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June 4, 2007

By the pricking of my thumbs
Posted by Patrick at 07:17 PM * 293 comments

Claiming that “we’ve never had censorship in this country” (scroll down; click on “Bradbury on Censorship/Television”), Ray Bradbury wants us to understand that his classic novel Fahrenheit 451 is “not…a story about government censorship” but rather about “the moronic influence of popular culture” and the way television dulls our appreciation of fine literature.

But as an acquaintance on LiveJournal Will Frank points out (in a friends-locked post, so I can’t properly credit him), in 1979 Bradbury wrote a “Coda” for a new paperback edition of the novel, in which he began by discussing the the dangers of letting outraged “minorities” determine what may and may not be published—

There is more than one way to burn a book. And the world is full of people running about with lit matches. Every minority, be it Baptist / Unitarian, Irish / Italian / Octogenarian / Zen Buddhist, Zionist / Seventh-day Adventist, Women’s Lib / Republican, Mattachine / FourSquareGospel feel it has the will, the right, the duty to douse the kerosene, light the fuse….Fire-Captain Beatty, in my novel Fahrenheit 451, described how the books were burned first by the minorities, each ripping a page or a paragraph from the book, then that, until the day came when the books were empty and the minds shut and the library closed forever.
—and then went on to claim:
Only six months ago, I discovered that, over the years, some cubby-hole editors at Ballantine Books, fearful of contaminating the young, had, bit by bit, censored some 75 separate sections from the novel. Students, reading the novel which, after all, deals with the censorship and book-burning in the future, wrote to tell me of this exquisite irony. Judy-Lynn del Rey, one of the new Ballantine editors, is having the entire book reset and republished this summer with all the damns and hells back in place.
According to Amazon’s “Search Inside This Book” feature, this “Coda” is present in the 1987 mass-market reissue, still on sale.

It’s hard to avoid observing that Bradbury, an enthusiastic fan of George W. Bush (“He’s wonderful. We needed him”), appears to share with his political hero a rather situational notion of what words mean. Then again, we are talking about the guy who pitched a first-class fit over a certain filmmaker calling his documentary Fahrenheit 9/11, an act of callous expropriation completely different from naming your story collection I Sing the Body Electric.

When you work for a long time in literary affairs, you get used to the idea that people who write brilliant books sometimes say foolish things. But you never entirely stop wincing. Very likely, all of us will need posterity to forgive our stupidities and remember our better moments, so it’s best not to be completely judgmental. But it’s also important to point out the truth.

Comments on By the pricking of my thumbs:
#1 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2007, 07:22 PM:

Shark. Motorcycle. Brain-eater as pillion passenger.

#2 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2007, 07:33 PM:

Golly. We didn't read Farenheit 451 in my high school, but (oddly) we did read Dandelion Wine. I remember it being crushingly dull, and it was emblazoned with the blurb "World's Greatest Science Fiction Writer" on the front, as were all the Bradbury paperbacks in those days, which was tacky.

It's interesting to see how people change over time...I admire folks who can just say "I was young then, now I think something different" and not insist on taking the "oh, no, I never said that!" tack.

#3 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2007, 07:35 PM:

All culture is popular culture. ALL CULTURE IS POPULAR CULTURE!!!

OK, I feel better now. A little.

Also: how do such intense dweebs manage to write such good books?

#4 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2007, 07:36 PM:

WEST LOTHIAN (11 May 2036) -- Charles Stross may be one of North Britain's national heroes, the literary idol of extropian Federalists and other varieties of post-wave bohemians. But he wants his sangfroid fans, every man Jill of them, to understand one thing: he's always been a Tory, and in fact every one of his most beloved works, including In the Ocean of the Old, the global Disney multimedia hit Sing a Singularity for Me, and of course The Atrocity Archive and Accelerando, were all written to support and promote the Tory worldview, right down to the Blue Party's last position paper on sunrise clauses for the kneedeep camp. "There's some as'll tell you I was some kind of liberal!" Stross raises his voice to say, brandishing his Zimmer frame threateningly. "Them has nothing true to offer. We were all Tories back in the day. That's what the whole com-dot thing was for, High Blue Bloody Toryism. I was a pharmacist! And a turtle! Get off my lawn, ye miserable eyeball!"

#5 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2007, 07:45 PM:

There was a bit of "TV makes you stupid" in F451, but the censorship-via-political correctness was there, too. Undeniably.

As I recall, the only things being published were comic books and trade journals, both of which were bland enough not to be worth censoring.

* * *

I get the impression that Bradbury is, or was, "English Teacher Science Fiction."

Nice and safe and literary.

I remember my 9th grade English teacher dutifully telling us that "the theme of The Martian Chronicles is Man's inhumanity to Man."

Eh? Even back then this struck me as clueless.

#6 ::: Pierre Tristam ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2007, 07:48 PM:

Odd how Bradbury's fever for Bush now gives "Fahrenheit 451" that same disagreeable feel that Michael Richards appearances in Seinfeld reruns do. What makes Bradbury think Bush doesn't owe his all to a version of popular culture that thinks it can wish upon a president?

#7 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2007, 07:49 PM:

I like his early work better than his later.

For an author, the words !!!MY BOOK!!! are always picked out in rainbow-colored coruscating light. Bradbury was smart enough when he wrote Fahrenheit 451, but given how many copies of his work are in school libraries, he's undoubtedly had books complained-of by this group and that. He isn't talking about political principles. He's talking about !!!MY BOOK!!!.

#8 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2007, 07:59 PM:

*snort* Patrick, that's twisted.

I'm always unpleasantly taken aback when people who I took to be smart turn out to be Bushites. Bradbury? That's just too frisson-y for me, and I'm going to choose to disbelieve it, for my own good. Surely I misread all that.

That was the greatest damage to the world after 9/11 in my book. It took otherwise undifferentiated groups of people (at least in my mind) and drew a horrible, indelible line down the middle. And you know, obviously it could have been much worse, had our President been a divider instead of a uniter -- good thing Mr. Bush was there to heal our national wounds.

Sigh.

I'm never going to get over this, am I? Bradbury. Damn. Never been any censorship here in America. Or torture, I'm sure; we're the good guys, after all.

#9 ::: Bruce Cohen, SpeakerToManagers ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2007, 08:03 PM:

Why bother burning books when you can just redefine what they say?

"Freedom is Slavery"
"Ignorance is Strength"
"Censorship is Popular Culture"

#10 ::: Kathryn from Sunnyvale ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2007, 08:07 PM:

The quoted Coda reminds me of Connie Willis' "Much Ado About [Censored]." Her story highlights what I disagree with in his claim: even if minorities are demanding censorship, it doesn't happen until the government (school boards, department of education) agrees.

This also makes me think about the general issue of how to change your mind gracefully. Seems like when famous people change political philosophies, they often go all out to insult their previous beliefs. Or at least that's what gets the media coverage. cf the blogosphere discussion of people who not only became conservatives after 9/11, but started agreeing with every conservative conspiracy theory (Clinton murdered Foster, etc.).

#11 ::: Dan Layman-Kennedy ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2007, 08:08 PM:

I confess I had my doubts about Bradbury back in the 90s, when I saw him on some late-night talk show or other having a rant about political correctness and saying that "we" have to fight it by insisting on using whatever kind of language "we" like. I couldn't have articulated it at the time, but it was a classic case of "privilege means your social progress is less important than my ever having to be uncomfortable with myself."

As for his current absurd claim, I can only say that the implication that even a bad book is preferable to good television is one of the weirder notions to come out of centuries of the (often justifiable) veneration of vellum and pulp.

#12 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2007, 08:10 PM:

How does Bradbury reconcile his book with his being such a fan of Bush, who is the very epitome of the dumbing-down of America so decried by conservatives?

#13 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2007, 08:17 PM:

Serge @ 12: That's easy: "It's Clinton's fault."

#14 ::: Owlmirror ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2007, 08:18 PM:

Would it be wrong to note that Bradbury has had several strokes, and that strokes can affect personality and judgment as parts of the brain of varying size and importance stop working?

#15 ::: Emma Anne ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2007, 08:21 PM:

Michael @ 8: Who was the blogger who summarized such people as saying "I used to be a liberal, but after 9-11, I am outraged by Chappaquidick?" Atrios maybe.

I too am horrified to learn that Bradbury is a bush fan. Ugh. There's never been censorship in America? Huh? Did he take stupid pills or something?

#16 ::: tavella ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2007, 08:23 PM:

I don't think it was entirely 9/11 that did it for Bradbury. I can remember pre-2001, when I was still active on rasfw, that there was a Bradbury interview that left a deeply unpleasant taste in my mouth. The details of what it was he said have entirely vanished into the haze, and I only recall the sickening vertigo of realizing that someone you admired was really not a nice man.

#17 ::: Emma Anne ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2007, 08:23 PM:

Oh golly. I hadn't read about the strokes when I talked about stupid pills. Sorry.

#18 ::: Sam Kington ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2007, 08:30 PM:

Emma @ 15: it was Michael Bérubé.

#19 ::: veejane ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2007, 08:33 PM:

#10: the general issue of how to change your mind gracefully.

As Eric Van has been quoted as saying, "This is what in politics is called 'flip-flopping,' but is more familiarly known as 'learning.'"

#20 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2007, 08:39 PM:

I found I Sing the Body Electric a lot less interesting than The Martian Chronicles. Of course, I read the latter at 17 and the former at 13, which may explain it. I saw Fahrenheit 451 as about censorship more than anything else.

Bradbury is pretty typical of people whose politics shift rightward as they age. I don't think, though, that Charlie Stross will be saying 'there's some as'll tell you I was some kind of liberal'... More likely he'd say 'there's some as'll tell you I was some kind of socialist'...

#21 ::: pb ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2007, 08:50 PM:

For some reason, the part of the clip that stuck in my mind was when he's telling the librarians not to enlist his help when his books are banned.

"I'm a big frog in a little pond," he says.

"Were," I thought. "You were."

I tried to be a Ray Bradbury fan, but even when I was 14 and read his books, I felt that here was a man who liked to hear himself talk and would repeat the good parts to make sure you got them.

#22 ::: Peter Hollo ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2007, 08:52 PM:

Charlie would say right now that he's not some kind of a socialist - it's just that the world is fo far right that he looks a lot further left than he really is. So "liberal" might be more appropriate, despite being a more US term...

On the other hand, I'm delighted to see that as Charlie ages into a bent-backed spittle-mouthed old conservative, he will develop a slight Scottish brogue (or is that just a stereotypical "old British man" accent? I guess he didn't say "cannae" or anyhing.)

#23 ::: Stephen Frug ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2007, 08:54 PM:

#16: It definitely wasn't just 9/11; the Salon interview PNH links to is from August, 2001.

...which leads me to wonder: has he said specifically pro-Bush stuff lately? That one clip was just about F451 not being about censorship, and didn't have any pro-Bush views that I heard. Admittedly, I watched the clip about censorship, but don't really have the heart to watch the others... damnit, when I was a kid, I *loved* Bradbury, even if it's been a number of years since I've read his work... So I might have missed something.

Tangentially related: has anyone read the sequel (!) to Dandelion Wine that just came/is coming (not sure) out? Is it any good?

#24 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2007, 08:55 PM:

I'm sorry. My computer hung up, hence the posting in triplicate. I suspect it's tutelary spirit is a bureaucrat.

#25 ::: Emma Anne ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2007, 08:56 PM:

Sam @ 18 - thanks for doing my research for me. I miss Michael's blog . . .

#26 ::: Bruce Cohen, SpeakerToManagers ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2007, 09:00 PM:

I wouldn't bet on Charlie shifting at all as he ages; he's damn near as politically ornery as I am. I started out as a Red Diaper kid, and I'm still way left of what the US calls "Liberal", and I'm older than Charlie by quite a bit to boot. So if he follows my example, he might even shift a little left as he ages, just to be contrary.

Hey, neocons! Get off my lawn!

#27 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2007, 09:00 PM:

I owe Bradbury a debt of gratitude; the only thing that ever reconciled my mother to the fact that I was writing "that rocket ship stuff" was Bradbury, whom she wildly admired. I love some of his work; other things bore me to tears. But I have been reading and working long enough to know that there are actors I love who are morons offstage; there are writers whose work I adore who are idjits in person; there are painters who are right-wing nutjobs. I shake my head in sadness, because it doesn't seem that it should be that way, but there you go.

#28 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2007, 09:04 PM:

I hope I'm in better shape than that when I'm 87.

#29 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2007, 09:08 PM:

Fragano, are you having browser problems?

#30 ::: Cory Doctorow ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2007, 09:09 PM:

Thanks for that, Patrick. You said it.

#31 ::: Owlmirror ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2007, 09:09 PM:

@#25:

Tangentially related: has anyone read the sequel (!) to Dandelion Wine that just came/is coming (not sure) out? Is it any good?


I have not read it, but Cory Doctorow is wildly enthused about it.

#32 ::: Keith ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2007, 09:10 PM:

The man's 87 years old. If he has any hills left to go over, their little ones at best, maybe speed bumps.

And here I was about to drop $325 on a Hill House special edition Martian Chronicles.

#33 ::: Elaine ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2007, 09:12 PM:

And it irritates me that someone who names his novel with a line from Whitman's poem can then turn around and get upset because someone alludes to his novel in a movie title.

#34 ::: Will "scifantasy" Frank ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2007, 09:12 PM:

Um...wow. I think I'm going to unlock that post now...

(I admit it. If given the chance to be linked from Making Light, I'll take it.)

#35 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2007, 09:19 PM:

I see I successfully smoked Will Frank out. Post amended!

#36 ::: C.E. Petit ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2007, 09:21 PM:

There's a big distinction among:
"This is what I meant while I was writing it."
"This is what I wish I had meant while I was writing it."
"This is what the words on the paper as published actually say."

#37 ::: Stephen Granade ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2007, 09:21 PM:

The link to Bradbury praising Bush was from August 2001. I'd like to know if he still feels that way. Perhaps, given Bush's reading of My Pet Goat, he's even more pleased that he has a President who understands the importance of reading.

I'm quite willing to let Bradbury move the goalposts all he wants. Eventually he'll look up from pushing those things here, there and yon and discover that the game isn't being played around him any more.

#38 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2007, 09:22 PM:

TNH #29: I think I may be. Firefox has been acting up lately.

#39 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2007, 09:25 PM:

I take my characterization of Mr. Stross's current-day politics from the quote from him that has been in the "commonplaces" sidebar of Making Light for years: "I'm a fuzzy-headed warm-hearted liberal, and I think fuzzy-headed warm-hearted liberalism is an ideological stance that needs defending--if necessary, with a hob-nailed boot-kick to the bollocks of budding totalitarianism."

As for the rest of it, that wasn't a "Scottish brogue," that was exabyte-speak. Like in the hit immersive, The Mill on the Floss. You know, for kids.

#40 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2007, 09:30 PM:

I would also like to say just for the record that I don't really think Bradbury's terrible taste in Presidents merits tossing him out the airlock of the starship Parnassus. Many of my favorite artists have appalling political views. I'm giving him grief for his risible revisionism regarding Fahrenheit 451; the Bush business is small in the greater scheme of things.

#41 ::: Owlmirror ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2007, 09:32 PM:

Hypothetical question over here:

If Robert Heinlein had ever said that Starship Troopers was not about preparing for and waging war in the future, but instead said that it was about (I dunno, something relatively trivial and at least partly non-sequitural) the dangers of invasive insect species like fire-ants...

Would anyone believe him?

#42 ::: Leah Bobet ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2007, 09:37 PM:

Oy.

I hate it when people I admired wildly do things like this. It's like watching God in his nightgown get drunk, grope the waitress, pass out and soil his underwear on the sticky bar floor.

#43 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2007, 09:39 PM:

Owlmirror (41): An author? Make an inaccurate statement? About his own work? Gad!

#44 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2007, 09:41 PM:

PNH @ 40

Yep, smart people can say some really not-smart things.

I still remember, during the licensing hearings for the nuclear power plant at Diablo Canyon, that Bucky Fuller did this, saying that the only safe place for a nuclear power plant is 93 million miles away. Which ignores little things like them not even being the same kind of nuclear power, and that 92,999,980 miles of that 93 million is vacuum and not worth much as shielding (and the other 20 miles is air, and not worth much more: when was the last time you got sunburned?).

#45 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2007, 09:41 PM:

> Then again, we are talking about the guy who pitched a first-class fit over a certain filmmaker calling his documentary Fahrenheit 9/11, an act of callous expropriation completely different from naming your story collection I Sing the Body Electric.

Ouch! Nice observation.

#46 ::: PiscusFiche ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2007, 09:47 PM:

Mrfl. Another vote for being mildly shocked that Bradbury is a Bushite. Alas for feet of clay. (Is it just Bush's education measures he's enthused about? It seems from his statement in Salon, he's enthused about the educational measures....Or is he for the war in Iraq and the Patriot Act as well? The weird alignments within Bush's followers always strike me as interesting...for example, my parents are very much against No Child Left Behind and Patriot, but they support the war in Iraq, which is weird because the other two issues affect them directly much more, but I can't get them to see it.)

re: Changing your mind gracefully - I was raised Republican. I was also raised to think logically and to vote for issues, not parties. It's just that at the time my parents were teaching me that, they were also dragging me to Republican party conventions in Utah, which is where I gained a nascent enthusiasm for politics. Thus it was when I found myself on the threshold of adulthood, ready to vote for the first time, I voted for Dole nationally and a Democrat at home. I think this was the result of me seeing the local issues easier than the national ones. I probably would have voted for Bush the first time round....because I was partially taken in by the nonsense about Al Gore inventing the internet at the time, and because my lingering vestiges of Republicanism were still....well, lingering. I didn't see any functional difference between him and Gore. I didn't end up voting for Bush because I happened to be out of the country, but within a year, I was already grimacing at the job he was doing. I admit to this cheerfully, because it's my secret weapon in disarming the folks who claim that I would have given Bill Clinton a pass for his behaviour or politics. I can point to my history as a Young Republican and working with various reps in Utah during campaigns. While it never works against the die-hard choir members, sometimes people who are willing to vote issues and not parties give me a chance to talk without assuming I'm completely brainwashed by the liberal propaganda. Being upfront about my evolution from prim Mormon kid to punk secular humanist is just easier than trying to figure out how I'd shoehorn past behaviour and belief systems into my current.

#47 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2007, 10:01 PM:

Stephen Frug @23: I checked out the sequel in question from my library, and returned it largely unread because I found the first few chapters both dull and vaguely unpleasant. It was a large disappointment after my fond memories of Dandelion Wine. But then, I read the latter when I was much younger, and I don't know how well it would stand up to my current tastes. As I like keeping those fond memories, I haven't sought it out again to find out.

#48 ::: JonathanMoeller ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2007, 10:29 PM:

Sometimes books are wiser than their writers.

That's all there is to it.

#49 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2007, 10:42 PM:

Funny, the title I always flash on when thinking of the "Fahrenheit is mine" silliness is The Golden Apples of the Sun (Yeats.)

I liked a lot of Bradbury's writing; he's not uniformly good, but then who is? Unfortunately, we do not all get to stay at our best as we age.

