The OF Blog: A few thoughts regarding the tempests surrounding Scott Bakker's writing and blog posts

Monday, April 30, 2012

A few thoughts regarding the tempests surrounding Scott Bakker's writing and blog posts

A warmth climbs through her as she speaks, an unaccountable assurance, as if out of all her crazed burdens, confession is the only real encumbrance.  Secrecy mars the nature of every former slave, and she is no different.  They hoard knowledge, not for the actual power it affords, but for the taste of that power.  All this time, even before Achamian's captivity, she has been accumulating facts and suspicions.  All this time she has fooled herself the way all men fool themselves, thinking that she alone possessed the highest vantage and that she alone commanded the field.

All this time she has been a fool.

The White Luck Warrior, p. 431-432, Canadian edition

For the past several months, there have been a series of arguments, starting first with a revival of old complaints on Bakker's Three Pound Brain blog regarding comments made on the Requires Only That You Hate blog, before a recent diffusion of these issues and comments to several blogs, including those operated by authors such as John Scalzi and Catherynne Valente, as well as several threads over on Westeros.  Outside of a few comments months ago on Bakker's blog (I want to say it was something like the third out of what appears to be nearly a dozen or so long essays referencing his detractors) and bemusement on Twitter, I have largely stayed out of the main points of contention:  the issue of Bakker's texts being misogynistic, the author's claims to be battling for feminism (among other such claims; I believe these were made on another blog or LiveJournal), questions of evolutionary psychology, whether or not there is a "rape module" to be discovered inside of humans, and most recently, gang-raping dolphins.  It is enough to make the mind hurt trying to process the various iterations of these arguments.

I held off writing anything substantive on this because I had more important (NB:  "selfish") matters to deal with recently:  health and exam preparations.  Now that I'm nearing the end game of waiting to set up job interviews for ESL/English/Social Studies, I have a spare hour or so to devote to noting briefly some of the issues that I have with Bakker's text and his approach to introducing/discussing controversial ideas/research.  Having met the man personally nearly eight years ago, I am not able to place my opinions in reductionist terms; people are, as Whitman notes, are "large" and "contain multitudes" within themselves.

The issue of female agency and the reduction of female roles in his fictions to largely variations on the crone/whore/victim triad has dominated most of the discussions.  It certainly is an issue that has been problematic for me for years, although I have been willing enough to give the author just enough of a shadow of a doubt to see if his hinted plans to deconstruct both ancient/biblical and modern (and presumably "postmodern"?) conceptualizations of gender/gender roles will come to fruition.  I certainly can see where the text itself supports an interpretation that women are sexualized beings that are either passive recipients of male lust/violence or are the wanton harlots that trigger those reactions in males.  I wish I could lie and say I am puzzled as to why Bakker cannot commit to just a simple "yes, the text is problematic as it stands now, but future developments will hopefully show that there is much more going on under the surface," but I cannot.

What has dragged this out for months largely (but not exclusively) deals with Bakker's truer intent in his fiction, that of exploding conceptualizations of how things are.  He seems to be challenging the assumptions that underlie the reactions.  If anything, one could make the argument that he and his texts are not as much misogynistic as they are misanthropic; humans are fallible creatures whose base motives are rooted in violence and desire to dominate/control power.  This is not precisely "nihilistic," as there are meanings to be found to these actions, but it certainly is a very dark and potentially disturbing world-view.

I say "potentially disturbing" because there likely are going to be many who challenge these presumptions.  In making his larger case, Bakker often resorts to the language found in neuroscience and evolutionary psychology research.  In particular, he has frequently cited Jonathan Haidt's work in discussing how humans organize themselves into particular group structures.  While I cannot say that I am familiar enough with Haidt's theories to give expert opinion, what I have noticed based on Bakker's references to them that they seem to be simplistic reductions of a myriad of complex impulses and rationales that appear to be too heavily rooted in Anglo-American political culture to be of much use in discussing more "global" matters.  Leaving aside the inevitable uncertainties of evaluations made on incomplete information, it appears that Bakker is being too uncritical in using arguments such as Haidt's that appear to be based on faulty or non-testable methodologies.

That in and of itself is relatively minor.  But when such terminologies are being applied as retorts to those who question (sometimes vociferously and occasionally in a very acerbic fashion) his motives and rationale for his statements regarding gender roles and potential latent and/or active sexism and/or misogyny in his fiction, the terms of the debate are shifted too much toward the semantics of the debated terms and too much away from anything really substantive when it comes to the issues at hand.  After reflecting upon this for some time, something occurred to me that perhaps some will see as ancillary to the long-running arguments, but for myself it may be key toward understanding my own growing ambivalence toward the storytelling mechanisms around which the debates have been centered.

Above is a passage from late in his latest novel, the epic fantasy The White-Luck Warrior.  The character providing these thoughts, Mimara, is reflecting back upon her past while trying to negotiate the rapids of her present travel through a dead and ancient land.  There are descriptions of her experiences after the degradations of her past as a brothel-slave (her mother sold her into sex slavery in a moment of desperation).  This passage, I suspect, is meant to be a foreshadowing of something greater revolving around the setting and how the characters within it have their world perspectives stripped away.  Yet a close reading of that quoted passage reveals a structural issue that plagues much of Bakker's writing.  Note the distant reflective voice present within this quote.  Does it feel like something that a human being, particularly one who is still relatively young and who has experienced repeated traumas over at least ten years, would actually think?

Too often, Bakker does not trust the narrative and the characters within it.  There are moments where instead of presenting a more "naturalistic" character perspective on the world and surrounding events, there is this separation, as if the point found in the chapter epigraphs must be reinforced and referenced repeatedly by the characters.  Nuances and subtleties are often removed or obscured by this narrative intrusion.  Instead of reacting and processing with the characters, readers often have notions that they, like the characters, are self-deluded fools who will go automatically for the easy and pleasurable while ignoring the hard truths around them.  It is little surprise that many take umbrage at this, sensing (even when they may not be able to articulate it fully) that these challenging asides may be flawed, that there is something else besides what Bakker, through the narrative structure, is attempting to hammer down into them.

Yes, there are times when reader reactions are going to fall in line with Bakker's expectations.  But I cannot help but sense there is much not being covered.  Even when granting times in which cultural training and possible behavioral tendencies guide us subconsciously toward reactions that we little understand ourselves, it rarely is simply a simple issue of "being hardwired," as Bakker often puts it.  The "software," our acculturation processes and our own unique reactions to environment and societies, is not a significant part of his story.  That makes me suspicious of the underlying intent and how effective it truly is.

This suspicion does not deny that when considered, Bakker is making some intriguing arguments regarding human volition.  The issue, however, becomes that of efficacy.  His relative lack of nuance and engagement with societal (as opposed to strict biological) conditioning weakens the story in crucial places for me.  Take for instance the so-called "rape aliens," the Inchoroi.  Their lasciviousness, their seduction and coercion of human wills to perform obscene sex acts, this is meant to be the awful counter to the absolute moral strictures of this setting (one in which damnation is a physically real and present occurance).  They are meant to be horrifying, but Bakker largely reduces them to being mere grotesques.  Their actions are revolting, but there is little true horror behind them because of the narrative emphasis on revelation and (self-)deception.  Some of the themes tied into the Inchoroi and their Sranc creations resemble in some aspects those covered in some of Thomas Ligotti's works.  Where Ligotti utilizes the narrative structure to accentuate the alienation and anguish present in human deceit, Bakker's narrative intrudes too much into the processing realm, interrupting the reader's ongoing interpretation of the textual themes.  While this does not destroy the power of certain key narrative developments, it does weaken them, making some interpretations, such as that of human sexuality and the treatment of women in a world whose intentional misogyny (itself "confirmed" by the local metaphysics, at least through the fifth volume) muddled.  This gives validity to those who argue that the writer either implicitly (or explicitly) endorses these problematic views or he really has no understanding at all when it comes to describing human characters and their motivations.

This latter accusation certainly has some evidence to support it.  Having read twice his neuro-thriller, Neuropath (2006 and 2008), during my second reading I found myself becoming disengaged from the text (perhaps because I knew of the manipulations to come) because the characters were so implausible.  Having a hypersexualized woman who had been "altered" at first seemed to be a critique of standard thriller use of sex (and sexual violence) to further the plot.  Yet that character's scene was so stilted and contrived upon a re-read that it felt devoid of any real impact because that character had become "other" in the sense of her not really being a human being.  The same held true when I read Bakker's The Disciple of the Dog:  the "voices" were being forced too much into a pre-designated role, to the detriment of any real characterization.  When these poor character constructs are placed in settings where they are meant to be ciphers for controversial explorations of human sexual domination and violence, it is little surprise that those who have experienced sexism, if not outright misogyny, in their lives will frequently turn against the text, viewing it as an endorsement of what they cannot stand, all due to its poor structure and implementation.

Spending time trying to force others into considering "second order" questions regarding truth and the underlying structures behind one's world-views is a strategy doomed to failure, especially when there is the belief that the issue at hand is the narrative and what appears to be its underlying belief foundation.  While I personally think the author has not intentionally set out to reinforce misogynistic world-views, his stated intent of targeting predominantly male readers while arguing with women of various feminist ideologies that he is fighting that battle better than they are is leading to a debacle.  Borrowing half-processed neuroscience and evolutionary psychological terms uncritically, when there appears to be evidence that mitigates or even challenges those assumptions regarding just how important biological imperatives are in human interactions, only leads to accusations of trying to remove the terms of the debate from the immediate realm of function and practical application to the semantic level, in which the disagreement over terminological interpretation seems to lead only to a derailing of the larger argument. 

Things are at an ideological impasse, or so it seems to me.  Bakker doesn't seem to be engaging with his critics as much as he is attempting to force them to argue their points through his own chosen schematics.  While there is obviously some value to considering things through another's perspective, when it is not readily being reciprocated (or being perceived as not being reciprocated), why bother?  All it seems to lead to is just dozens of posts on an issue that seems to be too easily reduced to the caricature of an actual substantive debate.

92 comments:

RobB said...

It seems very little with Scott is short and to the point. I've wanted to read through some of the blog posts/arguments he's had with the proprietor of "Requires Only That You Hate" blog, but all too often, other things came calling (i.e. work supervisor calling me into office, a work meeting, or more engaging reading) and/or my eyes just glazed over.

Shame, because I thoroughly enjoyed his first trilogy and NEUROPATH (for what I saw as something of a thought experiment). However, I've seen a wide distance grow between where I was as a reader who enjoyed his fascinating take on Epic Fantasy and where he is now in terms of his online presence. I suspect I'm not the only one.

At least at SFFWorld, members don't seem to be actively discussing his fiction writing as heatedly as they were over the course of the publication of the Prince of Nothing.

I very much want to revisit the trilogy to see both what I missed on first reading (since most readers miss things on a first reading) and perhaps measure the series against my current reading sensibilities and what I've minimally gleaned from some of his internet kerfuffles.

Larry said...

Yeah, I think that "distance" has affected me as well. After eight years, I'm just not as interested in the authorial intent as I used to be, plus I've discovered other authors who have tackled similar themes without as many problematic issues regarding gender/sexuality/violence.

Sometimes, it's just best for an author to shut up and let the readers hash out arguments, at least while the fictional work in question is still a work in progress. Otherwise, certain cans of worms are opened and cannot be closed quickly.

Anonymous said...

I feel like I've followed this as closely as anyone and, quite honestly, I still don't get the entirety of Scott's argument.

I also think it's hard to figure out what solutions he's going toward.

I'm hoping - if the stakes are as high as he claims - that he'll blog about something outside his protracted tone argument.

-Sci/Saj

Larry said...

I strongly suspect, as what happened in the case of The Thousand Fold Thought, that elements of these arguments will find their way into The Unholy Consult. In other words, I think he's also working his way through something and doesn't have everything down pat himself.

