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Author Topic: PC268: The Phoenix on the Sword, Featuring Conan the Barbarian  (Read 10892 times)

ElectricPaladin

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I heart this paragraph so much! Can someone please write some fanfic that involves Conan punching Cthulhu in the face? Do Cthulhu even have faces?

Sure he does!



This is exactly the kind of Cthulhu that Conan would love to punch in the face. Smarmy bastard...

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Sgarre1

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I always preferred Matt Howarth's Cthulhu myself...




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I surprised myself by enjoying this, even with all the purple prose. (Though I was not fond of the ending.)

I haven't read much Conan. I'm afraid my exposure is pretty much limited to the Schwartzenegger films from the 80s. I was kind of gratified to find Conan, the Literary Barbarian, to be very different from the cinematic one.



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Reply #29 on: September 26, 2013, 03:33:25 PM
Have to agree that I liked this Conan story better than the first one ran. I never knew Conan was a king. Could definitely see the Lovecraftian influences in it.

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Reply #30 on: October 14, 2013, 02:30:16 PM
Catching up on Podcastle, resurrect this thread to inform you all that, while I'm not a huge Conan fan, this is now my favorite Conan story. Loved it.

And a quick correction to ElectricPaladin, Howard killed himself the day before his mother died, although she was in a coma and very near death.



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Reply #31 on: January 09, 2014, 05:26:06 AM
Conan stories are awesome. Thanks for making this happen, y'all.

I suspect there were a couple digs at his regular correspondents, Smith and Lovecraft. In the story they were aimed at poets, but would paint his friends nicely, particularly Clark Ashton Smith.  "No good can come of poets."

"Poets always hate those in power." works quite nicely with Smith and his nihilist political viewpoints. My favorite eloquent rant of his: “in the days when the world begins to bleach and shrivel, and the sun is blotched with death. Socialist and Individualist, they'll all be a little dirt lodged deep in the granite wrinkles of the globe's countenance.”


Lovecraft? He was definitely a bigot. I'm willing to forgive him a little because he was also magnificently neurotic. He was afraid of dark skinned people, sure, but the man was also afraid of crowds, cities, and shrimp. In the context of being a terrified and anxious little man who's scared of everything, a little racially-themed fear seems more like part of the package. I'm also willing to forgive him more because he's dead. It's a lot easier to enjoy someone's work, despite the uncomfortable parts, when that person isn't around dropping stink bombs into social media. Seriously - the best thing Card could do for his legacy is drop dead so we can all enjoy Ender's Game without having to remember the last douchey thing to fall out of his mouth.


I promised myself that I wouldn't roll around in the racism dustbath, but dammit, it annoys me when people (multiple people in his thread and others all across the internet whenever Lovecraft's name is brought up) attribute a single viewpoint, a toggle switch, a black-and-white judgement. Like all Irishmen are drunk and/or cops (look at how prevalent that stereotype is in fiction of this same time period). It's really easy to paint individuals and groups as unchanging, static, and a exhibiting a limited pack of attributes always.

For a portion of his life, Lovecraft held racist viewpoints. He was raised in a sheltered environment filled with racist viewpoints. This spiked during his time in New York City, which he loathed. However, after moving back to Providence he mellowed out a lot, and as he aged his views were a lot more temperate. Take the "Shadow Over Innsmouth" which at its core is all about the fear of the Other, but ends with the protagonist learning that he is also part of that Other, and comes to grips with it. He's so cool with being Other that he springs his Other cousin from a loony bin and they head off to swim in the ocean together with the rest of the Other.

"I shall plan my cousin's escape from that Canton mad-house, and together we shall go to marvel-shadowed Innsmouth. We shall swim out to that brooding reef in the sea and dive down through black abysses to Cyclopean and many-columned Y'ha-nthlei, and in that lair of the Deep Ones we shall dwell amidst wonder and glory for ever."

Hitting Lovecraft with the charge of "more racist than other people of the time" or "wildly out of the mainstream" is also bogus. I've recently read a story mentioned in Supernatural Horror in Literature that was published in Cosmopolitan magazine while Lovecraft lived in New York. The entire second of three acts is a two person discussion about blacks as lesser creatures that boils down to an argument as to whether blacks are bad or whether they are terrible. And someone was paid a good chunk of money for this story. By an editor. Who then published it in Cosmopolitan.

40 years before Lovecraft lived in New York and 5 years before he was born, it was cool for white union organizers to kill Chinese laborers because they were taking jobs away from decent hardworking folks. No one was convicted. "We have diligently inquired into the occurrence at Rock Springs.... [T]hough we have examined a large number of witnesses, no one has been able to testify to a single criminal act committed by any known white person that day." 45 years before right now MLK was assassinated. Society moves slowly, and people are terrible to each other.

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Reply #32 on: January 09, 2014, 07:33:09 AM
I don't think you're supposed to empathize with the protagonist of "The Shadow Over Innsmouth."  I mean, you certainly can, just like you can read "The Girl Who Loved Caterpillars" and be "Yeah kickass tomboy, you go girl!"  But that's probably not what they were aimed at or how their contemporary readers would have taken them.

