Imaginative Act

I think it was the sf writer Theodore Sturgeon who said, “90 percent of fantasy writing is crap and 90 percent of everything is crap.”

But then I don’t like polished books. Whenever I read a polished book I can’t help thinking I’m being duped or else ridiculed. It’s the same thing I feel when I’m reading a crime novel or a thriller; it’s not about reading it’s more about solving. That kind of work is like a nudist and I prefer the slow zipper on the dress that occasionally gets caught. It’s a lot more fun.

“Fantasy rises above and dips way below reality and redeems the sorrowful life.”

I like the inconsistencies, the rough edges, the sloppiness that always keeps you going back for more in a book — the more being what you think you’ve missed or what you were made to deliberately miss.

The cool thing to me about fantastical work is that it is desperate to make the world more interesting than it really is. I mean what are writers? Aren’t we all just still storytellers who are good at driving away the terrors of darkness? That’s our inheritance.

I don’t know who wrote this but I like this idea a lot: “In fairy tales, the energy that drives life is not material and can’t be quantified, it’s like the Golden Goose laying her eggs.”

“I have wondered if there isn’t some real connection between a certain kind of scientific-mindedness (the explorative, synthesizing kind) and fantasy-mindedness. Those who dislike fantasy are very often equally bored or repelled by science. They don’t like either hobbits, or quasars; they don’t feel at home with them; they don’t want complexities, remoteness. If there is any such connection, I’ll bet that it is basically an aesthetic one.” Ursula Le Guin

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A Spirit of Malcontent

I just heard Jonathan Franzen refer to America as a “Rogue State.” That’s an apt description, I think. And in this particular interview he gave on the Guardian Books’ Website with Sarfraz Manzoor, I found myself liking a lot more of what Franzen said as a writer to what he’s written as a writer. I wonder what that says about me?

I wonder if the pervasive discord in American life is a never-ending story? Is it possible to have some kind of harmony here in a country that started life as a bunch of misfits, rebels, malcontents, outsiders, and their ilk? There seems way too much whimsy in the idea that this spirit of malcontent is how the bread is buttered. And this bread in question can’t see itself without the butter. It’s the importance of being buttered that matters the most. So how do you convince a nation that the bread’s stale? Might as well try putting butter back into a cow.

“The comic imagination, then, not only overthrows the morality we are given from on high, it upsets our more intimately held sympathies, our sense of what is fair and right and decent. Which is why it will always irk a novelist to be told that his characters are not nice or easy to identify with, when as like as not they are not meant to be. The novelist is under no obligation to clear up the mess life makes.” Howard Jacobson

The Luxury of Doubt

I’ve been thinking about the word “freedom” recently as I prepare for a new baby daughter in the house. And I know it’s almost trite to even mention the word, but I’m possessed with a good amount of healthy doubt so it can’t be so bad.

And I almost feel like a huckster guru as I begin with writing that there’s a lot of childish notions when it comes to freedom. How did it get mixed up with patriotism and how has it become a commodity that is only allowed to be bought and sold to certain individuals who wouldn’t know the land of liberty if it kicked them in their freedom parts?

Maybe I’ve just had too much British history, coming from a place that’s had its fair share of the Celt, the Anglo, the Saxon, the Norman that it sort of makes moot the point of freedom. I mean where does it begin and where does it end? And isn’t a thing, be it an idea in this case, only as useful as the thing it is not? Shouldn’t freedom be thrown in high relief against the backdrop of suppression to really understand its worth, its point?

I have to admit that becoming a father was the first lesson for me in understanding how wonderful a lack of freedom is. In the surfeit of the self, it’s so exhilarating to have a baby that needs you in every sense of the word. And it was from that need, that need of someone else, that a surge of new freedom came to life. It’s limitations that breed freedom. And it’s rampant freedoms that build restrictions.

Plus it seems to me that freedom is not the same as dependence, and that is what I’m seeing around me: dependence on a limited point of view, hatred, intolerance, party alignments, a smarmy importance from a mass of ignorance.

The closest I come to a real sense of freedom — by which I mean a combination of happiness, nobody else meddling, and an uninterrupted obsession — is when I’m writing. Writing (or any of the arts) is the living expression of freedom because it’s a way to create an artificial world in the real one. It’s like in vitro, but it’s coming from the living organism.  Here’s an example of what I mean. In my fiction I sometimes like to write about violent men, which stops me from being a violent one in real life. Now that’s a freedom you can’t pay for, or earn, or be thankful for. That freedom is a creative gift.

So to all those people who want to possess freedom with their righteous and evangelical convictions, I say, You can have it. That’s not the kind of freedom I’m after.

“One of the great con tricks that life can pull on the conventional and the obedient is that rewards so often seem to go to those who choose other paths than those which are laid down.”

