Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Angles of Vision

A quick post as I work and take little breaks to flesh out the new SFSignal column:

My new post is up at Apex. I did tack back towards a response to the whole morality argument (which is not really about morality, methinks). I tried to write something critical, but thoughtful, and I think it works.

As several friends have noted, ::headdesk:: inducing opinions bout fantastic literature continue to proliferate. Steve Davidson over at Grasping for the Wind discusses "Why I Don't Like Fantasy," and concludes:
"Where I see Science Fiction as pointing the way forwards to possible (better) futures, I see Fantasy as the true escapist literature. Escapist in the sense of not being willing to engage in the here and now. Hiding in more pleasant make-believe worlds rather than looking for solutions."
While I appreciate that he (unlike Grin and "Theo") makes it clear that this is a personal opinion, and not some attempt to impose his own perspective on others, this summation really bugged the shit out of me. Not because there is no truth to it, but because it once again paints an enormous range of creative endeavors with one sullying hue. As several commenters pointed out, SF is also fantastic literature, and all fictions are just that, fictions. Some aspire to more realism, or naturalism, or try to follow certain rules more closely, but at the end of the day they are all fantasies, and quite honestly, all of them provide some form of distraction from the world around us. They may teach us things, and may try to ground the story in "the real world," but all of them are figments of our imagination.

What really grinds my gears is this sudden wave of people jumping on fantastic literature for being either socially deviant or decadent, or being too "unreal." There seems to be a need to either impose rules upon fantasy or argue that it's, essentially, too imaginative. Both perspectives imply that there is some flaw or deficiency in "fantasy" as a category that opens it up to corruption or excessive fancifulness. Because exercising creativity is dangerous, leading to moral decline and diverting mystification.

In both indictments, there is a poverty of evidence and an extravagance of oversimplification. These broad indictments rely on generalized hyperbole and stereotypification of the genre category. And they seem to stem, moreso from the morality argument, from an anxiety or concern about the potential boundlessness of vision in fantasy fiction. as if getting too far away from "reality" unmoors the reader from it. There is a disquiet about the power of imagination, as if the reading of a book will result in contamination or some sort of perverse enchantment that takes the reader away from the real and the moral.

Again, I think the arguments of folks like Grin and "Theo" are much worse, but both arguments also rile me because they think that this enticing malignancy is not just within fantasy, but an effect of society that fantasy helps us fall prey to with its alluring excesses. Is fantasy literature really that powerful, that it can send souls spinning away from the physical and social actualities that the reader is part of as a human being? Is it really simultaneously a blasphemous attraction and an inseparable reflection of society?

The truth is, there is not an "it." The breadth and variety (and definitional instability) of fantastic literature makes such a reduction dubious. What writers intend, what they produce, and how it is received cannot be handily condensed like that, unless you consciously ignore the vastness (in several senses of the word) of the field. Reduction is only possible with the most egregious abstraction of the idea of fantasy from the teeming literatures associated with it. That condensation not only unhelpful, it is unwise.


Jvstin Tomorrow said...

I think we both negatively reacted to that post. I tried to keep it positive in my own post, but I admire your verve in tackling the problem head-on.

The Erudite Ogre said...

Thanks, I appreciate that. I had to get what was bugging me out of my head, really. It's hard to sit by and watch people denigrate something using a conception of it that makes it easy to do so.