Creating The World Within Which You’d Like To Live

February 25th, 2007

The following pull comes from today’s NY Times’s Art section, in an article about the photographic artist, Justine Kurland.  You can find the article here, with a slide show of some of her work.

[ “There’s something political about creating a world that you want to exist,” she said. And in a sense these new works also relate to the aesthetic of late 19th-century landscape photography, which “was really about this idea of projecting an idealism onto a landscape,” she said. “It was a way of settling the West.” ]

Her vision of past, present and idyll, is an interesting companion to the ideas raised (yet again! you’d think BY NOW, primatologists, at least, would get it, that the female of our species never was a passive beggar at best to great big alpha males hunting to get the food to feed herself and children) in the article about chimp mothers creating hunting weapons and tools.

However, most of all, I was struck by Kurland’s statement, “There’s something political about creating a world that you want to exist.”  Not always, but often, this would fit those of us who make worlds that don’t exist, as a matter of course.  It states succinctly, as well, why we make worlds like Sherri Tepper does, for instance, that are our deepest terrors.  Without political advocacy and activism, we cannot avoid the worlds that are our terrors, or bring into existence worlds that are better than a world of terror.

Kurland is a photographer, not a fiction writer.  This is something else I liked about her statement.  It shows us all that fiction is not the only path to envisioning worlds within which we could live comfortably, with our children, other creatures and each other.

Love, C.

34 Responses to “Creating The World Within Which You’d Like To Live”

  1. Lois Tiltonon 25 Feb 2007 at 10:44 pm

    World creation is either political or intimately personal.

  2. Constance Ashon 25 Feb 2007 at 10:54 pm

    Lois — Why do you see it as one or the other? Wouldn’t it, couldn’t it, shouldn’t the political also be personal?

    Love, C.

  3. kateelliotton 26 Feb 2007 at 1:06 pm

    is there a sense in which it is always political – to use the theoretical sense, I guess – whether the writer is bringing examined assumptions or unexamined assumptions to the table?

  4. Lois Tiltonon 26 Feb 2007 at 5:37 pm

    My original thought was that it always was political, except that I know many examples where this is not the case, where some fantasy worlds are entirely personal – almost solipsistic.

  5. kateelliotton 26 Feb 2007 at 5:50 pm

    Lois, I need some examples in order to understand what you’re saying. Aren’t there always assumptions embedded in worlds?

  6. Constance Ashon 26 Feb 2007 at 10:25 pm

    Examples would be very welcome, whether of the political, the solipsistic, the examined, and the unexamined presumption of the worlds that we make up.

    Supposedly make up, anyway.

    So many fantasy and sf worlds reflect 20th century U.S. suburbia and its presumptions, examined or not, for instance.

    For ex — BS-Galactica — so much of that looks like the latest fad of what so-called ’empowered’ young women are supposedly to behave like, according to this so-called empowerment. It doesn’t look like a non-gendered biased world at all, which supposedly, um, it’s kinda supposed to be?

    It really looks as confused and erratic and unconvincing for women as the world we are currently living in.

    I’m not saying that is bad necessarily. It’s bad only if it claims to be other than that.

    Love, C.

  7. Kevin Andrew Murphyon 26 Feb 2007 at 11:31 pm

    The personal being the political is rather based on how private someone wants/needs to be. As I’ve said before, if not here, I’m willing to suffer for my beliefs, but not for my hobbies, and certainly not for your hobbies.

    To put these in concrete terms, I enjoy occasional swearing, both as a means of personal expression and as an aid to characterization, as it’s rather ridiculous to write a street punk who uses the same diction as Mrs. Cleaver. That said, I fully realize that there are parts of the country or even the world where I can be anything from arrested to executed for saying that INSERT NAME OF DIVINITY has sexual relations with INSERT ANIMAL FROM CHINESE ZODIAC. The use of language is rather dear to my heart, but there are certain hills I’m simply unwilling to die on, that being one of them.