That was driven home in an unpleasantly personal way this spring, when my mother apparently had a small stroke. Her doctor and neurologist say nothing is wrong, because she tests better than average for her age, but this woman who in January had a mind like a razor and could muse over folk singers she saw 40 years ago, who has a Ph.D. and a house full to the brim with books, now can't remember what day of the week it is or when her kids' birthdays are.

#50 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2007, 11:17 PM:

Wiscon had a "when Good Books Happen to [be written by] Bad People (Or why I hate liking Orson Scott Card)" panel

Os some similar title.

#51 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2007, 11:23 PM:

I'd be tempted to pop It Came From Outer Space, which Bradbury wrote, if it weren't getting late and I'd be likely to nod off all too quickly. There is a great scene where the scientist comes across two phone repairmen in the middle of the desert, and they tell him they can hear some really weird stuff on the lines. He climbs up the ladder, takes the earphone. And listens. We in the audience can't hear, but his expression conveys that there is indeed something strange going on.

#52 ::: Tom Barclay ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2007, 11:30 PM:

He's just a guy. Who cares what he thought about Howdy Doody in 2002? Does it make us wiser to say he was wrong?

Ten days ago Bradbury gave his annual talk for The Southwest Manuscripters in Torrance, CA. The strokes have taken a heavy toll. He no longer hears well. He has difficulty pressing down firmly with a ballpoint pen. Bradbury is just a frail elderly man in a wheelchair -- who has been writing professionally a little longer than I have been alive. Some of his work has been great. Some has been very good. Yes, some has been less good. But the story he told of Fahrenheit 451’s origin had to do with police harassment during a late-night walk during the days of HUAC and McCarthy. Memories slip and slide as we age. Deliberate or not – who can say?

Bradbury signed books for an hour before his talk. He spoke for forty minutes. He went back to signing books after his talk. He's 87.

Do I ask you to give the man a pass? Hell, no. I do remind you that when your health and energy begin to fail, and then continue to fail, and the love of your life dies, those Simple Solutions to Big Questions are awfully tempting. I also remind you that something in even polite bloggish discourse seems to encourage piling-on.

Patrick is correct. We should not be rigidly judgmental, nor should we ignore unpleasant truths. Here's my true wish for all who gather here: may we all be so hard-working, so talented and so fortunate that we produce an oeuvre such as Ray Bradbury's.

#53 ::: A.J. Luxton ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2007, 11:34 PM:

I'm always unpleasantly taken aback when people who I took to be smart turn out to be Bushites. Bradbury? That's just too frisson-y for me, and I'm going to choose to disbelieve it, for my own good. Surely I misread all that.

Michael Roberts @ 8: Thanks for summing up my feelings. It's a little easier to tackle that mental challenge after having practiced it on some of what I think about Card, and similarly with a few of my friends' political views. Of course, I tend to evaluate people's political views in proportion to their political blast radii, and since my most crazy-conservative buddy is kind of a recluse, I've learned to let his stuff just slide off my back.

Bruce Cohen @ 26:

So if he follows my example, he might even shift a little left as he ages, just to be contrary.

Hey, neocons! Get off my lawn!

My partner (in his forties) has done the same. I keep having to tell him not to say that to his libertarian friends, given that I'm an anarchist with some libetarian tendencies; he says he's an honest hypocrite (my paraphrase) and his opinions on other people will never extend to family; I say that's not the point. *grin*

Today I sat in Powell's and read Lolita, inspired to do so by the Livejournal censorship foofarah; and now my head is filled full of thoughts about books as creatures in their own right, with their own inhuman moralities and aesthetics, questions and answers similar to ones I harbored long ago on my own before discourse gave birth to dissonance and had me running around looking for Message everywhere.

Now the "a book is an alien and its context and morals are entirely found inside of it" mode is running simultaneously now in my mind with the "a book is a product of its place, time and culture, and what it is is what it gives to that culture" mode. It's startling and faintly refreshing.

#54 ::: D. Clark ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2007, 11:34 PM:

I could have sworn that back in the late 70s or early 80s, Bradbury made some comment that nuclear weapons were the "most Christian weapon ever created," or something similar. A Google search for "Ray+Bradbury"+"christian+weapon" turns up a single hit: a blogger who mentions that someone visited his site after running a similar search string. But he doesn't know anything about the quote. So I dunno, maybe I didn't imagine it. Unless that was me doing a previous search, which I've since forgotten.

#55 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 12:16 AM:

OT: When asked for a YA fantasy, a WashPost Bookworld writer offered Dandelion Wine.

As to strokes, many of you know I had some. My neurologist says I was lucky because I got a better personality and most people get worse personalities. It's hard to predict with strokes because you never know what part of the brain will be damaged and how much may re-route, if at all.

Clifton, I have tested the same post-stroke, but I've been clearly much more stupid (not to your mother's level) for about seven years. The neurologist determined I was having brain seizures and put me on phenobarb and I do appear to be getting smarter again. I don't expect to get to pre-stroke, but I'd like to get back to the four-or-so-years-after-stroke level.

#56 ::: Howard Peirce ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 01:07 AM:

I've been out all night playing music and drinking caparinhas, so I'm feeling all provocative and may have trouble constructing sentences, but....

Fahrenheit 451 is not a science fiction novel, but a horror novel.

Those of us (we happy few) who read horror with an analytical bent have always recognized that horror stories (novels, short stories, movies, TV, etc.), when they are good (and Fahrenheit 451 is good), are representative of the unexpressed anxieties of the age, not of the author's conscious intention. Bram Stoker didn't know he was writing about Victorianism any more than Richard Matheson knew he was writing about the Cold War any more than Steven King knows he is still writing about consumerism.

When writers deal with horrors, and do so honestly, they don't analyze the content through a political filter. They find some way to express unnamed anxieties directly and unmediated. The result, often as not, is a powerful expression of anxiety that has no bearing on the author's intention. Horror is a meta-genre; it's the id-monster that suckles at the teat of SF, Fantasy, Romance, Gothic, Adventure, Western -- any genre it can feed off of is fair game. Bradbury can wear the mantle of SF all he wants, Fahrenheit 451 -- indeed much of his ouvre -- is horror, whatever else it might be. Don't get me wrong -- I love SF -- but I read The Illustrated Man and Something Wicked This Way Comes and Fahrenheit 451 because they were scary, not because they were scientifictional (if soft SF rather than hard).

Fahrenheit 451, the horror novel, is about totalitarianism. It's Hitler and Mussolini and Franco and Stalin and Mao and Hirohito. It's loss of humanity and ahistoricity. This is not related to Fahrenheit 451 the science fiction novel, or Ray Bradbury, the latter-day reactionary. He no longer owns that novel. No matter what he says, it's not his book anymore.

#57 ::: sara ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 01:11 AM:

In SF mode, inventing immortality or life extension is not a great idea unless we can rejuvenate people's brains as well as their bodies. Imagine how conservative 900-year-old people would be. They'd return us to the age of Methuselah, as in the OT.

#58 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 01:22 AM:
"I do remind you that when your health and energy begin to fail, and then continue to fail, and the love of your life dies, those Simple Solutions to Big Questions are awfully tempting."
Yes.

Five years ago, ten years ago, that was invisible to me, unimaginable, over the curve of the Earth. Now it's visible, in the very, very far distance.

It's a very frightening cliff and I'd hate to be hanging off of it. But it's visible, and imaginable. Yes.

#59 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 01:28 AM:

sara @ 57

I think on average you're right that old age brings conservatism, and the trend may indeed continue as we extend lifespan. But average is only average; there will always be people whose attitudes change because they actually learn more over time, about themselves and the world. You know, the "young at heart".

They do exist; I've known a few. And now that I'm officially old, I'm working at being one of them myself. One thing that makes it easier than it's perceived to be is that as you get older you do tend to get more confident in your own estimation of the world, and less willing to follow other people's examples purely from peer pressure. Well, I do at any rate, and my partner feels that way too.

I suspect a lot of what we believe about aging has to do with the slow deterioration that most of us suffer in our mental and physical facilities as we grow older. We extrapolate that out to longer lives, and assume that's the way it has to be. It seems to me that any really extended life, say beyond 110 to 120 years, is going to have to reverse that process and restore at least some of the character of youth. Not doing that will leave us like the Struldbugs, old past tolerating but unable to die. Of course, modern medicine has become quite good at leaving us in predicaments like that, hasn't it?

#60 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 01:43 AM:

Patrick @ 58

I've been watching my parents-in-law go over that cliff in the last few years. If there's a lesson I've learned from the experience it's this: make sure that the experience of your life means something to you, so that the ending of it doesn't become an unrelieved tragedy.

What I mean is that you should be able to say "I have lived, and that won't be taken away when I cease to live." You don't have to be famous, you don't have to leave an eternal legacy, and you don't have to have done great works. But you do have to gotten enough satisfaction from your life that you can say it was worth the doing.

Facing the end can't be done with complete equanimity, I think.* But to not be terrified and "unhumanned"**, you need to find some acceptance of the shape of your life as it will be. And it should be OK to shape it yourself, if the alternative involves unacceptable suffering.

* and in any case, I'm with Dylan Thomas on this one, "do not go gentle". But then, Eva keeps telling me I'm not ready to get off the wheel yet, so I'm going to have to come back a few more times anyway. Just not as a cockroach, OK? I am not a verse libre poet.

** OK, give me a better non-gendered form of "unmanned".

#61 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 01:49 AM:

More thoughts on Fahrenheit 451: Actually, I'm sympathetic to the notion that that book isn't about censorship, because books aren't about just one thing. If anything, the main thing that book is about might be something like the sheer sensual force of reading*, and the personal power and excitement of connecting with some big ideas that someone else put down on paper a long time ago. But censorship is also a big part of the book, the way TV and passive media pull people away from reading is indisputably part of the book, social conformity is maybe an even bigger part of the book... and of course really it's all about the story, and the characters.

Marilee, I'm hoping that my mom's brain will rewire itself a bit over time and that she'll get some of it back. It's good to know that the factoid we learned as kids, that the brain can't grow and can't repair damage, is simply wrong. Mostly she lost short-term memory and orientation, but she's also picked up some judgment problems and impulsiveness.

[*] I just re-read Possession for the first time in 10 years. Man, what a book!

#62 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 02:05 AM:

Howard Pierce: To put it mildly, I would grant the truth of this only with very substantial reservations: Those of us (we happy few) who read horror with an analytical bent have always recognized that horror stories (novels, short stories, movies, TV, etc.), when they are good (and Fahrenheit 451 is good), are representative of the unexpressed anxieties of the age, not of the author's conscious intention. So many, in fact, that I may as well just say "I disagree, and yet I read horror with an analytical bent."

I think that much of the very best horror is in fact so thoroughly personal that its age is almost irrelevant - if it connects to readers, it does so because of individual circumstances that have very little to do with the general state of society. Not all of it, of course - some work succeeds exactly because it taps into general fears and hopes very much anchored in the state of society. But enough to matter for any taxonomy. (Two examples that happen to be within eyeshot of me right now: anything by Ligotti, and Tim Lebbon's "The Naming of Parts".)

Back at Bradbury...

My own feeling is that Bradbury has given me and my family so much rich satisfaction, joy, amusement, food for thought, and other good stuff over the decades that I feel obliged to forgive him much now. My parents saw his one-act plays in the '50s and loved them, and I've taken so much good out of various of his books at various stages of my life...and all that goodness is still there, no matter what time and chance have done to its maker. In Something Wicked This Way comes, there's a lot said about aging, and how the wearing of the body can wear the mind and soul too, and yet there remains that legacy to love and hold to no matter. I feel that way about Bradbury's work. He made me a better person; I'm prepared to think well of him and pray for him yet.

#63 ::: Tom Barclay ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 02:31 AM:

Patrick wrote:

Five years ago, ten years ago, that was invisible to me, unimaginable, over the curve of the Earth. Now it's visible, in the very, very far distance.

Yes. The seasons are too slow, and too fast.

#64 ::: Howard Peirce ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 03:37 AM:

Bruce #62: I will happily admit to being drunk and full of myself, but that's as far as I'll go. (On preview, that's pretty damn far.) I can't enjoy James Whales's Bride of Frankenstein without reflecting on WWI and early 20th c. expressions of homosexuality. Day of the Dead (movie) or The Shining (novel) are as much about consumption as La Boheme (pun). Deep, human anxieties never go away, which is why Shelley's Frankenstein is still an amazing read. (I mean, check out the zeitgeist on ScienceBlogs to see that these issues are still around.) Or consider the oh-so-popular H.P. Lovecraft -- was he racist, or was he one of the few authors to successfully and aggressively confront his (and to large degree, our) generations's anxieties about race? When I read Lovecraft in a generous mood, I wish more authors would address deep racial anxieties as fearlessly as he does.

I shall read Ligotti, and get back to you on that. 'Cause I'm trying, but I can't keep up. OTOH, I've read Koji Suzuki, and am just getting exposed to Kazuo Umezz, so I can't feel too bad about the many lacunae in my reading for a North American.

I do think that Bradbury is overrated as an SF author, and underrated as a horror author. Tomorrow, when I am sober, I may have a different view. When you look at Bradbury as a horror author instead of an SF author, a lot of the seeming contradictions resolve themselves.

But I really oughta get some sleep.

#65 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 03:55 AM:

Personally, I prefer to read Bradbury as a fantasy author; I think it's a bit stronger fit than horror, for the work of his I like the best. But then some authors naturally cross boundaries.

If you're reading Ligotti for the first time, I suggest starting with his relatively recent work. The last section of his Nightmare Factory omnibus, the Teattro Grottesco stories, is particularly good. Early on he was too much in the footsteps of Lovecraft; later he cut his nihilism free to follow its own anti-muse.

#66 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 04:03 AM:

Sara, #57: Or maybe we'd just all turn into grasshoppers. :-)

Re the main topic... my immediate reaction is to think, "How sadly the mighty have fallen." Unless Bradbury-now has a great deal more in the way of influence than I think he does, perhaps we should just quietly draw the curtain and replace him with the memory of Bradbury-then.

#67 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 04:04 AM:

A book freezes a moment in the author's mind, and nobody's mind is so pure as not to include a lot of strange, unexpected things.

Critical analysis can be a forensic picking apart of that detritus, and sometimes it can be a CSI for the mind, full of the same illusions about reality as is the TV franchise.

And people get older, and change, while that frozen moment is, well, frozen.


#68 ::: jane ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 04:15 AM:

I seem to remember that Bradbury complained about Scholastic (not Bantam) censoring his book when they produced it for their book clubs. There was an article he wrote that I used to use in teaching. He wrote it for a California newspaper.

But as I am in Scotland and not Massachusetts, I can't put my hands on it. And of course, being within 20 years of Bradbury's age, I could be disremembering.

Jane

#69 ::: Randy Owens ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 04:27 AM:

Sara @ 57:

In SF mode, inventing immortality or life extension is not a great idea unless we can rejuvenate people's brains as well as their bodies.
The Greeks beat you to it by around 2500 years, you should know. Tithonus.

SpeakerToManagers @ 60:

** OK, give me a better non-gendered form of "unmanned".
Dehumanized? Rather different connotations, of course.

#70 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 05:05 AM:

PNH: "I take my characterization of Mr. Stross's current-day politics from the quote from him that has been in the "commonplaces" sidebar of Making Light for years: "I'm a fuzzy-headed warm-hearted liberal, and I think fuzzy-headed warm-hearted liberalism is an ideological stance that needs defending--if necessary, with a hob-nailed boot-kick to the bollocks of budding totalitarianism."

<bradbury>I never said that!</bradbury>

(What bugs me most about the whole thing is the personal historical revisionism implicit in what Bradbury was saying. He's denying his own earlier self, and that's never good. Criticising your earlier self for views and actions you no longer agree with is one thing -- cf. Gunter Grass and his rather serious teen-age whoopsie -- but disowning your early self seems to me to be deeply unhealthy.

Here's an author who's given the censor an office in his heart ... and refuses to admit what he's done.

#71 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 05:25 AM:

Dave @67: A book freezes a moment in the author's mind, and nobody's mind is so pure as not to include a lot of strange, unexpected things.

Nit-pick: it takes time to create a book, so they freeze a period rather than a moment -- usually a period of several weeks to years, although there are exceptions. ("The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch" IIRC took Dick three days to write, literally non-stop on a mixture of amphetamines and LSD. But it doesn't get much shorter than that.) So it's probably best to think in terms of a very long exposure photograph, rather than a snapshot.

(Sometimes you can see this in the background; I've read two SF novels in the past couple of months where you could see Hurricane Katrina's turbid wake churning through the plot, from before to after, and I suspect there are many more. The same effect is visible in any thrillers written between 1989 and 1991 -- a huge political giant lurking in the background waits to be airbrushed from the photograph of a future history.)

(Food for thought: some of us like literary serials, but is it possible that some writers simply aren't suited to writing them? Because it takes too long, and their personalities are too flexible, so what they're trying to write about changes from book to book, rendering them disturbingly inconsistent from a reader's point of view.)

#72 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 05:44 AM:

"unstrung"?

#73 ::: A.J. Luxton ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 05:47 AM:

is it possible that some writers simply aren't suited to writing them? Because it takes too long, and their personalities are too flexible, so what they're trying to write about changes from book to book, rendering them disturbingly inconsistent from a reader's point of view.

This is my trouble with anything even novel-length. My focus changes in the middle. I try to grandfather in the changes, though, seeding them throughout my later revisions of the early text.

If I ever write serials I'm going to do it in the style where some other protagonist, half a world away, resumes some other part of the narrative, peppered with cameos from old friends. Or else my protagonist has a big acid trip (...death in the family, finds and loses love, finds and loses sanity...) in between books and gets a new perspective. It's the only way I could do it sanely.

#74 ::: Cynthia ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 06:17 AM:

For a long time, I thought Ray Bradbury was dead. No reason, no logic, I just assumed. On some level, I think I thought that someone who had written something that changed my life so much OBVIOUSLY couldn't share the same planet I'm on:

Later a friend told me he was still alive, and this made me happy and I wanted to invite him over for dinner.

Now I read this, and find myself sadly reflecting that I was happier with the first state of affairs. Mind you, though, that I've been known to say monumentally stupid things now, and I'm not even halfway to 87. I'll file this in the things I'd rather not know file.

#75 ::: A.R.Yngve ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 06:45 AM:

My grandmother on my father's side became increasingly senile after her strokes, and her previously sharp mind rapidly deteriorated before she passed away.

At what point, I wondered (with not a little anxiety), did she stop being the wonderful woman I knew? When exactly did the person change so much that she faded out entirely?

We die in small parts before we die.

It helps to stay physically fit: I noticed that the tipping point for Grandma's mental fitness seemed to be a knee injury which crippled her ability to get exercise.

Take care of your knees. That goes for Bradbury as well as anyone else.

#76 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 07:46 AM:

well I've been aware of Bradbury as a right-winger for more than a decade so it's no surprise. He also has that urge to sentimentalism that one finds in right-wing writers of note (such as Halperin).

Anyway I never liked his writing all that much, although Something Wicked this way comes is enjoyable if one reads only 1 sentence out of every paragraph about the young sap on the green apple of whatchamacallit stuff.

finally "All culture is popular culture. ALL CULTURE IS POPULAR CULTURE!!!"

what about the stuff most people hate?