But I wouldn't hold my breath expecting something radically different from him for several months at least.

MatsVS said...

I agree that Scott has gone a bit off the rails lately, but I do not understand how you can side with ROH so unequivocally. I get the importance of minority voices in literature and all other aspects of the arts (and I was thrilled when I realized that you would become more involved in that regard, given your experience with different languages), but shouldn't they be held to same standards as everyone else? 7 pages and an interview? I mean, really? You yourself have written about 'quality in readers'. Is that no longer important?

And then the cherry picking of quotes from Neuropath for the sole purpose of sneering and chest thumping?

Also, are there truly no limits to the levels of profanity and bile we must accept as long as the cause is good? I agree that tone arguments are tedious coming from those using them as an avoidance tactic to circumvent issues, but surely, SOME CIVILITY can still be expected?

After all, dangerous rhetoric can lead to dangerous places.

Anonymous said...

I think the danger of a tone argument is that leads to judgements on all writing, all voice.

Many thinkers and writers of the past and present, some incredibly gifted, have expressed sentiments that are morally abhorrent, regardless of their civility. Should they be stricken from the canon?

I do think civility matters, but not necessarily in one's personal space. It would be one thing if someone threw out curse-filled diatribes in a forum discussion, but doing so on one's blog that no one is forced to visit is something else entirely.

The simple truth is Scott has repeatedly said he wants to tweak sensibilities to get people talking...RoH has done that, to great effect, pulling in many diverse readerships along with authors.

Can she be faulted for playing Bakker's game better than he has?

-Saj/Sci

MatsVS said...

Slippery slope arguments are tenuous at best, and the potential consequences of polarizing rhetoric are not.

And considering that if the context had been anything but a feminist blog, the outrage and calls for silence would have been immense, it still feels icky when so many line up to support and encourage, and join in the shaming.

"Can she be faulted for playing Bakker's game better than he has?"

Haha, that's a good point. There's a point to made about intent here, though, but that would take more space and time than the subject is worth.

On a personal note, I want to say that I think you, Saj, from what I have read, have been a great moderating voice, mostly of reason. Keep up the good work!

NF said...

It's very easy to get some civility.

Don't write offensive books where women are treated as objects and insist on your sacred right to do so, and you'll have all civility you want.

Foxessa said...

Reading the quoted passage with which you begin this post the very first thing that anybody who knows anything the condition of slavery and those who lived it is, "This guy hasn't even bothered to read the myriad slave narratives available, which make up a large part of our significant national literature." He knows nothing about being a slave.

Many slave narratives including the most 'literary' and most studied among our classics of national lit are even free, full text, online.

This guy can't be trusted about anything to do with power, gender and sex.

Scott Bakker said...

“yes, the text is problematic as it stands now, but future developments will hopefully show that there is much more going on under the surface,"

This is something I’ve explicitly acknowledged many times, Larry – so many, that I’m scowling really, really hard as I type this. Don’t make me scowl, Larry!

So here’s the questions I have:

1) How has this growing mountain of research transformed your position? Or put differently: if it were the case that the Hate Method actually triggers the coalitional mindset in women and men (as indeed seems to be the case), and that the coalitional mindset actually leads to attitudinal polarization and outright bigotry (as indeed seems to be the case), given your theoretical standpoint, how could you ever know?

2) Given radically changing factual and social conditions, why should anyone defend the feminist status quo?

3) Why should anyone take any approach primarily bent on ad hominem attack as opposed to genuine engagement seriously?

4) Do you think I have deserved the demeaning, in some cases, dehumanizing, things that have been said of me? What should I tell my daughter when she reads strangers telling me I should die, that I'm more worthless than excrement, and so on and so forth?

Larry said...

Mats,

Who said anywhere that I was siding with anyone unequivocally? My concerns, while sympathetic to some degree with ACM's and others whose posts I did not link to here due to lack of time last night (maybe others will link to relevant ones for me, since I'll be traveling in a few minutes?), are different in several regards and/or degree, as I note in this essay.

Does one have to read entire books/volumes to realize something is not for them? As for the 6/7 pages and an interview, I think that's been blown up too much. It didn't take me two pages to realize that Stanek's prose was shit and only a blurb to realize that the Gor novels are the antithesis of my own personal values. I took from ACM's original post last year that she was reacting to what was said in the interview and the defensiveness of it (and for the record, Bakker was responding to a question that I posted after a long debate on the issue on Westeros a year or so before that 2010 interview). I myself was not thrilled by the answer and could see where others would find it to be questionable at the very least and nearly offensive at the worst. Why her post about her reactions led to the author writing post after post during August 2011 and January-April 2012 is beyond me.

I'm heading out for most of the day. I'm going to leave it up to those who visit and want to comment to argue amongst yourselves. Only request is that gendered insults and strong profanity (anything stronger than saying someone's full of shit) not be used. Those I'll delete, but as long as the dialogue tries to be respectful, there won't be moderation on my end, at least not for another day or so.

And for starters, I'd love to hear others weigh in on what Foxessa says about slave narratives. That has some promise to it.

Larry said...

Scott,

I really am in a rush, so I can't respond in full, but here are standing questions that I've had:

1) Is the research tilted too strongly toward Anglo-American institutes/cultural perceptions? What's being theorized outside of Anglo-American (and to some degree, Western/Central European) circles?

2) Are coalitions permanent, or do competing coalitions draw Venn Circles with only smallish segments of interaction and agreement?

3) Are there ranges to what is considered to be "acceptable behavior" that lay outside our own cultural norms? After all, I typically only use first names with close family members and friends, but in other societies, it is stricter and in others, much less strict.

4) Is the range of insults any more acerbic than what are seen on certain internet forums? Sports boards are much more brutal than what I've seen directed toward you and I hear gaming forums are much worse. That is not a defense of such, but a general observation about the disembodied nature of the discourse taking place. Does one alter the boundaries to account for this?

I'll be back late this evening, so if I'm tardy in responding in full, it might be due to tiredness.

Dave Cesarano said...

I've read the ROH blog regarding Bakker and was profoundly amazed at a person who is 100% incapable of making a rational argument and attempts to discredit anyone disagreeing with her through prolific use of trolling, ad hominem, 4th grade insults, and other disappointing logical fallacies. For example, numerous readers have made comments and instead of tackling them she strikes them out and writes "I am a filthy c**ksucker" and other such puerile nonsense. In any logical sense there is no way in hell one can use her as a reference in order to prove a case--indeed, doing so actually weakens one's case.

Not to say that you've done so, just to throw this out there as a warning.

There needs to be dialogue about this, but the amount of invective and hate spewing forth does nothing to create an atmosphere of dialectic. Indeed, I've been inclined to agree with Bakker that Haidt's theories are at work. Granted they're mostly applied to Anglo-American/Canadian political factionalism, but the core ideas of this theory is the natural tendency toward tribalization and the need to disparage the "Other" which has been a part of postmodern psychoanalytical and literary critique for decades.

The criticism of Bakker's narrative is, I have to agree, pretty good and it puts words to the gut feeling I felt when I was reading The White-Luck Warrior and felt a bit bogged-down at times. The thing is, this criticism doesn't condemn Bakker, it condemns the text and it leaves open avenues for improvement.

Personally, I believe that we are supposed to morally reject and yet viscerally be drawn toward a lot of the things Bakker writes into the text. Yeah, the reader is fooling him/herself because Kellhus is the Nietzschean paragon and humans tend to admire and worship that sort of human. At the same time we fear what he represents to our Anglo-American/Canadian ideas of freedom.

The problem with this narrative not having any avenues of appeal for non-Anglo-Americans/Canadians is quixotic. Why should it? Is Bakker not an Anglo-Canadian? One of the core pieces of literary advice handed out is "write what you know." Following that train of logic, how, then should Bakker write the women in his novel? Is Bakker a woman? If any man attempts to write a woman that feminists will approve, he will be forced to write a sloppy two-dimensional bitchy tough-girl caricature that is either lesbian, asexual, or only screws hunky morons. With a small few male exceptions, I'd guess that it takes a woman can write women believably.

Let's perform a thought-experiment. I'm an Italian-American. Today, I'd be classified as white (although a hundred years ago, I counted as colored, being Italian). Let's say I write a novel narrating the experience of a black slave in the South. Next thing you know, I've offended half the black community, Spike Lee tweets my address to the New Black Panthers, and Oprah denounces me on national television because my book "endorses slavery." It doesn't matter if I wrote it trying to show the evils of slavery, I'm white, I'm guilty before proven innocent.

That's what's being done to Bakker right now. He's a man, his world treats women in a manner historically accurate to the ancient/medieval period in most cultures. Therefore, he is a misogynist.

If we're critical of ourselves and of the narrative together, we realize that our primordial attraction to it is something we need to critique, much like David Lynch does to us in Blue Velvet--our voyerism is put on trial in that film. The narrative interacts with the audience's emotions. So, too, does the context of Bakker's setting. We're supposed to hate the setting, not the author. You don't shoot the messenger.

Anubis said...

@Dave Cesarano:

That's not called a thought-experiment, that's a self-fulfilling prophecy. If your own admitted ignorance about writing women and slavery along with an unwillingness to learn serves as your premise, then this will lead to a foreseeable result: All you say in your comment about feminists and black intellectuals is clichéd and bigoted.

Also, the "write what you know" advice is really absurd when it comes to second-world fantasy, which is not (and per definition cannot be) "historically accurate".

NF said...

Sure historical accuracy can be waved any time author pleases, except, of course, when it comes to women. Nothing can be done, got to put another erotisized rape scene. For historical accuracy.

Nice line of argumentation for people who can't tell what depiction equals endorsement and what doesn't.

Anubis said...

Exactly. In quasi-medieval Fantasyland you can always use a magic device as a means of communication that functions like a long-distance call, but when it comes to gender relations, "historical accuracy" must be observed at all costs.

Anonymous said...

If any man attempts to write a woman that feminists will approve, he will be forced to write a sloppy two-dimensional bitchy tough-girl caricature that is either lesbian, asexual, or only screws hunky morons.

And you have the nerve to say that RoH can't make a rational argument? LOL
excuse the rest of us if we stop listening to anything else you have to say about women or feminism.

- Kathleen

Anonymous said...

This debate reminds of the split decision - for those who bothered to see the film - on Demon Lover, which is either a sharp critique on the horrors of pornography and our desensitization to the workers involved...or just another sick example of conflating sex and violence for shock value.

One might ask about the subversive merit of something like Blue Velvet or Bakker's works as well, and naturally you are going to find people on either side.

For some, the limit has been reached on how many narratives include sex and power at the expense of the female, and that attempting to play the game of subversion in this regard has a higher probability of passing the wrong message rather than the right one.

Rape as narrative short cut is, to this group, something that no longer should be given such an easy pass. To use it, to feed the trope, to pass through the gates of publishing using the trope is an appropriation of sexual assault and victimization of women. Thus, to some this is a moral outrage and not merely a debate about aesthetics.

To others, the question is not about the use of sexual assault as narrative trope as a matter of principle, but rather the efficacy of Bakker's works in particular. (One can only expect controversy when the rapist is a woman who strips herself naked and gets her head blown off.)

It's sort of Cliver Barker vs Rob Zombie, horror with purpose vs pure splatter punk.

This to me, is a fascinating subject, ripe for discussion among SFF fans and those interested in literature. What does it mean to have incest in the Bluest Eye as a centerpiece of the narrative - and how does it differ from that of Ellison's Invisible Man, where the incest is only a part of a larger work?

What language signals the reader as to the side they should be on in texts designed to be subversive - what makes The Handmaid's Tale or Lolita succeed and Bakker's books fail?

This is why I find the continual questions of tone and ad hominem and demanding ACM read the books so tedious, there are fascinating topics to be plumbed for those interesting in myriad disciplines.

-Saj/Sci

ps. MattVS, thanks for the kind words!