    More than that, I remember when my high school English teacher told me that the purpose of the novel was to “Comment on society,” which if nothing else, cemented my dislike of Steinbeck. Not because I had any particular problem with commentary on society, but when faced with a choice between entertainment, believability or bludgeoning the reader with the Message Brick, Steinbeck always chose the Message Brick, and let entertainment and believability both be damned.

    My personal view of the matter is that the job of the author is to tell a story both that he wants to tell and that the audience wants to hear or at very least is open to hearing. This can, of course, lead to revision based on taste and fashion and various taboos.

    Example? I wrote a sestina which the editor of First Things loved everything about except for the title, which was “Winter Fables.” He explained that many Catholics would find it deeply offensive to have the Nativity listed as a “fable” on the same level as “The Little Matchgirl” or “A Christmas Carol.” So I swapped the title to the more Catholic-friendly (and for other reasons superior) “Advent Windows” and sold it, because honestly I have better things to do with my time than annoy Catholics, even if I find many bits of dogma rather silly. Another poem, I was unwilling to change an anti-war line–a bit of commentary on society that I felt and still feel was integral to the poem–so I didn’t sell it to that editor, but had it picked up by three others. For less money and readership as of this writing, but there are some hills I’m willing to take a hit on, the current war being one of them. Also, artistically, I felt that line was integral to the poem, rather than peripheral. But if an editor wants to change something on the periphery, I don’t object much, especially if money and publication are on the line.

    I’m generally annoyed by any story that deals with currently fashionable politics unless it also delivers entertainment and believability. For example, I suffered through reading Sherri S. Tepper’s The Revenants, not minding the fact that there were gay and lesbian characters, but extremely annoyed by the contrivance where the main characters on the quest were a heterosexual male, a homosexual male, a heterosexual female, a homosexual female, and a confused kid who swapped sex based on the day and was even more confused by finding him/herself in the middle of a sexual career fair group (but with no bisexuals except possibly him/herself). And everyone was too idiotic to realize that the four elemental ritual objects they were in quest of were carried by other members of the group. Yargh.

    Alternately, the series Lexx did an absolutely wonderful job with the episode “Nook” where there was a planet filled with cloned monks who were all gay by default because they didn’t know what a woman was. It was both believable and entertaining, and did a far better job of reaming taboos than anything in Tepper’s huge novel.

    Personally, I write stories I want to read, and revise them based on editors and readers desires, hoping to hit a happy medium.

  8. Constance Ashon 27 Feb 2007 at 9:48 am

    Well, you know to condemn Tepper on the basis of one of her earliest books, when she’s got a bibliography longer than some are tall, doesn’t seem right, yanno? I never read the title you refer to, and probably for that reason. Also, my personal bias is very anti fiction written by women who think having gay male principals is edgy and daring, and I’ve always felt that way. Instead of edgy and daring I find them annoying and narcissistic.

    But Tepper’s been condemned out-of-hand for her universes far more damningly than this, and yet, her books continue to be published, which means there are buyers in enough numbers, which is really something for ‘issue’ fiction in the current dismal economic climate that all old media is experiencing. I admire both the depth and breadth of her imagination, and grim determination to never quite give up the possibility that somehow the dreadful course of over-population, environmental degredation, and the concomitant degredation of women and children and all, in some way or other, of the throw-away populations could be turned around. That she links this to determined patriarchal religious sadism and hypocrisy, long before pastor Ted, is even more admirable. She hit her stride with Grass, which also had one heck of a narrative, and some fascinating principal characters, and a wild breadth of sheer imagination of world building that few have equaled since. Except herself, in Beauty.

