Madeleine Robins January 30th, 2009
Elsewhere on the Internet there has been a huge dust-up which started with one reader commenting on the racism she experienced in a book, and, alas, turned into a mire of fingerpointing, raised phosphor-voices, and much hurt feelings on both sides. Which is a shame, because the underlying discussion could have been a really useful and helpful one to the reading and writing community.
Some good things have come out of this, though: some very thoughtful, intelligent posts, many of them by bloggers whose words I would not otherwise have discovered. One of these was Mary Dell’s New Criticism vs. Post-Modernism, with a Side of Privilege. It got me thinking about the great reader/writer relationship. Go read it: I’ll wait.
Back? Good. Okay, here’s the thing.
When I read, partly because I was trained this way, I can be very interested in the author’s world view, place in history, all the things that informed the writing of the book. I can be interested, or at least aware of, critical response (by critics, or just by friends who’ve discussed the same work).
When I write, I am somewhat aware of my own influences (largely because, when I’m working in an historical or fantasy milieu I’m trying to defeat some of those influences in pursuit of a sense of other. And I try to be aware of my readers’ influences as well: I don’t use the historically accurate word “dude” in the Regency because, well, dude. No one would believe it.
But when I’m reading (because I wasn’t raised as a post-modernist, I suppose) I am often completely unaware of my own influences, my privilege, my prejudices. If I react negatively to a written work I tend to think it’s the work’s fault: usually because it was predictable or boring or ill written or didactic. But now I’m wondering if I don’t put those labels on a book that might have offended me for some other reason: it was predictable because it was sexist. It was ill-written because it was anti-semitic. When some of these values are subtle, I might not see them at all.
So my new New Year’s Resolution (because it’s still January, I figure I can make New Year’s Resolutions) is to try to be a little more aware of what I hadn’t been seeing, and a little more aware of what I’m bringing to the table. It’s only fair.