#77 ::: Attaturk ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 08:07 AM:

Bradbury is also 87 and not in the best of health. Often at that age and health you think a lot different than you used to, and to others including your own family, it appears you are not what you used to be.

All of us with older family members have gone through this...there's a good chance if we live as long as Bradbury people will say that about us too.

#78 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 08:16 AM:

My sister had two serious strokes when she was a teenager, and my Grandma had alzheimer's for the last 7 years of her life...both of them were profoundly affected but neither of them turned into a Republican.

#79 ::: Arthur D. Hlavaty ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 08:31 AM:

You can prick your thumb, but...

#80 ::: Hope Muntz ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 08:32 AM:

Yeah, Bradbury is a kind of boring long-winded writer. But so are you apparently. Your opinion of him seems to totally be because of his politics (specifically his supporting Bush, which is so rare it shoud be a protected species)--and if that isn't a literary witch-hunt I dunno what is. Should I burn all my Vonnegut novels just because he went around talking about fresh and exciting Al Qaeda was during the obviously senile last few years of his life? No, art and politics should remain separate, just like church and state--any time a celebrity actor or writer strays over the divide with their child-like opinion, it's our job to be the adult and just look the other way.

#81 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 08:48 AM:

Hope @80: the point is not that Bradbury's a conservative republican; the point is he's explicitly disowning and contradicting positions he staked out some time ago about the real purpose of his master-work -- and he appears to be doing so because some other folks he disagrees with seem to find it a useful metaphor for some aspects of political discourse in the USA today.

(Incidentally, I read your posting as implying two points that I strongly disagree with: firstly, and subliminally, that opposition to the Bush administration implies support for Al Qaida, and secondly, that artists should stay out of politics. Maybe I'm reading too much into it, but both of those sentiments get right up my nose. And I especially don't like being referred to as "child-like".)

#82 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 08:51 AM:

Hope @80:
I see you don't really do reading "boring, long-winded writers", judged on your reading comprehension of Patrick's post.

We're concerned not because Bradbury supports Bush, but because he's asserting something that isn't true, that (a) F451 isn't about censorship and (b) never was intended to be. The first can be refuted by a straight reading of the book. The second can be refuted by a straight reading of the coda cited above.

Having identified the problem, yes, we go speculating after causes. If his books are Bradbury's professional competence, politics should be Bush's. Is there an analogy between "it's not about censorship" and "Iraq has weapons of mass destruction?" Is the analogy bad information, or deliberate deception? Or is Bradbury's age catching up with him? All these are grounds for speculation.

No one here has proposed banning Bradbury's books - unlike him (ironically), many of us here believe that censorship does happen, and that F451 is a powerful argument against it.

(Mind you, this is probably too long-winded a comment for you to read, assuming you're not a drive-by. Nice split infinitive, BTW; using "totally" to do the split makes it even more striking.)

#83 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 08:53 AM:

O noes! Crosspostz!

#84 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 08:53 AM:

It's not entirely surprising that a book can be better than its author, given that a book can be edited and groomed and repaired until it's just so. The author is as the author is, and sometimes they can present a good face, and other times they're stuck with the phiz that nature gave them. I try to remember that I am staring out behind just such a map, but much of the time my kind brain works to spare me the knowledge.

Television makes you stupid? I recall reading he gave an interview in a room with a muted Fox News crawling factoids as he spoke. I suppose it's possible.

I don't think it's fair, either, to hold Old Ray against Young Ray for the calamity of so long life. I expect I'll give the sequel to Dandelion Wine a try, and probably re-read the original first.

(Oldmanspeak, in 2036, will sound remarkably like how young people talked just a few short, short years ago, only more slurred, and simultaneously assertive and querulous.)

#85 ::: Jakob ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 09:01 AM:

#80: Hello there, Hope. You must be new around here - this is your first post. Patrick might be many things (I've never met him), but I could never describe his writing as either boring nor long-winded.

This isn't a witch-hunt against the 'protected species' of Bush-supporters (were that it were necessary!), but rather 'that people who write brilliant books sometimes say foolish things.' In this instance, it seems that Bradbury is flatly contradicting himself in order to make his own political points.

#86 ::: Jakob ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 09:03 AM:

#83 abi: double crossposts! The embarrassment! *all die*

#87 ::: Scorpio ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 09:04 AM:

That about sums it up. The writers of fiction are not Perfect Icons. Sometimes the ones we like best will say stupid stuff.

And sometimes we will like the person who writes but find their writing to be off limits for discussion, lest we mortally offend them.

:)

#88 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 09:05 AM:

#8 Michael:

[Talking about disbelief that anyone smart could be a Republican]

I guess I'm always surprised by comments like this, because I know very smart, capable people all over the political spectrum. I certainly haven't noticed political or social views that mark someone out as obviously stupid or anything. Sometimes, people have blind spots. Other times, they just weight things differently than I do. This seems even more true for writers than for others, since:

a. Writers deal extensively in ideas and words and imagined better/worse worlds.

b. You can read things from people who lived hundreds of years ago, and in distant countries and completely different cultures than you.

The idea that all right-thinking people (all people worth listening to) believe the same things as you is more-or-less a way of blinding yourself. Many people worth listening to disagree with you about everything of importance. There are insightful and smart and humane people who think homosexuality is a disease to be cured, or that a US/Europe-run worldwide empire would benefit mankind, or whatever other oddball thing you can imagine. It's possible to learn from them without agreeing with them, and it's possible to respect someone with whom you have huge disagreements. In fact, you're far more likely to learn something from a person who doesn't come from your background and assumptions than from someone who thinks and lives just like you do.

#89 ::: A.R.Yngve ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 09:20 AM:

Every now and then, someone will claim that a writer is so different from his/her work that he/she couldn't be the real author: witness the debates about whether Shakespeare really wrote his plays, whether O.S.Card really wrote Ender's Game, etc.

Are those debates fueled by frustration with writers' personal flaws...?
:-S

#90 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 09:22 AM:

abi @ 82... If I may add to what you wrote... As for the assertion that art and politics should be kept separate, can one do that when a work of art makes a political point?

*hed kaputz*

#91 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 09:27 AM:

Jakob @85:
*all die*

i can has brains?

#92 ::: Steve Buchheit ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 09:27 AM:

See, Ray can say all he wants about his book, he is the author, after all. It doesn't mean we need to read it that way. And he can support whomever he wants, I don't care.

From what I remember, somewheres about 2/3 of the way through F451, Cpt. Beatty comes on stage and gives us the info dump that explains the whole society and book, of why Clarisse was strange in society, and why Montag feels disconnected, and why Ray wrote the book (you know, besides the introduction where he says it's about censorship). His characters have betrayed him.

But I'm not at home and can't pull my well read copy from the shelf and double check that.

#93 ::: Del ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 09:43 AM:

But... but he's always had a soft spot for dinosaurs, apes, and circus freaks!

#94 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 09:47 AM:

Time for me to listen to Hermann's F451 score. Absolutely beautiful, especially the section for the final scene where people are saying books out loud as they walk in the snow.

#95 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 09:47 AM:

#81 Charlie:

I can see two ways to think about the "artists should stay out of politics" comment.

On one side, it's pretty common for public figures (movie stars, athletes, whatever) to take some kind of political stand or campaign for some political goal, and they're given a lot of weight (at least publicity) because they're public figures, not because there's any reason to think they understand the issues better than anyone else. The fact that you're a successful actor, writer, athlete, businessman, etc., by itself doesn't say how much weight I should give your political opinions. If an obviously very smart and capable person like Tom Hanks says something about movie making or acting, I suspect he really knows what he's talking about; if he says something about the wisdom of the war in Iraq, I suspect he's no more informed than the guy sitting next to me in the coffeeshop. This doesn't mean I should discount his opinions, but they shouldn't get more weight than anyone else's. (That said, there are public figures who have taken some serious interest in some political or social issue, and are quite well informed about it. Bono probably really does have something useful to say about aid to Africa, for example, even though "successful music career" doesn't imply much about "competent to evaluate different aid programs to third-world countries.")

But art and politics are intertwined, in much the same way that religion and politics are intertwined. Movies and books give a picture of the world, and your picture of the world determines a lot about your politics. (I don't know how much connection there is between painting, sculpture, or music and politics, though there's probably some kind of connection.)

Sometimes, the connection is obvious--some books are basically propoganda for some idea or belief. You can make utopian socialism or benign facism work in a novel, even though both turn into a nightmare in real life. But it seems like every story has a backdrop that has political implications. Do people mostly arrive at their current state through luck or choices? What's the right way for parents and children, or men and women, or employers and employees, to interact? Is religious faith something that strenghens you, or something that weakens you?

To tie this back to the first point, a well-written book or well-produced movie can make water flow uphill. It can make something that would never really work seem practical--whether that's a thousand-person, super-competent criminal conspiracy that never leaks or messes up, or good guys successfully using torture to get information, or some version or another of utopia. If you're not specifically looking for the problems, you often won't catch them. Just as actors' and athletes' ideas about society should be taken with a grain of salt, so should authors' and directors'--and it's harder to do, because they can often make the impossible seem entirely plausible.

The weird thing is, I've seen movies and read books where I saw the problem, but lots of other dedicated viewers/readers never did. Sometimes, this ruins the movie or book for me; other times I can enjoy it, but with this weird bit of unreality--like I know I'm suspending disbelief, and I'm doing it provisionally for this book.

#96 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 10:03 AM:

Some time traveler stepped on the wrong butterfly. We're now in Deutscher's universe, with that universe's Ray Bradbury.

#97 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 10:37 AM:

Fahrenheit 451 has always been about moronic TV, not censorship. We have always been at war with Barsoom. Our bread-and-circus ration has just been increased to 20 grams and the Pandaemonium Shadow Show. Alphas have to work so hard, I'm so glad I'm Marie of Roumania!

Beam me up, C'Mell, I'm melting.

#98 ::: theophylact ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 11:36 AM:

You have to remember that Bradbury is the guy who wrote "Forever and the Earth". Thomas Wolfe is his model for writing. That's okay for a sixteen-year-old, which is roughly where Bradbury remins frozen.

#99 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 11:43 AM:

#88

[Talking about disbelief that anyone smart could be a Republican]


I guess I'm always surprised by comments like this, because I know very smart, capable people all over the political spectrum.

But the comment wasn't about someone smart being a Republican -- it was about someone smart being a Bushite.

There really isn't any excuse any more for anyone smart to support George W.

#100 ::: PublicRadioVet ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 11:44 AM:

Tom Barclay @ #52: excellent, excellent, my thoughts exactly.

#101 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 11:46 AM:

Hope (#80)No, art and politics should remain separate, just like church and state--any time a celebrity actor or writer strays over the divide with their child-like opinion, it's our job to be the adult and just look the other way.

Lessee... how to sum this up... Bullshit.

One: Politicians speak on art all the time. No one seems to think this is wrong.

Two: Politics isn't some mystical sphere, like neurosurgery, or fluid dynamics, which requires some special aptitude, extensive training and the like.

It is, in fact, an interactive process. We, as a polity, need to have people (be they artists, [of any stripe, from potters to actors] schoolteachers [kindergarten to Ph.D advisors] garbage collectors, bricklayers, economists, soldiers, sailors, dog-catchers, students) to take part.

I, for one, think the idea of Plato's philosopher king is a bad one. I don't think shoving off the privelege of who gets to decide how I live (and, in some cases, die) to some annointed class of, "politicians" is a good thing.

Esp. as those who fill that role are selected in ways which, in no way, necessarily suit them to the job.

In the middle ages, it was birth. In the modern US it's a combination of birth (for the money), prediliction (for the urge to run) and one's ability to persuade the public; either through good rhetoric on important issues, or by playing to fear, predjudice and the hot-buttons of the day.

Add television and one suddenly needs charisma.

Bush, Cheney, Biden, Obama, Schweitzer, et al., aren't annointed by heaven, they were elected by people. They aren't super-beings, to whom I have to defer, they are my equals (and in some cases my inferiors, either to wit, or morals; sometimes both).

So if Bradbury, Vonnegutt, Bono, Cher, Sting, Angelena Jolie, (I ran out of one name celebrities), Tom Cruise, Andre Ethier, Vin Sculley, etc. want to take advantage of the bully pulpit their fame gives them, to militate on the causes for which they care... I say good on 'em, because so many people just sit at home and leave it to the politicians; whom they then excoriate for not making good decisions.

#102 ::: Bruce Cohen, SpeakerToManagers ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 11:47 AM:

Aw, Jo, and your beautiful wickedness too?

#103 ::: Scorpio ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 11:57 AM:

# 59 Bruce Cohen I think on average you're right that old age brings conservatism, and the trend may indeed continue as we extend lifespan. But average is only average; there will always be people whose attitudes change because they actually learn more over time, about themselves and the world. You know, the "young at heart".

We are part of a divided species. In general, I'd say women become more radical, not more conservative. The learning of a lifetime often highlights for them just what the facts of life are -- and in a way that makes their opinions pretty unpalatable. I seriously doubt that the results could be summarized as "young at heart". Conservative is where guys go, but old women get more and more obstreperous -- and thus the whisper of "witch!" rings through history -- when it isn't a burning screech.

#104 ::: Bruce Cohen, SpeakerToManagers ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 12:14 PM:

Terry makes a good case for why pedestals are a bad place to display politicians*. There's also a case to be made for not putting artists up there.

We in Western society** have a tendency to want to aggrandize artists, to think of them as somehow inherently special, moving in a realm the rest of us can only dimly perceive. This is why we have trouble when a respected artist says something stupid, ignorant, or flaming hateful.

To borrow Terry's succinct analysis: "Bullshit". There's nothing mystical about art, well, any more mystical than the rest of life. Art is craft, the solving of problems involved in taking raw materials and turning them into artifice. It has very little, if any, relation to your intelligence***, your personality, your politics, or your morality.

Picasso was an egocentric, selfish ass. He was also a great painter. No connection between the two. Lawrence Olivier was a Fascist and very possibly drove his wife insane, deliberately. He was also a great actor. Again, no connection. Rodin treated his finest protege like crap, and kept her from getting the praise she deserved because he was more interested in sleeping with her than helping her with her art. He was also a great sculptor. Just for contrast, Ray Harryhausen was reportedly one of the nicest people you were ever likely to meet, and he was the single greatest stop motion animator of his time, practically inventing the art form. A pattern emerges.

There's this persistent image of an artist as someone whose abilities come from living in a garret in Paris, smoking opium, and dying of syphilis. Art, crime, squalor, and the power of the mystic mind all wrapped up in one package. I'm still trying to find the PR guy who dreamed that up; I'll pay for his garret.


* aside from the difficulties in dusting, and the horror of accidentally seeing their undies.

** as opposed to, say, Bali, where art is considered a part of everyday life.

*** yes, some minimum intelligence is necessary to use whatever tools the art requires, and to plan what you're doing, but my observation is that the minimum is not high.

#105 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 12:24 PM:

Jo Walton #97: That's just perfect. You are hereby awarded one Internet (batteries not included).

#106 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 12:41 PM:

how to change your mind gracefully

well, if I have a purpose in life, it might be to serve as an example for others of how not to do it.

#107 ::: Adam Rakunas ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 12:52 PM:

About eleven years ago, I went to a lecture at the Huntington Library by Paul Conrad, former editorial cartoonist for the LA Times, three time Pulitzer winner, and Enemy of Nixon. Conrad read some of his hate mail, and one letter that tore Conrad a new one for having the audacity to criticize Ronald Reagan came from Ray Bradbury.

And only a few years before, Bradbury had come to speak at my college. He signed my friend's lab coat and my copy of F451. And the latter experience, I'm sad to say, spoiled the former just a little bit.

#108 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 12:54 PM:

Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) #104 wrote "There's this persistent image of an artist as someone whose abilities come from living in a garret in Paris, smoking opium, and dying of syphilis. Art, crime, squalor, and the power of the mystic mind all wrapped up in one package. I'm still trying to find the PR guy who dreamed that up; I'll pay for his garret."

If you shift the garret to London, leave out the opium, and have the cause of death be suicide rather than syphilis you get Thomas Chatterton.

#109 ::: Gursky ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 12:55 PM:

On changing one's mind publicly and gracefully, the latest issue of the Hedgehog Review has a pretty decent article about John Dewey, his vocal advocacy of interventionism in WWI, and what it means for our current quagmire's "hawkish liberals". Made for a good read on my commute, but I kept inadvertently brushing it against the neck of the man in front of me. Sorry man!

#110 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 12:56 PM:

The last time I re-read The Martian Chronicles, sometime within the past few years, I was deeply disoriented by its, well, chronology. The standard version of the book was first published in 1950, so inevitably his projections didn't all pan out, esp. launching the first Mars rocket from Ohio in winter; in general, he overestimated the rate of technological development, but didn't seem to account for much sociological change.

According to TMC, by now, we should've launched manned missions to Mars, terraformed it, established self-sustaining colonies, and then largely abandoned them again to return to global thermonuclear war on Earth. At the same time, despite narrative disapproval, women were still largely relegated to subservient household duties and segregation was still in effect (incl. the lack of prosecution for recreational lynchings).

TMC is one of those works that's so deeply embedded in my childhood (I still remember begging to be allowed to stay up late to watch the tv miniseries) that I find it difficult to believe that it *had* an author; it just *is*. OTOH, it's possible that now I may never end up reading F451 after all.

#111 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 01:02 PM:

Julie L @ 110... I still like the 1980s miniseries of The Martian Chronicles. (No, Tania, you may not make cracks about my cinematic tastes.)

#112 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 01:27 PM:

Patrick:
Very likely, all of us will need posterity to forgive our stupidities and remember our better moments, so it’s best not to be completely judgmental. But it’s also important to point out the truth.

Time that is intolerant
Of the brave and innocent
And indifferent in a week
To a beautiful physique
Worships language, and forgives
Everyone by whom it lives.
Time, that with this strange excuse,
Pardoned Kipling and his views,
And will pardon Paul Claudel
Pardons him for writing well.

#113 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 01:29 PM:

A.R.Yngve @ 89: Every now and then, someone will claim that a writer is so different from his/her work that he/she couldn't be the real author: witness the debates about whether Shakespeare really wrote his plays, whether O.S.Card really wrote Ender's Game, etc.

Hm. When I read Ender's Game, knowing nothing about Card, I thought "this guy is a creep." Not being as smart as John Kessel, I wasn't able to articulate why, but nothing I've learned about Card since has come as a surprise to me.

#114 ::: Dave Lartigue ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 01:31 PM:

Guy Montag was a Replicant.

#115 ::: jstewart ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 01:35 PM:

I still remember reading this interview from 1999: Onion AV Club interview with Ray Bradbury

O: Fahrenheit 451 is one of the definitive anti-censorship books. What do you think of the renewed efforts to restrict or regulate the content of books, movies, music, and the like?

RB: That's not censorship. You have to have taste. You know, there's a hell of a lot in movies that doesn't have to be there. I'll give you a good example: Mel Gibson is doing a new version of Fahrenheit 451 next year some time. There are nine screenplays—nine screenplays! Now, if you know the book, you can just shoot the book off of the page. It's an automatic screenplay. Well, I gave them one screenplay, and there are eight more by various screenwriters. And to give you an example of what should not go into a film—and it's not censorship, it's taste—there's one of the scenes by this other screenwriter. The fire chief comes to visit Montag, and Montag's wife, Mildred, says to him, "Would you like some coffee?" And the fire chief then says, "Do bears shit in the woods?" Do you want that in a film?