    [ For a full Tepper bibliography go here. ]

    In Steinbeck’s time Depression era life was so awful for so many that people wanted issue-driven fiction. Hardly anyone who managed to be in personally good circumstances could evade how awful, and for so many — and tomorrow it could be you. Merian C. Cooper’s King Kong could never have been the script it was without the Depression as backgraound, which partially explains why Jackson’s Kong is is souless. He tries to put a different spin on the Depression and what it means, but as he has no imaginative ability to insert himself into the heart of either individuals or an entire society that is teetering on the brink of hopelessness, it’s without feeling or affection. Cooper himself, innately by his own character, always optimistic, creates in Denham a true reflection of himself, as well as how he — like FDR — tried to change things. Though despite what the republican critics said, most of the nation didn’t agree that FDR’s plans for an income tax, the WPA, etc., the foundation of our safety net, was a monster that destroyed the nation, like Kong destroyed NYC. (Besides, Kong did it because of ‘beauty.’)

    Perhaps what you really object to in Steinbeck is that he was determined to model is his work upon paticular biological models, that, well, were too rigid for imagination, and which were superceded even in his writing lifetime? In any case, Kevin, I think you are too hard on Steinbeck, as you are on Tepper. Partly you dislike them so much, perhaps, because it was a long time ago you read them, and maybe didn’t read most of their work, rather than objecting to their political purpose of worlds that reflect her terrors for humanity’s future, and Steinbeck’s sadness of humanity’s inhumanity? In Steinbeck’s case, he too is one of those unfortunate authors that the curriculum seems to think young adults should like to read.

    However, I’m not sure whether you believe that you have no vested interest yourself in any world you create that you are hoping will please editors and readers when you wrote:

    . . . I write stories I want to read, and revise them based on editors and readers desires, hoping to hit a happy medium.

    Love, C.

  9. Constance Ashon 27 Feb 2007 at 9:57 am

    Kim Stanley Robinson is more Steinbeckian in his work than some might think. Some of his work is more accessible, i.e. more character-driven, than all of it. It is possible to be overtly political in one’s world-building — or as in the case of some, world-destruction — and tell a riviting narrative and have engaging characters too.

    Perhaps that’s why so much of John Barnes’ work that focuses on earth’s future which is filled with sadistic torturers and their economically useless victims is so repellant, for there are no characters who have any complexity, who can (which is part of what he’s showing us), in a world like that, which is a classic sf world of, “if this keeps going on ….”

    Whereas, Kurland photographs a world that she wishes existed. As the models in her work stated, even the locations look ‘more’ in her photographs than they do in their own experience.

    Love, C.

  10. James Engeon 27 Feb 2007 at 1:35 pm

    As I understand the word, “political” has to do with the organization and administration of a society. That’s a pretty blunt tool to use in trying to investigate individual psyches, and a pretty feeble one to encompass circling worlds. An imaginary society should have its own politics, but that need not have any more relation to politics in consensus reality than Gandalf’s fire-magic has to the chemistry and physics of flames.

    “Need not” does not mean “can not,” of course, and the politics of an imaginary world may represent some partisan point about the real world (e.g. “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” or The Space Merchants or Starship Troopers or…). So this is something I think sf/f can do, but I don’t think it must do it.

  11. Constance Ashon 27 Feb 2007 at 1:58 pm

    As I understand the word, “political” has to do with the organization and administration of a society. That’s a pretty blunt tool to use in trying to investigate individual psyches, and a pretty feeble one to encompass circling worlds

    Maybe it’s a confusion of terms. ‘Political,’ as Kurland employed the word, was not referencing electoral parties and campaigns. It does have have to do with, however, as you described it, the organization of societies, and that’s about as personal as it gets, as this is the politics of race, gender, class, economic status, personal appearance, the organization of families, who does what work, etc.

    Love, C.

  12. Kevin Andrew Murphyon 27 Feb 2007 at 3:23 pm


    I’m not condemning Tepper–I very much enjoyed all three trilogies of her True Game series and likewise some of her short stories. What I am condemning is The Revenants, a book which even die-hard Tepper boosters of my acquaintance have admitted was pretty damn awful.