I just came across this joke that James Ellroy told on the Guardian Books’ “This Much I Know.” It made me laugh out loud:

A lion is fucking a zebra. The zebra looks over her shoulder and says: “Oh shit, baby — I see my husband. Quick, pretend that you’re killing me.”

Golden Years

Things are gunning up for this year’s House, Senate, and governor’s races. And here in Maine it’s certainly not burning with boredom.  But I’m not a political banana to hang with the bunch. Politics has never interested me enough. And it’s not out of apathy, either, it’s more like the way atheists question religion more because they can’t deny their spiritual sides so easily and so shrug off religion. I’m just not convinced of its usefulness in my day-to-day life since I see it as some functioning construct that straddles the material and the otherwordly; some kind of faery realm or promised land, neither of which interests me enough compared to the life around me of family, friends, books, music, and the creative mind.

In fact, I still like being a foreigner in the US, it’s refreshing not to have to feel a part of everything, to feel connected and plugged into every damn thing that passes for life, to not feel responsible for a faulty government, the roads, the health system, unemployment, the economic surges as it goes down the birthing path to new prosperity or the same rut of consumerism and debt, and the shambolic political system that breathes democracy but functions as a two-party system where you’re voting not so much for the person and his or her politics but for the person most likely to succeed or giving your vote to the opponent of the person who you can’t stand. That’s an odd way for democracy to work: a choice based on reducing the collateral damage.

“My obsession has been that we should have a revolution that does not resemble the French or Russian, but rather the American, in the sense that it be for something, not against something. A revolution for a constitution, not a paradise. An anti-utopian revolution. Because utopias lead to the guillotine and the gulag.” Adam Michnik

 

 

The Smallness of Spirit

I’ve always been underwhelmed by the unimaginative 9-to-5 work day. If we as a society can create great works of art (the Pre-Raphaelites, the surrealists, the decadents), put a man on the moon, design and implement the Web, actually discover mathematical solutions to Einstein’s equations that could give us a form of time travel in a universe that was governed by general relativity, then Jesus, Mary, and the girl next door, we should be able to do something about the drag of the 9-to-5.

To rework the words of the revolutionary philosopher Antonio Gramsci: “The fact that there is no need for people to work from 9-to-5 and that people are working from 9-to-5 is a fact of some importance one would think.”

“Right, you’re sacked.” Lapsing into Anglo-Saxon language, I reply: “You can fuck off, you’re sacked.” And he said: “I own this club.” I said: “Do you? You can still f-off. I ain’t going anywhere. Only the police can move me, they can have me for trespassing.” Six weeks later he sacked me again. So I told him to f-off again.

“Therapy is the worst thing a crazy person can do. Creative madness pays.”

 

Drinking Hemlock, Baby!

I like my own private piety, the one that finds me alone and writing. I’m not interested in a public god who wants us to do what others do, to hide behind the hatred of the herd, and to roar with the crowd. That’s not a spiritual life to me; that’s an “unexamined life not worth living,” as Socrates wrote.

I wouldn’t peg myself as an intellectual, but I can put on the workclothes of the deep comprehension of the world and this comes from sitting up late at night writing my own fiction.

“What was the point of cataloguing the world without loving it? What is the reason for living life, other than to love it?” Socrates

Corpuscular In Suspension

I’m influenced by the kind of fiction that likes to play with multiple realities. Some people might call it escapism, and it is if you consider weird fiction, sci-fi, speculative, fantasy, magical realism as a way to escape the weight of the factual world, the unbearable heaviness of the Newtonian world that threatens to clog our every pore. (Plus these books help me escape myself — which is the biggest fiction around.)

What I’m after in fiction is a way to figure out what’s reality, what the hell is this stuff that we exist in. And I think genre fiction works get to the heart of this matter a lot better than literary fiction.

What really bothers me about realist fiction is that it’s the go-to place for social and political reality, which is literary bollocks, since sci-fi, weird fiction, speculative, and fantasy, the genres, all do this just as well. And the other thing about realist writers is that they just sneer their literary chops at imagination, experiment, playfulness, or some kind of personal search for meaning in fiction. In other words: genre work.

There are so many writers who can mix fantastic and factual and still be literary, writers like Italo Calvino, Angela Carter, Michael Chabon, Paul Auster, David Mitchell, Graham Joyce, David Benioff, Peter Carey, Tom Robbins, Cormac McCarthy, etc, etc, etc.

And fiction should be able to encompass everything, anyway, the unbearable lightness of being as well as the heavy Newtonian material world, but encompass it with a balance that satisfies as well as being solid.

And what is real realism anyway? The world is made of nothing at all, it’s all quantum physics, of empty space and points of light, the perfect building blocks for fantastical tales. What is the concrete world? Isn’t it only a part of our minds, a bit of the space-time reality, so why should it dictate our every fictional atom?