...

RB: No, it doesn't. At least, I don't think it does. They imagine it does. It all started with Saturday Night Fever about 20 years ago. In the very first scene, the guys drive up and call him a "fuckhead." That's the point where I got up and left the theater with my wife. I said, "I don't need that." That's where it all started, about 20 years ago.

O: It's one thing if it's a matter of personal taste, but isn't it bad if someone else imposes their own tastes? Isn't that a dangerous direction to go, or can the task be handled responsibly?

RB: I'll handle it for them. If they want, I'll kick 'em!

"get offa my lawn you damn kids!"

#116 ::: Kathryn from Sunnyvale ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 01:41 PM:

Hope Muntz @80,

Were you going to be back to discuss your post, or was it just a drive-by comment?

If you are into discussions, what do you think of artists- specifically writers- whose art contains politics? How might your initial post scan to them*?

Wall of separation? Have you thought that through? I'm imagining a recent alternate history where artists skip politics and politicians don't write. No 'It Can't Happen Here' or Elmer Gantry, The Possessed, or The Jungle. No 1984, Uncle Tom's Cabin, or All the King's Men. No 1945, no Fountainhead. Is that a good world?

----
* consider a murder-mystery like Farthing**, where politics is a key player.

** which I almost didn't want to mention, as the author is here, but it is a good example.

#117 ::: Michael Weholt ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 01:44 PM:

I generally find that the last person you want to listen to on the subject of what a book is about is the author.

Beyond that, I will simply say that I happened to be watching the 1956 version of Moby Dick the other day, directed by John Huston, screenplay by Ray Bradbury (and Huston). I guess Huston made Bradbury's life a living hell during the making of that film.

Not that there is any way to compare the two oeuvres, nor is there any real point in doing so, but I have always preferred being in the presence of Huston's work to being in the same room with Bradbury's. There are a lot of things you can criticize Huston for, but one of the things I've always liked about his work is his fascination with man's ability to bullshit himself into the grave. This happens to be one of my favorite themes.

Bradbury isn't the first guy on the planet to start looking a little bit like Danny Dravot, or maybe even Fred C. Dobbs. Not that any of that makes listening to him these days any more pleasant, of course.

#118 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 01:44 PM:

completely different from naming your story collection I Sing the Body Electric.

Aren't large portions of Poe's
"The Cask of Amontillado"
purloined by Bradbury in
"The Martian Chronicles"?

If someone pointed this out already,
they should reply with:
"for the love of God, Montressor"

#119 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 01:45 PM:

Bradbury was always a genre-buster, and much of his early work is still classic. It was his byline that convinced me to buy a non-fiction book titled "The Zen of Writing", when otherwise that title would have kept me far, far, away.

Frankly, I'm perfectly willing to blame his drastic change of beliefs and politics, on those strokes. No, it's not just age -- all four of my grandparents lived into their 80's. None of them reversed their politics, none of them lost their memory, none of them started saying batshit stuff. That's probably due to the fact that none of them had strokes or other brain damage.

On the other hand, I did watch my stepfather deal with his sister's Alzheimer's. The thing I struck me there, was that on the couple of occasions when I saw her, I found her slightly childlike, forgetful and occasionally distraught... but not really upsetting to me. Of course, I didn't grow up with her! Her brother, on the other hand, was deeply upset, by what he felt was the disappearance of the sister he'd known. This, even when discussing the very same occasions!

How you evaluate someone depends very much on your relation to them, and on their context. In Bradbury's case, most of us have had decades of exposure to his work, much of it truly inspirational. And so, when we hear about these recent statements, our response of "WTF?" comes straight from our literary hearts -- whereas if Joe Blow said the same things, we'd just write him off as a kook or a tool.

Bradbury is hardly the first "great man" of some-or-another field to get kinda batty in his old age. It's a shame, but you know, these things happen. We need to realize that the Bradbury we used to "know" through his writing, isn't really there anymore, at least not as an intact personality. Just think of it as entropy in action....

#120 ::: Emma ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 01:46 PM:

Abi @ 112: BRAVO!!!!

#121 ::: Lee sees astroturf ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 02:01 PM:

#80: Indignant comment, from someone who's never posted here before, that's almost entirely ad hominem attacks. Sounds like fake grass to me!

#122 ::: abi reckons it's a piñata ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 02:30 PM:

Sweeties! I want sweeties! Lest, as Romeo said once, Hope turn to Despair*.

-----
* Which, in a Sandman context, would create a very, very interesting† thread. Particularly if she invited the family along.
† Possibly in the Chinese sense.

#123 ::: Jeffrey Smith ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 02:30 PM:

Why do we have to choose to read Bradbury as a science fiction writer, or a fantasy writer, or a horror writer? Why can't we read him as just a writer?

#124 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 02:31 PM:

Emma #120: W.H. Auden, from his couch in the Elysian Fields, sends his thanks.

#125 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 02:34 PM:

Fragano @124
They say in these modern melancholic and elephantine days that true originality lies in the selection and arrangement of pre-existing elements, rather than in the creation of those elements.

Although, as a craftsman, I generally reject this argument, I took Emma's comment in that light.

#126 ::: James ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 02:40 PM:

abi@112:

There is an irony here: my recollection, from an editorial/bibliographic discussion of "what do you do when authors rewrite their own works?" (in terms of establishing a copy-text) is that the verses you quote were later removed/modified by Auden from his own work as his opinions changed (in summary, he became more sympathetic to Kipling and Claudel). Auden wasn't as bad as Yeats at refashioning himself in his earlier works, but he sometimes came close.

#127 ::: Longhairedweirdo ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 02:45 PM:

Herm. To be fair to Mr. Bradbury, I find it easy to remember my old writings as being whatever wonderful things I dream up about them. (Often, I remember them as being much more moving and powerful - and grammatical! - than they actually are.)

Right now, he's probably cranky about the people's lack of demands for meatier things, so he remembers it as being one of the major themes of his book (and I believe it *was* one of the themes); earlier he was cranky about censorship, and brought that issue up.

What I'm suggesting is that he could well be saying exactly what he believes to be true, because, hell, anyone can be a lousy self reporter, especially about things that are big and important and emotional.

#128 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 02:45 PM:

abi @ 125... They say in these modern melancholic and elephantine days that true originality lies in the selection and arrangement of pre-existing elements, rather than in the creation of those elements

I wonder if they said the same thing in the days of Vespasian. Hmm... Marcus Didius Falco probably did.

#129 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 02:55 PM:

Abi #125: As, indeed, you should.

My own comment on Bradbury:

When I was young I told the truth
just as I saw it in a fine tale;
that was an error of my youth
and now against it I shall rail.
Now I'm real famous, and my words
carry more weight than once they did,
so I must challenge those bright birds
who will not do just as I bid;
I alone may say just what I mean,
all others must to me give way.
I am the master of this scene,
I'm the sole author of this play.
Now as my glory seems away to fly
I'll try to save it with a blatant lie.

#130 ::: A.R.Yngve ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 02:55 PM:

Things could've been worse, I guess:
Norwegian author Knut Hamsun became an open Nazi sympathizer and Hitler admirer in his old age, embarrassing his country; the Norwegians didn't quite know what to do with him after the war.

Wikipedia quote:
After the war Hamsun was confined for several months in a psychiatric hospital. A psychiatrist concluded he had "permanently impaired mental abilities", and on that basis the charges of treason were dropped.

#131 ::: Kathryn from Sunnyvale ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 02:58 PM:

Lee @121,

I vote for troll, myself, because her phrasing is just a little too cute in its provocativeness. I don't see astroturf because she doesn't link to a webpage (although do people still try to get volume via post at high-rank blogs, now that nofollow is common?).

Or maybe not troll, but merely indignant and too inexperienced a writer to be subtle.

#132 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 03:04 PM:

#122 abi:

No, no, that's a whole different family of immortals. Hope, Hatred, Hankering, Hectoring, Handedness (he's abandoned his realm now, tired of presiding over lefties maiming themselves with incorrectly-shaped tools) and Hiccups. (When the first digestive tract appeared, she was there. And when the last disappears, she'll put the chairs up on the tables, turn out the light, and lock up the universe.)

#133 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 03:59 PM:

albatross @132:
That's only six. You forgot Halitosis*.

-----
* But so many people do. And those who don't wish they did.

#134 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 04:14 PM:

Albatross... There is yet another family of Immortals whose members include Dilly, Dally and Donothing. For reasons that are obvious, very few people ever hear of them.

#135 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 04:18 PM:

Serge @128
I wonder if they said the same thing in the days of Vespasian. Hmm... Marcus Didius Falco probably did.

Well, he didn't, because he didn't speak English. He did, however, say In haec tristia et elephanta tempora, vera ars non in creare, sed in lectionemque ordinimque existandorum est.

#136 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 04:18 PM:

My brain must have misfired when I write #134... Those other Immortals are Diddly, Dawdle and Donothing.

#137 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 04:20 PM:

abi @ 135... Well, he didn't, because he didn't speak English.

Wise gal, eh?
Nyuk, nyuk...

#138 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 04:24 PM:

Maybe the third time will be the charm... Those barely known Immortals are Diddly, Dawdle, and Doolittle.

#139 ::: Bruce Cohen, SpeakerToManagers ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 04:36 PM:

Serge @ 138

You forgot Squat.

#140 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 04:44 PM:

Bruce Cohen... 'Squat' is Dilly's middle name, except that he doesn't have a family name, thus making Squat something other than his middle name.

#141 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 04:47 PM:

Bradbury was a Reaganite long before Reagan was a politician, I think; my strongest memories of Bradbury's fiction are the nostalgic early-20th-century pastoralism. That nostalgic pastoralism is also why I have not read all that much of Bradbury; even as a child, it struck me as false, soft-focused, deceptive. Bradbury left that life in the early depression era, and I think he has always missed it. Time has not been kind to that world, and it's the world that the nostalgic strains of US conservatism idealize--and Disney, which has employed Bradbury as a consultant. So this is natural, and a sad end, not only for Bradbury, but for that world.

#142 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 04:51 PM:

#133 abi:

There are some who say Halitosis is not tragic, but they speak without reflection. For once, long ago, she was Herbal Scent.

#143 ::: Lexica ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 05:07 PM:

Serge @ 140: I must beg to differ here — Squat is the goddess of parking spaces. (Leap is the goddess of passing lanes and intersections.)

The standard incantation, as passed down to me from my mother, is "Good, great, gracious Squat / please grant me a parking spot." Upon finding the spot, it's prudent to give thanks by repeating a modified version, ending "thank you for this parking spot."

#144 ::: Gursky ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 05:09 PM:

Also, hooray Picusfiche @46 for "feet of clay". I don't know how I missed the allusion the first time around.

#145 ::: Sajia Kabir ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 05:15 PM:

Albatross at 142, I present to you my personal internet. Though the other ones were pretty good too.

#146 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 05:19 PM:

Lexica... Shouldn't the name of the goddess of parking be Spot (with of course a little dog as her symbol), especially since, when we look for a parking spot, we can't find Squat.

#147 ::: Emma ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 05:21 PM:

Fragano at @124: so that's why it sounded familiar...but I am a self-confessed ignoramus about poetry. That's why I enjoy the poetry jousts in these threads so much.
Either that, or the radiation treatments are going into the brain instead of the boob :-) :-)

#148 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 05:24 PM:

Lexica 143: We always just used "Squat, Squat, give us a spot!" But we are simple cheese farmers.

Hope 80 was clearly a drive-by troll.

To paraphrase myself, "If I could just tell you what it meant, I wouldn't have had to write a whole book about it!"

#149 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 06:19 PM:

Albatross, that made me spit up a third of a glass of water. I just missed the keyboard, fortunately. Good work.

#150 ::: Dave Hutchinson ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 06:20 PM:

Yet he harbors a distrust of “intellectuals.” Without defining the term, he says another reason why he rarely leaves L.A. to travel to New York is “their intellectuals.”
Quite right, too. I understand Manhattan is infamous for its roaming bands of logical positivists, attacking people in the street and forcing them to convert to verificationism...

#151 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 06:23 PM:

Well, he's safe in LA, then.
</Northern Californian snark>

#152 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 06:31 PM:

abi, it's a good thing there's so many people in LA. Lowers the chances of meeting him without advance notice. [/snark]

The books he's written that I've read, I haven't liked.

#153 ::: Dave Hutchinson ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 06:39 PM:

abi@151: Maybe not. I heard the other day that Brentwood had recently fallen prey to a spate of drive-by Wittgensteins.

#154 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 06:52 PM:

Michael Weholt said (#117):
I generally find that the last person you want to listen to on the subject of what a book is about is the author.

Umberto Eco wrote an interesting addendum to Name of the Rose called Postscript to the Name of the Rose. He started off by suggesting that, ideally, the author should die right after finishing the book, so that he's not around to muck up everyone else's interpretations.

(He then, if I remember correctly, apologized for not following his own advice, and went on to discuss things like where the title came from and how he wrote the sex scene using Biblical quotations.)

#155 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 07:15 PM:

Abi #135 scripsit: "In haec tristia et elephanta tempora, vera ars non in creare, sed in lectionemque ordinimque existandorum est."

Anglice: "In hack trusty and elephant tempura, Vera's arse had a big crease said the election order existing in the east."

#156 ::: Bruce Cohen, SpeakerToManagers ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 07:19 PM:

Dave Hutchinson @ 153

That could spell trouble; there are reports of random acts of philosophy by Feyerabends in Culver City. And there are rumors of Popperites infiltrating from back East. This could turn LA into a battlezone.

#157 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 07:21 PM:

Emma #147: I hope the radiation works.

The lines were from's Auden's elegy for Yeats.

#158 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 07:23 PM:

Just for kicks I googled up our troll (#80), and found that Hope Muntz wrote a well-regarded book called The Golden Warrior, in 1948.

There's the remote possibility that this is a different Hope Muntz, of course.

#159 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 07:24 PM:

Fragano @155
Have you ever played the translation game? Intentionally, I mean? Because you're playing it now...

In it, you get a group of people together, each with a sheet of paper. Each person writes a sentence in English* at the top of their paper. They then pass it to the person next to them, who translates it into a foreign language and folds the sheet so the original line is no longer in sight.

This continues until the sheet reaches its originator, at which point the end is compared to the beginning, and hilarity ensues**.

-----
* I learned it in the UK, in a group of people where everyone spoke at least two languages†
** Particularly if alcohol is involved, of course.
† Well, if you counted Fordian Klingon

#160 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 07:25 PM:

Bruce Cohen: There is of course a danger of Marcuseans and Quineites attacking from San José and San Diego....

#161 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 07:31 PM:

abi #159: I've never played it. I've seen it done (Spy Magazine, would that someone would resurrect it, did it once as the basis for an article).

What I did was an 'if only it were English' (ignoring what little Latin I know) rendition inspired by the phrase 'vera ars'.

#162 ::: MR. Bill ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 08:00 PM:

THanks Patrick @112 for W. H. Auden's Elegy for William Butler Yeats. Paul Claudel was, of course, the brother to Camille Claudel, Rodin's abused protege, who had Camille institutionalized for wanting to be a sculptor. Auden was right about both. I was going to add a line by T.S. Elliot:"What has the famous spiritualist to do with Sherlock Holmes?"

Most people in the book business (and I ran a bookstore once) know you meet your favorite authors at you peril...

#163 ::: Jennyanydots ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 08:06 PM:

abi & Fragano @ #151 & #169:

en francais (sans accents, peut-etre sans grammaire):

"Le cul de Vera, dedans le cheval fidele et le clafoutis d'elephant, avait un grand pli", disait l'ordre des presidentielles qui demeurait dans l'est.

(should we take this to the open thread?)

#164 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 08:11 PM:

Abi @159, the American monolingual version of that game is called Eat Poop You Cat. The players alternate between writing and drawing, instead of languages. Hilarity ensues.

#165 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 08:27 PM:

bryan #76: Yes, even the stuff most people hate. What we hate is just as much part of our culture as what we like.

#166 ::: Jennyanydots ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 08:29 PM:

Avram @#164, I know that game as 'Cricket Cricket I'm on Fire". It's hilarious.

I used to have a copy of 'The Weekend Book': a 1930s (I think) miscellany which includes all sorts of games you can play at your country house weekend, as well as things such as birdwatching tips, amateur astronomy, bad verse, cocktail recipes and first aid advice (the latter two probably being linked).
Some of the games are absolutely terrifying, and I have never dared to actually play them. For example: 'Russian Sledges', in which you vote as to which of the assembled company should first be thrown off the sledge to the pursuing wolves, and have to argue in favour of your decision. The last person to be voted off wins.
1930s do-it-yourself reality TV, there is nothing new under the sun...

#167 ::: Owlmirror ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 08:37 PM:

Just some more pondering about strokes:

There's a recent thread on Pharyngula, which mentions the famous case of Phineas Gage, and includes this comment:

But when my father had major strokes affecting the right hemisphere, this extremely, meticulously honest man lost the sense that lying was wrong, and would lie (not just confabulate, but knowingly lie) whenever it became convenient for him.

And I am also vaguely reminded of something I may have read in one of Oliver Sacks' books, possibly The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat.

Anyway, I am just wondering if Bradbury is being knowingly deceptive, or is just confused. My own impression is that he simply does not care about true or false - he just casually says whatever comes into his mind, regardless of whether it makes sense or not. Which might be what everyone else sees immediately, and it's just too obvious to write.

I also clicked on the other Bradbury video interview that says "Farenheit 451", and in that one, he describes the incident of being stopped by the policeman while walking, also mentioned above in comment #52. So what does he "really" think?

A quote that I am reminded of from Sacks' book, describing the perception of someone with tonal agnosia reacting to a presidential speech: "‘He is not cogent,’ she said. ‘He does not speak good prose. His word-use is improper. Either he is brain-damaged, or he has something to conceal.’"

That's my instinctive response to much of what Bradbury is recorded as saying, in the various pieces I've seen recently.

#168 ::: Michael Weholt ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 08:44 PM:
#154 Peter Erwin: Michael Weholt said (#117): I generally find that the last person you want to listen to on the subject of what a book is about is the author.

Umberto Eco wrote an interesting addendum to Name of the Rose called Postscript to the Name of the Rose. He started off by suggesting that, ideally, the author should die right after finishing the book, so that he's not around to muck up everyone else's interpretations.

It isn't just that they're mucking up other people's interpretations, though. Often they are just increasingly wrong about what the thing is. They've got their own things going on, and a great stake in the book, and a stake in what it will become. Their minds move on. Time passes. Years go by between the time they finished the book and the time they are sitting in front of you telling you about it. Worse, they are the author, for heaven's sake, and so of course they are going to feel supremely self-confident about what themes they were dealing with, etc.

There is, after a certain amount of time, nobody more untrustworthy on the meaning of an intellectual work than the person who created that work in the first place.

#169 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 08:50 PM:

jennyanydots @ 163... And what was Vera's you-know-what doing inside the faithful horse?