    I should probably read more of Tepper’s later work, but as with all things, there are other books I should probably read as well.

    Steinbeck, I read The Red Pony, The Pearl, Of Mice and Men and East of Eden. Yes, I was made to read these in junior high and high school. As I remember telling my school English department in protest of this practice, after having read the first three books, Steinbeck books follow a pretty predictable formula: Life is dismal and generally depressing, somebody or something dies, and then everyone gets even more depressed. The End. I was told this wasn’t the case with The Red Pony, to which I countered that no, the pony dies at the two-thirds mark of the book and everything after that is pretty pointless and still doesn’t really cheer the kid up, which the English teachers agreed with, mentioning that’s where they cut it for the movie, but I was in California and I’d still have to read one more Steinbeck before I graduated.

    Even the whorehouses in East of Eden weren’t very entertaining or even believable, but that may have been because my father had bought me a copy of Lady of the House, the autobiography of Sally Stanford, which had far more entertaining stories about what went on in California bordellos at the time.

  13. Constance Ashon 27 Feb 2007 at 4:07 pm

    There are whorehouses and there are whorehouses. Storyville had ’em all.

    Sally Stanford was an exception. What about those who aren’t?

    Just sayin’ ….

    Not to mention the difference between an upscale ‘gentleman’s club’ here in Manhattan today, and the imprisoned Asian women in cribs all over town.

    It’s probably a personal bias, but exceptionalism isn’t enough to make a tale work for me.

    Though, I will haste to add, that a very great deal of sf/f’s appeal appears to be ‘the exceptional.’

    Love, C.

  14. Kevin Andrew Murphyon 27 Feb 2007 at 5:58 pm

    Well, with Sally Stanford what made the book entertaining wasn’t “the exceptionalism” of someone running a carriage trade bordello but the stories she told, not of when everything went perfectly, but the behind-the-scenes tales of disasters and near disasters, the best one of which was when her somewhat drunk secretary took the order from the Arab Embassy stipulating “110 Jewish girls,” which Sally was rather frantic to satisfy or at least fake, until she found out that the secretary had forgotten a cross-stroke, since the note was supposed to read “NO Jewish girls.” Oops.

    I can remember Steinbeck’s description of the three brothels: The “Negro’s” temple of austere sex, the bawdy woman’s old-school bawdy house with requisite drinking, joking and farting, and the nice home-baked sex place which Kate took over and turned into the racy-for-the-times S&M parlor. Which seemed like a perfectly good postcard description of the three or four places, but hardly had the depth that Sally had, let alone the dimensionality.

  15. Constance Ashon 27 Feb 2007 at 6:47 pm

    Gack, on the dropped word re stipulation of pleasure objects!

    It’s a good story for pinpointing political dimensions of this world, from a whole lot of povs ….

    Love, C.

  16. James Engeon 27 Feb 2007 at 6:50 pm

    the organization of societies, and that’s about as personal as it gets, as this is the politics of race, gender, class, economic status, personal appearance, the organization of families, who does what work, etc.

    I don’t know. I’ll admit to a stubborn feeling that every person is something other than the sum of their social roles. All the political may be personal (I’d entertain an argument on that, I guess, but I think there are both good and bad ways that it’s true). But I’d say there’s some dimension of the personal which is not political, and it’s especially important in fantasy.

  17. Constance Ashon 27 Feb 2007 at 7:25 pm

    I’ll admit to a stubborn feeling that every person is something other than the sum of their social roles.

    O, I’d agree, James.

    A real life example though of the importance of being more or plus, is the Grimke sisters of Charleston, who left the South and became fervid and effective abolitionists, loathing slavery and everything about it, despite having grown up with it, and benefiting from it. They gave up their slave inheritance.

    But their story has significance against that background out of which they came — which means they KNEW personally, having witnessed it all, the evils of slavery. They wrote extensively about it, detailing the incidents and events that made them loathe slavery. They also documented the consequences in their social circles for their convictions.

