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In Defense Of Uncomfortable Subject Matter

 
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PostPosted: Fri Aug 21, 2015 10:58 am    Post subject: In Defense Of Uncomfortable Subject Matter Reply with quote

Short piece defending SRD and LFB (sorta) against criticism over Lena's rape scene:

Quote:
In Defense of Uncomfortable Subject Matter in Genre Fiction

...There is certainly no such explicit condemnation in the work of Stephen Donaldson, for whom Lutgendorff reserves some of her harshest criticism. She describes Lord Foul’s Bane (the first book of Donaldson’s Unbeliever series, #58 on NPR’s list) as “one of the most miserable books on the list,” largely for its depiction of a rape committed by Thomas Covenant, the book’s protagonist...




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PostPosted: Fri Aug 21, 2015 11:57 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Just as well she didn't read the Gap Series Confused

And since all literature is genre literature if her argument applies to sci-fi/fantasy then it equally applies to the Greek epics and Yeats's 'Leda and the Swan'. The absurd conclusion to that is all art must be feminist art, and as a person who is pro-feminist, I find that embarrassing.

Where's lucimay so that we can agree for once (or intensely disagree again Laughing).

I wrote this in the Stephen R Donaldson On the Web thread:

ussusimiel wrote:
Thanks for the links, wf. I read both articles. I found the Lutgendorff one quite annoying. I am generally pro-feminist, and this approach to reading vintage and classic science fiction/fantasy seemed like a wish to retcon or erase all previous novels and stories (since they are obviously not making enough of a political point) and replace them with a short-list of the worthy ones.

It turns out that that short list is very short indeed. It stretches to a whole two novels from the list of 100 and one new one (Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie, which we have lauded here on the Watch (it's easily my favourite sci-fi novel of recent times)).

Her approach to storytelling and genre writing of this sort seems to be completely one-dimensional and if carried to it logical extreme in a broader context would mean that just about all works of literature written from Homer to Yeats would be found wanting because they fail to appropriately address gender-related issues. It's almost as if she is embarrassed that her younger un-gender-politically-aware self enjoyed reading stories, and that she now wants to retcon that by dismissing all of those stories as flawed and valueless.

I read science fiction to engage with possible new ideas and concepts of the future, and fantasy to engage with the mythic and the epic. Gender can be part of that, but it is certainly not primarily why I read those genres. And, in fact, when I come across stories that are overtly addressing some current social issue I often find it off-putting (or if the story is from the 60s or the 70's for example, I find it dates very badly). Good stories transcend contemporary concerns and remain vital and fresh because of that (for us, obviously, TCTC is a perfect example of that). Art can address social and political issues, but that is not it's primary concern, and if its scope were reduced to that it would, most likely, very quickly cease to be art as we know it.*

u.

* I recently saw an exhibition of Hungarian modern art from during the time when the country was under the control of the Soviet Union. The power and energy of art as a form of political resistance was absolutely clear, but it didn't do this by attacking the oppressive system, it did it by expressing the freedom of the human spirit. Similar Soviet-approved art of the same time is by comparison static and moribund.

u.
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PostPosted: Fri Aug 21, 2015 1:28 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

As to the Lutgendorff piece: pointing out the instances of misogyny of the fantasy and sci-fi genre, especially the classics, is like shooting fish in a barrel. The most off-putting thing to me is the false shock that it's just been discovered. Has this person never watched Mad Men?

I thought the Defense piece was very much on the money. But someone more knowledgeable of Donaldson could have added a few important things. I think Donaldson says it best himself:

In the Gradual Interview, Stephen R Donaldson wrote:
Well, "rape" is obviously a theme of mine. It's an apt metaphor for evil. Given enough time (and the inclination, which I lack), I could argue that virtually any act that might plausibly be called evil can be described as a form of rape.

(05/06/2004)

But here's how I look at it. It's all about physical metaphors. Physical metaphors for emotional states. Physical metaphors for themes and ideas. Physical metaphors for moral questions. I've argued elsewhere that all "good" (i.e. deeply moving and engaging, rather than merely escapist) fantasy is essentially psychodrama: internal journeys dramatized as if they were, for example, external quests. For a writer like me, such things must be communicated through specific actions and particular events: I'm not writing Chekhov-style character studies, I'm writing stories. So what else do you expect me to do? The "violence" of the action reflects the importance of what that action represents.

(02/06/2005)

My intent in creating Thomas Covenant was to explore a character who--in every sense that matters--literally "could go either way." A character balanced (by necessity) on the knife-edge of love and Despite. I don't consider him either "amoral" or an "anti-hero": I consider him *conflicted*. His rape of Lena--like his later repentance--and his eventual acceptance of responsbility--is an expression of that conflict.

(05/25/2005)

I'm always saddened to hear that someone has quit reading when, say, Covenant rapes Lena, or Angus brutalizes Morn. I certainly understand such a reaction. When I get the chance, I say several things. 1) I write about tormented characters because no one else could possibly *need* the story as badly as they do--and it is in the nature of tormented characters to do tormented things. 2) If you quit reading, you'll never find out *why* I wrote what I did. If you do go on, you'll discover that what I did is not gratuitious; that, in fact, the whole subsequent story is about the terrible consequences of such violence. 3) Terrible things happen in the real world all the time. God knows they happen to me. If I'm not willing to write about those things, I pretty much have to give up my claim on being a serious writer.

