Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Where Fancy is Bred

So I came to the conclusion some time ago that imagination and reason were two powers that didn't always agree, and that the one who had sovereignty was the imagination. There's nothing democratic about what goes on in this business. Everything about the act of writing fiction is an exercise of absolute and despotic power. There's no point in deploring this, or wishing it were all nicer and kinder, or gentle and caring and inclusive. It's a tyranny, and that's that.

However, none of this is to say that we have to abandon every other faculty just because we've ceded dominance to one. In fact, we mustn't. If we don't bring everything we have to the task of writing a story, there's a psychological cost: we feel that it's a fundamentally trivial and worthless occupation, and we despise ourselves for wasting our efforts on something so contemptible.

Reason, memory, emotional experience, whatever we know of social and political truth, the craftsmanship we have slowly and laboriously acquired ├│ all these things must come into play. Only then is the task worth doing. But these faculties must work under direction; there's no discussion, and there are no votes. They must behave like the devoted subjects of a tyrant, and dedicate their utmost efforts to serving their ruler.

├▒Philip Pullman, on why he doesn't believe in ghosts but writes about them anyway (in a metaphorical sort of way, at least).

He makes a valid point: that when you're writing a story, you can't be a reasonable person, in regards to the story or the characters. Reason is great but Imagination is the tyrant that rules the world of fictionand if you try to depose that Sweet Benevolent Dictator, you end up with a pointless republic od mishmash that no one wants to read, no matter how "realistic".

I've had a long and ongoing war with "realism" for many years. It all stems from the fact that the people who call themselves Serious Literary Realists (I'm looking at You, Franzen!) usually write the most boring, unimaginative fiction, stories that seem to have no inspiration from dreams or whimsy or the Divine (What William Blake called the Imagination). It's all dreary nerosis, dressed up in a witty necktie for the Status Quo Ball.

As a result, I read (and write) in that vague area where the tone is overall rather naturalistic but I feel no need to restrain myself from tossing in the occasional wolf-headed baby or demonic doll, just to see what the characters will do with it. Apparently this sort of writing is defined as Slipstream but don't ask me for a definition. I've yet to find one that didn't resort to defining itself by what it is not. lets just call it Strange Fiction (ala H.P> Lovecraft) and leave it at that.


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