    So yes they were more / plus, but the political was also their personal.

    Did that make sense?

    I mean, that’s kind of a paradigm of how it works in so much fantasy. A noble person sees great evil and wants to change it, right?

    Love, C.

  18. kateelliotton 28 Feb 2007 at 1:27 am

    James wrote:

    But I’d say there’s some dimension of the personal which is not political, and it’s especially important in fantasy.

    James, I’d love for you to expand on this comment.

    I note that, like Constance, that I tend to use the word political in the largest sense, which is why I think so many assumptions creep into the ways writers vision their worlds. Which isn’t the same thing as saying that the personal is always political, because I agree that people are (or can be) more than the sum of their social roles.

    In addition to talking about that dimension of the personal which you perceive as not political (mostly for the sake of definitions), I’d particularly interested to how you find this especially important in fantasy. Very interesting.

  19. kateelliotton 28 Feb 2007 at 1:34 am

    Constance, the more I think about this quote

    “There’s something political about creating a world that you want to exist.”

    the more I think that (depending on how we define political, although I think you and I are rowing the same boat on this one) to a great degree it has to be true. If you’re defining parameters of a world you “want” to exist, you’re already bringing plates to the table. Or maybe this is only because I’m going through my political phase, god help me.

  20. MattDon 28 Feb 2007 at 8:27 am

    I would suggest that creating a world that you’d like to exist is personal; seeking publication of a book based in that world is when politics enters (ha, in more ways than one, although of course I mean politics in the wider sense).

  21. Constance Ashon 28 Feb 2007 at 10:53 am

    Perhaps it would be helpful to backtrack a bit, to provide a history of “the political is personal”?

    One of the reasons that the current political climate tends to react negatively to this bromide is that it came into use widely around 1969 – 1970, with Kate Millett’s Sexual Politics. Yes, out of that leftist era that saw the creation of Black Studies, American Studies and Women’s Studies, and even, yes, at least at the University of New Mexico, Chicano Studies. These new academic disciplines were the foundation of what the current rightist political climate sneers at, as ‘political correctness,’ and ‘cultural relativism.’

    The following is a quote from and article, “The Wimp Factor,” from the history publication, American Heritage Magazine, that speaks to the emergence of ‘political is personal,’ and how it is employed in the overtly political arena, meaning electoral campaigns.

    Political wimp-baiting was new neither in 1988 nor in 1984. It has ever been thus. American politicians and the American press perennially reflect and magnify the public’s hopes and fears. The presidential campaign of 1988 only confirmed what a historical perspective reveals: Sweeping changes in American life over decades and centuries have left virtually undampened the burning issue of masculinity; indeed, at times winds of change have fanned the flames. Historically, concern with masculinity has engendered a variant of what in 1969 Kate Millett called “sexual politics”—that is, “power-structured relationships” whereby one group (men) controls another group (women). But American sexual politics has been and is more complex and pervasive than that. Of course, men use sexual politics to control women, but men use sexual politics to control other men as well.

    Masculine anxiety attended the birth and growth of American politics. Late in the eighteenth century Thomas Jefferson was accused of “timidity, whimsicalness,” “an inertness of mind,” “a wavering of disposition,” and a weakness for flattery, all stereotypically feminine traits. A late-nineteenth-century historian was more direct: Jefferson had been “womanish” because “he took counsel of his feelings and imagination.” Early in the nineteenth century the Indian fighter, war hero, and duelist Andrew Jackson referred to a politician whom he suspected of homosexuality as “Miss Nancy,” while another politician called the same man “Aunt Fancy.” In the same era, President Van Buren was accused of wearing corsets and taking too many baths, presumably perfumed.

