private) resources and attention should be focused when it comes to dealing with social cleavages - but I don't think we should let ourselves think fully in those terms without recognising them for heuristics, not definitions.

To give an example from my experience, I was at school with several middle-class boys whose parents were Indian, and who were thus in a protected minority. All of them were far more successfull and popular socially than I was, and their viewpoints and opinions seemed a lot closer to mainstream than mine. Their parents were (in the two cases I knew the details) businessmen, in one case a recent immigrant and in one case an immigrant as a young boy who had built up a small business over here - so I expect those boys have gone on to be pillars of the community (one of them certainly went to Oxford with me).

Now, I was also not 'from around here'. I'm half-Irish and half-Northern - and incidentally if you think that the Irish haven't been subject to generations of institutional inequality you'd be quite wrong. I grew up while the later stages of the Troubles were still going on, and I remember that as a child whenever we went on holiday via a plane or a boat we'd have problems at customs - we and our father would be let through, but then they'd see my mother's passport and hold her back to search her things and ask her questions. My elder sister remembers it being even worse in the eighties. Now, no concrete injury was done to our family by zealous officials - but it doesn't take much to change a child's perspective of society (and the fact that my cousins were actually living through the Troubles didn't do much to strengthen my feelings of affiliation with Society).

My point, in any case, before I got sidetracked there, was that I have managed to acquire an accent that hides the origins of my family* - but there were other boys at school who didn't, for whatever reason. And trust me, being Northern or being Irish were far greater sins in our school than being Indian - Indians just had different skin colours, they spoke the same way as us, but Northerners and Irish had the accents we saw made fun of all the time on TV.
But being Indian made you a protected minority - if anyone said anything about it, they'd be in big, big trouble. Making jokes about the Irish or the people from Oop North wasn't just permissable it was standard practice from the authorities.
The point is, how it feels to be on the receiving end isn't a funtion of how big the problem is across the nation or across the world (though I suspect, actually, that across the country it's better to be Indian but Southern than to be White and Northern, especially now that recession's biting. Some parts of Oop North had 20% male unemployment during the boom years). You can be, on the national scale, the most statistical-majority-fulfilling person and still be, on the local scale (at school, in a job, in a family even), marginalised and alienated. Contrariwise, you can be down on the census as a Minority yet have the position and experience and behaviour of someone in the Majority.

So I don't like the habit that we have of dividing people into the Marginalised and the Non-Marginalised, and assuming that we can tell which is which by looking at a government-issed list of Recognised Minorities. Everybody is in their own minority - what matters is their local environment (the reactions they actuall experience) and how they themselves view their identity.

So the question should be asked: why is it that we are to care about reading 'Marginalised' writers? Is it to fulfill some "We Care, Honestly We Do" quota? Or is it to somehow advantage those people, perhaps using our book-money to subsidise financial disadvantage? [Not that financial disadvantage is a necessary concomitant of marginalisation, as the marginalised jewish businessmen of many centuries will tell you]? Or is it actually to experience perspectives different from our own, to see how people view us from the outside, to be questioned and examined, to learn more about our own alienation and our own commonalities and fraternity, to experience vicariously a revaluation of our values and a transformation of the picture of our lives into a vision in another true but complementary projection?

If it's the latter, then we shouldn't count such perspectives by which groups the government (or the Majority) has decided ought to be protected, but by the actual content of what we read. I'm sure those boys at school with Indian skin could say something about white society; but the geeks and druggies and the other social rejects (in which number I include myself) have a fair amount to say about Majoritarian society as well, and I object to the implication that such people are simply uninteresting borg-parts of the WSM Majority, while the most mainstream and pedestrian boy becomes Marginalised if he finds that he likes penises, or if he had a grandfather who took a wife out in Malaya (while if he and his parents are from Denmark then he's clearly had no problems with identity or isolation whatsoever).


*too well, unfortunately, since now it marks me out as upper-middle-class, and I'm living in an area where being upper-middle-class is hardly likely to lead to social acceptance, or in some cases even passable politeness from people overhearing me in the street.