Anubis said...

After reading the Prince of Nothing trilogy, I can only say that for me, it didn't subvert anything. If subversion of gender roles in a patriarchal society was the promise attached to those books, they definitely didn't deliver. Well, the the work isn't finished yet, but I find it a rather doubtful method to first "cater to the expectations" (as the author puts it) and then, in later volumes still to come, try to destroy the notions that were built up. Sounds more than a little far-fetched to me. What makes the author believe this could work?

Larry said...

I'm a bit exhausted, so little coherency could be expected if I write at length now, but a couple of observations:

1) I think a more thorough textual analysis than the cursory one I gave as part of a broader set of issues might yield quite a bit regarding the (non)efficacy of Bakker's text in revealing a fuller import of his stated goals/possible intents. Am finding myself thinking of McCarthy's Child of God and how Lester Ballard made a more profound statement about humanity/civilization than Bakker's novels have to date. Possible future path of discussion.

2) Discussing "historical authenticity" when it comes to the Middle Ages is problematic due to:

a) Not all societies 500-1500 were very similar, even within the boundaries of modern European states.

b) Very little raping and pillaging compared to the early modern and modern eras.

c) In England, women had more property/marriage rights under the Plantagenets than they did in the Victorian Age, but it varies wildly from locale to locale. Much historical research has been done on this over the past 40 years. Interesting shifts in the European colonies.

Again, I'd say more, but I'm thinking of an early bedtime in order to go walking soon after the sun rises tomorrow.

Foxessa said...

Rape and humiliation, torture and violence, are historically accurate, fantasy or not?

But other historically accurate portrayals of women as hairdressers, seamstresses, weavers, dyers, perfumers, running the apprentices and journeymen, overseeing the administation and organization of the castle, going on pilmgrimage, organizing the defenses of their home, killing poultry, hogs, sheep and cattle, etc. etc. etc. are not historical reality evidently, for none of the women in these sorts of works do any of that.

And yet, far more women lived that way than as raped, tortured, violated, abused -- and let us not forget -- NEKKID* --slaves.

If you knew Spike Lee, you'd realize how unlikely that in the course of his busy days and nights of making historical documentaries as well as fiction films, going to sports events and benefits, hosting political fund raisers, playing with his kids, he'd even notice you existed. Because it is clear you don't get racism or slavery either, and Spike is interested in people who do get it and make work that shows it. So you won the insult trifecta: women, historians and African Americans, all in one.

* That NEKKID thang ... there are no cultures where people go naked, except in very hot and humid climates where cloth rots. Then people still manage to come up with bark cloth and so on.

Not even the farkin' slaves go NEKKID outside the bath and bedroom, for pete's sake!

The only places you see true nakedness are in conditions of heartbreaking poverty, as we've seen on occasion in the past in India. And even then, sometimes at least, that is men, and men only, who are so far along their path to spiritual enlightenment they iterally have nothing.

Little slave children on some plantations here in the U.S. were left unclothed in summer, particularly those who were still in the toilet training stage. But in winter? They'd have gotten sick, and / or died, and they were the master's bank account so generally as rouggh and rotten as the clothes the master might provide, some had to be provided.

Scott Bakker said...

I'm still waiting on your answers, Larry - particularly to (1). Haidt, just so you know, made his name by revealing the Western bias in moral psychological research as it stood in the 90's.

I ask these questions not to put you on the spot but because I really don't understand your position.

As to the question of why I would revisit the issue, you of all people should know: Moral certainty and outrage are what the books are all about!

THIS. VERY. THING.

Think about it Larry. If Theo Beale, for instance, had accused, say, Cathrynne Valente of misandry on the basis of 6 pages and an interview where she makes the mistake of arguing that misandrist readings of her work are misreadings, tell me HONESTLY, what would you say?

Odds are you're defending ACM because she belongs to a group with which you identify. Just ask a hardcore conservative how bad a crime 'Watergate' is!

This is what Haidt shows: the more morally righteous we are, the more self-serving our yardsticks become. The more inclined we are to throw the 'other' under the bus!

I'm the guy who keeps volunteering to be thrown, and saying, "See? Oof! I told you - owich! - so!"

Larry said...

Now to tackle Scott's questions in more depth, as I finally got some needed rest:

1) How has this growing mountain of research transformed your position? Or put differently: if it were the case that the Hate Method actually triggers the coalitional mindset in women and men (as indeed seems to be the case), and that the coalitional mindset actually leads to attitudinal polarization and outright bigotry (as indeed seems to be the case), given your theoretical standpoint, how could you ever know?

I question this "growing mountain." First off, I am not convinced that formal reasoning/rationalism is the near chimera that it seems Haidt and a few others (I could be wrong; summaries are very dangerous). While I can agree with their criticisms of Kohlberg's stages of moral development to an extent, I suspect that there's an extremely complex relationship between various levels of "programming" that has been simplified too readily into conscious/subconscious paradigms. There seems to be evidence for conscious decisions overriding temporary coalitional mindsets. Someone's relative admits s/he is gay; interracial marriage/relationship changing views on "miscegenation," etc. There seems to be an evolution of beliefs/prejudices that aren't covered as much in these "biological" based research that you cite. That makes me suspicious about the research, but I'd have to resume studying psychology after 14 years (it was one of my three minors) if I really want to explore this. No desire now.


2) Given radically changing factual and social conditions, why should anyone defend the feminist status quo?

What do you mean by "feminism?" I've never seen it as a monolithic bloc, but rather as an umbrella term for a series of competing and sometimes compatible views on the relationships between women (itself a term open for further division into cis/trans now) and the cultures/environments in which they move. A second-wave and third-wave feminist will likely disagree when it comes to defining patriarchy and how sexism is inherent in society. Marxist feminists, especially those influenced by critiques of E.P. Thompson's classic social history, The Making of the English Working Class, certainly will emphasize the Industrial Revolution as the place where the Public/Private sphere split reached its apogee and which established certain prejudices about "women's roles" that two centuries later are still being argued over.

With that in mind, it's nearly impossible to answer that question. Might as well ask a Tennessean, a Hawaiian, a Vermont resident, and a Nebraskan what constitutes "American" values/language.

Larry said...

3) Why should anyone take any approach primarily bent on ad hominem attack as opposed to genuine engagement seriously?

Because sometimes in such approaches larger issues can be seen? There's been lengthy cultural historical/anthropological research over the past few decades into "performance" and how the staging of emotional reaction, particularly by those who are not members of the dominant socio-cultural group/gender, is used to make further commentaries beyond those expressed in the direct vocal/paralinguistic range.

The "performance rage" to which you allude in a pejorative fashion can, of course, lead to excesses, but it is also a perfectly legitimate way to express distress and disagreement when the means of communication via those of the dominant socio-cultural gender/group are severed or blocked for those individuals. It's little different to me than how food riots of the 17th-early 19th centuries were used to communicate other profound socio-cultural griefs.


4) Do you think I have deserved the demeaning, in some cases, dehumanizing, things that have been said of me? What should I tell my daughter when she reads strangers telling me I should die, that I'm more worthless than excrement, and so on and so forth?

Let's see: Has anything said directly led to fears of violent reprisal? What I've seen is mild in comparison to what I've seen said on pro wrestling, ESPN.com, and have heard about on gaming forums. Are any of them respectable comments? Of course not, but I don't view them as "dehumanizing" to the extent that the rhetoric is purposely overblown due to social inhibitions being stripped. Sure, I could see a counterargument being made that such actions indicate a cultural stripping away of "human" concepts due to lack of "real" proximity, but I believe this is only part of a different range of reactions to this new medium. After all, "long-distance" relationships have evolved considerably since the days of Voltaire's love affair with a Polish countess. "Otherization", to create a bad portmanteau word, is something that is worthy of further exploration, but I don't think one should rush in and define it in purely negative terms.

That being said, should I tell my soon-to-be born niece/nephew that in the past I was called "a fag" for telling a student no, that I was twice assaulted while at work (leaving aside my subsequent subduing of both), that I've been threatened with death to my face? Or do I teach her/him that there are a spectrum of reactions, some justified and others questionable at best, that we should learn from in order to be more charitable human beings? I prefer to accentuate the positive and to mix Form and Function to create something that perhaps is a bit better than before. But that's just me.

Larry said...

Scott,

I actually differ in significant ways from ACM when it comes to interpreting certain things...or at least I suspect I do, since nothing I have seen her say indicates she is influenced by Thompson's alteration of classical Marxist approaches to social history to incorporate gender/culture/race (this is moreso those who followed Thompson, but his The Making of the English Working Class was a seminal work). I see her and others' responses as being part of a larger expression of concerns and issues, many of which are none of my own affair, or at least not directly. How that reconciles with your presumption I'll leave it up to you.

I'm actually quite ambivalent about a few matters, perhaps because I have the luxury of being so at this time. It's why I don't outright condemn your writing, instead critiquing what I perceive as deficiencies in message selection/presentation. I really do think that you shouldn't be engaged this directly with points that presumably you will be covering in your future volumes before the work is done, because it's nigh impossible to make your case when your "big reveal" has yet to occur on paper/e-ink. I am actually still giving you the benefit of the doubt there while wondering why you are being so vociferous when it might be better to just set aside the detracting comments until later. Then again, that might be easier said than done: it was very difficult for years to deal with emotionally-disturbed students' comments about myself.

As for the "morally righteous," I tend to harbor different personal views. Perhaps it's because of being an adult convert to Catholicism, but I do question regularly my conduct/beliefs. Sure, I could see the argument that such institutions themselves reinforce beliefs of one's "righteousness," but I think it's more nuanced and complex than that. It's as if membership, temporary and permanent alike, in such belief systems involves a continual series of dialogues, some of which are marked by dissent and disavowals. My own reactions to say homosexuality and birth control do run counter to strict Church teaching and I cannot reconcile the two. I may be a classical 4+/5 Post-Conventional on Kohlberg's scale, or I may not. But I'm never a static entity; I am, again to quote Whitman, "large. I contain multitudes."

Anonymous said...

Indulging in a bit of reminiscing, ACM has nothing on the cats at Dead Cities. I had my life cut up and mocked during an argument about education reform by that guy (Sheck?) who clearly wish he had the muscle mass to be as tough in RL as he was on the Net.

Hell, I was called a whiny little troll and mosquito on Three Pound Brain itself in a debate about feminist criticism of the books of all things!

It's past time to drop this tone argument.

-Sci/Saj

Larry said...

I had forgotten about those Dead Cities days a decade ago! You're thinking of Shevek/Ilya Popov, I think. Yeah, that was a very tough crowd.

I'm mostly atonal (bad joke) :P

Anonymous said...

Yeah, he had some good ideas, and he did make realize you had to bring your A-game to Dead Cities if you wanted to argue something.

Other days he was clearly just talking out of his ass, like when he started to tell me I was subconsciously racist for not liking Crash and its facile treatment of racism in America.

Always hoping Wassner and Stover hit the big time at some point.

-Saj/Sci

Eric M. Edwards said...

"I ask these questions not to put you on the spot but because I really don't understand your position."

I'm highlighting this statement from Bakker to you because it keeps coming up, with slight variation in form, on his blog. Before, or more commonly after, he typically posits a list of numbered 'questions.'

I believe it represents a tactic, conscious or otherwise, where Bakker is wresting for control over the discussion by the means and the terms with which it may be legitimately, vs. illegitimately, engaged, rather than actually facing or responding to some very specific and direction questioning of his words and text.

Among these conditions would appear to be demands for a particular tone or civility, a priori proof of a lack of assumed 'ingroup basis', agreement with Haiht and Bakker's own ideas about biology, psychology, and the nexus of the two, and perhaps most problematic for the point of the overall discussion, a right to define a hypothetical unproven monolithic feminism as rational or irrational, destructive or constructive, and acknowledgement that by not granting these to Bakker we are both accusing him without basis of misogyny, and letting the 'real misogynists win.'