    In the game of sexual politics perhaps the most obvious nineteenth-century targets were men—the Alan Aldas of their day—who supported the women’s movement. Such weak-minded creatures, said the Albany Register in 1854, “tied to the apron-strings” of “strong-minded” but “unsexed” feminists, were “restless men” who “comb their hair smoothly back, and with fingers locked across their stomachs, speak in a soft voice, and with upturned eyes.” Similarly the New York Herald in 1852 had characterized “mannish” feminist women as “like hens that crow”—while most men who attended feminist conventions were termed “hen-pecked husbands” who ought to “wear petticoats.”

    That certainly is personal! And entire tales can and have been told around this. Which is why it’s just about impossible for me, personally, to even think of any fiction in which personal politics is not in play, either with the characters or the author.

    Which brings me to Kate’s previous publications, which are chock-a-block with your personal politics!

    The full article can be found here.

    Love, C.

  22. Constance Ashon 28 Feb 2007 at 11:21 am

    Here’s another bit from the above-referenced American Heritage article that is so pertinent, I’m quoting it here.

    What does all of this mean for politics? First that, as feminists have taught us, the personal is political. But also that the political is personal. Politicians, unsurprisingly, play to their constituents’ gender-image needs and to their own. Now that the ideal masculine man is farther removed from reality than ever, many nostalgic men, and not a few nostalgic women, demand that our public leaders appear more masculine than ever, a demand to which our leaders may personally be drawn. In 1984 a woman from Warren, Michigan, said that she admired President Ronald Reagan because he was like John Wayne. That statement must cause one to ponder the irony of a society in which an actor-turned-politician can be seen as admirable because he is modeled on another actor. And not just any actor, but on John Wayne, surely the all-time leading sexual politician among actors. Ironically, also, in his acting days Ronald Reagan yearned to emulate John Wayne’s success as a tall-walking hero. When asked if he had been nervous after debating President Carter in 1980, Reagan replied, “Not at all. I’ve been on the same stage with John Wayne.” The politics of image and masculinity can hardly be more precisely illustrated.

    We can also test the proposition concerning masculinity that the personal is political and the political personal by examining other presidential aspirants and officeholders of the last quarter-century. John Kennedy came to prominence in an era when American manhood, like his own, had recently been validated in battle. Kennedy’s was an era in which the Cold War demanded leaders who were “hard,” an era in which McCarthyites sought to dispose of “fellow travelers” (often smeared as effeminate or homosexual) who were “soft on” Communism. Inevitably, it was the era of the “egghead,” a male whom the novelist Louis Bromfield defined as “over-emotional and feminine in reactions to any problem”—meaning, of course, Adlai Stevenson. Stevenson, to whom the New York Daily News referred as “Adelaide,” was supported by “Harvard lace-cuff liberals” and “lace-panty diplomats”; he used “teacup words,” which his “fruity” voice “trilled,” a poor contrast with Richard Nixon’s “manly explanation of his financial affairs.”

    Love, C.

  23. Kevin Andrew Murphyon 28 Feb 2007 at 2:29 pm

    Well, when Millet wrote her book, I was three, so my personal bad reaction is to what’s been done with it since. In my life experience, the “personal is the political/political is the personal” bromide is something generally said to me by various in-your-face activists who seem to think that anything short of running down the street with a brass band and banners is being in the closet. And the fantasy worlds I’ve seen them create (usually only in roleplaying games, thankfully) are ridiculously high on the wish fulfillment and low on the believability.

    For me, “imagining a better world” is all well and good so long as what you’re imagining is possible and not Sunday School “Peaceable Kingdom” postcard pictures with lions refraining from eating lambs without the intervention of St. Francis, Circe or Dr. Moreau to work their mojo.

    Best example I can give from the literature is Edith Nesbitt’s The Story of the Amulet where the late Victorian/early Edwardian kids use an Atlantean ankh to travel through time and end up in the future London, which is bright, sparkling, pretty and all the wonderful future utopian things except the first person they run into is a little boy who’s crying because he’s being publically shunned for a day for having ripped up a piece of paper and thrown it on the playground. Which of course the kids from the past find more than a little ridiculous, and while they do decide the future is better than their present, they also decide that it’s still not perfect and some things are slightly worse.