#170 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 08:54 PM:

"Les chemises de madame sont bien jolies, et il en est de même pour ses longs cheveux et son menton pointu. Et que dire de son fort nez?"

#171 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 08:55 PM:

Mary Dell #158: Apparently Hope Muntz is this person.

#172 ::: JerolJ ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 08:59 PM:

I can usually separate the art from the artist so I'll give Bradbury a little leniency. There are many artists in many mediums I'll disagree with but whose work I have enjoyed. I always suspected that Bradbury might be a conservative - like others have posted the nostalgia was a dead giveaway. Anyway, it's still not as repugnant to me as another speculative fiction author who wrote a small piece of fiction after 9-11 advocating genocide for all the Arab world. THAT guy I will never read again.

#173 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 09:02 PM:

Charlie@71 & Julie@110: Clute has a term ~ "the real year of a book", speaking to the mindset of the author and to the period that may be cloned or mirrored (or even stared at through the wrong end of a telescope? Clute loads a lot of analysis into a term). I can understand both extremely vivid experiences (Katrina) and what may look like eternal verities (the TV version of the social position of women in the 1950's) coloring a writer's work. Stepping away from the latter can be especially difficult; even in SF, projecting a society alien to one's milieu \and/ representing it in a way that makes it comprehensible to the reader is not an everyday skill -- more common now than in Bradbury's heyday, but still not common.

Peter@154: There's a discussion (in Up the Down Staircase, IIRC) of a board declaring that a teacher's interpretation of an assigned work was incorrect -- and, on hearing from the author that the teacher was right, moved to exclude works whose authors were still alive.

#174 ::: Owlmirror ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 09:26 PM:

@#172:

Anyway, it's still not as repugnant to me as another speculative fiction author who wrote a small piece of fiction after 9-11 advocating genocide for all the Arab world. THAT guy I will never read again.

Are you referring to Dan Simmons's little cautionary thingy?

As I recall, he wasn't exactly advocating genocide. Although I suppose it could be inferred that he was saying that unless the US and Europe committed genocide against Muslims right now, The Muslim world would pull its act together and take over Europe and the US, in an absolutely unavoidable war between the West and the Muslim world, and we would have to commit genocide anyway in order to win. Or something like that.

#175 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 09:53 PM:

Hope, #80, artists get to say what they want politically. This piece is titled "Your Gift from the Department of Homeland Security: Please Display Prominently." What you can't see in the picture (I'm a lousy picturetaker) is the flashing red LED in the pupil of the eye. It scares one of my Hispanic cleaning ladies so much I put it away before she comes.

#176 ::: kouredios ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 10:07 PM:

Fragano @ 171: I'm aghast that a professed Complit major cold possibly think that politics and art should (or even could) be walled off from one another. Gah. Perhaps it's not her?

As a thoroughly postmodern complitter myself, I have to agree that books mean regardless of their authors' intents. An author's professed intent, however, can be an interesting data point when attempting to analyze said meaning.

Bradbury never really drew me in, myself.

#177 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 10:08 PM:

abi #159: it's now possible to play the translation game "against the computer" -- there was a meme going around Livejournal some while back where you took the lyrics to a popular song, and fed them through at least two languages of Babelfish before transforming them back to English. You then posted the mangled translation, along with several clues to the identity of the song, and invited your friends to guess the title.

In my case, my friends guessed it from the clues alone:

- Was released in 1971

-- Was never released as a single

-- Was played as the last song at EVERY school dance I EVER went to, even though it's really pretty terrible as a slow dance

Bet some people know what it is already.

#178 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 10:23 PM:

Greg London @118: Aren't large portions of Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado" purloined by Bradbury in "The Martian Chronicles"?

Since I still have the paperback out-- the chapter "Usher II" may've been originally published as an independent short story and may also link to F451, as it mentions "The Great Burning" of 1975 that purged all works of fantasy, horror, SF, and other forms of imagination. Its protagonist builds a large, themepark-like mansion full of mechanical models based on those forbidden books and throws a costume party for the most eminent members of the Department of Moral Climates, which banned/burned the source books in the first place. The mechanicals gradually pick off and kill all of his guests, replacing each one in turn with a perfect mechanical duplicate so no one notices what's happening until it's their turn. At the very end, he personally seals the last censor into a wall, making him say "For the love of God, Montresor" before filling in the last brick, and then leaves the house and causes it to self-destruct.

The protag's sentiments fit right into the current thread (p. 105 in the 1972 Bantam Pathfinder paperback):

"Oh, it started very small. In 1950 and '50 it was a grain of sand. They began by controlling books of cartoons and then detective books and, of course, films, one way or another, political bias, religious prejudice, union pressures; there was always a minority afraid of something, and a great majority afraid of the dark, afraid of the future, afraid of the past, afraid of the present, afraid of themselves and the shadow of themselves. [...]Afraid of the word 'politics' (which eventuallly became a synonym for Comunism ampong the more reactionary elements, so I hear, and it was worth yout life to use the word!)."
#179 ::: Magenta Griffith ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 10:42 PM:

Rikibeth @ 171
Was that song perhaps "Fgnvejnl gb Urnira"? (rot 13 to conceal spoiler.)

#180 ::: JerolJ ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 10:54 PM:

Owlmirror @ 174

Yup, that's the one. I suppose one could take it as just a cautionary fable but he skated a little too close to the line for me. I remember reading it and thinking he can't be saying this. And then I reread it and thought yes, he is saying this - he feels that because of the actions and beliefs of a radical fringe, we should wipe all of them off the earth. I can take opposing view points in artists. Hell, just the other day I cranked up some Ted Nugent (my wife was gone and I needed a monster guitar riff to shake the rafters) and lord knows, he's plenty crazy. But I expected better of Simmons, at least a little rationality and humanity.

#181 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 11:13 PM:

I think Ted Nugent can has be scratchid by som bad, bad kitteh.

#182 ::: Kathryn from Sunnyvale ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2007, 12:38 AM:

Fragano @171,

And evidently Hope Muntz likes drive-by postings.
She told David Brin to read some history before making his "silly" parallels. Brin wrote back that her core argument was factually incorrect and that her posting method was designed to "obfuscate and preen". Familiar? She avoided returning to the conversation there too.

#183 ::: A.J. Luxton ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2007, 01:07 AM:

Bruce Cohen @ 104:

There's nothing mystical about art, well, any more mystical than the rest of life. Art is craft, the solving of problems involved in taking raw materials and turning them into artifice. It has very little, if any, relation to your intelligence***, your personality, your politics, or your morality.

I'd semi-disagree with the front half of that paragraph. I think of art as a kind of mystical act. (I also think of mystical acts as perfectly reproducible, as subject to natural law as any other kind of acts -- I think Crowley has a nice rant on this subject.) But that reinforces your point in the back half. I think who you are outside your art has about as much to do with who you are inside it as what you do for a living has to do with how good you are in bed. I think the mystical procedure of art is much like sex or cooking and very little like politics.

Come to think of it, Western society puts good lovers on pedestals, too.

Art *can* be persuaded to involve politics, as can sex (it does this at the risk of ruining itself, except in the instance that the ... experiential side? inspiration? geist? daemon? of the art is something that has political significance, like, say, the story of a black woman trying to have a decent career in America. But that is applied most properly as outside context, not inside context.)

Now, I'm having a moment here where I realize that what I like about both Bradbury's fiction and Card's is the inside context, the in-character-head-view. Oddly, what I like best about every piece of political fiction I can think of liking -- say, 1984 -- is this same thing, which seems to make a book good regardless of what it Says or Does Not Say. I'd have hated the thing if I hadn't liked Winston Smith, and I'd have hated Clockwork Orange if I hadn't found it in me to sympathize with Alex... and Humbert Humbert was a great example of how a totally unsympathetic narrator can nonetheless have aesthetically brilliant inside-head-textures.

So, following this line of thought a little further, fiction with great characters is good regardless of whether it's political (and political fiction without great characters is just bad.) -- therefore political fiction with great characters may be good as fiction whether or not the political message is decent or awful.

David Harmon @ 119:

It was his byline that convinced me to buy a non-fiction book titled "The Zen of Writing", when otherwise that title would have kept me far, far, away.

One of my favorite tips comes from that book. The one where you make a list of words that strike emotional reactions in you, and use them as the pilot lights for stories...

#184 ::: Bruce Cohen, SpeakerToManagers ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2007, 01:27 AM:

A.J. Luxton @ 183

I agree with you about mysticism: notice I said There's nothing mystical about art, well, any more mystical than the rest of life. It's all equally mystical (or not, depending on how you define mysticism, but arguing about that one is a mug's game).

Sure a political novel can be a good novel. But it's good because it's a good novel; take out the politics and it will still be a good novel.

I think Crowley has a nice rant on this subject. Maybe it's just my prejudice, but I'd keep a 55 gallon drum of salt around for anything Crowley said. The man was heavily into mojo theatre: he loved screwing with people's heads and a lot of the things he did and said were purely for effect. That said, I think mysticism gets a bad rap in the West, because so many people have taken it as the antithesis of science, which I don't think it is.

#185 ::: Bruce Cohen, SpeakerToManagers ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2007, 01:48 AM:

This goes back about 130 posts. Either my poetry has to get faster or y'all are going to have post slower.

Corpsicle

I wanted Death to stay its hand,
so slept the still, dark sleep of ice
in hope the centuries I would span.

The doctors said they had it planned:
cures for all ills would soon suffice.
I wanted Death to stay its hand,

My life could be both long and grand.
I was willing to pay the price
in hope the centuries I would span.

But with each cure the ills expand,
and benefit's o'ercome by price.
I wanted Death to stay its hand,

I finally came to understand
that I must put my life on ice
in hope the centuries I would span.

In helium chill I've made my stand.
If I'm thawed is a throw of dice.
I wanted Death to stay its hand,
in hope the centuries I would span.

#186 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2007, 01:58 AM:

Avram, #164: I'm more familiar with the spoken-word version "Telephone". Everyone sits in a circle, and the first player whispers a sentence into the second player's ear. Second player whispers what they heard into the third player's ear, and so on until it's gone all the way around. Last player repeats what was said to them out loud, first player says what they started with, and hilarity ensues.

Fragano, #171: Egad. Does she ever actually say anything? You could turn that blog into a critically-acclaimed "masterpiece of literature"!

Hmmm, perhaps we should introduce her to Mark Matthews. :-)

Marilee, #175: That's fascinating! Now you've given me an idea...

#187 ::: dan mcenroe ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2007, 02:02 AM:

abi @ 112:

Funny you should post that - late in Auden's life, he regretted writing those lines, feeling he had been too harsh on the right-wingers!

#188 ::: jane ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2007, 02:29 AM:

So sue me, I'm in love with Bruce Cohen. Oh--AND this thread. I have learned more in the last few minutes scrolling through about. . .oh. . .things than I have in the last year or so.

Thanks for hosting, PNH. Thanks for posting, everyone. (Even trolls.) And of course the ever wonderful Jo. I think I need to dump a can of coke on your head. It will help with that melting problem.

Jane

#189 ::: A.J. Luxton ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2007, 02:59 AM:

Great poem, Bruce. I love it.

Crowley was a great believer in the necessity of skepticism: people ought to apply that salt and not coat every word in honey because of the name that sits atop the words. Thus, he purposely seeded his writing with bits of utter lunacy. Other bits of lunacy were less intentional.

Nonetheless, I've decided for myself that several of the aphorisms that come from him are quite solid. I suppose this attaches to the seed discussion in that the Author Is Not Always Reliable.

...The quote I'm looking for could be broadly paraphrased as, "Just because it's magick doesn't mean it's unpredictable or un-reproducible, and the goal in all of this is to find methods that work. It's like baking a cake, OK? If the methods work once and don't work again, you've done something wrong. Figure out what." I think that art is much more explicitly magical than, say, washing the dishes, so this bit has been useful to me in remembering that my creative inspiration is not, say, sent from on high one day and forgotten the next, but I may have screwed up my sleep schedule again.

He emphasizes some of the same points in the stuff analyzed here, but I don't think I see the quote I'm trying to find.

#190 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2007, 04:02 AM:

Bruce Cohen: But it's good because it's a good novel; take out the politics and it will still be a good novel.

I hope you don't mind me borrowing your comment as a springboard to more general commentary. Especially when I start by saying this sentence makes me wince.

I'd like to think that if it's a truly good novel, nothing as intrinsic to it as the politics should be removeable. The aspects of a well-done story can't be neatly separated and labelled, however much we would like them to be so. Often, without the politics, the character you care about wouldn't exist, or wouldn't exist in the form you recognize. The political view that inspired or informed the book would dictate the details of the world, as well, and what kind of place it could be -- which world, in itself, goes back to inform the character again. The language with which the story is told will simultaneously influence these details and be dictated by them.

Whether you can enjoy the rest of a book while disagreeing with such an intrinsic political stance -- or having that aspect soar blithely over one's conscious perception -- is another question. Certainly I could when I was a kid and an early teen, and loved several books which had significant sections go right over my head, but I don't think i do that nearly as well now. I have to have a good idea what it was all about by the ending. By contrast, I think I have more tolerance for things with which I disagree, even as I have a little more awareness when I encounter them. (Otherwise I could hardly read much written before my lifetime).

I could go on to say how much of the time, the opinion underlying a politically-themed story is often the main reason the rest of the story feels more compelling and lasts longer than a similarly thrilling plot without that extra layer. However, while I do believe that and can pick out examples around me, I'm wary of my own opinion here, because of writers and readers who make the same point to defend putting whole essays on their particular stance into their ostensibly-fictional work. I haven't decided if it's the usual case of "in moderation, it's sound, but falls apart if pursued to the extreme", or if there's a deeper flaw in the idea.

(I do concede it doesn't apply accurately to things like linked stories, or standalone books in an ongoing series, only to stories complete in themselves.)

That being said, Lovely poem. :)
______________________________

On the reliability of authors:

At this point in my life, I'm with Elizabeth Bear, who has stated (or quoted) elsewhere that half of every story is what the author put down, half is what the reader finds in it, based on their own experience and perceptions.

Thus, an author* may have a very good idea what is going on... in their half. And sometimes they will be good at explaining that half and discussing theme, and sometimes... not so much. Perceptive readers, on the other hand, may have just as much to say about what the story is about, and what it ultimately means, based on what happened in their half of the reading experience. And depending on the reader, may be more articulate about what they found.


*At least one who still has the story as written clearly in mind. What happens when they are decades from having written it, possibly decades from having read it, possibly affected by stroke, and possibly wilfully rejecting a political group with which they disagree? That's a whole 'nother thing. A wise man might concede he no longer knows what was there; we are not all that gracious.

#191 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2007, 04:05 AM:

Bruce Cohen: But it's good because it's a good novel; take out the politics and it will still be a good novel.

I hope you don't mind me borrowing your comment as a springboard to more general commentary. Especially when I start by saying this sentence makes me wince.

I'd like to think that if it's a truly good novel, nothing as intrinsic to it as the politics should be removeable. The aspects of a well-done story can't be neatly separated and labelled, however much we would like them to be so. Often, without the politics, the character you care about wouldn't exist, or wouldn't exist in the form you recognize. The political view that inspired or informed the book would dictate the details of the world, as well, and what kind of place it could be -- which world, in itself, goes back to inform the character again. The language with which the story is told will simultaneously influence these details and be dictated by them.

Whether you can enjoy the rest of a book while disagreeing with such an intrinsic political stance -- or having that aspect soar blithely over one's conscious perception -- is another question. Certainly I could when I was a kid and an early teen, and loved several books which had significant sections go right over my head, but I don't think i do that nearly as well now. I have to have a good idea what it was all about by the ending. By contrast, I think I have more tolerance for things with which I disagree, even as I have a little more awareness when I encounter them. (Otherwise I could hardly read much written before my lifetime).

I could go on to say how much of the time, the opinion underlying a politically-themed story is often the main reason the rest of the story feels more compelling and lasts longer than a similarly thrilling plot without that extra layer. However, while I do believe that and can pick out examples around me, I'm wary of my own opinion here, because of writers and readers who make the same point to defend putting whole essays on their particular stance into their ostensibly-fictional work. I haven't decided if it's the usual case of "in moderation, it's sound, but falls apart if pursued to the extreme", or if there's a deeper flaw in the idea.

(I do concede it doesn't apply accurately to things like linked stories, or standalone books in an ongoing series, only to stories complete in themselves.)

That being said, Lovely poem. :)
______________________________

On the reliability of authors:

At this point in my life, I'm with Elizabeth Bear, who has stated (or quoted) elsewhere that half of every story is what the author put down, half is what the reader finds in it, based on their own experience and perceptions.

Thus, an author* may have a very good idea what is going on... in their half. And sometimes they will be good at explaining that half and discussing theme, and sometimes... not so much. Perceptive readers, on the other hand, may have just as much to say about what the story is about, and what it ultimately means, based on what happened in their half of the reading experience. And depending on the reader, may be more articulate about what they found.


*At least one who still has the story as written clearly in mind. What happens when they are decades from having written it, possibly decades from having read it, possibly affected by stroke, and possibly wilfully rejecting a political group with which they disagree? That's a whole 'nother thing. A wise man might concede he no longer knows what was there; we are not all that gracious.

#192 ::: Keir ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2007, 04:07 AM:

The point that I gave up on Simmons was when, after posting on his forum for a month or so (rather ineptly, sure, but...), he got more worked up over a post of mine denying that illegal downloading is theft than a poster advocating concentration camps for Muslims. Not just in a passing by, theoretical way, but ``if there's another 9/11, all the Muslims should be locked up''.

I'm sorry, but I'm not sending royalties to a man who hosts a forum where people post about how wonderful genocide would be without even a flicker of reproach.

#193 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2007, 04:10 AM:

Rrr.... I blame my husband and his insistance on downloading things and slowing the connection to extremes for the double post. Please delete one of them.

#194 ::: Mez ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2007, 04:58 AM:

Lee (#186) "Telephone" sounds like a renamed version of the very old "Chinese Whispers". One famous version of the mutation is "Send reinforcements, we're going to advance" turning into "Send three-and-fourpence*, we're going to a dance"

*Three shillings & four pennies in LSD-speak.

#195 ::: Sam Kelly ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2007, 07:37 AM:

Never trust the artist. Trust the tale. The proper function of a critic is to save the tale from the artist who created it. - DH Lawrence.

Or (as paraphrased rather later by Neil Gaiman) Never trust the storyteller - only trust the story.

#196 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2007, 08:30 AM:

#177: it's now possible to play the translation game "against the computer"

Philip K. Dick, "Galactic Pot-Healer", 1969: machine translation and the Internet used for game-playing by bored office workers.

Now, I'm going to go spray some Ubik.

#197 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2007, 08:46 AM:

#195 Sam Kelly:

Psychology researchers often point out (in popularizations, so I assume it's pretty burned into their own minds) that introspection is a very bad way of understanding how the mind works. There's fascinating evidence for this all around, involving some pretty creepy evidence that a lot of what we perceive as our conscious thoughts and reasoning is really backfilling a rationale onto our existing reactions and decisions.

I expect something similar happens with writers--things sound right or look right or feel right for reasons that they may or may not be able to explain. Even worse, they may be able to construct a plausible explanation for why something happened, which is more-or-less independent of why it really happened.