I bring this up, before I move on to some simpler points because I feel this impulse on Bakker's part, is a huge impediment to any successful conversation with him.

I would much prefer to simply talk about the problems I've had with his books, and why I think based on this evidence and his own comments, it is not surprising that Bakker is not being viewed as the champion of feminism that he *seems* to suggest that he is - and hence the harsh words and unhappy comments.

All of this has gotten so tangled over time and multiple blog posts, I'm happy to admit that there are no doubt a number of misunderstandings, and yet, I feel that he has and continues to dodge much of the criticism that has been leveled against Bakker and his books.

NF said...

@Bakker

The fact that you have no problem shelving hypothetical misandry along with misogyny is extremely telling. You seem to view them as perfectly symmetrical concepts which suggests that they should be examined from the same perspective.

Your books are reflections of your beliefs and the inner workings of your brain. Six pages, or six thousand, or your interviews, or your old comments, or your new comments - the result is very consistent and predictable.

And, very unfortunately, damaging.

Anonymous said...

To turn this discussion back from the Dead Cities days and once more to the matter at hand, it's important IMO not to throw out the baby with the bath water.

Regardless of the opinion people have of his works, Bakker makes important points that subversion is necessary - a lot of men won't even pick up a book by a female author, and a surplus of strong female characters leads to the book being left in the store.

So I can understand this idea, that men need to have dialogues with men. Eve Ensler actually told me the same thing, when after a talk I asked what she felt men should be doing to advance the cause of feminism. She basically said she was a woman working on communicating with women, and that men need to write stories for men to bring them around.

I think to some extent there is truth in the idea, though it's also worth debating. I think it sort of speaks to Scott's position, though where he, IMO, errs is the assumption that there is a surfeit of heroines in SFF that are genuinely feminist.

From there, I think given the reluctance of many men to pick up works they feel are "feminist", we can probably acknowledge some form of subversion is necessary.

What do the Books o' Bakker hope to get across, and how do they utilize subversion to make their point? What works would you suggest giving to a man who is wary of feminism to consider your arguments?

-Saj/Sci

Eric M. Edwards said...

One problem, even before touching on Bakker's books, is that Bakker has said a great deal of contradictory comments re. feminism vis his blog.

They have ranged from that he thinks feminism has failed, that it is doing well or has already succeeded*, that it is incapable of winning, that he believes his writing represents a new approach for helping feminists win. That arguing with him, rather than attacking conservative bloggers like Theo/Vox, is letting as I've mentioned already, the real enemies of feminism win. Or they have already.

This shifting report on the health of feminism along with his dictating of terms when it comes to discussing it, makes civil, reasoned argumentation on the topic, difficult, I would argue.

My suggestion is that Bakker stops dictating terms and, clarifies his starting position. Reel it back, and call it Post Zero.

It wouldn't hurt to drop the endless complaints about name-calling and the insistence that his opponents are all 'morally certain,' either. But if he can manage the first two, I'm sufficiently flexible, morally or otherwise, to ignore these pet bugbears of his and focus on his writing.

*citing primarily, an increase in the number of female college goers in the US as a refutation of real and highly visible inequality of females - such as we see in the workplace, on the issue of reproductive rights, when comparing top wages, or roles in government, and overall societal clout, not to mention the bleak picture in many parts of the world that is not the US, Europe, or Canada.

Larry said...

Saajan,

Interesting question. I am off to run a few errands for the next hour or two, but your final bit reminds me of my experiences teaching male teens with emotional/behavioral issues things related to how to treat women. While I'll elaborate more later, I did not focus on books/literature because many of them were pre-literate (or if you prefer, functionally illiterate).

More later on some of what I did to instruct them in "life skills."

Foxessa said...

But why in the world does anyone think it's 'subversive' to show women only in humiliating violent physical and mental conditions? Why is it subversive to show women only in the isolation of their sexual use to men, or as violent predators themselves?

That's not subversive, that's adolescent porn.

Recall that most women have kids, and that includes prostitutes, yet that's sheered away from the women in these kinds of entertainments. As is any positive interactions with other women, doing all kinds of PAYING world that isn't sex work and / or violent, and so on and so forth.

Really, as these women are portrayed there is nothing about them that exists outside the male gaze, and the only parts of them the male gaze is interested in is preposterous sexual posturing that you will not find outside of porn fantasies.

These aren't women, these aren't persons. They sure as heck are not subversive, they're just more of the same old same old, other than women are being ordered to buy it as subversive and more feminist than feminists.

I call it humbug and I say bah!

Anonymous said...

>>Recall that most women have kids, and that includes prostitutes, yet that's sheered away from the women in these kinds of entertainments.<<

So in other words, you actually haven't read the books (obvious given the specific comment above) and are merely hurling comments into the dogpile? Given the hive mentality this sort of thing seems to generate, no surprise, I guess.

potsherds said...

"I believe it represents a tactic, conscious or otherwise, where Bakker is wresting for control over the discussion by the means and the terms with which it may be legitimately, vs. illegitimately, engaged, rather than actually facing or responding to some very specific and direction questioning of his words and text."


Thank you very much for your two posts here E.M. Edwards. I had begun to notice his penchant for making lists as a way to wrest control of the discussion away from others about 3(ish?) blogs ago. It generally seems to happen whenever someone makes a darn good post or comment that Bakker doesn't seem to know how else to counter. I also can't tell if this is purposeful or not, but what I *can* say is that it indicates some bad faith on Bakker's part. And it really needs to stop.

I also am highly, *highly* annoyed at his changing accusations of feminism, none of which have indicated he understands much about the variety of view-points, goals, disagreements, methods and *people* which label themselves thus. And considering that the claim that women outperforming men in college degrees (a single, bloody data point??) means women are 'overtaking men' in some way is a common line of MRA's, it's pretty amusing that the great feminist Bakker thought that well-known factoid was worth bringing up.

Another thing that I'm wondering if anyone else has noticed is that, after Bakker provides lists of questions he demands answered, if another few posts either directly and succinctly address those questions, or in some other way render the questions silly or irrelevant, Bakker tends to disappear from that particular discussion, and posts another (usually annoyingly pretentious) post on his blog. (Basically, he retreats to the comfort of his fans.)

I also agree about his constant complaining over name calling and those mean minorities and their damned disrespectful tone. Demanding that minorities (and their allies) maintain their politeness and reign in their anger is simply not acceptable. Minorities are reminded constantly of the dangers of stepping out of line their whole lives, and by *not* stepping out of line, the privileged maintain their power. Anger, name-calling, shouting, and four-letter words are necessary to getting the attention of the privileged who would otherwise ignore our voices.

His dismissal of some of his critics based on their tone is nothing more than a another highly privileged person refusing to listen, who would likewise ignore them, if his critics were polite.

Dave Cesarano said...

@Anubis, Kathleen, and NF,

Is it possible to have a dialogue about something WITHOUT resorting to attacking the arguer?

@Anubis: Good point. While I don't agree that it's a self-fulfilling prophecy, I can admit that it's a flawed piece of logic.

@Kathleen: I didn't say ANYTHING about women or feminism. What I said was that I doubt most men can effectively write women well. You posted my statement, please take the time to read it again. I've nothing to say, specifically, about women or feminism.

Speaking about historical authenticity, Larry actually makes the best point contradicting me since societies in pre-modern times were not entirely uniform.

As some pointed out, the magic of fantasy is that it allows you to create anything you want. It allows you to put telephones run by magic in a world that otherwise would be the technological and social equivalent of Arthurian Britain.

However, there is still quite often a social, economic, and political structure that fantasy societies display repeatedly--the quasi-medieval setting. So, yes, rules can be broken and we can say and do what we want.

But some authors don't. So, why is Bakker getting raked over the coals while Abercrombie isn't? Or George R.R. Martin? Is it because Bakker's crapsack world is that much more offensive, that rape aliens are worse than Lannister troopers raping peasant girls? Should we deny the realities of the medieval chevauchee just to ensure we don't anger people?

Tolkien is getting attacked by postmodern critics and bloggers for his romanticized view of gender, politics, and the pre-modern setting as a whole. Guys like Vox blast the dirty medieval "realities" (despite their settings being fantasy) of Bakker, Martin, and Abercrombie. But it's only Bakker that gets blasted by both sides.

I fail to see what is so special about Bakker that makes what happens in his books so much worse than the other authors.

Larry said...

Actually, Abercrombie and Martin have come under just as much scrutiny, if not more so, than Bakker in terms of questions of the violence and sexual politics of their series (Martin certainly has a wider readership and I suspect Abercrombie is slightly more visible in terms of readers than Bakker, although I do not have access to Bookscan numbers). It's more a matter of Abercrombie partially deflecting the criticisms on his "lesbian lover existing almost solely as potential rape/torture victim" by making a mea culpa on Westeros back in December and Martin not engaging his more vociferous critics in the fashion that Bakker often does.

I've been known to make critical remarks of these authors (including Tolkien), but since my knowledge of sexism/misogyny is second-hand, I tend to defer to those who have experienced such. I'm on steadier ground when it comes to textual/cultural/historical issues, but that's not to say that I do not appreciate those who bring these other perspectives. Of course, appreciation does not mean 100% endorsement, only that I try my best not to dismiss their rationales a priori. I think the back-and-forth here has been fairly good, even when strong opinions are given/critiqued. Let's hope it stays that way :D

Anonymous said...

@Dave
Responding briefly against my better judgment since you asked (ordered?) me to.
I quoted exactly what you said. Your response is "@Kathleen: I didn't say ANYTHING about women or feminism."

To clear it up, this: If any man attempts to write a woman that feminists will approve, he will be forced to write a sloppy two-dimensional bitchy tough-girl caricature that is either lesbian, asexual, or only screws hunky morons is saying something about both women and feminism.

It is not saying anything that is flattering to you.

Also, the fact that you don't know that people have critiqued both Abercrombie and Martin on these same issues...well, it is just very indicative of your level of actual engagement/understanding of the topic.

Finally, at the risk of violating Larry's request, it is kind of ironic that you complain about "attacking the arguer" when your first comment opened with a paragraph-long broadside against ROH. But I guess it's ok when you do it?

As to the general topic, EM Edwards and potsherds pretty much said my thoughts, only better.

-Kathleen

Anubis said...

Foxessa wrote:

But why in the world does anyone think it's 'subversive' to show women only in humiliating violent physical and mental conditions? Why is it subversive to show women only in the isolation of their sexual use to men, or as violent predators themselves?

That's not subversive, that's adolescent porn.


While I partially agree that subversion is necessary (I say partially because I don't see the subversion of gender roles and clichés as a 100% solution to sexism and misogyny), the above quotation sums up my doubts really well. I can only repeat my question: What makes Bakker believe this strategy will work? To be honest, I rather tend to imagine the outcome like this:

Author: “You know, all the pornographic stuff and the portrayal of women were really meant to challenge your assumptions. It is your male gaze that makes you expect and appreciate that stuff.”

Male reader: “Awesome! I would never have thought that's the reason why I liked it so much. Can I have some more?”

It is certainly not enough to tell someone that a cliché is a cliché, when a cliché is what the readers want (and especially so when the readers are male nerds). As the author himself admits, it caters to the expectations.

Dave Cesarano wrote:

As some pointed out, the magic of fantasy is that it allows you to create anything you want. [...] However, there is still quite often a social, economic, and political structure that fantasy societies display repeatedly--the quasi-medieval setting.

I tend to see that as part of the question. Why is it that fantasy societies can have advanced means of communication and transportation that were absent in real-world medieval societies, but when it comes to unusual depictions of gender relations, it will be decried as inauthentic? There is an implicit assessment in this on which social structures may (for the sake of fantasy) be changed and which structures better remain true to the readers' expectations about the way things should be.