    Of course, writing this was also a political statement for Nesbitt, in which case I should say I’m all for it so long as the end result is not an Unbelivable Utopia or a similarly Ridiculous Dystopia (a subject I ranted about earlier.)

  24. Constance Ashon 28 Feb 2007 at 2:36 pm

    Yeah, Kevin, I kinda thought you were about that young — if born at all! — at the time of Millett’s book and that era.

    And you wouldn’t be the only one.

    So that’s why I thought some historical context for this might have some value in defining the terms of the discussion.

    Dystopias and utopias are very old traditions in literature, so evidently human beings have been imagining worlds they fear and worlds they’d like since humans began imagining, whether or not they got written down.

    Pre-lapsarian Garden of Eden, and many other cosmologies and mythologies and religions reflect this human imaging ability to place themselves in a world that does not exist too.

    Eeek. Please pardon me for stating the duh, obvious!

    Love, C.

  25. kateelliotton 28 Feb 2007 at 4:20 pm

    Matt – that’s an interesting point. I mean, forex, I don’t write fantasy because I think of it as a political statement, even though I do “interact with” the world around me through some of the choices I make as I’m writing, and even though I do bring a raft of assumptions with me into any world I write. I write fantasy as a personal preference. So in that sense it is clearly personal, not political.

  26. Kevin Andrew Murphyon 28 Feb 2007 at 4:28 pm

    Humans may place themselves in a world that does not exist, but a world that is too perfect is a rotten place for storytelling. All the really good stories about the Garden of Eden are about the Fall and don’t deal much with the prelapsarian period except as set-up for the fall. Except perhaps for the story of Lilith, where the point of that story was that the Garden of Eden was not Lilith’s perfect world to begin with.

  27. kateelliotton 28 Feb 2007 at 4:30 pm

    Kevin, or – as an Israeli said to me – when the lions lie down with the lamps, it’s still better to be the lion.

    I’m not all that fond of utopias or dystopias, now that I think about it.

    When I talk about how there is something political about creating a world I tend to mean those assumptions we may not have examined when we’re making choices about how societies look or interactions unfold. It may be something as obvious as Heinlein transplanting a 50s-style housewife to Mars in Red Planet or as subtle as ways in which leadership might be portrayed as a male prerogative, for instance. Or non gender related elements, too – assumptions about nobility, or values, or ways in which the protagonist’s views reflect modern sensibilities (so that we can identify with him/her) even if the world around the hero is not meant to be modern.

  28. Constance Ashon 28 Feb 2007 at 5:13 pm

    IWhether you / me enjoy or don’t enjoy dystopias or utopias seems less relevant here than human imagination has always created them

    What is Heaven / Paradise, if not a world imagined as one would like.

    Golden Ages — i.e., the Garden of Eden, abound in literatures.

    Which, of course, is the only place they have really existed. Though I often think that if human beings survive the environmental catastrophe, we shall certainly look back to this era in the U.S. and Europe and parts of Asia and South America as the Golden Age.

    Love, C.

  29. kateelliotton 28 Feb 2007 at 9:26 pm

    It’s certainly true that many of the great social movements of the ages came about because of human imagination trying to create a different (and better) world. What is the quest for justice, after all?

    In some ways we do of course live in a Golden Age.

  30. Constance Ashon 01 Mar 2007 at 7:02 pm

    What is the quest for justice, after all?

    Maybe we should ask John Milton, when he was writing his Paradise Lost?

    For some this really is a golden age, I think.

    OTOH, I’m not too crazy, generally, with its level of culture, at least lately, at least, again, not around the states, generally.

    Love, C.