A question to the writers out there: Does this sound plausible?

#198 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2007, 09:33 AM:

A.J. Luxton @ 189

And don't forget the converse of Clarke's Law: "Any sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from technology."

Lenora Rose @ 190

Busted. I tried to keep what should have been a much more complex discussion of what can be taken from a story and make it into a sentence or two, because it was late, and the dog ate my homework.

Yes, you are quite right that simply removing any aspect of a well-written story will leave you with a poorly-written story. Sort of like taking out a major organ from a human body and expecting it to work properly.

What I should have said is something like: "If it's a good story, rewriting it with the political elements changed or removed so as to remove the political message, while leaving the plot and characters consistent, will still result in a good story. If you take the story out and leave the politics you're left with a tract."

And, yes, you are also right that political fervor can often give a story energy and sincerity that it might not otherwise have. Still, I think every story I've read that was written largely as a tool to convince the reader of some political proposition was the worse for it. I'm thinking of the "Libertarian Neils", J. Neil Shulman and Neil Smith, for instance, or Heinlein in his more tendentious moments.

albatross @ 197

Psychologists call the naive* theories coming out of introspection "folk psychology". A lot of fascinating discoveries have been made in the last couple of decades using high-temporal-resolution EEG and functional imaging techniques that show, for instance, that even our concept of 'now' is synthetic, an artifact of backfilling to make events in the brain consistent in the face of varying delays in different cognitive pathways. Sort of like what the secretary of a committee does to make the notes of a particularly disorderly meeting sound reasonable.


* I mean this word literally, not in any pejorative sense.

#199 ::: Andrew ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2007, 09:49 AM:

It's interesting that this is coming out now; I was just talking to one of my freshman comp students about Bradbury, who she mentioned in a previous paper. It made me think about the general teacher's approach to dystopian science fiction. When teens read Bradbury, especially those teens with a geeky streak, it feels a little subversive and controversial. However, the message of 451 is, from an educational standpoint, commonplace and conservative. Books are good for you, TV is bad for you. Teachers are wise, peers are ignorant. High school literature classes gravitate to Bradbury and Orwell because in the end they support the conventional social messages that teachers want to portray--not like, say, A Clockwork Orange or Welcome to the Monkey House.

And it's easy to protect these commonplaces if teachers and students don't question the reasoning. The LA Weekly article says, "In the book, Bradbury refers to televisions as 'walls' and its actors as 'family,' a truth evident to anyone who has heard a recap of network shows in which a fan refers to the characters by first name, as if they were relatives or friends." Which makes sense--and yet, what other name would you use for characters? If I read A Midsummer Night's Dream and refer to Lysander, Demetrius, Hermia and Helena by their first names, does that mean I've been brainwashed into thinking of them as "family"? How does that claim prove anything about TV?

#200 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2007, 09:51 AM:

kouredios #176: Back when I was an undergraduate my teachers seemed to believe that the best writing was engaged (or engagé as they tended to put it) with the world, politically and socially. Things to seem to have changed.

#201 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2007, 10:01 AM:

Kathryn from Sunnyvale #182: Fascinating. She does seem to be a professional drive-by.

#202 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2007, 10:02 AM:

And where are my manners? Thank you all for the kind words about my poem. Makes me want to write more, it does.

#203 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2007, 10:22 AM:

Lee #186: I thought it was a masterpiece of shallowness myself.

#204 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2007, 10:25 AM:

Bruce Cohen #185: That's an excellent villanelle.

#205 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2007, 10:31 AM:

Fragano Ledgister @ 200

Actually, my own position is more nuanced than my brief statements have shown. I agree that engagement with the world, and specifically the political and social environments of both the world one* lives in and the artistic worlds one creates is a good thing for both one and one's** art.

What I tend to rant against is the use of art as a tool of politics, rather than the other way around. That's propaganda, not art, and the difference is perceptible to the audience.

Sorry, I really don't have time for an extended discussion this morning. If this subthread is still alive later I'll jump back in.


* or two, or more. I really don't like the 'one' construct, but the second person in English is worse.

** See? Gets tiresome.

#206 ::: kouredios ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2007, 11:12 AM:

Fragano @ 200. Not everywhere, surely. Not in my classroom, at least, or my grad classes in complit--especially the translation theory class I just finished, wherein we discussed at length the validity of any given translation. (An idea I still struggle with. Troy was not a valid translation of the Iliad! Just, no.)

Maybe another way to voice my "Books mean" comment is that there are as many different interpretations of a given work as there are readers/viewers/consumers of it. I'm still not sure where I stand about whether the author's interpretation has more privilege than any other reader's.

But at the same time, there are interpretations that can just be wrong on points of fact. I've had many students read Nietzsche's "Good and Evil, Good and Bad" just, wrongly. They miss where he's being ironic and what his emphasis is. They don't listen to my lecture and don't have the context. So there has to be a system of privileging certain interpretations over others based on depth of understanding, right? In what cases is it possible for someone other than the author to more deeply understand the author's own work? I think that brings me to agreement with the sentiment I sensed behing #56 & #71: that the undercurrents of context present in a work of art may be there despite the artist's conscious thought.

Now, whether Bradbury's conscious thought about Fahrenheit 451 has changed due to advanced age and strokes? Also a distinct possibility, no?

#207 ::: Emma ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2007, 11:18 AM:

Fragano at @157: thank you. All's going well.
On the matter of poetry, I gave it some concentrated thought last night and realized part of it is that often it doesn't sound right to me. English is my second language, I am certainly fluent, but sometimes when reading poetry I try to fit it to a spanish rhyming scheme, or something. Some are better than others: Dickinson is perfectly fine, Shakespeare is good (I "hear" him in Elizabethan English, for some reason), but there are some others that just do not sound right.
I'm getting a good education right on this blog, though. It's the fun thing about the Internets.

#208 ::: DaveL ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2007, 12:17 PM:

#199 Andrew: "Which makes sense--and yet, what other name would you use for characters?"

I think the writer's point was not so much the reference by name, but the reference to characters as though they were real people in the speaker's life. I know soap opera fans, chiefly though not always elderly, who speak of the characters in their "stories" as if they were real people.

In F451 Montag's wife actually is part of the stories she watches, if memory serves, and she refers to the characters as real friends.

Also, I agree with your analysis of Bradbury as reinforcing the educational system's biases, but I'm curious how you see Orwell as doing the same. What about Huxley? "Brave New World" is commonly read in high school. Is it reinforcing of societal biases or subversive of them?

#209 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2007, 12:18 PM:

Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManager): One understand's that one may find the conversion of art to propaganda annoying. Still and all, the issue isn't so much whether art must be engaged as whether the artist can be. People like Ms Muntz seem to think that there's some sort of barrier between 'real life' and 'art' and the two should never meet. The reality, of course, is that art comes out of lived experience -- and that experience includes the whole range of what it is to be human and to live as a human being.

#210 ::: alsafi ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2007, 12:28 PM:

Peter Erwin @ 154: That's much what I was thinking when I read Tom Barclay's defense (#52) and Public Radio Vet's support of it (#100), upthread. No one, in all my years of Lit classes, ever felt compelled to defend Mary Shelley's alterations to the 1831 version of Frankenstein by suggesting that the class was doing something unsavory by "piling on" in holding her changes and possible reasons for them up for judgement. Are only dead authors fair game for critique? I doubt Bradbury cares much more than Mary Shelley what our opinions are.

I think we do no respect to authors by not discussing their books, lives, or ideas--whether because they are old, or sick, or dead. It is worse disrespect to be forgotten than to be analyzed.

#211 ::: Kelly McCullough ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2007, 01:17 PM:

albatross @ #197, yes and no.

I can always invent a plausible sounding reason for having done something in my work, and I'm sure that sometimes that's exactly what I do when asked about something in one of my stories that I hadn't really thought about in depth. I know for a fact that I often make word or plot choices based on whether they "taste right".

At the same time, I teach and mentor a number of writers and I spend a good bit of time and effort trying to unchunk* various processes in a way that's useful to them.

Now, there's an excellent argument to be made that when I do that, I'm just coming up with a really spiffy ex-post-facto rationalization that teaches something that I want my students to learn, but unchunking feels differently than what I do when I'm making up pretty stuff that sounds plausible.

I'm not sure if that makes sense, but it's the best I can do at the moment.

*I'm using this word in the educational jargon sense that loosely refers to taking a group of processes that are all done simultaneously and seamlessly by an expert and breaking them apart so that a novice can see what's actually happening in there.

#212 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2007, 01:19 PM:

Kouredios #206: I think that's part of the larger problem of young people not doing any reading, and not having learned how to read critically.

#213 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2007, 01:22 PM:

Emma #207: If you don't mind my asking, what is your first language? Your English seems to me impeccable.

#214 ::: Owlmirror ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2007, 01:38 PM:

Bruce @#205:

What I tend to rant against is the use of art as a tool of politics, rather than the other way around. That's propaganda, not art, and the difference is perceptible to the audience.

Is it, though?

A somewhat tentative notion, tossed out roughly because I don't have time to refine it:

A lot of art, throughout history, is actually propaganda; images and words and music meant to promote a particular political and/or religious view. And most people were and are not aware of this: they simply take it for granted that the thing being depicted or referenced is "right" and "true" (if they are in and of the culture that produced it), or that the thing is attractive for its own sake (if they are distant from that culture).

Being aware that a work is deliberately promoting a particular political or religious point of view requires a certain amount of psychological insight, unless the manipulation is particularly crude — or the person perceiving it is of the group that the manipulation is being aimed against. Think of cartoon caricatures, as but one crude example.

#215 ::: Emma ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2007, 03:09 PM:

Fragano @213: thank you! My first language is Spanish. I did not speak English outside of a classroom until we came to the US; I was four months short of my fifteenth birthday. We went to live in Chicago where I was fortunate to encounter two teachers that were passionate about English and introduced their students to real literature (as opposed to the crap in the textbooks).
On further thought, I think the problem is that I sometimes unconsciously fall back into the "one vowel, one pronunciation" rule (as a cuban comedian says, if "i" is pronounced "ai" then Mississippi should be "Maisaipaipai", which it's only funny if you know Spanish pronunciation). I seem to have no problems with spoken poetry. In fact, that's how I "caught on" to Shakespeare. A teacher played a tape of Ian Mckellen doing some of the great monologues and something went "aaaahhhh!" in my head.

#216 ::: Andrew ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2007, 03:40 PM:

#208 DaveL: "I think the writer's point was not so much the reference by name, but the reference to characters as though they were real people in the speaker's life."

It makes sense to some extent, and yet it's hard to find precise evidence of it. We'd all agree that this could be unhealthy if it happens to an extreme degree, and yet we couldn't agree what constitutes extreme. If someone is so moved by a fictional character in a novel that the character seems real, we admire the novelist; why is this not admirable in another genre?

"Also, I agree with your analysis of Bradbury as reinforcing the educational system's biases, but I'm curious how you see Orwell as doing the same. What about Huxley? "Brave New World" is commonly read in high school. Is it reinforcing of societal biases or subversive of them?"

Is Brave New World a common high-school text? It was never taught in my high school.

Orwell, I'd say, is not so blatantly biased as Bradbury, and is certainly worthwhile reading. Still, 1984 and Animal Farm are often taught in a historical context as anti-Communist arguments, fitting the general American perspective that Commie = bad. Animal Farm, like Lord of the Flies, could be used to demonstrate to know-it-all teens that the world wouldn't run better if they ran it.

#217 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2007, 03:53 PM:

English classes other than my own in high school read Brave New World; I read it on my own. As for 1984, I did read that in high school and was indeed taught that it was anti-communist and woo hoo America and all that (or, you know, not exactly that, but you know what I mean). I kind of bought it at the time, for some reason, and it was a big shock re-reading it later when I discovered that's not really what it is.

#218 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2007, 04:21 PM:

Owlmirror @ 214

I'd certainly entertain the suggestion that disliking art used as a tool of propaganda is my own quirk, and not common. I grew up in a socialist, intellectual atmosphere in the mid-20th century; many of my friends and relatives were writers, artists, or musicians. The ones who were likely to subordinate their art to their politics, were, I thought, the weaker of the artists. My best friend then, a musician, is a professional musician still, and is still involved in politics, but not at the expense of his art. So I know that the attitude I have towards art comes from my own experience, is not universal, and may not even be very common.

Still, while no artist can remain above politics, there's a difference between making art and making propaganda; the line between may be very wide and fuzzy, but I think it is there.

Maybe the thing I object to is that when art is subordinate to political purpose then decisions about the work can be made that run counter to the best artistic interests of the work. This will usually result in inferior art.

#219 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2007, 05:04 PM:

Magenta Griffith @ 179: exactly!

#220 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2007, 05:04 PM:

Emma #215: Great literature is best savoured on the tongue and in the ear. It's as much an oral and aural experience as a literary one.

Of course, great literature need not always be sonorous; consider the following lines from a piece by the sixteenth-century Spanish poet Baltasar del Alcázar:

Tres cosas me tienen preso
de amores el corazón:
la bella Inés, el jamón
y berenjenas con queso.

Esta Inés, amantes, es
quien tuvo en mí tal poder,
que me hizo aborrecer
todo lo que no era Inés.

Trájome un año sin seso,
hasta que en una ocasión
me dio a merendar jamón
y berenjenas con queso.

(In English:

Three things do hold my heart
the prisoner of love:
The fair Inez, ham
and aubergines with cheese.

This Inez, o lovers, is
the one who had me in such a strait
that I was full constrained to hate
whatever was not Inez.

A whole year I was out of my mind
until, on one occasion,
she gave me for a snack some ham
and aubergines with cheese.
)

#221 ::: Keir ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2007, 05:20 PM:

Picasso was a fully paid up member of the French Communist Party, and did a memorial work on the occasion of Stalin's death.

I'm pretty sure Guernica is a political message as well. It's a whole bunch of things, but, as well as a great painting, it is Spanish Republican propaganda.

#222 ::: PublicRadioVet ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2007, 05:34 PM:

I'm with Bruce Cohen in # 218.

There is always an ill flavor to an artistic work which has been clearly and methodically bent away from its natural path by an artist with too much politics on the brain.

Personally, I have grown beyond tired of art works being drowned in the artist's Message; like kittens in a burlap bag tossed into a pond.

What happened to creating something simply for the beauty of it, and because it makes the world a more colorful or more interesting place? Why must all art (seemingly?) these days be "shock" art, or be so loaded down with political import as to feel like an aural or visual sermon?

Is there such a school in art, wherein the apolitical is prized over the political?

#223 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2007, 06:01 PM:

PRV (#222): No,there is no such school because (as this entire converstation points out) the interpretation of the piece is not wholly the artists.

I take photos. Some of of people, some are of things. Some are explicitly staged, some are merely staged by circumstance.

If I take pictures at a rally, and mean to take nothing but, "record" shots, with no, intentional political overtones... they may still be political.

What to leave in, what to leave out (to quote Bob Seger)?

One might even say that taking pictures of nothing but puppies and flowers, in the depths of the slums, is a political statemtent.

Art, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder, and the messages conveyed are not always the messages intended.

#224 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2007, 06:01 PM:

What happened to creating something simply for the beauty of it, and because it makes the world a more colorful or more interesting place?

I seem to recall that in the early 70s art-for-art's-sake was looked down on as a major in some colleges; it was supposed to be commercial art or something else that was Useful and Productive. (My sister was the one who ran into that. At Pepperdine, the one year whe was there.)

#225 ::: PublicRadioVet ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2007, 06:37 PM:

Terry, if I read you right, then this is an "Eye of the Beholder" argument, and no matter what an artist does (or does not?), someone somewhere is going to find the "politics" in it?

That's interesting, and somewhat disheartening. Because I think part of the problem with our contemporary American society is that we're too politicized; too much wrapped in our own ideologies and incapable of seeing things through ostensibly apolitical lenses.

#226 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2007, 06:52 PM:

What happened to creating something simply for the beauty of it, and because it makes the world a more colorful or more interesting place?

Nothing.

Why must all art (seemingly?) these days be "shock" art, or be so loaded down with political import as to feel like an aural or visual sermon?

It isn't, as any visit to iTunes, an art gallery, or the fiction section of a bookstore will confirm. (Assuming you don't pick a specialty political bookstore or art gallery, of course.)

#227 ::: Emma ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2007, 07:18 PM:

Fragano @ 220: Dicho por poeta, verdad es: el amor y el hambre se parecen mucho.

Mind you, I don't know that Baltazar is a good example: his sense of humor gets the best of him. And poor Ines! She suffers through all his oeuvre. If I remember correctly (quick check of the Internets; yep, I did), by the end of the poem he's considering getting Ines ar a cut rate price because "considering the matter dispassionately, Ines, ham, and aubergines with cheese are all one and the same."

#228 ::: Jim Henry ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2007, 07:39 PM:

Michael Weholt @ 168:

There is, after a certain amount of time, nobody more untrustworthy on the meaning of an intellectual work than the person who created that work in the first place.

This is something of an exaggeration. An author's memories of writing a book grow less distinct and reliable over time, like anybody's memories of any experience, but at least they have memories of writing the book, which nobody else has. If nothing else, they can refute critical theories based on false assumptions about when and under what circumstances a book was written. (Think of Tolkien pointing out that he had pretty much finished The Lord of the Rings before the first atomic bombs were exploded, or more recently John C. Wright pointing out that all his recently published books were written some years ago before his conversion to Christianity.)

---

On translation games: The constructed languages community has played a number of translation relay games, where each player gets a text and then translates it into their own constructed language, then sends it on to the next player with a brief grammar summary and glossary. Here's a page describing the results of one of the recent relay games. We're now getting ready for a relay this summer where we'll each be translating into someone else's constructed language, which we're supposed to have studied for about 2-3 months leading up to our turn in the relay (I'm way behind in studying the language I'll be translating into); not sure yet how well that will work.

#229 ::: Gar Lipow ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2007, 08:23 PM:

>actually, my own position is more nuanced than my brief statements have shown. I agree that engagement with the world, and specifically the political and social environments of both the world one* lives in and the artistic worlds one creates is a good thing for both one and one's** art.

I think there are two things wrong with your position.

First it does not deal with didactic art. Much of George Bernard Shaw's work, Lorraine Hansbury's Raisin are examples. You could not rewrite "Mrs. Warren's Profession", or "The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window" to remove the political social, and philosophical arguments. There is simply no apolitical substitute that could fill the same space.

I've always had a taste for didactic art, and not just art I disagree with. One movie I think is highly underrated is "Other People's Money" -- a movie centered on support for predatory capitalism of the worst kind -- taking over and dismantling of useful companies by raiders. I could write a scathing essay tearing apart every point made by the movie, but the fact is it makes for a great work of fiction. The hero and heroine end up giving each other up because they cannot back down over their principled disagreement. (There is a dialog free happy end that flashes over the credits which I assume was forced on the film by the studio over the objections of the writer, which I pretend did not happen. It is a tragedy, a love story that can never be, because two people in love have certain lines they are too honorable to cross. I'm insisting that the "happy ending" is a classic "kings messenger" solution -- one the writer does not believe, and one you are not supposed to.)

What about straight propaganda? Well, it is rarer, and generally I agree that it it has a higher failure rate (as art) than even normal artistic output. But what about "The Cradle Will Rock"? What about "The Jungle"?