So, why is Bakker getting raked over the coals while Abercrombie isn't? Or George R.R. Martin?

Actually, among German-speaking SFF fans there was much more debate about Martin's use of sex and violence in ASoIaF than about Bakker's works.

Anonymous said...

Raked over the coals presupposes any of this has impact beyond the teacup that is SFF fans engaging on the 'net.

The more interesting dialogue is the one that encompasses the Books o' Bakker but doesn't narrowly focus on them.

-Sci/Saj

Foxessa said...

They certainly do come in for criticism, and of the same sort. In fact two articles criticizing the show in The New Yorker and the Washington Post just this week.

Good grief look at the mothers in ASOIF. Only Catelyn can be called a good mom, and that only barely -- look at her treatment of Jon Snow, at best short-sighted, at worst, mean. Or perhaps the wilding women are good mothers, when they're not being raped by their polygamous fathers or something.

The others? They are insane. Or -- with Daenyrs, hers dies, and conveniently so does her husband to whom she was wed when barely nubile, so she remain 'the ingenue,' that all lust after -- though at some point she does get pleasured by her faithful slaves -- and perhaps in the future -- of course that future could happen only after we're dead as the series just keeps expanding on all fronts with more and more and more and yet more! characters.

Dave Cesarano said...

Some of you are clearing up the current state of debate for me. While it's true my engagement with these discussions are tangential at best, I feel, honestly, that

As for my statement on how men tend to write women, I, again, fail to see what this says about me beyond: "I think this is how most men write women." I think people got hung up on the phrase "that feminists will approve," which was intended to mean "empowered, self-enfranchised, in control of herself, her sexuality, her destiny, etc." If people read it differently, I'm sorry, I should have phrased it differently.

Perhaps I should clear something up. I have seen many narratives that are written by men and attempt to include empowered women. Those women usually fall into specific archetypes that I feel are 1) unflattering and 2) demonstrate how these male authors do not understand women. If anything, I'm being critical of male writers.

Finally, at the risk of violating Larry's request, it is kind of ironic that you complain about "attacking the arguer" when your first comment opened with a paragraph-long broadside against ROH. But I guess it's ok when you do it?

Point taken. My aim was to critique her method of argument. If I came off as if I was excoriating her personally, that was erroneous and unintentional.

As for Abercrombie and Martin, I was aware that they were under attack from the romanticists. I'm pretty up-to-snuff on their criticisms of Abercrombie, Martin, and Bakker. I was, admittedly, unaware that Abercrombie and Martin are also being critiqued by (for lack of a better term) the Left.

Foxessa wrote, "They certainly do come in for criticism, and of the same sort. In fact two articles criticizing the show in The New Yorker and the Washington Post just this week."

I will look up those articles.

Anubis wrote, "I tend to see that as part of the question. Why is it that fantasy societies can have advanced means of communication and transportation that were absent in real-world medieval societies, but when it comes to unusual depictions of gender relations, it will be decried as inauthentic? There is an implicit assessment in this on which social structures may (for the sake of fantasy) be changed and which structures better remain true to the readers' expectations about the way things should be."

Don't get me wrong, I think a lot about that myself. It's a great discussion subject and I'd love to talk about it more but unfortunately a bit off-topic so I won't pursue it.

E.M. Edwards wrote, "My suggestion is that Bakker stops dictating terms and, clarifies his starting position. Reel it back, and call it Post Zero."

A lot of this could be cleared up if Bakker simply sits down and writes out what he's trying to achieve. Then, at least, we can attack the text and not the man. After all, didn't Barthes say the author is dead, there is only the text?

Finally, can we please be civil? I'm not trying to offend anyone. If I have, I apologize. Unfortunately, this topic ends up dealing with specific subjects that end up being of a sensitive nature. Based on reactions, I'm inclined to agree with what Bakker's saying about Haidt's theories.

Foxessa said...

So you've missed Sady Doyle's discussion of ASOIF -- nor was this the first extended discussion of it in these terms.

Though even critics of her sort get it wrong when they think that there's anything authentically medieval contained in these sorts of fantasy -- other than perhaps some weaponry.

Foxessa said...

In fact ASOIAF has received far more overt criticism in the media that isn't a genre ghetto than any of the others because it became an HBO series, so far more people are familiar with the series -- it also outsells in print by millions the other writers in this league: Butcher, Morgan, Abercrombie, whoever the guy is that did the Prince of Thornes and now Bakker.

As I recall the first stirring of these criticism of how women are treated actually was focused on LOtR; then Butcher, Abercrombie, Morgan and the PoT guy. Now Bakker.

You will also find feminists who nevertheless their misgiving love GoT passionately. I've not seen that for any of these other fellows, though because I haven't encountered them that doesn't mean those women aren't out there.

Abercrombie even agreed, when it was pointed out to him, that his rape scene(s) were not only loathesome but preposterous, that the criticism was justified. He admitted that he just hadn't thought any of it through when it wrote it.

And that's the problem: the first things that so often come to a guy's mind when writing sex, rape, etc. is pretty cliched male porn gaze, and then you get yourself in real messes, coming through like a person who has never met a women who is a person in his life. Woman -- the Ultimate Other Who Cannot Be Understood!

BTW, women have criticized women writers for doing the same stupid stuff in their books too.

NF said...

@Dave Cesarano

When you defend offensive narrative, you're being offensive. It's as simple as that.

As for why out of myriad of possible grimdark details of medieval realities one conveniently selects only the ones that cater the consumers (and participants) of contemporary rape culture, and then tries to pass them as an intellectual challenge and exercise in subversion - it's not exactly rocket science.

It maximizes the profit. Because what fanboy doesn't want to read porn and feel smart? Two for the price of one. Don't shoot the messenger, we live in a world of exploitation.

Michel said...

"And that's the problem: the first things that so often come to a guy's mind when writing sex, rape, etc. is pretty cliched male porn gaze"

Granted. But does automatically mean the work is misogynistic?

I can understand the misgivings about only having weak female characters, and that it's at best hard to see how they prove a certain pro-feminist point without the bigger picture available to us. That might change when the next book comes out, but I understand the grief.

Nevertheless, regarding world-building I feel that the author is king/queen. As in, (s)he decides what kind of world is created, with which gaze is written, 'local' idiosyncrasies, etc.
It is not until an author claims that his world RELIABLY reflects a certain period of our short human history that a critic has grounds to seriously address these issues and label or condemn them as being wrong or right.

This does not cover what happened with J. Abercrombie who admitted in retrospect he could have written a certain passage/character better.
R. Bakker consistently writes certain female characters in a certain way and is not critiqued for a certain scene but for his portrayal in general, that is different.

Don't get me wrong, I am in favor of critiquing a work if the critique is merited, but in the end your criticism is just an opinion elevated to something loftier by giving it a different stamp.

I am not invalidating your opinion, but I feel that many critics of Bakker's work are not willing to read beyond their initial impression of an uncomfortable scene. Their mind is set so to speak and every subsequent mention of the author or work results in "he's a misogynist pig, don't read it"-like comments. No substantiation, examples, etc. It feels like a shortcut and rubs me the wrong way.

Michel said...

"NF said...
@Dave Cesarano

When you defend offensive narrative, you're being offensive. It's as simple as that."

A narrative that is offensive to you. Your opinion, not fact. All narratives are open to interpretation.
You equate someone's defense of a book that you find offensive to labeling that person as offensive as well. Certainly there is more to that person than his opinion on a narrative?


"As for why out of myriad of possible grimdark details of medieval realities one conveniently selects only the ones that cater the consumers (and participants) of contemporary rape culture, and then tries to pass them as an intellectual challenge and exercise in subversion - it's not exactly rocket science.

It maximizes the profit. Because what fanboy doesn't want to read porn and feel smart? Two for the price of one. Don't shoot the messenger, we live in a world of exploitation."

Granted that we live in a world of exploitation. Granted that including rape could be construed as a profit-maximizing mechanism.
However, in that case he should have kept the philosophizing to a minimum don't you think? It sort of takes the piss out of the wank so-to-speak.
I understand your argument of 'reading porn and feeling smart', but if you count the pages filled with sex-scenes as a percentage of the whole it does not really grok with this supposition. Hence my interpretation that those scenes are not included to satisfy the "contemporary rape culture" members, but serve another purpose.

Whether it's the best tool for that (unknown) purpose, or even an adequate one I can't opine on without having read the third book. Hell, I might even change my opinion to yours if the third book doesn't deliver.

So for now I will withhold judgment.

Foxessa said...

What do you think the rest of the sentence means, the part you cut off: "... and then you get yourself in real messes, coming through like a person who has never met a women who is a person in his life. Woman -- the Ultimate Other Who Cannot Be Understood!"

Whatever. Misogny or no -- these characters are bad writing, because it displays wilfully or not, ignorance of how different women behave in their different cultural milieus, their different spiritual paths, their different national identies, their different historical backgrounds, their different economic, class and political views.

Superficial thinking, using oneself as the template for everything and everyone is the laziest kind of writing there is, and lazy writing is bad writing.

There is a much greater amount of bad writing in genre by men writing women than there is good writing by men writing women. This applies to the past as much as to the present.

Maybe this applies outside genre as well ... how many Becky Sharpes do we encounter in literature, after all.

Anonymous said...

I also have to say, thinking of Native Son and Bluest Eye, that offensive works are not in and of themselves morally culpable and defending them does not make one necessarily offensive.

On the other hand, I can see that after a certain point attempt to give the "It's art!" defense might make one morally culpable in others' eyes.

Sci/Saj

Foxessa said...

As for the author being the ruler of her universe -- yes.

But a ruler is only as effective as his capacity. History is littered with lousy rulers, particularly rulers who pick to go to war without understanding either their own people, their own ability and the ability, objective and capacity of the antagonist he's setting out to show what's what. Lousy rulers make lousy choices. Bad writers make bad choices.

Readers have the right not to subject themselves to more bad writing.

Foxessa said...

What did you find offensive in Wright's and Morrison's novels?

Some -- and I emphasize 'some,' men in color back in the day did feel The Color Purple dissed the black man unfairly. But women of color by-and-large didn't agree.

It's how the writer deals with the terrible things that happen to the characters, without a salacious gaze, without a wallowing in it, how the reprecussions of the terrible things play out in larger arenas and the personal, the individual, that matters. As with Beloved ... what happens afterwards happens in the heart and soul of those particular people, that particular mother ... they weren't stand-ins for all slave mothers and escaped slaves. They were themselves. Everyone has ghosts, but the ghosts aren't all the same, are very particular ghosts.

NF said...

Michel,

My opinions are not facts, but they are supported by consideration and my own experiences. No one stops you from considering the texts in question, the arguments presented, and come up with your own interpretations. But, please, do realize that experience, supplemented with familiarity with multiple stories, plays a significant role in prioritizing the issues.

Anonymous said...

By offensive I meant containing content that would be objectionable, not offensive to me personally.

Reason why I picked those two books, their part of the recognized American literary canon.

-Saj/Sci

Larry said...

I don't know if I'll be around much, if at all for the next few days, as my dad is having trouble passing a kidney stone and I might be drafted to take his place and go with my youngest brother on a baseball trip to Kansas City Thursday-Saturday (I hate their favorite team, the New York Yankees, but filial responsibilities don't often involve fun stuff). Won't know until the early morning.

However, I do have a few things to raise as points of discussion if others want to engage with them (and no, I'm not intending to do "second order" question listing ;)):

1) What difference, if any, could be made in viewing texts as "chauvinistic," "sexist," and "misogynistic?" I suspect there are possible fine distinctions that are being assumed by some that might be coloring the responses here.

2) Is there something inherently suspicious about works pitched as catering almost exclusively to one gender or another? I'm thinking about "boy's adventures" in particular, but this could also include other genres.

3) How much of "a pass," if any, should writers from other cultures/time periods receive for their fictions? How much should we be weighing them on a multi-level scale for social depiction, artistic creation, historical importance, etc.?