More to the point "He got slightly less racist and might eventually have become not very racist at all if he hadn't died young" isn't much of a defense, any more than "Well, other people were amazing assholes, too."  And even more so, criminy, stop trying to defend him.  He was racist, and it's beside the point.  He still wrote amazing stories and had a lot of interesting ideas.  He can be both.  Just because we like his writing doesn't mean we have to impute him with our views. 

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Fenrix

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Reply #33 on: January 09, 2014, 01:27:08 PM

I don't think you're supposed to empathize with the protagonist of "The Shadow Over Innsmouth." 


In general or just the closing portion of the story? I would love to hear your feelings on the second, but I can't agree on the first. The protagonist is a pretty destitute guy traveling New England and wanders into a dark place due to decisions on bus fare based entirely on price. He's the antiquarian explorer common to Lovecraft and M. R. James and so many others. But more Lovecraft than James since he's broke.


He was racist, and it's beside the point.  He still wrote amazing stories and had a lot of interesting ideas.  He can be both.  Just because we like his writing doesn't mean we have to impute him with our views. 


I agree we should see it as a whole, and not feel the need to either demonize writers of an earlier time in order to mitigate our modern guilt at enjoying their stories.
« Last Edit: January 09, 2014, 01:37:20 PM by Fenrix »

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Reply #34 on: January 09, 2014, 04:02:26 PM
The end of "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" reads to me very much like the traditional horror story ending in which the protagonist succumbs and becomes the monster.  All of the language and the pacing suggests to me that we're supposed to read it with dawning horror and realization that the narrator is, in fact, one of them, and that far from being destroyed, they are surviving, even thriving in their deep places, one day to emerge onto land again.  I much prefer the reading of, "Hey, fish-people aren't that bad.  Just different," but I can't see that as the originally intended reading, even if I squint really hard.  The whole structure of the tale would be different if that were the case. 

I could probably think of better examples, but in Charles Stross' "The Jennifer Morgue," the fish-person character, blatantly meant to be one of Lovecraft's Deep Ones, is initially presented as terrifyingly other and creepy, and by the end we have a more complete and complex view of her as a person.  Still not entirely good, but not Other either.  Yes, it's a novel, but still, the arc for such things requires different pacing to work properly.  Lovecraft goes, "And he was actually A FISH PERSON ALL ALONG DUN DUN DUNNN" and then ends, which is what you do when you want the shocking revelation to be your story's climax, which in turn is more in line with horror than understanding as a central purpose.  Compare the ending of any number of standard-issue zombie stories where a main character turns undead at the end with something like, I don't know, "Fido."  Stories about bringing the Other into the In-Group don't tend to end with the shocking revelation of its Otherness. 

(And also, given that Lovecraft also wrote stories like "Arthur Jermyn," wherein the tainted blood of the racially impure results in horrific consequences, that seems like a much more likely frame for the narrator's lapse into fishpersonhood.  Yes, the narrator is apparently pleased with it, but that's because he's been tainted, which is the whole point.)

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Sgarre1

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Reply #35 on: January 09, 2014, 06:33:41 PM
That Lovecraft wrote "Innsmouth" as a horror story in which the final twist is that the narrator is one of the monsters is undeniable.  But that last sentence or two does seem calculated to unnerve readers who pay more attention OR was an uncalculated upwelling from Lovecraft's unconscious that reconfigures his feelings on miscegenation.  If intended, he probably didn't intend it it to be read as wholly transformative of the readers' view of the Deep Ones so much as another, deeper level of disturbing - the realization that just about anyone out there who isn't extremely wealthy or from a Mayflower family really has NO IDEA what lurks in their past - which thus undermines his own miscegenationist views - and that these worlds and people we condemn just *might* not be so bad after all (or at least, have their up sides).

I view those last lines (not specifically the Innsmouthian "reveal", which I've said is just part of the mechanics of a horror story, although well-deployed for the time) as a wondrous darkly shining light in Lovecraft, a crack in the text through which a whole other world of oddness (perhaps, in some sense, the future) can be seen and which leaks through for only a second -a real and important kicking up of "cosmic horror" in which it might be viewed as eventually becoming something else.  Was Lovecraft himself aware of this or merely "inspired" - who can say?  Not me.

Arguments that X writer was 'racist/fill in the blank with oppression' and thus their work is dismissible" are as easy to ignore as X writer "wasn't really 'racist/oppressor of the moment' and thus their work is totally laudable" - but while such reductions are easily thrown around in genre circles I don't see anyone here really doing that.  "Arthur Jermyn" was an extremely early in Lovecraft's career and we can easily see "Innsmouth" as an attempt by him to contend/wrestle with these issues of his work in his own later work.  One can argue that he made changes in his personal life and statements late in life but another can always counter that his works are frozen in time and thus perfect examples of the perniciousness of racism when used in art to amplify attitudes into the present and future that should have died over time - but that opens up a pretty big box of worms as to Art and the Artist and their commitments to Truth and themselves (not to mention the intellectual responsibility of modern readers that Art creates, as depressed as we may feel about the reality of the random/general reader's intellect)