#230 ::: miriam beetle ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2007, 08:33 PM:

albatross,

I expect something similar happens with writers--things sound right or look right or feel right for reasons that they may or may not be able to explain. Even worse, they may be able to construct a plausible explanation for why something happened, which is more-or-less independent of why it really happened.

that kinda starts into another fallacy about artists, the artist as idiot savant (i'm sure this is more common in, say, painting than in literature). if art is divine inspiration, then the inspiration just came & grabbed the artist, & the artist remained in an ecstatic trance until the painting was finished, & then she looked at the finished work & said, "huh."

thus critics are the only ones qualified to interpret art, what formal tools invoke what philosophical aspects. cause real artists don't do research or make rough drafts, or barely have conscious thoughts when they're painting. they are holy fools who just do what the bolts of lightning tell them, you know.

i'm also on the side of good art is good art & bad art is bad art, & how political they are doesn't really matter. the artists who made worse art when they were trying to "bend" it to their politics, well maybe that's actually a reflection of their politics being not as integrated with their personalities as they'd like to pretend.* but there i go, appealing to the artist's subconscious at the expense of their stated beliefs....

*like many early-twentieth-century avant-gardists who "fell" for stalinism & decided that instead of making the awesome, iconoclastic art of their earlier years, they now had to make nice soviet art. maybe the fact that that art was lousy in comparison (or some, like the lamented john heartfield, felt they had to stop producing altogether), points to the fact that authoritarianism & uncritical obedience are no good, at least were certainly no good for these artists.

#231 ::: Tom Barclay ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2007, 08:55 PM:

alsafi@210 - What I was hearing at the start of the thread was lots of "Bradbury's a damn reactionary, a Republican W - Lover, and I never thought his writing was all that good anyway."

There Is A Difference Between The Artist And The Artist's Work. Bradbury is just another human with human faults. A goodly chunk of his work, however, is pretty damn fine, to my eyes.

Offhand dismissals of a writer may be fun, but they do not good lit crit make. They also lose sight of artists as human beings just like us (but more specifically talented and perhaps more drastically flawed). We forget our collective humanity at our great peril.

Those are my gripes with what went before in the thread.

Now, I'm an farm-country progressive, myself, and I don't like Mr. Bradbury's politics. But I don't care if he isn't a plaster saint - it's unrealistic and naive to hold that expectation of anyone, let alone an author. I love the Wesendonck Lieder, but I wouldn't have wanted to hang with Richard Wagner.

Bradbury's work has enriched our literary niche and gained it a significant fraction of the respect it has garnered in the last 50 years.

We have all benefitted from that respect. People - readers! - customers! - learned we wrote about things other than BEMs and barbarian beefcake, partly because of Ray Bradbury's work. You'd have to work pretty hard to argue that's untrue.

Discuss and crit the work all you want. It's good for the work, it's good for people who want to do the work. Just don't tell me the work never mattered because you don't like the worker.

Yearning for a romanticized ideal past was at one time, btw, a certain sign of leftist-revolutionary-individualist leanings in art and literature. Now it isn't. Charlie Stross thinks Bradbury is passe. Fashions change. Ideologies gain and lose currency. Ray got old.

So shall we all. Hold tight to that along with your other truths.

#232 ::: Rosalie ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2007, 11:24 PM:

Owlmirror @ 214: A lot of art, throughout history, is actually propaganda; images and words and music meant to promote a particular political and/or religious view.

This strikes me as heading towards a definition of propaganda that's so broad as to be all but useless. All expression interacts with value-laden worldviews; not everything that looks positively on a socio-political-religious system can be propaganda, surely? (Not to mention the numerous subtleties of "promoting" available to art: see revenge in the Niebelunglied, Hamlet, and The Wrath of Kahn.)

But my actual point: Goodness knows I love Ayn Rand, but the way she promotes her political and religious world view is vastly different from, say, Virginia Woolf or Zora Neal Hurston. To my mind, there's not a useful way of talking about propaganda, art, and propaganda in art that doesn't draw that distinction.

Tom @231: Yearning for a romanticized ideal past was at one time

Yearning for a romanticised ideal past was at all times. I remember the first time I read a Greek text that whinged about how everything used to be so great, but now the world is all shot to hell and corruption, and the youth today with their big pants, and their colored chalk, and their Volkswagon Golf leases, and their peirced I-don't-know-whats...

Totally blew my mind--and still makes me laugh. As Depeche Mode says, people are people...

#233 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2007, 11:25 PM:

Fragano Ledgister @ 204

I'm sorry, I ran out in a hurry without seeing that post. Thank you.

Although this is an excellent illustration of the point about the author not knowing his own work: I thought it an interesting response to the challenge I set myself, but not all that good a poem. Thank you for seeing deeper into it than I could
:-}

#234 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2007, 12:10 AM:

I wish I could respond to everybody who's posted about the question of art and propaganda, but it would take at least two or three chapters of a long book, and I just don't have the time. Let me just say that even the ones I still disagree with I find persuasive.

Keir @ 221
I'm pretty sure Guernica is a political message as well. It's a whole bunch of things, but, as well as a great painting, it is Spanish Republican propaganda.

I agree that it's a political message and that it's great art (I used to own a print of it). I also agree that it's Republican propaganda, but I'm not convinced it's Picasso's propaganda. By which I mean that Picasso saw a great tragedy and used his art to portray it; the Republicans used that art as propaganda (see lame definition below). A similar relationship exists between Shakespeare and some of his history plays on the one hand, and Elizabeth I with those same plays. Elizabeth and some of her nobles stood patron to Shakespeare in part because those plays helped justify her place on the throne; Shakespeare wrote them as drama.

miriam beetle @ 230
thus critics are the only ones qualified to interpret art, what formal tools invoke what philosophical aspects. cause real artists don't do research or make rough drafts, or barely have conscious thoughts when they're painting. they are holy fools who just do what the bolts of lightning tell them, you know.

Which raises a question that's always bugged me: if we assume that some interpretations are privileged*, at least somewhat, how do we decide whose? Whose word do we take on the question ("Quis custodiet ipsos criticas?")** Any critic who insists on a view of artists that's as self-serving as that one isn't qualified by my criteria.

Rosalie @ 232
I agree, and maybe that's why I find myself agreeing with almost everybody on this issue: my definition of propaganda is fairly narrow, and extensional: "I know it when I see it." And almost by my definition, instances of propaganda are bad art. This can work because not all instances of political art are propaganda.


* I honestly don't see how to avoid it; some people know more about a subject than others. That's not an excuse to trust them completely of course: that's what distributed trust systems and reputation brokerages are for.

** pardon my latin, it's been about 45 years now since I studied it.

#235 ::: pat greene ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2007, 01:22 AM:

Andrew @216: Just a point of reference re: Brave New World. I read it in my AP English Lit class in 1978. My eldest son just finished reading it for his AP English class. I sort of doubt that it has been away all the years in between.

For the record, we both loved it.

#236 ::: Neil Willcox ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2007, 06:43 AM:

Re: Guernica - I was taught* that it's anti-war propaganda. Which is slightly at odds with what I understand to be how it's seen in Spain, and with Picasso's insistence that it not return to Spain until a republic was established there.

And 1984 - in the UK it's seen as an anti-totalitarian work. Sure, communism is one of it's targets**, but there's much more to the message than "totalitarianism is bad".

Great art as great propaganda - Richard III comes to mind. It has so reached into people's conciousness that I once saw a Yorkist apologist on the news suggesting that Richard wasn't liked because he was "different" (hunchback, limp, withered arm).

I thought I had a point to make when I started typing, but now I'm not so sure. Maybe it's the politics are in the eye of the beholder, or maybe it's that it's great art if it's still great even when the issues it propagandises are no longer urgent or relevant. May have to think more.

* It may have been in an art class, or more likely in a book or even on TV, I don't actually remember. It was only later when I learnt more about the Spanish Civil War that it's other meanings became visible to me.
** An anti-communism reading isn't actually wrong, but definitely incomplete. Somehow I can't see "woo hoo America" (great phrase) working.

#237 ::: Andrew ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2007, 07:24 AM:

#235 pat greene

Interesting. So you're more qualified to answer Dave's question than I, since I am a lot less familiar with that novel than I probably should be. What message do teachers give students when they assign Brave New World? Do Huxley's ideas play into the commonplace views of education and citizenship, reinforcing the general teacher's view? Or are the ideas subversive, with the potential to get students to resist the educational system?

#238 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2007, 09:15 AM:

I suspect this propoganda/art distinction is one where the endpoints are easily defined, but not the fuzzy area in the middle.

One way to think about propoganda is to think about where you put the main emphasis on creation of your message. Propoganda is all about convincing people of some statement or belief, and implies a willingness to play fast-and-loose with the facts, intellectual integrity, artistic values/integrity, logic, language, etc., to accomplish the main goal. If the creator of the work makes tradeoffs away from everything else to make it maximally convincing, he's writing propoganda.

By analogy, when I'm writing a technical paper, I will knowingly bend or break stylistic rules to make the thing I'm trying to describe clearer. I'd rather be clear than follow the standard format of a scientific paper, or use gender-neutral language, or keep my language appropriately formal. The focus is on explaining something that's genuinely very complicated in as clear a way as possible, and other, secondary goals fall off.

I think of propoganda and art in the same sense. If you're making tradeoffs to make your work more convincing at the cost of intellectual honesty, or value as art, or whatever, then you're writing something closer to propoganda. At the extreme end, nobody expects a commercial to be a complete picture of reality, or to maintain the integrity of the story or characters at the expense of the product being sold. On the other, I guess some artistic decisions make a work unsaleable, and certainly some get the artist in trouble with the law or ostracised by the neighbors.

In the middle, you get stuff like pressure from the US government for network TV to show drugs in a negative light, industry attempts to minimize smoking in movies, etc. You also get attempts by writers to avoid or shade politically hot issues--just don't bring up something that's going to get you in trouble with the police, or cause a bunch of outcry against you, or whatever.

Does this make sense?

#239 ::: DaveL ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2007, 09:24 AM:

Andrew & Pat on "Brave New World." Actually, both my daughters had it on their high school reading lists (recently), along with Orwell, both "Animal Farm" and "1984," so my question was sort of unfair.

"Animal Farm" is taught as a straight allegory of the Russian Revolution. "1984" is generally taught as part of a course on Totalitarianism in Literature, and lots of references to both Soviet and Nazi totalitarianism are made. However, the focus seems to have been more on how totalitarianism would work today: TV, the web, marketing, universal surveillance, etc. So whatever the meaning of the book, the way it is taught is at least somewhat subversive. Interestingly, they take on "Brave New World" the same way, and because of cloning and biotech, and the more modern way that Huxley's totalitarian state is run, it makes a good contrast with Orwell, which is after all very 1940s in its sensibility.

I remember when I read BNW, parts of it were shocking or titillating (I was a teenager, and it was a long time ago). Today, I don't think much of it is shocking or titillating at all; it either depicts life today (as regards sex, leisure, drugs, media manipulation) or is easy extrapolation (cloning, [sort-of] genetic engineering).

Now, "Down and Out in Paris and London" or "The Island"; those would be subversive...

#240 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2007, 10:57 AM:

albatross @ 238

Yes, this is what I've been trying to say and couldn't express clearly. Thank you for that clear exposition.

Got to run off to work again, so I'll have to wait 'til this evening to continue discussing this. Please keep channeling me on the subject; you're doing great so far.

#241 ::: alsafi ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2007, 11:21 AM:

Tom @ 231: Fair enough, and I can look at the early thread in that light, and see what you saw. I didn't read it that way, but I was too delighted in reading it as a conversation about the interfacing points of authors/readers/texts/and the world. But I am a New Historicist in the worst way, and so by necessity and inclination feel that learning more about Bradbury's politics deepens my understanding of and appreciation for his work. And while I have only ever read Fahrenheit 451, Something Wicked This Way Comes, and "The Veldt," he's one of my favorite speculative fiction authors. Looking at him from a horror perspective has also been interesting.

Actually, my partner and I have been having a really fascinating conversation sparked and informed by this thread, so I'm loving this discussion to pieces.

#242 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2007, 12:52 PM:

Emma #227: ¿Ambos se sienten en el estómago?

Inés, if she existed, was at a considerable disadvantage when dealing with a poet as witty as Baltasar.

#243 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2007, 02:07 PM:

FWIW, _Brave New World_ was taught in one college advanced freshman comp class in 1971 as the damnedest soup of, on one hand, seeing Wossname the Alpha who goes off to the wilds as a Christ figure, and on the other, a counterpoint to _The Greening of America_.

I've been more than dubious ever since about any intentionality other than my own.

#245 ::: PublicRadioVet ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2007, 02:58 PM:

Nancy @ #244: I thought a 'Mary Sue' technically had to be a precocious non-canon character who is introduced into an existing canon environment (like Star Trek or Star Wars) and then proceeds to dazzle the canon characters with brains/skill/moxy and/or engages in heated romantic adventures with same?

Ender doesn't seem to fit this mold, though he is 'typical' for many central SF&F characters in that he is a) remarkably different from everyone else, and b) knows it, and c) suffers greatly because of it.

#246 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2007, 03:13 PM:

PRV, "Canon Sue" is a term that gets thrown around in fandom circles; there is debate whether a protagonist can be a Canon Sue/Stu, but Dawn (BtVS), Fred(AtS), Ezri Dax(DS9) and Trip(ST:E) are all commonly referred to as Canon Sues.

There may be a LJ community by that name, now that I think of it.

#247 ::: PublicRadioVet ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2007, 03:23 PM:

'Canon Sue', I will have to remember that.

Ezri Dax does seem to fit the bill, I admit.

More currently, I thought Kat from the Sci-Fi Channel's BSG was very much a Canon Sue.

#248 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2007, 05:09 PM:

#244 Nancy:

That's an odd quote. Ender is shaped, by amoral people pursuing survival/victory at all costs, into a pretty frightfully ruthless weapon. At the beginning of the story, he gets into a schoolyard fight and kills one kid and cripples another. This isn't because of his moral superiority, or probably because of a correct assessment of real risks. It's because he's starting out (shaped by his monsterous brother and his own genes and environment) as a pretty screwed up kid. (In the normal world, kids who kill classmates in the same way are correctly seen as mentally disturbed, and are treated/locked up/drugged to keep them from doing it again.)

IMO, Ender with the right upbringing could have become someone who controls his inherent ability to be a monster (and he does, in later books). But he starts as something of a monster, albeit one presented sympathetically. He was selected (probably all the Battle School kids were) not just for intelligence, but for potential to be ruthless--they were looking for Alexander and Attilla the Hun and Napoleon. They were looking for people who could be shaped into horrible weapons, aimed at the buggers, and set loose. In some sense, they were looking for someone who was capable of being a monster (disqualifying his sister) and who was able to keep it on a leash (disqualifying his brother).

IMO, if you come out of the first book (or the novella) thinking of Ender as morally superior to everyone else, I think you may have missed something. (I'm using the rhetorical "you" here, not directed at Nancy in particular.) If there was a moral lesson there, I think it had more to do with the acceptability (maybe) of doing indefensibly evil things in the service of survival, and the horrible cost it imposes on you to feel the responsibility for what you've done in defense of what others told you was right.

#249 ::: Meg Thornton ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2007, 12:58 AM:

Should the arts (as Hope states in #80) remain out of politics and wholly separate from them?

My own answer to that one is along the lines of "mu", because in order to remain out of politics, the arts would have to be separated from them in the first place, which has *never* been the case. Any artistic work (be it an acting performance, the creation of a work of visual art, the writing of a work of textual art, the performance or composition of a work of auditory art, a dance performance, or any form of human artistic representation) is part of the wider context of society, and it is *impossible* to remove the political sphere entirely from any society. Politics (or the science of the exercise of power) is an essential part of *all* human dynamics, no matter which society they're part of. All artists, no matter how great or small, perform the role of reflecting the culture and society they are part of back at that society. It may be an accurate reflection, or a distorted one; flattering, or unflattering. But reflection it remains, and there is *NO* way that any work of art (no matter how commercial or uncommercial) can be considered to be separated from that.

Likewise, *everyone* is involved in politics at the most basic and fundamental level. We are all part of the shifting currents of power that make up our cultural framework. What we think of as "politics" or "the political sphere" is merely a macro-level broadening of a lot of the micro-level issues that we face every day. The artist, no matter how disinterested they may be in the macro-level political sphere, is personally involved with the micro-level, and their works will say something about that micro-level no matter how hard they try to avoid it - even such things as choice of colour, word, tone, style etc will make those comments. The person who "reads" the art (I use "read" in the semiotic sense here - that of receiving and interacting with a "text" which holds meaning) brings to it their own package of assumptions and interactions with their own micro-level political issues, and the wider macro-level ones. The interaction between the artist, the reader and the text is a political one in addition to being a communicative one.

Now, bringing this back to the point of the whole thread, while Ray Bradbury may well say now that he never intended for Farenheit 451 to be read as a text about the nature of or desirability of censorship, the truth remains that the reading public, by and large, have accepted this as being the message he was conveying. Certain statements of his own at a younger age imply that he accepted this reading of the text as well - in which case he may well have participated in a very widely-spread resistant reading of his text, and it would be interesting to know why he did so. Or, contrariwise, he may just be losing track of a few bits of the mental furniture now that his age is starting to catch up with him - and one of them is the table he's had his memory resting on.

#250 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2007, 02:52 AM:

pat greene, #235, we read Brave New World for book group last month and I thought it was massively ironic that while he takes on class elitism, he perpetuates sexism. I'd read it before, but hadn't remembered a lot about it, so it was interesting to read it agin.

#251 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2007, 04:01 AM:

Bruce, #198: Funny you should mention Neil Smith. I just finished an anthology containing one of his stories, and it handily won my "Waste Of Ink" award for that collection. No real story there, just a barely-disguised Libertarian screed; by the third page, I had "If you've got a MESSAGE, use Western Union," echoing thru my head.

Oh, and I liked the villanelle too. That's a damnably hard form for me to work with, and it's a real pleasure to see one done well.

Fragano, #203: That was more or less my point. I mean, have you read any critically-acclaimed "literature" works lately? (Not talking about the classics, but the contemporary stuff that's getting all the accolades.)

DaveL, #208: That phenomenon is by no means limited to TV characters. Have you ever heard a bunch of (e.g.) Bujold fans having a discussion about one of the Vorkosigan storylines? Mystery book discussion boards are another excellent place to observe it. Does this mean that we think of the characters in the books as real people in our lives?

PRV, #245: There's a second definition of a Mary Sue: an original character (usually the protagonist) who is an idealized version of the author, and gets to act out some of the author's favorite fantasies. I've heard a fair amount of assertion that Anita Blake falls into this category, and I'm becoming more and more convinced that Sister Jane, the protagonist of Rita Mae Brown's "Jefferson Hunt" series, is one as well. Would anyone who's read any of the Tom Clancy books care to offer an opinion about Jack Ryan?

albatross, #248: Have you ever heard Larry Warner's filk about Ender's Game? IMO, Larry does an outstanding job of capturing the moral ambiguity of the ending. Here's the final verse:

I was given no forewarning that I'd suffer guilt and mourning
While the generals are cheering for our victory now.
But I'll play the Game each day -- I'm the victim, I'm the prey --
Am I loser? Am I winner? Did I show them how?