I'll try to answer some of these myself later in the week/weekend, depending on the issue noted above.

One final bit, since I saw Richard Wright being mentioned: Anyone ever read about the animosity between him and Zora Neale Hurston about each other's depictions of African Americans/women in their fictions? I saw fleeting references to this in the notes to Hurston's books published by Library of America and I am curious to explore this further when I have the time.

Dave Cesarano said...

Just a few thoughts before I turn in.

@Foxessa: I've met plenty of women in my life and have several of them in my family. Do I understand them? Hell no. Is it a deficiency on my part? Perhaps. Perhaps I'm a product of my culture--one that is at this point extremely schizophrenic when it comes to gender relations.

Would I do a good job at writing women were I a novelist? I don't think so. One of the reasons I don't understand women is because I'm not one.

At the risk of sounding crass, when I went through puberty it was an incredibly different psychological experience than it would have been had I been born female. I have no idea what it's like to cycle through a period, never experienced menstrual discomfort, never had to deal with the hormonal changes, and I'll never experience childbirth. If I even pretended to understand what these things were like, I'd be insulting women everywhere.

That's the BEGINNING of what I mean by, "I don't understand women." I've never experienced what they have, I've only witnessed it in my sister and girlfriends I've had. And no, I'm not saying they were bitchy five days out of each month. I'm saying that it's a perspective I cannot have but can only try to imagine and understand.

Similarly, when I taught abroad, I experienced racism, but only a shred of what I imagine marginalized groups experience in my own country. At least in this regard I have a bit of perspective, but I still have none of the depth and breadth of experience of generations of marginalized folk in my country.

I have limitations in my understanding because of what I have, haven't, and cannot experience. All humans have these limitations in some form or another. What I'm saying is that men possess these limitations when it comes to women. Otherwise there wouldn't be such a market for books that try to get the genders to effectively understand one-another.

As for NF's comment about offensive books, as Michel points out, they're all over the place. Mark Twain wrote offensive books. A lot of important books throughout history and literature have been offensive, some justifiably so (Mein Kampf) some subjectively so (Huck Finn).

The moment somebody starts telling me offensive books are bad is the moment red flags go up. Perhaps some books SHOULD be offensive to us so we learn from them. The question is, what lesson do we take away from the book.

Huck Finn is offensive because people call Jim a "nigger." All the time. Because people did that back then. And it's not a very pretty or likeable or nice thing. If we bowdlerize it, remove what is offensive, we lose something. We lose the reality of the situation, the truth that this is how people were, and the moral lesson that we can take away.

Granted, this is way different with fantasy. Personally, I could do without a lot of the sex and rape in some of these novels. I am not a fan. If it has to be done, I wish it could be done offstage (or offpage, perhaps). However, whenever people start to censure literature, novels, art, or whatnot, in a specific manner, warning bells start going off in my head. There aren't many steps between censuring and censorship, and I'm not trying to be clever, this is a real fear of mine.

Freedom of discourse and dialogue means people will have positions which may offend someone. Great! Get offended! God only knows I've been offended by a lot of stuff I've read but I would never, ever argue that the stuff should be censored. It should be met with a rebuttal, instead.

As for Larry's poignant three questions... Well, I'll try to discuss them tomorrow, perhaps on my own blog.

Nic said...

I'm impressed. It took 56 comments before we hit "Censorship!!1!" Well done, folks.

Larry: hope your father gets better soon.

NF said...

Attack a straw man and think no one would recognize it? Who is arguing that the stuff should be censored?

Yes, you don't understand women. I got it. But don't worry. Read more Martin and Bakker and you can stay in that blissful state forever.

Michel said...

What do you think the rest of the sentence means, the part you cut off: "... and then you get yourself in real messes, coming through like a person who has never met a women who is a person in his life. Woman -- the Ultimate Other Who Cannot Be Understood!"

Well I felt it was a fleshing out of what you said above that so for brevity's sake I left it out. I also, respectfully, disagree.
Bakker has a wife and a kid (daughter I believe), a mom, etc. My point is that he HAS met women who is a person in his life. His portrayal of women, be it realistic to you or not, is his choice based on the story he wants to tell. It's not based on realistic representations of women in general or the ones in his life.
However, I will concede that in light of what he has stated lately regarding this conundrum that his purpose with their portrayal is hard to discern.

Whatever. Misogny or no -- these characters are bad writing, because it displays wilfully or not, ignorance of how different women behave in their different cultural milieus, their different spiritual paths, their different national identies, their different historical backgrounds, their different economic, class and political views.

Exactly, women behave different in different milieus. This is Bakker's milieu and for sake of whatever purpose he has in mind they are behaving as they do. Here the ignorance seems to be yours, as in that you measure their behavior by your own milieu and disregard the author's. Here Bakker's yardstick argument would be appropriate.
I'm not trying to be crass by using the word ignorant, I'm only shooting back what you say so that I am clear. I tend to over-explain and people get lost.
However, I realize that your point may also be that within the different milieus (insofar as there are) of the novel, Bakker portrays the women consistently with certain flaws. That is certainly possible. But since this is fantasy, and an as of yet incomplete work, I think that is well within an author's rights. It does not make him necessarily lazy. He might need this setting for his book to work. We can't yet know.

Superficial thinking, using oneself as the template for everything and everyone is the laziest kind of writing there is, and lazy writing is bad writing.

There is a much greater amount of bad writing in genre by men writing women than there is good writing by men writing women. This applies to the past as much as to the present.

Maybe this applies outside genre as well ... how many Becky Sharpes do we encounter in literature, after all.


I agree, but I think it is too early to tell that the Second Apocalypse and PoN trilogy fall under this umbrella. Not all works can be, or need be, judged by the same metric. Authorial intent and freedom, as well as genre, change the 'rules'. Or at least IMHO they should.

Michel said...

NF said...
Michel,

My opinions are not facts, but they are supported by consideration and my own experiences. No one stops you from considering the texts in question, the arguments presented, and come up with your own interpretations. But, please, do realize that experience, supplemented with familiarity with multiple stories, plays a significant role in prioritizing the issues.


Of course, experience and considerations matter and help you recognize patterns, flaws, etc. I agree.
I just feel that in a fantasy setting your (personal) experience and other stories you may have read will only muddy the waters if you keep them in mind when reading the book. Reading a fantasy story could be described as stepping through a door and leaving all that you know or think you know behind and temporary suspend disbelief and withhold judgment.
Of course you can still arrive at the conclusions that you do, I am not suggesting they are in any way 'wrong'. But that door swings both ways. You read and interpret a book in a way that seems natural to you, and an author wrote the book in a way that seemed natural to him/her (in consideration of the purpose, plot, audience, whatever calling the Author hearkens to).

In the end it's all an opinion on a story. And that seems way too little ground for calling someone a misogynist, especially when his personal life and opinion differ from the ideas the book may portray.

Michel said...

As for the author being the ruler of her universe -- yes.

But a ruler is only as effective as his capacity. History is littered with lousy rulers, particularly rulers who pick to go to war without understanding either their own people, their own ability and the ability, objective and capacity of the antagonist he's setting out to show what's what. Lousy rulers make lousy choices. Bad writers make bad choices.


I think you are over-generalizing, and comparing things that are not directly comparable. But that is, again, just my opinion so on this we'll have to agree to disagree.

Readers have the right not to subject themselves to more bad writing.
No, actually they only have the choice, not the right.
A right is something that can be enforced, something that is enshrined in some law. I believe this is merely a matter of making the choice to read the book or not.
Saying it's a right implies that bad writing should be forbidden, and that, I believe, do is censorship. Although I feel petty for saying it.

Michel said...

NF said...
Attack a straw man and think no one would recognize it? Who is arguing that the stuff should be censored?

Yes, you don't understand women. I got it. But don't worry. Read more Martin and Bakker and you can stay in that blissful state forever.


I read Martin, Bakker, Abercrombie, Cook, Erikson, Playboy, Foreign Affairs and a bunch of others authors/magazines, and I understand women a bit more than most of my friends.
I think the cause-consequence is overrated in this instance. Personal experience counts far more towards understanding other human beings than reading a certain genre or sub-genre of books. It may certainly help to read a broad spectrum of books, but personal experience is far more important.
Again, just my opinion.

Foxessa said...

I'm familiar with the dispute, as it's part of the story of the American (U.S.) literary canon.

As for this, this is the silliest thing written here so far:

[ "No, actually they only have the choice, not the right.
A right is something that can be enforced, something that is enshrined in some law. I believe this is merely a matter of making the choice to read the book or not.
Saying it's a right implies that bad writing should be forbidden, and that, I believe, do is censorship. Although I feel petty for saying it." ]

You have the right not to read or buy what you don't want to read (unless you're in school and it's on the syllabus).

Because a fellow has female realtives doesn't mean a thing. "You live among us but you don't know or feel the burden of the struggle we carry every day," admonishes a black woman to a white man in the latest work of fiction from Christopher Tilghman, -- The Right-Hand Shore -- a white male writer who writes women and the descendants of the slaves in his native region, very well, as he does children too.

Actually, maybe the really silliest is to order us to give up what we have learned from other reading when reading yet another novel. The job of the writer is to suspend our disbelief, not ours. If the writer can't do it, we can't do it for him.

Lazy writing comes out of lazy thinking, lazy reading too. To insist those who are objecting to the single manner in which female characters are deployed are looking from the template of their own lives only -- when a whole list of differences in the way women live now and lived in the past, all over the world is invoked -- that is lazy reading, which then allows for a fellow to tell a woman what's what all over again, and that is another humbug which women recognize world over.

Foxessa said...

As for that Rights thang, that supposedly we don't have when exercising our right not to do something: wouldn't that be covered by the 9th Amendment, if not already covered in the 1st?

Then there's the Right to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness" in the United States Declaration of Independence. These three aspects are listed among the "unalienable rights" or sovereign rights of man.

However, women, children, slaves and Native Americans were not included as having these rights, nor were they included as human beings in the Constitution. The Constitution employed deliberately obscurist language made sure that "others," (yes, a quote), were not covered by the rights and regulations of the Constitution either meaning particularly slaves. Slaves were 3/5ths, meaning their monetary value, which allowed the south to have parity if not majority representation in the federal legislative representation, since representation was based on wealth -- which the southern states insisted by the case or they'd take their toys and go home and not sign the document.

Whch is why we had to have so many amendments.

Michel said...

As for this, this is the silliest thing written here so far:

[ "No, actually they only have the choice, not the right.
....
...." ]

You have the right not to read or buy what you don't want to read (unless you're in school and it's on the syllabus).


Hence it's a choice to read or not or to buy or not. Who is forcing you to read or buy any books? Semantic, Schmemantics. And that was by far the silliest interpretation given here where you misunderstand my point on purpose. I may not be as eloquent as you but you could also cut me some slack and not just get hung up on the word "right" because that seems to be what you pin your argument on.
I understand now that we are not far apart on this topic, but that it is a matter of definition. Right vs choice.

Because a fellow has female realtives doesn't mean a thing. "You live among us but you don't know or feel the burden of the struggle we carry every day," admonishes a black woman to a white man in the latest work of fiction from Christopher Tilghman, -- The Right-Hand Shore -- a white male writer who writes women and the descendants of the slaves in his native region, very well, as he does children too.

Excellent point, and I'm sure that the author does that convincingly and very well.
Fantasy is fantasy however and does not need to, nor does it aim to, portray people from a certain native region here on earth (unless stated by the author). It is fantasy. It's illogical to compare Christopher Tilghman with Martin or Bakker.
It's like comparing an erotic thriller and a critique of the communist manifesto and say the latter seemed a bit dry and lacking passion.
Furthermore, you are equating the author with his work. That the scope of his understanding and emotive or emphatic abilities are defined by the text. Negligent and silly.
See, I can exaggerate my assessment too, and it doesn't look any less childish.