The cannier "Lovecraft Was A Racist" critiquer can usually fall back on the "he wasn't just as racist as his time, he argued theories for his racism and so it wasn't just knee-jerk ignorance" and that's a pretty good stance to take - if one ignores the fact that people of Lovecraft's erudition and social class would have generally subscribed to these pseudoscientific theories of the time as ameliorations of their own ignorant feelings - it's still wide-spread ignorance, just ignorance of the edjumacated classes as opposed to the knee-jerkedness of the un-educated.  Many famous writers of the 1800s argued the side of slavery but they're not seen as racists because they didn't include such arguments in their works because their works didn't touch on these issues - Lovecraft's most decidedly did because, being a horror writer, he was interested in what was wrong in the world and what bothered him and why - and he honestly engaged with these topics with his knowledge and persona of his historical period (and we should ask no less of writers).  A counter to *this* would be a simplistic reduction of "so then nobody was actually racist?" (which might also be voiced as "so I don't get to call anyone/look down on anyone/dismiss anyone as a racist?  How can that be?") and the canny response would be "no, of course not, he and these theories *were* racist - as probably were most of your ancestors - by our current modern standards - but racism is a complicated issue stretching back eons and incorporating many other strands of culture and applying simplistic labels to how one deals with it in the art of whatever period is better dealt with on a personal subjective level instead of applying grand formulas that allow one to make dismissive pronouncements and guide how others should feel.  I have no problem with "on a personal level, Lovecraft is too racist for me to read" (although if the speaker was a writer, and even more specifically a writer of horror fiction, I'd probably be a bit surprised) but have all kinds of problems with "Lovecraft was a racist and therefore should not be read" - as I imagine everyone here would have the same problem.

In other words, talk wisely amongst yourselves.

(I would, as I often have, really suggest a reading of "H.P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life", the longform essay by Michel Houellebecq (paired with "Whisperer In The Darkness" in book form to pad it out) that makes an argument that should leave both sides of the Reductionist Race And Lovecraft Circle (heh, see what I did there?) uneasy, but which seems honest and mature to me (although overly dark for those whose thoughts don't skew that way)

Re: cosmic horror - one must never forget "The Horla"... but one must also never forget that, in story, the Horla came from South America....
« Last Edit: January 09, 2014, 07:13:01 PM by Sgarre1 »



Fenrix

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Reply #36 on: January 09, 2014, 07:47:33 PM
Even the folks who came off the Mayflower were not free from being monstrous. From "The Picture in the House" (which I love more every time I read it):

"In such houses have dwelt generations of strange people, whose like the world has never seen. Seized with a gloomy and fanatical belief which exiled them from their kind, their ancestors sought the wilderness for freedom. There the scions of a conquering race indeed flourished free from the restrictions of their fellows, but cowered in an appalling slavery to the dismal phantasms of their own minds. Divorced from the enlightenment of civilisation, the strength of these Puritans turned into singular channels; and in their isolation, morbid self-repression, and struggle for life with relentless Nature, there came to them dark furtive traits from the prehistoric depths of their cold Northern heritage. By necessity practical and by philosophy stern, these folk were not beautiful in their sins. Erring as all mortals must, they were forced by their rigid code to seek concealment above all else; so that they came to use less and less taste in what they concealed. Only the silent, sleepy, staring houses in the backwoods can tell all that has lain hidden since the early days; and they are not communicative, being loath to shake off the drowsiness which helps them forget. Sometimes one feels that it would be merciful to tear down these houses, for they must often dream."


Re: cosmic horror - one must never forget "The Horla"... but one must also never forget that, in story, the Horla came from South America....


Listen to The Horla read by David Tennant here: http://tennantnews.blogspot.com/2013/10/happy-halloween-listen-to-david-tennant.html

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Varda

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Reply #37 on: January 09, 2014, 11:06:18 PM
I feel like that these conversations tend to veer toward attempts to quantify an author's participation in any sort of oppression. It's like we can come up with a scale of racism/sexism/homophobia/etc of 1-10, and for a given author, we look at the time period s/he lived in and try to decide at what level we can still, as a community, enjoy or not enjoy their works.

I don't find this nearly as interesting as the problem of how much a given story requires me to participate in my own dehumanization, or that of others, in order to enjoy it. Some stories absolutely require you to buy into dehumanization as central elements of their plots. Other stories are a bit more gray, and include jarring and problematic elements that aren't necessarily central to the plot, but are dehumanizing nonetheless. For these stories, I cannot emphasize enough how important (and appreciated) it is to acknowledge, loudly and publicly, that these elements are there and that we all know they're problematic. I know it gets old to hear people bring up the word "racism" every time Lovecraft comes up, or "sexism" when Conan does, but it needs to be said every time. It's the only way those of us who get the dehumanization forced on us can move beyond it and enjoy the value that is there.

To bring up a more recent example, I think PP handled the bit of racist language in "To Build a Fire" beautifully. Bravo.

And while I am certainly not dismissing any of your extremely intelligent and well-considered opinions, I think it's important to point out that as white guys, at the end of the day you have the privilege of walking away from a conversation about racism and not having it be relevant to your lives until the next time someone brings it up. While I'm similarly privileged on the "white" metric, I know when the topic of misogyny comes up, I'm often bothered when people rush to defend an important sexist work and expect me to just move past the problematic elements when those same elements are part of the crap-sandwich people ask me to choke down every day of my life. So if there are writers and readers who find that reading Lovecraft demands that they participate in more dehumanization than they're comfortable with, as great as Lovecraft is, it's really not the end of the world if you give him a pass.