  31. kateelliotton 01 Mar 2007 at 8:16 pm

    In a quite interesting post about “The Aesthetics of Fantasy,” Hal Duncan says this about the assumptions writers bring to the table:

    If one is constructing a secondary world with its own geography, botany, zoology, history, politics, religion, even metaphysics, this necessarily involves the application of one’s own ideas of how such things work. When it comes to the socio-political sphere in which one is inventing human cultures, the most important in narrative terms, authenticity is at the mercy of assumptions. One’s ideological preconceptions will inevitably colour the types of societies one creates, how they are portrayed as functioning, how individuals are portrayed as functioning within them, often leading to utter nonsense of whatever persuasion — libertarian or liberal, reactionary or radical.

    Man, that’s what I’m trying to say, only he said it better.

  32. James Engeon 03 Mar 2007 at 7:56 pm

    JE wrote:

    But I’d say there’s some dimension of the personal which is not political, and it’s especially important in fantasy.

    And Kate Elliott responded:

    James, I’d love for you to expand on this comment.

    Sorry to be getting back to you so late: it’s been a busy week.

    When I wrote the passage you wondered about, I was specifically thinking of my wife’s cat, a white fluffhead of a permanent kitten named Cleo. She had been abandoned and rescued by the Humane Society; when we got her she was starving and needed to be bottle-fed. My wife did most of this, and the cat bonded with her. Cleo is now healthy, pretty shrewd for a mentally-ill quadruped, and fanatically devoted to my wife: she spends hours sitting or standing at my wife’s side, obviously Protecting the Momcat from Evil.

    Me, Cleo wants nothing to do with. In the soup of her life, I am but a drowned fly.

    Except sometimes when I’m standing around, I’ll feel her rub her head fiercely against my open palm. She will sneak by to bump my ankles when she thinks I won’t notice. The other day she went as far as to jump up beside me on my office chair and help me type something. Everything was fine, until I made the mistake of formally noticing her, and she bounded away to continue her Ceaseless Battle Againt Evil.

    My relationship with this free-floating white cloud of neuroses seems to be free from any political element whatsoever. Certainly there is no question but that her primary loyalty in life rests with the Momcat. Her drive-by head-bumping has no effect at all on the micro-society of our household. I don’t think Cleo is trying to have any effect on it: she would obviously prefer that I never notice her. But the relationship, such as it is, is important in some unquantifiable way to Cleo and me.

    Fiction’s business, it seems to me, is primarily with these unquantifiable connections: between individuals, between individuals and groups, between individuals and circumstances, etc. And their emotional validity lends impact and plausibility which might otherwise be sadly lacking in fantasy, where imaginary heroes confront imaginary problems in imaginary settings.

  33. kateelliotton 04 Mar 2007 at 6:55 pm

    Fiction’s business, it seems to me, is primarily with these unquantifiable connections: between individuals, between individuals and groups, between individuals and circumstances, etc. And their emotional validity lends impact and plausibility which might otherwise be sadly lacking in fantasy, where imaginary heroes confront imaginary problems in imaginary settings.

    Well said. Thanks for expanding on the comment.

    I agree with the above, certainly, since I think that fiction is primarily about the human condition – whatever that is.

    While I do tend to perceive creating settings as a “political” (in the broadest sense) act – even if an entirely unconscious one on the part of the writer – for me the best stories are ultimately those “unquantifiable connections.” One doesn’t preclude the other. That is, while I suppose there are writers whose characters never rise above the politics of their social roles, I would guess that most writers who care about character are trying to unveil character, not roles.

  34. Constance Ashon 05 Mar 2007 at 4:49 pm

    Richard Parks is an excellent example of exploring the most subtle connections that people forge among themselves.

    However, since I know Richard now, for a long time, I also know that his heart and mind are concerned as well with the larger ‘political’ meaning, and so I read that into his work as well.

    I wonder if that would be incorrect, invalid readings? I am thinking, first, about “The Ogre’s Wife,” (title of his first, excellent short fiction collection) not to mention the story he wrote for Not of Woman Born, “Dopples”.

    Love, C.

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