Actually, maybe the really silliest is to order us to give up what we have learned from other reading when reading yet another novel. The job of the writer is to suspend our disbelief, not ours. If the writer can't do it, we can't do it for him.

True to a certain point, because I think we can agree that certain genres need more suspension of disbelief from the reader. You can't read Tolkien and be offended that there is a silly magix system with rings and therefore condemn it to be a children's book.
No novel is written to fulfill your expectations, every novel is written with a specific purpose in mind, or to simply tell a story.
Of course, you are right that it's the author's job to convince us that in his setting the events that take place are realistic to that place. If an author fails you there, he fails (in that particular reader's opinion).

Lazy writing comes out of lazy thinking, lazy reading too. To insist those who are objecting to the single manner in which female characters are deployed are looking from the template of their own lives only -- when a whole list of differences in the way women live now and lived in the past, all over the world is invoked -- that is lazy reading, which then allows for a fellow to tell a woman what's what all over again, and that is another humbug which women recognize world over.

I'm not sure I understand correctly, but let me try to generalize:
basically every book must realistically represent the role of women and their struggles in order to avoid the label lazy writing? Or am I misinterpreting?

On another note, why is it so hard for you to accept that some books will use a "template"? Sometimes it suits the author, the world, the setting, whatever reason there is, it's not an obligation to always be 100% original. It's a risk the author takes, but also his choice.
Should I start condemning every book that does not show the full scope of the male character in depth and with visible understanding?

5/03/2012 11:18 AM

NF said...

Seriously?
All Foxessa said was: "Readers have the right not to subject themselves to more bad writing."
Then you started piling up "it's not a right, but a choice, it's not enforceable", which looks like a deliberate misunderstanding of a totally innocent statement no matter how I squint, and now you want some SLACK? You hung up on 'right' and now it's somehow her fault?

Anonymous said...

I'd be interested in what gives away the game, so to speak, when it comes to the writing of women.

When do people feel the women depicted are fake?

A nice synchronicity in that a piece on Morrison came across my path after mentioning Bluest Eye yesterday. Thoughts on Toni Morrison's work much appreciated here:

http://asoiaf.westeros.org/index.php/topic/65948-toni-morrison-a-retrospective/

thanks,

Saj/Sci

Michel said...

Seriously?
All Foxessa said was: "Readers have the right not to subject themselves to more bad writing."
Then you started piling up "it's not a right, but a choice, it's not enforceable", which looks like a deliberate misunderstanding of a totally innocent statement no matter how I squint, and now you want some SLACK? You hung up on 'right' and now it's somehow her fault?


I already said it was a matter of definition, or semantics. I am not assigning blame, I was trying to clear up the confusion.
I understand the word "right" as in something that may be enforced. Hence, if you say "the right not to subject themselves to bad writing" it could be interpreted as "bad writing" being verboten, or something to protect people against. That's the interpretation I made. If that was wrong, a simple explanation would have done. I don't mind being corrected.
Get of your horse already.

Athena Andreadis said...

I have been following Bakker's waddling through other blogs and read whatever of his is available free online (I draw the line at paying for the bilge), and here is my summation as a research biologist, a fiction writer and an engaged human being:

What Bakker has to say is neither novel nor subversive. Furthermore, it is pompous and navel-gazing in the extreme. Worse yet, he attempts to enlist (pseudo)science to belittle the intelligence and motivations of those who disagree with him.

Bakker has zero biological/anthropological knowledge and it shows abundantly: the invalid analogies with other animals; the willful evasion of GxE interactions and brain plasticity; the idiocies about gender-specific brain wiring (rape is neither a reflex nor a module -- it’s too complex to be among the Four Fs); the impoverished take on history.

If Bakker said “I write boyman-pleasing pornokitsch and essentialist faux-medievalism/exoticism, it pays the bills and has given me a fan base — that’s good enough for me,” I’d have nothing against that. However, to try and elevate this hackery into paradigm-shifting high philosophy, and to tell the scads of women who have explained why it’s problematic (from several angles) that they just don’t comprehend his subtlety and sophistication, is either cynicism of the highest order or delusion.

I intend to discuss the “male brain rape module” nonsense in the near future. In the meantime, it may be helpful to read two articles that I wrote: one dissects the grittygrotty epic fantasy subgenre that Bakker is a member of; the other discusses genes versus complex behavior.

A Plague on Both Your Houses

Miranda Wrongs: Reading Too Much into the Genome

Larry said...

Typing this on my iPad from a hotel room in KC, so I'll be brief: If someone can link here to that New Yorker May 7 article on the Martin Tv series, I'd appreciate it, as it's very applicable to the discussions here in my absence.

Anonymous said...

here you go

- Kathleen

Foxessa said...

You want Emily Nussbaum's Aristocrats.

But you also want Anna Holms's Skin is Wearing Thin.

Foxessa said...

"I'd be interested in what gives away the game, so to speak, when it comes to the writing of women."

So many things! Described only from the pov of the male gaze. Never talking or interacting with other women, or if they do only in the context of a man. Handling something but failing or succeeding only so far and having big strong man showing up to finish the job successfully -- from fixing a motor to delivering a baby to saddling a horse to reading a map to killing a hog -- well that goes on and on and on. Even when he beats and rapes her she gets wet. Dead before the action even starts as motivation for the male protagonist and his backstory. Being violated and humiliated and rescued by a man, but killing herself anyway. Having managed her whole life to manage without tears, is in a powerful position, but when Ye Great Male Protagonist shows up she cries. Being a really accurate shot, but he outshoots her. The sons and daughters in the novel never think about or talk about their mother -- who is also likely dead -- but the Father, o yes! And if there is a mother, she's an evil, loathesome, distorted bitch. My favorite is a white male protagonist is captured by his enemies, and immediately the daughter of the Big Pooba falls in love with him, slaughters her community or dies herself, in order that this most gorgeous only gorgeous man she's ever seen, can escape.

Man, you name it.

Pick up the genre novel closest to you written by a man, particularly pick up a Lee Child nove, no pick up Lee Child's latest novel, The Affair, and see what you see.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Foxessa!

Have you read Ellison's Invisible Man? Curious if people think that aspects of that work use depiction as subversion rather than endorsement.

One can look at the incest part, but also the rest of it.

-Saj/Sci

Foxessa said...

What many participants seem to miss in these sorts of discussion, that nobody's saying that writing about the effects of racist and sexist cultural behaviors on individuals, communities and cultures is wrong.

What we're saying is that thinking having a woman standing around nekkid or nearly nekkid and fighting a bull-necked fellow in armor, and calling it supportive of feminism is not only stupid, but sexist. That having a woman think about how beautiful her breasts are while raped is -- beyond stupid -- and only a man who has no clue would write something like that.

What we're saying is that plopping an African in the middle of a group of white people, whether fantasy or 'mundane' fiction, without knowing any Africans ever yourself, or anything about Africa youself -- and that doesn't include going on safari! -- and having that African's function provide some magical save for the white primary protagonist -- and maybe even dying in order to serve him -- that is stupid and racist, because you didn't think it through at all, but were just recycling Kipling's Kim.

Ya hear? :)

Any writing advice from a pro, whether for fiction or non-fiction is: whatever you think of first is probably wrong. Millions before you already thought it and wrote it, and they have been -- just wrong. Like that trope that the native chief's daughter is going to fall in love with the white protagonist and save him. Even when John Smith wrote that about Pocohantas, he didn't have a clue as to what was REALLY GOING ON, which was a rebirth-for-adoption-into-the-tribe ceremony. She wasn't saving him from imminent death at the hands of her father. She was the high priestess of her people, and as such she was the enactor of the rituals.

Love, C.

Foxessa said...

I have no idea of what you are pondering as subversion. Can you give examples?

If you mean something like the marxism as a potential political solution to the racism that distorts a black man's life in the early 20th century of lynchings -- I'd certainly say that wasn't subversion. That was a constant discussion in the circles of black intellectuals of the time, and acted upon in so many ways, as you see in the various memoirs of Langston Hughes and other splendid black writers of the era.

Also, which so many have forgotten since it's been written out of our national history for so many reasons -- which is why some say Ellison was 'merely' subverting, not serious in this issue -- is how closely black civil rights and the labor struggles were entwined, particularly in the midwest, where those heirs of German revolutionary radical leftist thinking of the failed European 1840's revolutions settled so thickly. Unlike various other laborers such as the Irish, the Germans never adjured their support of their black brothers -- for abolition and emancipation before the Civil War -- and for wage parity after. Then came two world wars with Germany the instigator -- and Marx was a German -- and and and -- most of all lynchings, the resurrection of the KKK, Wilson's apartheid for federal employment.

Ah well.

Michel said...

My question(s) was serious, does it not merit an answer?

Foxessa said...

Saj/Sci -- O, wait! In between reveling in the currents of pollen and pheromones that currently are the streets of Our City, this night before Cinco de Mayo and Super Moon, and making dinner, distraction. The mind, she isn't always on the abstract. And it's been some time since my last read of Ellington's novel. (I have not read his posthumous work -- no time these days when almost all my reading is primary documents and historians, i.e. RESEARCH for the latest project.)

You mean the Norton - True Blood (doesn't this just kinda well also help with some of the squick of the HBO series? :) - Norton - Invisible Fellow section? I don't know that the term subversive serves as well as extended metaphor might, that points us to the national original sin? I'm open here. What do YOU think?

Foxessa said...

So, waiting for the eaters of dinners to arrive (except cats who eat all dinners all the time but are starved and deprived) -- I look into the book.

This is very problematical stuff, as it always has been. No one could ever claim laziness for Ellington as a writer.

But again, as I felt in my earlier days, like many the other women with whom the book was read -- this was again a use of women, black and white, the most vulnerable, the daughter, to make a point for somebody in the war among patriarchies.

Here is a flashpoint, where women will / do also disagree with each other,, and more often than not too, this can break along diversity lines.

Some would and did say Ellington's pov and the male characters get cut slack for their history in this nation. Others said, as they did with LeRoi Jones / Amiri Baraka, this is where I quit, folks.

In the days since those days, with rape deliberately used by real rapists in real wars as a strategy to destroy cultures -- and the rise in portraying rape graphically, and wishing violent rape upon people you don't like in this culture, more people are coming out against that sort of favoritism in art and entertainment.

If no one believes that vivid portrayals of behaviors on screen, in print have no effect on a culture, why do SuperPacs get such obscene amounts of money to influence elections?

Anonymous said...

Thanks Foxessa, lots to think about!

-Saj/Sci

Scott Bakker said...

Finally! A genuine debate. I don't mean this to be taken sarcastically, but having plowed through as much character critique as I have, actually seeing the ideas I'm being criticized for dragged on the table for dissection is a very welcome change.

Larry: the problem with 'tone' is that it's transmission only. Imagine what this would be like if I had responded in kind.

Athena: I am a navel gazer! I'm pompous insofar as I think my concerns are genuinely important. But please don't think I take what I say within the domain of those concerns as anything more than guesswork. It is a fact that the black box of the brain is being broken open, and we should expect that all humanistic discourse will be revolutionized (if only because this has happened to every other black box science has cracked open).

So: mentioning dolphins and what not was simply meant to illustrate that biological origins for sexual violence is an open question, nothing more. Are you saying it's not even that?

Then why is it cross cultural? Why is the markets for prostitution and pornography so overwhelming male?

Foxessa said...

Saj -- I'd be particularly interested in your reading of this section of The Invisible Man -- because, if, it can be read as extended metaphor, would it also be partly because it is pointing back to, in dialog with, great black intellectuals and writers who were the generation before Ellison? To Frederick Douglass in particular, who as a son of the 19th century literary style, employs so many extended metaphors himself? And also with the first recognized authors of this nation, like James Fennimore Cooper, who, in the finale to Natty Bumpo's life in The Prairie, invokes a patriarch in the Wilderness, who invokes Biblical incest, denying his sons access to the women?