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Sgarre1

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Reply #38 on: January 10, 2014, 12:02:10 AM
I have no problem with it being said every time. I have every problem with it being lazily (or snarkily) used as a reason to dismiss or not engage.  In the hands of many (and yes, in my ageist, doddering way, I'll admit my bias, especially - but not only - the younger) it's a way of pulling the "old stuff is too boring so I don't read it" argument, but since racism is real and the racism in the work is real, it seems to give more validity to the laziness or snarkiness.

Quote
at the end of the day you have the privilege of walking away from a conversation about racism and not having it be relevant to your lives until the next time someone brings it up.

which is why I said

Quote
is better dealt with on a personal subjective level instead of applying grand formulas that allow one to make dismissive pronouncements and guide how others should feel.



Varda

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Reply #39 on: January 10, 2014, 12:06:30 AM
Thanks, Shawn. I caught that last bit, but I was also surprised when you qualified it with this:

Quote
although if the speaker was a writer, and even more specifically a writer of horror fiction, I'd probably be a bit surprised

I feel like writers, and writers of horror, get to opt out, too, if they want, and that we don't get to make that decision for them, even considering Lovecraft's influence on the genre.
« Last Edit: January 10, 2014, 12:09:28 AM by Varda »

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Reply #40 on: January 10, 2014, 01:22:16 AM
I apologize beforehand for the long-windedness of this reply.  I am very much a TLDR guy, as I've found that I usually fail at conveying my point in short, pithy statements that everyone loves nowadays

I would be surprised if any budding/early-on horror writer would opt-out of at least attempting to engage or digest the work of one of the most influential writers in their field simply due to being uncomfortable with the material from received wisdom.  I would be similarly befuddled at any stated serious writer of Erotica, for example, who chooses to never read any Sade simply because they didn't like what they heard about his work.  Or a potential horror writer not reading Poe because they heard he was a drunk and they have personal issues with alcohol abuse. No weight on any of them to *agree* with the writer, of course, but unless you're riding the very specific strain of artistic creation that could be defined as "my ahistorical creations burst from my artistic mind with no influence of previous work or the outside world except what I know" (which might seem comical, so stated, but is a valid artistic approach - think of a lot of "outsider art") anyone else who is hopefully setting sail on the seas of creative expressiveness is kind of beholden to have to engage with the influential figures of their chosen area, even if it's just a solid attempt after which they say "enough.  I see what's important about it but just don't get it/like it/want it, etc." and not just take someone else's word for it - the mere act of engaging with the material, even if it ends in a negative, will be transformative for them because it forces the budding writer to make their own arguments and (one hopes) weigh the works on their own merits and in their proper historical light.  A short version of this is the classic "can I grasp what it is that's considered good about this work, even if I don't like it?"

Something is always gained by that experience, even if, as I said, it comes out as "now I can say what *I* didn't like about this" (and there's always the chance they'll find out there's stuff they did like).  Which is the wonderful thing about this kind of critical friction - it very often leads, if one is honest with oneself, to deep-seated conflicts ("if X is bad now, how can Y be okay today? Is everything just a matter of trends and fads and are there no standards?  Or are there multiple standards?) which, if kept on the back burner, can lead to much more open-mindedness about one's own work, other's work and the purpose of creativity.

This critical friction, though, is not a *fun* process and many new writers avoid it entirely through the previously mentioned tactics of lazy dismissal.  Also, it's a lifelong tactic - again, if you're honest with yourself - and so the upheavals just keep coming, although they start to gel into a more-highly-critical-in-the-moment/more-generally-forgiving-in-the-overall worldview towards Art and the Creative Act - something I alluded to in another thread wherein Andy Warhol came up - it's all just work, in the end.  Work the Artist is doing.  And yes, there are hacks and yes there are con men, etc. and so forth, but the more you expose yourself to many different works and adopt something close to a forgiving/charitable position to start your investigations (and have the honesty and maturity to occasionally say "I just don't get this"), the wider your appreciation for The Work (in a general sense) becomes and the less likely you are to haphazardly apply labels like "hack" or "con-man" until you're really sure (of course, even then, it will just be subjective anyway).

Of course, one's generational position is something that has to be considered as well, as our culture chews up influential and creative ideas, sucks the juices out of them and then gets to grind the bits in staged, refractive mockery, thus retroactively making everything older automatically "cheezy" for the next generation, so they can be sold the same stuff in slightly different packages and feel proud of themselves for being superior.  This effect can be overcome or defused with practice and part of that practice is what I've described above.

But the human life span is another factor that can't be overcome. I'd like to think I can live long enough to read and appreciate ALL of Proust, Balzac AND Joyce but that seems highly unlikely (we haven't even touched on my feeling that while potential genre writers should read within their genre, they should also make a concerted effort to read *outside* their genre as well).  So an easy counter to everything I've just said is the guy who just says "life's too short" - that's totally understandable for the average person, but from someone who plans on writing in a particular area/genre, choosing to deliberately not engage with the work of an important figure in that area/genre - well, as I said, I'd view them a little dubiously.