(04/13/2004)
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PostPosted: Fri Aug 21, 2015 2:27 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
I'm always saddened to hear that someone has quit reading when, say, Covenant rapes Lena, or Angus brutalizes Morn. I certainly understand such a reaction. When I get the chance, I say several things. 1) I write about tormented characters because no one else could possibly *need* the story as badly as they do--and it is in the nature of tormented characters to do tormented things. 2) If you quit reading, you'll never find out *why* I wrote what I did. If you do go on, you'll discover that what I did is not gratuitious; that, in fact, the whole subsequent story is about the terrible consequences of such violence. 3) Terrible things happen in the real world all the time. God knows they happen to me. If I'm not willing to write about those things, I pretty much have to give up my claim on being a serious writer.


I love this answer! Whenever I recommend LFB to someone, I warn them about a "terrible crime" that the protagonist will commit, and how some people can never get past that. But, I also say that the protagonist pays for that crime over and over again, and never fully escapes the consequences of it. We saw that all the way through to TLD.
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PostPosted: Fri Aug 21, 2015 3:42 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

ussusimiel wrote:

And since all literature is genre literature if her argument applies to sci-fi/fantasy then it equally applies to the Greek epics and Yeats's 'Leda and the Swan'. The absurd conclusion to that is all art must be feminist art, and as a person who is pro-feminist, I find that embarrassing.

Where's lucimay so that we can agree for once (or intensely disagree again Laughing).


Her argument applies to pretty much all of human history.
The points aren't wrong. They're just extremely two-dimensional---a laser beam in a huge dark sphere, a lot is left out.

ANd yet...OTOH...I had a thought about this whole thing. [[someone somewhere, maybe lots of ones in various wheres probably thought/said it long before me]]
Perhaps the reason this is becoming such a big deal---especially in genre fiction and video games---is related to this:
Most of the things that happen to most of the males in most of the fiction really is mostly fictional...the chances of any of it, the heroic and the terrible, ever touching their lives is nearly zero.
But rape/sexual violence---that is something that is very likely to touch the real literal lives of the readers/players.
It seems to me that has to make a big difference.
I'd bet none of you know a Mhoram or Hile Troy in real life---
But I bet every one of you knows a Lena [though you might not know it, cuz she might not have told you].
It's likely that at least one of our members IS a Lena.
And some of you might know that TC [though he'd probably blame booze not magical healing].
This kind of incident can bring the issue to discussion, bring people to attention/understanding/action----but it can also be simply used for dramatic effect.
And the difference might be very hard to see---or not worth the experience/reexperience---if one is or was the abused, or is potentially such.

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PostPosted: Fri Aug 21, 2015 10:51 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I'm a fan of TC, so when presented with knife-edge scenarios I'll take my chances with the leperman.

I see it this way -
the rape of Lena is wrapped up in fictional literature, and that means authors will use whatever it takes to tell their stories.
Wordplay is involed -
Lena, rape, raver, foul, flower:

Something there is in beauty
which grows in the soul of the beholder
like a flower -
fragile
for many are the blights
which may waste the beauty
or the beholder -
and imperishable -
for the beauty may die,
or the beholder may die,
or the world may die,
but the soul in which the flower grows
survives.


So -
Despite crushed the beauty of the flower,
and the rape of Lena was by proxy!
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PostPosted: Sat Aug 22, 2015 10:11 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

ussusimiel wrote:
Just as well she didn't read the Gap Series Confused


Haha, I thought the same thing. Very Happy

Vraith wrote:


But rape/sexual violence---that is something that is very likely to touch the real literal lives of the readers/players.
It seems to me that has to make a big difference.


That is a damn good point Vraith. At least insofar as the reader reaction goes.

It may well be that I am insensitive, or at least, desensitised, but I've never particularly been bothered by either Lena or Morns trials. And Lena's less than Morns, except for the fact that Morn endures and Lena doesn't.

(The fact that she doesn't is to me far worse (and more impactful) than the actual rape scene in the book, which I've always considered more implicit than explicit. (Again in contrast to Morn, where it is the opposite (although still avoiding crudity).))

(I believe that to be the correct punctuation. Wink )

Anyway, as such I was always surprised to learn it was sufficient to cause people to stop reading the Chrons.

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PostPosted: Tue Aug 25, 2015 9:23 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Vraith wrote:
But rape/sexual violence---that is something that is very likely to touch the real literal lives of the readers/players.

The more I think about this, the more I think it isn't exactly on the money. People can also be familiar with loved ones dying, even being killed, but no books get tossed across the room if they read about it. Or if they do, there's no general outrage about it anyway.

I think part of it is what Donaldson says. Rape is the most evil thing there is. And part of it is literary expectation: protagonists you invest in just don't do the most evil thing that there is. And part of it is surprise: oh, what a beautiful world ... oh, these people are so nice ... Covenant's not being very nice ... WHAT?!?! No one warned them that they were reading about such a bad guy. Suckerpunch.

In a way, you have to admire Donaldson for pulling that off.
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