These are so much the basic matters of our national literary imagination.

But, of course, the way these scenes are written in these books, there's no question in the reader's mind that these behaviors are to be imitated or enjoyed or even be approved of.

And yes, I kept writing 'Ellington' instead of Ellison. I'm currently working with Duke Ellington's autobiography, Music is My Mistress and listening to a lot Ellington, so he's in the forefront of my mind currently. Many apologies.

And Athena A. -- I left you a message at your place asking about Dr. Sarah Blaffer-Hrdy (stet).

Now I'll stop making comments because I'm taking up way more than my fair share of this blog host's space!

Love, C.

Larry said...

OK, finally have caught up on reading all of the comments after my impromptu trip this past weekend. Loved the responses in general. A few observations:

1) I think part of what underlies the discussions/arguments regarding rape culture, misogyny, and related issues are power structures, specifically unequal ones in which there are attempts to create a cultural hegemony in which non-privileged groups (in this particular discussion, women of various cultures and ethnicities) experience not just the occasional direct degradation of their persons, but also are subjected to having the violent acts of their oppressors being defined as proper and just! One example, already raised in the comments, would be that of wartime rape being excused as parts of "the spoils of war," with the behavior not only condoned but practically promoted as being a quasi "right!"

2) In examining these cases of interpretations of fictional narratives/events in light of contrasting/competing group/individual world-views, I cannot help but to think of the "microhistories" that I studied in school and how these narratives utilized a combination of oral and written narratives to recreate non-privileged interpretations of the world around them. Judith Walkowitz's excellent City of Dreadful Delight takes a rather uncomfortable cultural/historical issue, that of prostitution in late Victorian England, and fashions a relatively novel way of interpreting both masculine and feminine definitions of sexuality and the power structures involved within the institution of prostitution.

3) From what I've surmised from reading the comments, there really isn't much support for the notion that biological functions/demands are the primary/direct cause of the issues being discussed. I agree with those who stated that rape is a complex act of violence that does not derive from a singular impulse, biological or social. From what I recall from a long-ago Ab Psych class, these "impulses" are actually a series of competing hierarchies of thought/desire in which the actions are as much a manifestation of social conditioning as they are, to be quite crude, the urge to "bust a nut" whether or not the victim (male and female alike) desires such an action. If rape and other acts of violence are interpreted as being a symbolic yet physical nexus of complex socio-cultural and biological processes, with a stronger emphasis on the former, then it should stand to reason that scenes of graphic events of rape that are sundered from immediate preludes/consequences is going to be problematic. After all, traumas are highly individualistic in their aftermaths, if not in their immediate causes. Failure to explore this reduces the violence of rape/torture/etc. to a glorified cartoon status that is at best devoid of real human impact and at worst trivializes actual events of this nature.

4) I think we have to be careful in discussing pornography and prostitution in that both do not necessarily carry the same weight nor are they as prevalent from culture to culture. Why are some societies known for quasi-"sacred" prostitution, while in others "pornography" has taken on an industrial bent? Are the two signs of a larger unequal distribution of socio-cultural-economic-gender power? I suspect that this is the case, but there certainly is room for debate on this.

Hopefully there will be some comments weighing in on these points and on what others have said over the past week, as this certainly has been an enlightening conversation for me and I hope for others.

Scott Bakker said...

If by 'support' you mean I'm the only person raising the ugly and politically verboten issue of biology here, then I would agree!

In terms of argument and evidence all I've seen are ASSERTIONS of the contrary.

You can't talk about sex or violence without talking about BIOLOGY. And talking about biology in no way forecloses discussion regarding CULTURE. The two may be in epistemological tension, but does anyone doubt that culture is raised on a universal template of human desire? One of the things that has consistently puzzled about this debate is the fact that I'm simply arguing that the issue is open, and needs to be discussed!

If you think about 60's era feminists like Livingston or Dworkin, say, those inclined to problematize male desire period, you could say that I'm not even arguing anything all that radical.

People can trash or 'critically compare' my books all they want. By my-my they seem to have made an impression!

Anonymous said...

@Foxessa - Sadly, it's been awhile since I've read Invisible Man, and I'm not well read enough to put him into the genuine historical context you speak of.

I do recall that in both Bluest Eye and Invisible Man, it felt to weird - close yet alien - to be erotic. I think the connection between the scene in Invisible Man and the "face of chaos" was done in a way that divorced it from the overtly sexual. It's flawed, if I'm remembering it right, but it's hard to call it exploitative.

As for Bluest Eye, we're so connected to Pecola that I can't imagine seeing the victimization from any view but hers.

@Larry:

I think the connection to degradation is a big part of pornography, and as more and more porn is free, you find producers pushing more degrading acts onto performers.

So why the sex-degradation connection? It it cross-cultural in the way prostitution is?

Because I think its the pornographic slant toward degradation possessed by the sex scenes in Scott's works that has people morally objecting to him and the books while also questioning the works' aesthetic value.

What's confusing, at least to me, is how little of the sex seems to be positive - Is it a warning to males, to beware the sadist within?

Scott, you've referred to your desire to drip acid into the male gaze. Why? How?

-Saj/Sci

Nic said...

Some interesting discussion. FTR, I've read two of Bakker's books (The Darkness That Comes Before back in 2004, and White Luck Warrior, for review, last year). I thought they were fine - atmospheric, certainly, with a nicely drawn big canvas and an interesting metaphysical backdrop - but the portentousness, pacing, and the portrayals of female characters wore me down, which is why I've never felt any pressing need to read the volumes between DTCB and WLW.

I have no patience with the idea that I have to wait until the whole thing is complete to see its true genius, especially since the two books I have read were already soaked in authorial micromanagement: Bakker is constantly butting in to explain the Significance of things to his readers. Having witnessed his internet debating technique over the past few months, that's no longer a surprise; here he is again trying to cajole everyone into talking about *his* books only in *his* terms, as appears to be his wont. But it does mean that the very idea of discussing these novels (or reading any more of them) makes me feel tired.

Also, apparently the books are for men, after all, and not women; in some ways this is a relief, since "Sexism is a real thing, and often social and cultural structures support it!" is only really an insightful revelation if you're not, you know, a woman. The world is full of stories that do more interesting things with gender; I'll be off reading those.

@Dave Cesarano:

his world treats women in a manner historically accurate to the ancient/medieval period in most cultures

1) No, the particular melding of Abrahamic religion and Roman social mores that forms a large part of the European past - and which was evoked so sensitively and interestingly by Peter Brown in The Body and Society - is not the whole story of how women were treated and how they could act in all societies all over the world between c. 500 BCE and 1500 CE.

2) Even within this period, most women's lives were not, in fact, an endless parade of rape, victimisation, and dependence on men. Wife, whore or nun were not the only career paths available to women. Yossef Rapoport's Marriage, Money and Divorce in Medieval Islamic Society, for example, draws upon biographical dictionaries and legal rulings to examine how women exercised considerable agency over their economic and social standing in 14th and 15th-century Mamluk Cairo.

3) There's a large and growing body of scholarship arguing that the reason why social structures, particularly when it comes to relations between women and men, have tended to look very similar across time and space is a) the nature of the surviving evidence, and b) the way we interpret said evidence. This is related to Larry comment's regarding the difficulty of hearing marginalised voices from the past (and present), but goes further: when all you have to understand an entire community that existed for generations is two potsherds and some flower seeds, there's going to be quite of lot of imagination and best guessing that goes into your reconstruction of the lives. There are some interesting articles on this in (IIRC) Moore and Scott's Invisible People and Processes: the tendency, for example, for archaeologists to label bodies buried in graves containing traces of jewellery and/or flowers as female - even when the physical evidence of the body itself (pelvic size etc.) strongly suggests otherwise.

4) What does 'historical accuracy' have to do with secondary-world fantasy anyway?

Or: what Larry said in point 3 of his most recent comment.

Larry said...

Porn constitutes too many varieties of sexual ideation/expression for it to be narrowed down easily into particular boxes. There used to be, if I recall, a quasi-religious or even outright spiritual component to actions we now consider to be pornographic. In addition, there isn't a unified stance against it, except perhaps fundamentalist Christian groups (and there was a recent survey that showed that top porn buyers are from areas where fundamentalism is higher than average). Note that picture post I made the other day as an observation on that issue.

There also isn't a strictly "degrading" element to it, considering the porn marketed as "softcore" or "women-oriented." What I would posit as a more fertile area of research into this is that porn is a commodification of certain cultural aspects of sexuality (porn does differ from culture to culture and between historical societies; it is not a recent development) in which sexual ideations are presented in audio-visual (and to a degree, tactile) formats to appease certain expectations from a variety of groups.

When I have time later today, perhaps, I'll elaborate on this and reply at length to Scott's comment. But exercise first and then a few errands in the early afternoon.

Anonymous said...

"Porn constitutes too many varieties of sexual ideation/expression for it to be narrowed down easily into particular boxes. There used to be, if I recall, a quasi-religious or even outright spiritual component to actions we now consider to be pornographic."

Fair enough, I was thinking more of the industry as it stands than a blanket condemnation of all erotica.

-Sci/Saj

Larry said...

Scott,

I keep getting this suspicion that you reducing the range here by referring to "biology" instead of to a series of biochemical processes that influence but do not necessarily dictate individual behaviors. I am no Determinist; Skinner's theories are plausible to some degree but I recall there being questions in regards to methodology and in application when it comes to human beings.

I'm not convinced that there is such a thing as a "universal template of human desire." In part, "desire" itself could possibly be itself a range of reactions that are manifested across a spectrum of communicated responses. I distrust pat explanations for human behavior, "normal" and "abnormal" alike, in part because of a documented history of misinterpretations, willful and unintentional alike, of behaviors exhibited by different socio-economic/cultural groups.

Yes, the issue of how much biological functions/biochemical states influence human behavior is debatable; very few deny that it is no factor at all. What I do think is a problem with your characters' motivations is that they feel too deterministic in nature, that there are not enough variations in reaction and conversion of impulses/stimuli into communicable "language."

Interesting that you mention Dworkin, as I seem to recall she and Camille Paglia had/have very divergent views on these issues. But this is not a topic in which I'm well-versed, unfortunately, so I can't elaborate on it.

As for the books' impression on readers, it depends. It seems many are reacting to your rhetoric on your blog/comments on others' blogs than to the books themselves. Perhaps a case of the messenger diminishing interest in the message itself due to the prominence of the messenger? As I've said before, I find there to be much to question about the books and I will continue to critique what I find enjoyable and what I find dubious in future volumes. I just am trying to drown out some of that "white noise" I'm hearing coming from that reanimated authorial corpse...

Foxessa said...

Most feminists hold with neither Dworkin nor Paglia.

Larry said...

I vaguely knew some opposed the two, but my memory has faded over the past 15 years since I was in grad school and encountered some interesting feminist responses to Thompson's The Making of the English Working Class. Frustrating that I cannot remember any specific names.

Foxessa said...

Thompson's work has been challenged from many directions, including Marxist, colonialism and post-modern, as well as from a feminist perspective. It still stands.

But in terms of male thinkers that some feminists think did better, see, for instance, Men and the Making of British Feminism by Arianne Chernock and William Blake and the Daughters of Albion Helen Bruder.

There's been enormous numbers of feminists doing enormous amounts of really good work over these decades. But unlike Dworkin, Greer or Paglia, they are actual scholars so you don't know their names.

These three, whose names are usually the only names most people who aren't concerned with in-the-trenches work of women -- these three are media stars. Thus they are of little if any value in any discussion of 'feminist' matters.

They do qualify as figures in certain aspects of media studies, such as the media's consistent, voracious drive to distort into celebrity, what isn't worthy of celebration.

:)

 
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