Still sends a chill down my spine every time I hear it.


#252 ::: miriam beetle ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2007, 05:08 AM:

lee,

There's a second definition of a Mary Sue: an original character (usually the protagonist) who is an idealized version of the author, and gets to act out some of the author's favorite fantasies. I've heard a fair amount of assertion that Anita Blake falls into this category, and I'm becoming more and more convinced that Sister Jane, the protagonist of Rita Mae Brown's "Jefferson Hunt" series, is one as well. Would anyone who's read any of the Tom Clancy books care to offer an opinion about Jack Ryan?

yes, i also prefer not to make the distinction between "mary sue" & "canon sue." authors are authors are authors, & clumsily inserting your idealized self into a storyline is equally as risible, no matter where you got the other characters from.

& since it's still pretty fresh in my mind, i'll reiterate my opinion (well, it was teresa's opinion, & i agreed once i'd read the book) that d'artagnan is a big fat mary sue.

#253 ::: Jakob ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2007, 07:17 AM:

Lee #251: I have to admit I enjoyed the first few Clancy books, but in the later books Jack Ryan moves ever closer to a Mary Sue - he shoots terrorists, he saves the free world, he becomes president!

The other major superpowered character in the Clancy books is John Clark, the black ops man who dishes out righteous torture. I'm not sure how much of a Mary Sue he is - I don't really want to think about Clancy's psyche.

#254 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2007, 07:57 AM:

I got plots that dangle dingle dangle
As I go writin' merrily a lot,
And my narratives get in a tangle
When I turn up as central to the plot.

Oh Mary Sue, oh Mary Sue,
I jest hate admittin' to it, gal, but seems that I am you...

#255 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2007, 09:02 AM:

Lee #251:

Re: Ender's Game:

I'd love to hear the full song. Every now and then, I'll see this shelved (and with a cover) in a way that's targeted at children, which seems completely wrong to me. ("Here, Billy, this is a nice happy book about little kids fighting space monsters." Oh, and about soul-crushing guilt, psychological manipulation of children by amoral powerful adults, intentionally encouraged murders by children, etc. After that, you can read a book about the Lord's Resistance Army, for further happy stories.)

In some sense, though, the book is deeply subversive. What lesson do you take about the efforts of teachers, parents, preachers, and broader society to shape you into the right kind of person? Hmmm, maybe they're utterly ruthless and amoral, and are using me as a tool to be used up and discarded when it wears out or fails. Indeed, a big part of society's efforts to shape children does fit that pattern, right?

Re: L Neil Smith:

L Neil Smith can write pretty good stuff, but he definitely tends to get swamped by his message, and he's a little too in love with his own cleverness. (He really needs a good editor, I think.) IMO, _Pallas_ is his best book, and _The Probability Broach_ has some interesting stuff, but is too kind to its utopia. I've found some of his books pretty unreadable--_The Gallatin Divergence_ was just silly, for example. He had a series set on an asteroid (the _Forge of the Elders_ series), which was three books--the first was pretty good, the second was okay, and the third ran the series the rest of the way into the ground.

My other gripe about Smith is that I'm just not enough of a gun nut. It seems clear to me that sometimes, a character's choice of weapon is an important part of his/her characterization, and I don't think I quite get it.

J Neil Schulman is a pretty different animal (the other of the libertarian Neils). I thought _The Rainbow Credenza_ was quite a good book, and though it did include some preaching, it wasn't taken over by preaching. The utopian vision is mostly far away on space colonies we don't see much, so it's okay that I can't see the blemishes. The dystopian vision shows a bit too much of the dystopia, though it's clear that the whole society is a pretty good place to live in many ways--there's apparently no starvation, little crime except the officially sanctioned stuff against Touchables, etc. (But mind the draft.)

#256 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2007, 09:27 AM:

My other gripe about Smith is that I'm just not enough of a gun nut.

Nothing wrong with that.

It seems clear to me that sometimes, a character's choice of weapon is an important part of his/her characterization, and I don't think I quite get it.

In fiction, I could see how a character's weapon tell's something about the character. In the realworld, who get's the rifle, the beltfed, the grenade launcher, the mortar, etc, is more a matter of what was needed when you got transfered to the unit, and other randomness, and so doesn't say anything about the person.

But in fiction, Jayne's gun, Vera? I think, said something about Jayne.

Hm, the gun scene from Men In Black is popping in my head now. The one where the experienced guy gets a bigass weapon, and Will Smith gets the "noisy cricket".

Don't cross the streams.

Oh, and the minigun in Predator was carried by the brick, and the geeky guy carried the grenade launcher.

Hm, yeah, there's a bit of a pattern.

#257 ::: Bruce Cohen, SpeakerToManagers ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2007, 05:14 PM:

albatross @ 255

The book that gave me the hates for Neil Smith was "The Crystal Empire" in which a single mountain-man type brings down the entire Aztec empire after eating the livers of assorted other natives. Feh.

The only Schulman book I've read is "Alongside Night" which appeared to me to be a tract. YMMV.

#258 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2007, 06:37 PM:

DaveL@239: "Animal Farm" is taught as a straight allegory of the Russian Revolution.

Not always; the only time I encountered it as a class assignment was in fifth grade, when it was taught as a story about talking animals. We got to make little dioramas and everything.

Some of my classmates did mention that their parents had said it was a political allegory-- this was in an intra-Beltway suburb of DC, so kids absorbed some political awareness by osmosis, and one of my favorite recreational books at the time was the Reader's Digest Condensed Version of Massie's Nicholas and Alexandra so I had some vague sense of context-- but for the most part we were like "Yeah whatevs" and just drew bucolic crayon drawings of piggies.

#259 ::: Dave Hutchinson ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2007, 07:03 PM:

albatross@197/miriam beetle@230: I hesitate to jump into this, and I can't speak for other writers, but I do tend to write a story until it looks right. It's not a case of idiot savantism - it's more like building a house and knowing that if you put an extension on it it will look stupid.
Having said that, whether other people think the story looks right is another matter.

#260 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2007, 11:42 PM:

Bruce@257: Alongside Night certainly takes a specific political position, but I wouldn't call it a tract; it's very clearly about the \process/ of getting somewhere, the balances and compromises that requires, and the harsh starting conditions that make such a radical change possible. Smith (at least to me) has always shown that he has no idea what compromises between individualism and corporatism have added up to progress, especially technological progress; he assumes that everything can magically be done by individuals.

albatross@255: Perhaps you mean The Rainbow Cadenza? A rainbow credenza would be a bit overwhelming....

#261 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2007, 12:18 AM:

CHip @ 260: A rainbow credenza would be a bit overwhelming....

Odds are good that somebody on this thread has a bookshelf big enough for it.

#262 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2007, 12:37 AM:

"Someday they'll find it, the Rainbow Credenza, the lovers, the dreamers, and--"

Oh. Never mind.

#263 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2007, 01:01 AM:

Shame on you, Julie L, you did it before I could.

#264 ::: Janus Daniels ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2007, 11:11 PM:

"... if you come out of the first book (or the novella) thinking of Ender as morally superior to everyone else, I think you may have missed something."
So did Orson Scott Card.

#265 ::: Hope Muntz ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2007, 01:57 PM:

Sorry, I'm new to blogging, or at least posting comments on other peoples' sites. I seriously didn't mean to be a "drive-by", if that means what I think it means. As for accusing the author of this post of being long-winded, that was pissy and uncalled-for--however, his post actually is pretty boring. Because it totally has no real point. "Outing" people's political beliefs is exactly the same as outing their sexual preference. If you believe that one is the right thing to do in public life, then you probably believe in the other. Aimed against non-politicians, it amounts to a witch-hunt, however much all of you protest.

Yes, Mr Stross, the political opinions of those in 'the arts' are child-like. Because you have created a public platform using your talents as a writer (I've read half of two of your books and those could use the polishing time you waste on letting things 'get up your nose' online), that doesn't mean your readers or fans or whatever are interested in your political views. Which are not those of a historian or a career diplomat or economist or public servant or politician or political activist or even journalist. Ditto for Bradbury. Ditto for Paris Hilton. Ditto for Rush Limbaugh, for that matter--I never trust any 'celebrity's opinion of how the world really works for those of us who make our livings outside the spotlight.

Just like I wouldn't trust their medical opinions.

#266 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2007, 02:32 PM:

hope: In thinking this is about Outing Bradbury's political beliefs (never mind that the interviews and comments cited are all from public forums, so it isn't as if Bradbury were hiding his political view), well, in short, I think you misread the point of Patrick's remarks entirely.

That beign said, as to the actual content of your last message, let me see if I understand you correctly.

So only professional politicians can have political opinions worth airing and discussing? (Does that include people who run but don't win, like, say, oh, Will Shetterley?)

Writers cannot have done the research to get informed enough on topics to have an opinion that isn't childlike? (And here I thought SF writers, at least good ones, were notorious for doing a ton of research...)

OPn the one hand, it's true that a single writer should not have his/her political opinion taken any more seriously than another equally well informed person... but on the other hand, I contend that they should not be listened to any *less* -- and that it's actually easier with a moderately public figure to determine whether they're reasonably well informed and worth listening to (It's very easy to find out, within a n astonishingly short amount of reading, that Paris Hilton is utterly ignorant, and that Charles Stross, whatever you think of his books or his personal political bent, is very well informed.) Dismissing all that with a blanket "Childlike", or stating that you don't trust any public figure to have an opinion worth lsitenign to because they're in the public eye, is, well, childish.

And that's before observing that a vast number of fiction writers *are* historians, or journalists. Some are politicians. Some are merely better informed than average.

It's unfortunate that only politicans can have political opinions worth heeding. Lord knows no church leader or schoolteacher or secretary or engineer, no factory worker or shop owner, has *ever* known better what would work for the public than the politician drafting the new legislation. I guess every single voter, every person involved in a political march, and every grassroots movement ever made has just been put in its place.

#267 ::: Owlmirror ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2007, 02:55 PM:

I was about to post a comment, but was interrupted, and Lenora Rose pretty much writes everything I was about to write anyway.

But I suppose I can emphasize that it's rather ironic that Hope displays the exact same problems that Bradbury does — lack of reading comprehension, and expressing ideas that are either deeply hypocritical or autocontradictory.

("My uninformed opinion (that no-one who is not an expert can have an informed opinion) must be taken as seriously as if it were actually an informed opinion.")

Hmph.

#268 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2007, 04:22 PM:

Lenora Rose #266 & Owlmirror #267: If I read Ms Muntz's argument correctly -- inasmuch as there is an argument as opposed to a series of apodeictic assertions -- she should defer to my political opinions inasmuch as I possess a degree in political science. My plans for world domination are rolling on.

#269 ::: Neil Willcox ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2007, 05:27 PM:

Hope, thanks for coming back to clarify. The point that I read from the original post was that Bradbury, having written a book about (amongst other things) censorship, releasing it to the public, and later saying that it's about censorship, is now claiming it isn't really about censorship. Or in Patrick's own words people who write brilliant books sometimes say foolish things.

Farenheit 451 is a brilliant book, that has informed many people's ideas on censorship and television. So by writing the book, Bradbury's art has entered politics already. Since we're* examining his arguments in a work of fiction, we ought to also consider his views when presented as non-fiction, and, in this case, note the discrepencies. The merits, dangers and problems of dividing art (or artists) and politics are noted elsewhere in this thread.

Incidentally, since Charlie qualified as a pharmacist, his medical advice may not be as bad as you imply.

* "We" being people who's thinking about censorship has been influenced by F451

#270 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2007, 08:36 PM:

Welcome, Hope.

May I suggest that, since you're new to commenting, you hang around a little while and see how we do it? All blogs have their own community atmosphere. Around here, you don't have to agree with anybody, but we do prefer that you have a logical argument.

#271 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2007, 08:52 PM:

Re: #268: And I, for one, welcome our new thoroughly benevolent overlord with bagpipes and Sangria and whatever other butt-kissing seems like it might be productive.

Please make it Imperial Decree that all presidential debates must take the form of extemporaneously composed sonnets. I know you're the absolute ruler and all, so the elections are pretty moot, but wouldn't they be much more fun to watch that way?

#272 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2007, 09:13 PM:

Aconite #271: Under my overlordship presidential debates will require that the candidates spontaneously produces sonnets, villanelles and triolets all on the same subjects and all within the space of a few minutes.

#273 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2007, 10:24 PM:

Fragano Ledgister @272: I for another, welcome your overlordship, considering the alternatives. Although I hope the arts and sciences will be well supported, sire? (and having no reason to doubt...)

#274 ::: Owlmirror ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2007, 12:36 AM:

Enter Owlmirror, stealing from the best...


He is the King now, and he wants poetry.
The monarch business gives to some odd cravings.
I wonder where my book of rhyming is.

The early risers speak haiku at breakfast.
Even small children must learn rhyme and meter.
He is the King now, and he wants poetry.

Making poems is such an awful bother.
Prose and poor verse incur such heavy penalties.
I wonder where my book of rhyming is.

Speak not to me of dirty limericks.
He demanded a long ballad last Tuesday.
He is the King now, and he wants poetry.

The bookshelves seem entirely full of free verse
And rebel pundits gibber in the cellars.
I wonder where my book of rhyming is.

If he runs the world like an obsessive bard
You'd half expect somebody to edit him.
He is the King now, and he wants poetry.
I wonder where my book of rhyming is.

#275 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2007, 06:23 AM:

All applaud

#276 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2007, 09:46 AM:

Rob Rusick #273: How could you doubt it? You are hereby assessed a tax of 100 percent for the support of the science of phrenology....

#277 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2007, 09:48 AM:

Owlmirror #274: Wonderful!!

#278 ::: Susan ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2007, 10:08 AM:

yes, i also prefer not to make the distinction between "mary sue" & "canon sue." authors are authors are authors, & clumsily inserting your idealized self into a storyline is equally as risible, no matter where you got the other characters from.

& since it's still pretty fresh in my mind, i'll reiterate my opinion (well, it was teresa's opinion, & i agreed once i'd read the book) that d'artagnan is a big fat mary sue.

The more Jacqueline Carey I read, the more I am convinced that Phaedre is a Mary Sue and the more eye rolling her sexual-political subtext inspires in me. (I do like the books, though her lack of dance research is winceworthy in the latest one.)

#279 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2007, 07:11 PM:

Answering #112:

Space, that volunteers to stand
Between the head and heart and hand
And distinguishes between
Things unsaid and things unseen
Joins with Time's regard for those
Who, with words, relieve our woes.

Praises Heinlein, Russ, and Dick
Pardons those who make points stick.
Forgives the lowest genre hack
Who goes the distance: there and back.

#280 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2007, 02:14 AM:

Patrick @279:

Although we count on space and time
To honour all that is sublime
And use oblivion to punish art
That makes no difference to the heart,
The time a writer needs to last --
The synapse-leaping flash -- is fast.
And space is tiny; we can find
A universe inside the mind.

It's with these smallest measures we
Decide the fate of what we see.
The generations come apace
But each must choose its time and space.

#281 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2007, 08:46 AM:

In the chamber of the cloud
Let Time and Space entwine, unbowed.
Sing of entropy in train
Greater, far, than human pain.

Follow, particle, your path
Make a cosmos with your math.
As you leap from phase to phase
Show your watchers how you blaze.

#282 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2007, 08:50 AM:

Altogether elsewhere, the
waves and particles again
trade identities (well, when
there's a physicist to see)

#283 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2007, 04:51 AM:

A falling redwood makes no sound
When crashing unseen to the ground.
No noise disturbs the sylvan peace
No birds unsettle, no deer flees.

While in its box the cat is dead,
And yet it rears its furry head
Awaiting watchers come to see
If it's to be, or not to be.

The poem, likewise, dormant lies
Till activated by the eyes.
And who knows what entrancing things
The disregarded poet sings?

#284 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2007, 05:38 AM:

Forgive the poets who suppose
That poetry is just like prose,
Except that it's arranged in verses;
But more the writers who opine,
Except the words don't fill the line,
That poetry is just like prose is.

#285 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2007, 05:47 AM:

I should have made it clear that #284 is capping abi's sentiment at #280, and is not, repeat not, a comment on it or any of the other poems given here, all of which meet that criterion beautifully. It just seemed to me that abi was saying something that is even more true for poetry than for most art. How better to say it, than as poetry?

#286 ::: Kathryn from Sunnyvale ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2007, 03:39 AM:

It Is Unjust To Say I Said

'Crossplace travel is long, and I was hungry.
You may have had food
in a guessable location and in
a stable identity and temperature configuration.

But I collapsed
their probability wave:
the break rippled allwhere.

If you can, forgive me,
but if your universe
has no plums
then I'm not

#287 ::: DM SHERWOOD ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2007, 10:18 AM:

READ THe Personal Heresy by CS Lewis and Tillyard (the Leis essays are the good ones)for speculation on wether Author as Voice-in-book as opposed to Author-as-Private-Citizen can be conflated.
Also we all get Old.

#288 ::: Owlmirror ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2007, 03:57 AM:

(NB: Crossposted to By the pricking of my thumbs, and to Open Thread 91.)

This just in, from the Department of "No, I won't just let it go.":

I happened into my local library, and noted a little table set up for Banned Books Week (Last week of Sept; Sept 29 - Oct 06, 2007). There was a small stack of booklets; a reader's guide from the National Endowment for the Arts, with a very familiar title on the cover: Fahrenheit 451.

"Aha," says I. "I wonder if Bradbury says anything about the book in there? And if so, when he said it?" So I open it up, and behold, among other things, the following:

On January 5, 2005, Dana Gioia, Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, interviewed Ray Bradbury in Los Angeles. An excerpt from their conversation follows.
[...]
DG: What was the origin of the idea of books being burned in the novel?

RB: Well, Hitler of course. When I was 15, he burnt the books in the streets of Berlin. Then along the way I learned about the libraries in Alexandria burning five thousand years ago. That grieved my soul. Since I'm self-educated, that means my educators—the libraries—are in danger. And if it could happen in Alexandria, if it could happen in Berlin, maybe it could happen somewhere up ahead, and my heroes would be killed.

(emphasis mine)

The full interview is online at:

http://www.neabigread.org/books/fahrenheit451/fahrenheit451_04.php

Just because I'm a grumpy pedant sometimes.

#289 ::: Freeman ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2009, 04:17 PM:

Well, I wonder if Ray Bradbury's opinion on W. has changed now that President Obama has been elected and W. left office one of the most unpopular presidents ever and left the country in a economic disaster?

I wonder if Ray's tune has changed. The W. years were an insane time. And they are gone for good. Ray is still an amazing writer either way.

#290 ::: Henry II Plantagenet wishes four knights would rid us of this turbulent mermer spam ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2011, 09:24 AM:

Will no one?

#291 ::: TexAnne sees spam ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2011, 07:10 PM:

Syphilis sucks. So does spam.

#292 ::: TexAnne sees spam ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2012, 01:42 PM:

Twice in a row, go me.

#293 ::: Buddha Buck Sees Spam ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2014, 01:35 PM:

Weird free-verse and 5 links? Seems spammy to my.

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