But an easy counter to that is readily at hand - what the hell does it matter to them what I think anyway? And round and round we go...

YMMV and all. This is just me.



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Reply #41 on: January 10, 2014, 01:59:29 AM
You make some good points, particularly about a writer's duty to engage with the history of a genre in order to better understand both historical influence and to join in the process of wrestling with the problems and questions inherent in any genre, and in literature as a whole.

But with all due respect, I still think you're coming at this from a position of privilege, and perhaps missing the point I'm trying to make. It's all well and good to read books that make you wrinkle your nose in disgust because an author writes some appalling things about your fellow human beings, but it's quite a different experience to be the person being dehumanized. It's toxic and personally destructive, and being a writer doesn't magically protect you from it, even if you're a serious writer and committed to being the best at your craft as you possibly can be.

The canon is mostly composed of straight white dudes. Over the centuries in English lit, straight white dudes have riffed off of straight white dudes to create more straight white dude literature. And that's all well and dandy--I love me some straight white dudes--but I'm uncomfortable with the idea that because these are the people who have held an unquestioned position of power over what gets read, which they have often over the centuries used to demean and belittle people who are not straight, white, and/or dudes, that their influence is now so sacrosanct that we are obligated to read them in order to be good spec fic writers now. It has a feel of giving the victors the privilege of continuing to write history to me.

In case it matters, I could point out that I have a degree in English and am a voracious reader, and have done my time reading and learning to appreciate the Canon and many works that are considered foundational. Sometimes, though, the crap-sandwich really gets to me, and after reading certain works I'm left feeling ambivalent about what they really contributed to my quality of life. To give a recent example, I read "Hyperion" for the first time in December, which IMHO was a genius book that was nearly ruined by the amount of embedded sexism inherent in the treatment of the female characters. I was very enthusiastically posting about it on Facebook until I reached a point where the problems were so obvious and so often repeated over the course of many characters and situations that it just made me feel tired, and caused me to lose any relish or excitement in finishing it (even though I did finish it). I was talking about it with some male friends, and they completely missed this. It was like we read two different books, although they saw it once I explained my problems.

This is what I mean about the ability to walk away from it. To my male friends, they could see it as problematic while still being able to enjoy the brilliant things about the book. To me, I just felt tired and sad and beaten down that everyone had told me how awesome the book was without even noticing or mentioning the sexism. It wasn't a big deal to them because they read it and walked away. But I can't walk away, and that's a really difficult thing to deal with.

So with this in mind, I think that if serious genre writers need to give themselves permission to pass on certain problematic authors in the Canon, and learn about them through other routes, then I get where they're coming from. No one is made of stone, and when a story/novel is tossing rocks at you, it might not be a healthy or enjoyable experience.
« Last Edit: January 10, 2014, 02:04:10 AM by Varda »

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Reply #42 on: January 10, 2014, 04:54:35 AM
Varda: I had this same problem recently trying to listen to the audio book of Niven's Ringworld. His depiction of the female character, and her treatment by the protagonist, made me ill . Several friends said I should slog through it and enjoy the neat ideas. All these friends were male. They could intellectually process what bothered me, but they just didn't experience it the same way. I simply returned the audio book to the e-library after listening to the first third. It wasn't worth it.



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Reply #43 on: January 10, 2014, 06:03:29 AM
Well, I can't argue with you.  Of course I'm still coming from a position of privilege, as you say, as I'm a white male and thus privileged. I could pull out my relatively minor oppression notes but that would seem reactionary and anything I've suffered is relatively minor and any damage to me would have been culturally soothed by these bigger advantages, so I won't.  Those minor oppressions have never stopped me from reading anything, so they must be fairly small.  And, no, none of that was meant sarcastically.

Yes, I like to believe that people of all types who commit themselves to the creation of art are made of strong stuff, stronger than the average person, and realize the endeavor they're engaging in means pain and consternation and unpleasantness, examining the best of worst of culture and themselves, along with all the benefits.   As I said, it's rarely a fun process. It means always standing somewhat removed, observing.  It means digging into your own shit and sifting through it.  "Writing is fighting" as Ishmael Reed once put it or "writing, when done right, is the most dangerous job in the world", as William Burroughs once said - sometimes it destroys you.

As I also said - this is down to each person's subjective experience and who the hell cares what I think about them anyway?  But, yeah, I'll be honest - I actually expect writers to realize that rocks are gonna be thrown at them by great works - some of those rocks are the challenges of great work and some are the cultural baggage of the writer and their times (and I nearly said "just the baggage" but I guess this qualifier devalues the hurt the rock target might feel) and I'd still be surprised and somewhat dismayed if a burgeoning young horror writer never read any Lovecraft (note I didn't say "all Lovecraft"), even if they get the received wonder of his "cosmic horror" from other sources, because they also heard the stories contained ideas that might hurt them or haunt them (unless of course they had a specific angle, completely unrelated to Lovecraft's themes like say psychological horror - see below - and even then, to have never read anything, it just seems like cheating yourself of the experience of horror, the thing you're supposedly interested in in the first place).