P.S. Incidentally, I also feel that giving too much psychological weight to arbitrary groups (which we of course come to believe are fundamental, crisply-bordered and uncombinable) has a negative effect upon many possible members of those groups. People wrestling with their sexuality, mixed-race children struggling to identify themselves, many instances of gender-dysmorphia - much of the difficulty seems not to come from actual discrimination but from the very existence of these categories that people are compelled to fit themselves into. It's not "oh, fuck who you want", it's "You're Homosexual or Heterosexual, but it's OK to be either". Even if it is genuinely OK to be either, that still gives a pressure for self-definition that need not be there.
[No, recognising a third category for bisexuals is not sufficient, though it is obviously an advance. That just says 'OK, so you can be both if you want'. It doesn't address the argument "screw your definitions". (and no, I'm not bisexual either; it's just an area where we seem to be particularly dogmatic. It seems to me that sexual orientation, and even more so romantic orientation, and their interaction, and the very concept of romance, are hugely complicated conceptual structures, and anyone who believes that a binary (or even ternary) description can ever be an actual fact about the world and not merely a rough guideline for predictions is irredeemably naive)]

P.P.S. Apologies. Sometimes I just start thinking about things while I'm typing and then I can be typing for hours. I wonder whether blogger has limits on post length or not?

Larry said...

VW,

Thanks for the insights. I wish I had the time (I'm at work now, but leaving in about 15 minutes) to respond at length, but I can see where you're coming from and can agree with most of what you said just now.

As for the "marginalized" question, it was asked for two reasons: 1) To cover any perceived group that I did not mention, and 2) To cover those who might be mainstream/majority in one area, but currently are living in an area where s/he would be the "minority" group.

Fascinating discussion here. Will have to respond to more of these comments in the evening if I have the time/energy (that's why I've been mostly quiet since Wednesday night).

mark c said...

Groups aren't discriminated against. People are discriminated against.

this is sort of a banal distinction and I’m not even sure if it’s correct. When I was a young man, the age of consent was different for gay sex than for straight sex. This was legal discrimination against a whole group. Ditto Jim Crow laws in the US and laws restricting women’s freedom in (eg) Saudi Arabia – all are aimed at groups

Then, when we become a little more enlightened, we can use these groups as a metric for who needs to be protected and/or compensated. So we establish certain groups with 'protected status'.

no, they aren’t being protected or compensated, they are just being treated exactly the same as the default condition in society (assuming we’re talking about the UK/US etc) – straight white men.

And the more people are on the "we're OK" side of the equation, the harder it is for those who are not members of such groups to escape marginalisation.

fair enough, but that still doesn’t cancel out the fact that the people on the “we’re ok” side of the equation did and still do face discrimination.

No one is saying, “if we are try to battle racism it will make society suddenly completely just and fair for everyone”, you’re constructing a straw man, or alternatively saying “society will never be completely just and fair, so why bother being concerned about racism”


I don't have a problem with using simple metrics like skin colour or the average genital configuration of a person's sexual or romantic partners as an easy guide to where State (and private) resources and attention should be focused when it comes to dealing with social cleavages - but I don't think we should let ourselves think fully in those terms without recognising them for heuristics, not definitions.

You’re getting it backwards – the state actively discriminated against gays – it caused the social cleavages in the first place

Now, I was also not 'from around here'. I'm half-Irish and half-Northern

My family is from Sheffield and my boyfriend is from Armagh, so I know of what you speak!


So the question should be asked: why is it that we are to care about reading 'Marginalised' writers? Is it to fulfill some "We Care, Honestly We Do" quota?

This seems to spectacularly miss the point of the whole racefail debacle. It wasn’t about white people saying “we really should read more SF by people of colour and gays” It was started by POC discussing the way they were marginalized by the SF establishment. You treat the people on the “marginalized” lists as abstractions, but they’re real people who read SF and aren’t happy with their treatment, either in novels/media or the community as a whole.

while the most mainstream and pedestrian boy becomes Marginalised if he finds that he likes penises

he could be the boringest guy in the world, but that might not stop his parents throwing him out of the house when they find out, or a random stranger beating him up when he walks out of a gay bar (as has recently happened to friends of mine (in fashionable camden in 2008)).

Again, being gay isn’t an abstraction, it has real world consequences for real people.

Neth said...

Interesting discussion you got going Larry. I'll just follow it and give my answers as best as I can - it's hard to know some of the answers since I simply don't follow up on the demographics of all the authors I read.