A lot of this would also have to do with my general feeling that Horror is a inherently "reactionary" genre (although not necessarily conservative).  It can have progressive aspects at times, but the deep-seated roots of it are inextricably tied to our infant fears of dismemberment, our juvenile fears of being overpowered, our adolescent fears of the opposite sex and our own bodies, and our adult fears of mortality, dissolution, pointlessness and ordering systems other than our own.  It's hard to get good, progressive, positive thoughts from such works - although it is, as I said, occasionally possible - but the majority of the levels that Horror operates on the reader are reactionary. And to me, that's one of the wonderful things about it, it keep us honest about our worst tendencies.  It reminds us of our bad selves and makes sure we're never too comfortable looking in the mirror.  The honest and widely-read horror reader can never be very smug about anything.  But again (and, again, not meant sarcastically) being a white male I guess I can just assume the reactionary stance is interesting without knowing or feeling the pain it can cause in others so perhaps there's an unavoidable smugness right there, for me).

As a recent example, after reading a large selection of Shirley Jackson's short fiction, I realized that the "mystery" that the editor presented in passing in the introduction - why did Feminist writers ignore and generally still do ignore the majority of Jackson's work? - was painfully obvious to me.  One of the persistent themes of her fiction is the fear of the Spinster, the fear of an intelligent woman who can't take the courting rituals of her time seriously, or is just not interested, or doesn't consider herself attractive enough - and yet this intelligent woman does not want to be alone, live alone, die alone, wants male companionship and is driven by this desire to terrible self-destructive acts or finds herself living a life of desperation.  She is usually aware that these are cultural and class constructs she has bought into, but that doesn't assuage her fear and horror.  Now I imagine to an enlightened Feminist reader such a character would be easily written off as a pathetic product of her sexist time and thus, the entire point of her horror, the actual reason Jackson chose to write about it, the human emotion, would be lost.  Jackson was writing honestly about what was true to her and yet entire generations of readers would be/possibly have been steered away from her heartfelt, heart-breaking work because, I only imagine, it would be too painful and debilitating for them to engage with her honesty.  In this mode (she has a few others - particularly a flip-side interest in the "trap of marriage") she can never be a Feminist Hero - her vision of the reality of her life and times is far too dark, there is no hope for redemption.  Merricat Blackwood and Eleanor Vance can never be Feminist Heroes - their self-destructive qualities, brought about at least in part by the dominant male power structures and culture they were born into - and their desperate desire to actually define themselves by these structures, bring them to sad endings - painfully, honestly, wonderfully true sad endings written by a great writer. That's my Feminist reading of a great female Horror (but not only Horror) writer rejected by Feminism (as much as I can lay any claim to the ability to do a Feminist reading, as I am a man and my final degree paper was a psychoanalytic reading of Jackson's WE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED IN THE CASTLE).

If I can get the rights to stories I want we'll eventually have a Pseudopod showcase on the figure of the Femme Fatale in Horror, an inherently sexist figure, no doubt, but a recurrent (and, reactionary) figure of note all the same - because I honestly do believe that we must treat the readers as adults and assume they realize that expectation as well.  I like to assume people will find it interesting or illuminating, but I run the risk of alienating or upsetting a large section of our female listenership if what you say in your post is true.  No doubt there will be complaints (most of which you on the forums will never see) but I also have to assume that the listeners have read our front-page warning (as a note - the warning on "To Build A Fire" was requested by the reader and, much like "The Pit", I would have run the story without any note if he hadn't requested it because, again, I assume listeners have read our front page warning).  I like to think we'd never run anything gratuitous on the Pod, but I never promised not to upset or disturb people - I assume that if something is proving too much for them they can simply hit stop or close the book.

But you're right - I can never actually know or pretend to know the ongoing, pervasive pain that certain literary images or stories can cause in whatever oppressed group happens to be be being oppressed in the work. And, again, please understand, I do not mean that statement sarcastically.  Unfortunately, horror is a magnet for these types of situations and will probably continue to be as long as it remains a valid genre, interested as it is in rooting around in mankind's baser natures.
« Last Edit: January 10, 2014, 06:15:23 AM by Sgarre1 »



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Reply #44 on: January 10, 2014, 01:17:55 PM
I'm going to catch up on this discussion later, but I just want to say that I love you guys and appreciate that we can have such a thoughtful and respectful conversation here.

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Reply #45 on: January 10, 2014, 01:55:27 PM
First off, let me apologize for stamping you with the "PRIVILEGE" stamp without qualifying or acknowledging that I don't know you personally, and therefore have no idea what you may have experienced or are still experiencing in your own life. Really, sincerely, I'm sorry. Even if you don't fall into one of the groups that experience historical and organized discrimination, oppression of all types stings, and injustice is injustice no matter how widespread it is. So again, I'm sorry.

Given that, this discussion really fascinates me. I've been really struggling with this question over the last year as both a reader and writer - that is, how do I enjoy (and CAN I enjoy) works with problematic elements, or those written by problematic authors? I'm finding your perspective interesting and challenging, as you're vastly more well-read than I am, and I think you bring something to the table with the editorial eye.

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A lot of this would also have to do with my general feeling that Horror is a inherently "reactionary" genre (although not necessarily conservative).  It can have progressive aspects at times, but the deep-seated roots of it are inextricably tied to our infant fears of dismemberment, our juvenile fears of being overpowered, our adolescent fears of the opposite sex and our own bodies, and our adult fears of mortality, dissolution, pointlessness and ordering systems other than our own.  It's hard to get good, progressive, positive thoughts from such works - although it is, as I said, occasionally possible - but the majority of the levels that Horror operates on the reader are reactionary. And to me, that's one of the wonderful things about it, it keep us honest about our worst tendencies.  It reminds us of our bad selves and makes sure we're never too comfortable looking in the mirror.  The honest and widely-read horror reader can never be very smug about anything.  But again (and, again, not meant sarcastically) being a white male I guess I can just assume the reactionary stance is interesting without knowing or feeling the pain it can cause in others so perhaps there's an unavoidable smugness right there, for me).

You know, I hadn't considered the distinctiveness of horror as a genre. I must confess I don't read much horror, and generally don't seek it out when I'm looking for something new to read. I'm not opposed to horror in the least, but I just haven't gravitated toward it up until this point in my life. I recently started listening to Pseudopod on the strength of 1) my love of PC and EP, which translates to an overall faith in the staff of EA, 2) the strong, enthusiastic recommendations of other PP listeners, and 3) my sincere admiration for and faith in the PP editorial staff. #3 is key, because there is no lower bar to how "bad" horror can get, and bad horror is really, really bad in ways you don't normally see in bad fantasy or SF. But I think since you're coming at this question as a connoisseur of horror, it makes complete sense to say that revulsion and disgust and even dehumanization might be healthy and desirable things to experience and wrestle with in the genre.


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I'll be honest - I actually expect writers to realize that rocks are gonna be thrown at them by great works - some of those rocks are the challenges of great work and some are the cultural baggage of the writer and their times (and I nearly said "just the baggage" but I guess this qualifier devalues the hurt the rock target might feel) and I'd still be surprised and somewhat dismayed if a burgeoning young horror writer never read any Lovecraft (note I didn't say "all Lovecraft"), even if they get the received wonder of his "cosmic horror" from other sources, because they also heard the stories contained ideas that might hurt them or haunt them

I suppose I still think there's a distinction between struggling with your inner demons to become a better a writer, and choosing to avoid certain classics because of elements that personally wound you. I think that if, say, racism, is already your day-to-day waking reality, Lovecraft isn't going to teach you anything about racism you don't already experience nonstop all the time. He might teach you something about cosmic horror, but only if you're able even to get to it through the racism.

Maybe it would be helpful to use an analogy here. Imagine that you are a chef (and for the purpose of this exercise, I ask anyone reading to pretend you're an average straight white male, regardless of your background). You and a group of your friends who are all chefs are going to dinner at a place called the Classics Cafe. This cafe is famous for its rotating schedule of internationally-renowned chefs who take turns each night preparing a menu for the diners.

Tonight, Chef Lovecraft is on the menu. You all receive your dishes and begin to eat. You're enjoying yourselves very much until your friend Bill, who happens to be a black man, exclaims, "Hey, there's crap in my food!" He passes around his plate, and sure enough, you all see that there is a small amount of feces buried underneath the smoked fish. Everyone checks their own plates, and it's the strangest thing: only the people of color have been served crap along with their fish. So you call the waiter over, and he explains that Chef Lovecraft's philosophy is to serve a little crap to his diners of color, and therefore nothing can be done about it.

But you're all hungry, and Lovecraft after all is a very famous chef, so you all discuss what to do. "The taste isn't that bad," says Bill, gamely putting on a smile as he takes another bite. "I think I can eat around it and enjoy the taste anyway."

"I can't," says your friend Lisa, who is also black. "The taste and smell just overwhelms everything. It's so distracting I can't even concentrate on whatever it is people rave about when they eat Lovecraft. I'm going to have to pass." She politely shoves the plate away and nibbles on bread the rest of the meal. The other people of color take various positions along this spectrum. Some decide to keep eating, and some decide to refrain.

Those of you whose dishes are perfectly edible discuss how to proceed. Everyone can see the crap on your friends' plates, but you can't taste it the way they can. You care about these people, so it certainly disgusts you, but you're not really sure just exactly how bad it tastes for them, especially considering how wildly opinions vary within the group of people served the tainted plates. Some of you decide to enjoy Lovecraft's expertly prepared dish anyway after acknowledging the awfulness some of your friends experienced. You're chefs, after all, and you're trying to build your palettes so you can be better chefs. Others are a little more bothered, and keep pulling the conversation from the smoky flavor back to the crap, which irritates the people who want to talk about the fish. Your great-uncle Stanley (who is boorish and inconsiderate, but hey, he's family) is one of the latter. He exclaims, "That's not crap, it's chocolate! If it weren't for all the political correctness, we'd all be able to enjoy our meals, but some people just want to be victims and ruin it for the rest of us!"

A few are so upset by the crap in their own or friends' food that they gather their things and leave, saying they'll rejoin you for dinner next week. You 17-year-old niece Julie takes the opportunity to leave with them, saying, "I don't want to eat this boring old racist Lovecraft crap when I can just grab a cheeseburger at McKoontz's across the street!"