1. Name the last book by a female author that you've read.

The Two Pearls of Wisdom by Alison Goodman

2. Name the last book by an African or African-American author that you've read.

Would Tobias Buckell count? I read Ragamuffin last year. Other wise it would be Wind Follower by Carole McDonnell, although that is also marginal since I didn't actually finish the book.

3. Name one from a Latino/a author.

A quick review of the last few years, and none stands out. But then I could have read something by an author whose name doesn't 'seem' lantino/a while they still are. Do European's of latin decent count. Say Umberto Eco? or Ricardo Pinto?

4. How about one from an Asian country or Asian-American?

Does Australia count - I seem to be reading a lot Australia authors these days. Otherwise I suppose Ted Chiang would count. If not, it would be it would be Haruki Murakami, though it's been a few years.

5. What about a GLBT writer?

Most recent (that I know of) would be Hal Duncan's Escape From Hell! (which is all kinds of awesome).

6. Why not name an Israeli/Arab/Turk/Persian writer, if you're feeling lucky?

I have no idea if any of the authors I've read recently would qualify.

7. Any other "marginalized" authors you've read lately?

Australians? What about computer programers - I've read a couple books by them as well. How about bloggers? It seems authors I read these days are all blogging.

couldn't help but poke a little fun by the end.

Vacuous Wastrel said...

this is sort of a banal distinction and I’m not even sure if it’s correct. When I was a young man, the age of consent was different for gay sex than for straight sex. This was legal discrimination against a whole group. Ditto Jim Crow laws in the US and laws restricting women’s freedom in (eg) Saudi Arabia – all are aimed at groups

They're aimed at individuals - if it was just groups, there wouldn't be a problem with them. Groups are abstract entities that don't feel pain. In rhetoric advocating these sorts of laws, people often talk about groups - but it's real people who are the actual targets. Group membership is just the way the individuals are found.

It's important because of the prejudice the group view entails. It starts with the notion of groups and then tries to fit people into them. Whether you then go on to condemn the group or to accept the group, the first aggressive act has already been taken - the compulsory classification and categorisation of mankind. Inevitably there will be real people who suffer in the process - the ones at the edges who can squeezed and cut to fit into the tin. And once you've said "there are groups x, y and z, and group x are the people who ... and group y are the..." and so on, it encourages you to think of the members of that group as a cohesive entity - when in fact the members of those groups may have little in common with each other beyond the defining Group Feature (or in the case of the rest of us the lack of any Group Features).

What matter are the real people, and we shouldn't let artificial divisions prejudice us to that.

no, they aren’t being protected or compensated, they are just being treated exactly the same as the default condition in society (assuming we’re talking about the UK/US etc) – straight white men.

Well, no, that's not true. The UK has equality laws that explicitly reference protected group affiliations. That doesn't make people in those categories the same as everyone else. I don't know about you, but my gay friends certainly don't feel that they're treated exactly the same as everyone else in our society - they feel still rather discriminated against, even if not so much as an older generation has been. And their protection through equality laws does not put them on an equal footing with everybody else, it gives them an advantage over everybody else. Employers cannot refuse to hire somebody because they are gay. They can refuse to hire somebody because they constantly eat oranges, or because they have a silly haircut, or because they have green eyes, or because they're an ardent Thatcherite, or because they like sci-fi instead of Tom Clancy. The group "men who identify as homosexual" thus has rights that the group "men who have green eyes" do not have. This is not exactly the same treatment.

Now, this need not be a bad thing. The argument is that gay men are a group more in need of protection than green-eyed men, so giving them some extra rights is justified. And likewise many places have positive discrimination laws to compensate for a history of oppression. And perhaps we should have more of those - the number of black university lecturers in this country for instance is woeful, and can't be helping the academic prospects of young black people, particularly young black men.

But two discriminations don't cancel out, even if you can get them to balance. In the long run, so long as a group is present in the public mind, there will always be the danger of discrimination. So long as heterosexuals are taught that there are heterosexuals and homosexuals and the two are distinct types of people, the heterosexual majority will always have a tendency to seek to alienate homosexuals - there won't be an end to this discrimination until sexual preferences become as unremarkable as any other preferences. The creation of group identities serves to perpetuate divisions long after their original causes (eg slavery in america) have become irrelevent. Now of course the ongoing conflict has to be addressed, and group identities are a handle on the problem, so they have to be regarded - but it is a mistake to engrain them too closely into our thought and our assumptions, or else we won't be able to get rid of them.

fair enough, but that still doesn’t cancel out the fact that the people on the “we’re ok” side of the equation did and still do face discrimination.

I never suggested they didn't. Many people on that said face discrimination; many don't. Many people on the other side face discrimination; many don't. I don't see this as being relevent. Does this focus on categorisation somehow eliminate discrimination? No? Then how is it so bad to suggest that this focus may in some ways be counterproductive?

No one is saying, “if we are try to battle racism it will make society suddenly completely just and fair for everyone”, you’re constructing a straw man, or alternatively saying “society will never be completely just and fair, so why bother being concerned about racism”

I'm not constructing a straw man, as I never said that anyone had said that. And I certainly never said 'why bother being concerned about racism'. I don't see any connection between that and what I said at all. Indeed, I resent the way the hammer of "you're clearly a racist/you must not care about confronting racism" is used to quash any challenges to the segmentationist orthodoxy.
I question this orthodoxy because a) I don't believe that embedding our differences deep in our hearts and minds will in the long run bring us closer together - even though it is obviously just as futile to ignore them altogether; and b) I don't believe that racism is the only problem society faces. Lots of WSMs have problems in their lives too, and I think that a less segmentarian approach would enable us to address those issues at the same time as the issues of other people.


You’re getting it backwards – the state actively discriminated against gays – it caused the social cleavages in the first place

Well, until recently the state discriminated against homosexual behaviour; it only started discriminating against homosexual orientation once that concept had arisen. I think this was a retrograde step for the people concerned. To take the army as an example, it would have been easier for 'gays' (quotes because of the anachronism of the classification) to serve in the military when it was only illegal for them to have gay sex than when it was illegal for them to be gay (and in the military) - because once they were punished for being caught the first time, they were, at least in the eyes of the law, innocent again, whereas when the problem was phrased in terms of orientation rather than behaviour, one transgression would move them permanently into the forbidden camp (no pun intended).

Probably it's true that the concept of orientation was necessary in order to challenge the illegality of homosexual behaviour; at least, it probably helped, because it tied in well with the sort of ethical systems that had become popular (with their central free/unfree nature/will body/mind dichotomies). But that doesn't mean that the concepts can't outlive their usefulness as we progress toward a more tolerant society, at least as the dominant concepts of sociopolitical discourse on sexuality (orientation was the Modernist response to the unenlightened Pre-Modern sexuality taboos; moving forward into a Postmodern, Postenlightenment, more tolerant and cosmopolitan society, Modernist tools will lose their efficacy and become reactionnary relics of division and alienation. They may still be useful, so don't throw them away just yet, but let's not cling on to them quite so hard).


This seems to spectacularly miss the point of the whole racefail debacle. It wasn’t about white people saying “we really should read more SF by people of colour and gays” It was started by POC discussing the way they were marginalized by the SF establishment. You treat the people on the “marginalized” lists as abstractions, but they’re real people who read SF and aren’t happy with their treatment, either in novels/media or the community as a whole.

This is irrelevent to me. I made no comment on "the racefail debacle" (excuse a stranger's ignorance; I'm not really a part of the reviewarati, and don't follow their quabbles). I made a comment on the post I was commenting on, which did indeed seem to imply that it was a good thing to read 'minority' (in the sense of officially, majority-recognised minority) writing (I neither know nor care whether Larry is white, black, or has sex with mushrooms, it didn't seem relevent to the topic at hand).
In any case, the small part of the furore I've seen seemed to be about their non-treatment, which of course is between them and the publishers/authors they frequent.

I recognised that people officially recognised by the majority as marginalised are real people. I also recognise that people not on any official census lists are also real people, can also face marginalisation by the majority in society, also have interesting viewpoints to hear from, and also don't like being anonymised and whitewashed into a single "WSM" monolith, as many commentators in what I saw of your argument did.

Obviously I don't suggest Larry has done that - otherwise I wouldn't have bothered posting here. My concern was not that he was malicious but that he was thoughtless - that by focusing on a handful of recognised divisions in society we run the risk of having the other divisions blur in the background and be overlooked. And whatever our purpose - whether to find interesting writing or to improve society, that would be counterproductive.


he could be the boringest guy in the world, but that might not stop his parents throwing him out of the house when they find out, or a random stranger beating him up when he walks out of a gay bar (as has recently happened to friends of mine (in fashionable camden in 2008)).