------------------------------

Long story short... I think I can agree that any genre writer should at least attempt to read stories they know will contain a serving of crap prepared especially for them, but it's very possible that the crap itself will make it difficult to appreciate what made that story/author famous to begin with. It will wildly vary from person to person, and when it comes down to it, it's Lovecraft's fault his works include racist elements and not the reader's fault, so the blame should rest squarely on him if some of the horror writers of the next generation don't benefit from his influence. This is true of any other story or author who incorporates casual elements of discrimination. It's a decision that may end up limiting your audience, because it's not the responsibility of the people being served the crap to eat around it, although some of them may graciously choose to do so.


Quote
If I can get the rights to stories I want we'll eventually have a Pseudopod showcase on the figure of the Femme Fatale in Horror, an inherently sexist figure, no doubt, but a recurrent (and, reactionary) figure of note all the same - because I honestly do believe that we must treat the readers as adults and assume they realize that expectation as well.  I like to assume people will find it interesting or illuminating, but I run the risk of alienating or upsetting a large section of our female listenership if what you say in your post is true.

I'm certainly intrigued, and promise to give it a listen and post an opinion when/if it runs. Like I said before, I have a lot of faith in you and the rest of the editorial staff, which makes a huge difference because I know it's not Uncle Stanley choosing the stories or making suggestions on how I should feel about problematic elements. As I said before, acknowledging the problem up front is extremely helpful in moving past the crap to a discussion of the rest of the elements.

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Reply #46 on: January 10, 2014, 02:08:33 PM
Re: Shirley Jackson - I haven't read anything by her except "The Lottery", so I don't feel like I know enough to comment on your discussion of her. I hadn't heard that the world of feminist writing tends to ignore her; I certainly haven't avoided her deliberately. I might check her out based on what you've said, though.

Speaking only for myself, I'm not necessarily bothered by female characters who have conflicts and character arcs that don't fit a feminist ideal. I'm more concerned about them being presented as actual human beings to begin with. There are feminist women and non-feminist women and even anti-feminist women in the world, and I'm happy for literature to represent all of these. I just don't want to read female characters who are presented as less than human for no other reason than the author's own failings and biases. Bounceswoosh's example of "Ringworld" is an EXCELLENT one. That book's very plot hinges on the female MC's sexist portrayal (and good call, Bounceswoosh, in just leaving that one aside.) If I had to sum up my problem with "Hyperion", it's a less egregious error but still problematic: the book shows a lack of imagination and curiosity toward its female characters and what it might be like to be a female-bodied person, and as SF, shows a jaw-dropping lack of imagination for what women's lives might be like in the future. (I wouldn't have cared so much except that the book is a series of short stories, so the problem became more apparent with each additional female character brought on stage.)

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Reply #47 on: January 10, 2014, 03:20:36 PM
I do come from a place of extreme privilege (straight white protestant American male), and I don't know how much I have to add to this conversation. I've appreciated you all having it, and it's been eye-opening for me.

I do think that there's a lot to be learned from attempting to read the classics. That's part of why we feature stories like Conan (or Doyle or Poe or Baum or stuff from the Arabian Nights, etc.). I think when you're looking at a genre, it's good to examine its roots, and look back at where things came from. That said, the one thing I regret from when we ran Gods of the North is not engaging in a discussion, or having a warning during that episode. So, yes, I think there's a lot to be said labeling the problematic aspects of the story, and then examining it in earnest. That's something I learned from the previous discussion.

I also think it's helpful to balance the old stuff with the new.

That said, I don't think writers necessarily have an obligation to read the old stuff. I do think it's important for writers to challenge themselves, and like Shawn - I encourage writers to read outside of their genre as much as possible, and I think that's just as important. But as someone who didn't get heavy into genre until my late teens/early 20s, and as someone who hadn't read an actual Conan story before working at PodCastle, I think it's just fine if someone wants to take a pass on the old stuff. And you can probably do okay as a writer without them. Is there stuff to be learned from them? Absolutely, which is why we'll continue to run classics. But if a listener says, "No, think I'll skip this week." I get that. Maybe more after this discussion than before.

Varda, I sincerely appreciate your trust in us. Thank you.

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Reply #48 on: January 10, 2014, 04:32:35 PM
I'm going to catch up on this discussion later, but I just want to say that I love you guys and appreciate that we can have such a thoughtful and respectful conversation here.

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Me three! You guys are awesome. GROUP HUG!!! :D :D :D

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Reply #49 on: January 10, 2014, 05:40:45 PM
I'm going to catch up on this discussion later, but I just want to say that I love you guys and appreciate that we can have such a thoughtful and respectful conversation here.

Fenrix. Yeah, I love everyone here to.  :D

Me three! You guys are awesome. GROUP HUG!!! :D :D :D


*Jumps in on the group hug*

I don't really have anything to add to the discussion already head.  Except that it is awesome that this environment, and the people in this environment, allow the conversation to happen the way it did with thoughtful opinions coming from different angles and perspectives.  This is a case in point of why I come to this forum.

Carry on.  :)