Again, being gay isn’t an abstraction, it has real world consequences for real people.

Yes, that's what abstractions do (and yes, being gay IS an abstraction. I see a lot of people who may have the property 'is gay' walking around, but I've yet to actually come across "being gay" lying around anywhere. This makes it an abstract concept). And believe it or not it is possible to be white, male, straight, and yet somehow also real and in the real world too.

I know gay people can get beaten up. None of my friends have been, but friends of friends have been, and friends have been intimidated. I've been intimidated by homophobes myself, even - I'm not gay, but between accent, hair and mannerisms it seems a lot of people assume I am.

I also know white straight males who have been beaten up - by black people for being in the wrong area, or just by white people for supporting the wrong football club in a pub, or for having the wrong accent. A couple of weeks ago, my housemate got attacked just around the corner from here by some local youth, fortunately not seriously, and who knows why (I presume they were black, given the demographics, but apparently it seemed more like usual random youth violence than anything race-related). Gay people may be more likely to get beaten up, budon't have a monopoly on it.



And the crux: many gay people aren't thrown out of their homes, and many straight people are. So why is it specifically good to read books by gay people? If it's for their perspective of facing discrimination, or of family rejection, or of identity crisis - well, being gay doesn't mean you'll find that stuff in their books, and being straight doesn't mean you won't find that stuff. So why is the metric "how many marginalised writers do you read?" if what we really care about is how challenging the content is?

Nephtis said...

Prompted by this blog, I read The Living Blood by Tananarive Due yesterday, and boy! it was awesome. Recommended.

Larry said...

That reminds me - I need to read more Due. I remember reading part of that book you mentioned and enjoying it early last year, but I think I had to return it to the library before I was done. This time, I'll just try and remember to place an order for it. Might just do that now. Thanks for the reminder!

Anonymous said...

1. Hmm, no idea. Don't think that I own a single book written by a female, but I've most likely read a few.

2. Haha, no idea. Read Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany last year, but I generally have no idea about the ethnicity of the people who write the books I read, so I might have a few under my belt since then.

3. The Book of Imaginary Beings by Jorge Luis Borges.

4. Battle Royale by Koushun Takami

5. Oscar Wilde, I guess? Can't say that I pay any attention to (or care about) the sexual preferences
of the people who write the books I read.

6. N/A

7. I don't classify writers as marginalized and non-marginalized, so it's hard to say.

Martin said...

I meant to do this ages ago. I'm not American so I've stuck to the spirit rather than the letter of the meme.

1. Name the last book by a female author that you've read.

Doctors & Nurses by Lucy Ellman - the first book I read this year and still the only one by a woman.

2. Name the last book by an African or African-American author that you've read.

Billy by Albert French - last month.

3. Name one from a Latino/a author.

House Of Spirits by Isabel Allende - middle of 2007.

4. How about one from an Asian country or Asian-American?

When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro - the middle of last year.

5. What about a GLBT writer?

Weight by Jeanette Winterson - the end of last year.

6. Why not name an Israeli/Arab/Turk/Persian writer, if you're feeling lucky?

Husband And Wife by Zeruya Shalev - immediately before House Of Spirits.

7. Any other "marginalized" authors you've read lately?

The Successor by Ismail Kadare - last month (translated into English from the French translation because of a lack of translators for the original Albanian so I guess that counts as marginalised).

I'm relatively pleased with this - I thought I might have to go back further - but white male Anglo-Americans still account for the bulk of my reading.

Ylva said...

I´ve done it in Swedish but at least you can see the authors.

snowflake said...

And here's another Swede... trying to write in English.

Grayson Reyes-Cole said...

This has been one interesting thread :). Popping in to say: I guess I count, Liviu and thank you very much for reading me!

I am female, black, born in the US. So I guess that means I fit a couple categories. Bright Star has an obviously white heroine (maybe *that's* the wrong word) on the cover--which is fun for signings--but a grab bag of races throughout the book. So, I think you're clear to count me. Although I can see why a couple of pale main chracters and a general lack of comment on race at all may make you pause. :)

--Grayson Reyes-Cole

 
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