"I talk about the gods, I am an atheist. But I am an artist too, and therefore a liar. Distrust everything I say. I am telling the truth."

--Ursula K. Leguin

November 2009



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Please note, all my fic posts here are summaries with links to my archive site. To search for fic most easily, you will want to visit my fic archive itself which has all the series/arc/pairing/character indexes and tags. *tips hat*

Posts Tagged: 'thoughts'

Apr. 23rd, 2009

Id-candy safety

Notice: This is a repost of an entry; the first was cruelly devoured in a crossposting glitch and all the lovely comments with it. If anyone wants to comment again or more I will be perfectly pleased to carry on the conversations.

So, here’s the thing. I’m all in favor of having books that are id-candy, brain-fluff, that demand nothing from your intellect and instead go straight on to punch your emoporn joybuttons.

This is, after all, why I own three quarters of everything Mercedes Lackey has ever published.

But, first off, id-candy is a different thing from good writing. The joybuttons don’t care about bad grammar or triteness or slop, they just resonate to the character shapes that hit one’s kinks. Kinks are often trite and cliche, when you think about it. Id-candy is enjoyable exactly because it doesn’t make your brain engage, it doesn’t deal in subtleties, it doesn’t make you do any work. To get enjoyment out of genuinely artful prose, you generally have to think, to ponder even, to put in some work.

Saying that you enjoy your id-candy immensely and saying that your id-candy is great writing are very different statements. Among other things, the first is true and the second generally isn’t. (Unless you’re using a completely Utilitarian definition of “good”, and when people try to compare Rowling and Tolkien it is unfortunately clear that they are not employing such a definition at all.)

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with enjoying the hell out of trite, cliched slop, of course.

Let us consider Misty, for example. She’s the Queen of Exposition, has a tendency to extremely moralistic and preachy narrative, and drives home her morals with a ten pound sledge. She is guilty of the most egregious cultural flattening and caricaturization and the only thing that comforts me even minutely is that she does it to everyone, whitebread, ‘noble savage’ and orientalist alike. (I maintain that Ancient Egypt should take out a restraining order on the woman.) Her characters are flat, their angst is repetitive, and half the time the stories read like SCA handbooks instead of novels.

Nevertheless–three quarters, right there on my shelf, and I reread handfuls of them at fairly regular intervals. This is because they are excellent brain-fluff emoporn.

Also because they are not toxic. Her moralism can get wearing awfully fast, but at least they are morals I can agree with. Mostly.

That’s the second thing. You have to be careful of the id-candy that uses a moral framework that’s harmful to you.

The Twilight books are a prime example of this. The writing is no worse than most id-candy, but the value system those books are hung on is poison. It’s misogynist, racist, deterministic, conflates obsession and stalking with love, and runs the mobius strip of nihilism and femininity myths at full speed with special emphasis on death by/for childbirth. (I would not want to be this woman’s therapist, not without hazard pay). This id-candy has a razor blade in it.

Some people probably bemoan the loss of innocent fun now that we chop up Halloween candy before eating it to make sure there aren’t any evil surprises in it. I expect some people feel the same about their id-candy. But, you know, I’d much rather take the time to chop and evaluate than swallow a needle.

Mar. 8th, 2009

One more try: when it’s not about you

So, a bunch of would-be allies have protested getting “flamed” or “piled on” or basically told to sit down and shut up, in Racefail 09, because they tried to join the discussion by contributing their own experience.

Well what did they expect?

In any discussion of privilege, stereotypes, oppression, agency, if you are on the plus side of the particular issue, do not try to join in with comments about your experience. It may seem like a gesture of sympathy and solidarity, but it isn’t. It’s you taking the focus away from the injured party. Don’t do that. It’s not about you.

Do not try to say that you are not privileged because, while you may be plus in this particular area, you are minus in others. For one thing, that’s flat wrong. If you are plus in this area, then you have privilege in this area. Trying to deny that by waving all the other areas in which you are minus just makes you part of the fail and ensures that the people who have to deal with a minus in the current discussion will have zero reason to respect your minus when that’s under discussion. For another thing, it’s beside the point. Because right now, it’s not about you.

Do not suggest that, yes, this is awful, and shouldn’t we all try to be colorblind (religion-blind, gender-blind, etc.). The only way anyone could imagine such a thing is a) possible or b) a good idea is by being plus in the area in question, and therefore not having to worry about it, not having to be aware of it constantly, not having to deal with how it makes you invisible or second class every day. Such a statement comes only out of a plus experience. Don’t make it. Because it’s not about you.

Do not, for the love of little pixels, try to tell anyone to calm down or be less angry. Do not try to join in by offering your own solution to the problem of being angry. Being angry isn’t the problem, it’s a reaction to the problem. More importantly, that isn’t your anger, so you don’t have any right to say what gets done with it. If it makes you uncomfortable, too bad. It isn’t about you.

You’re plus in a given debate and you still want to contribute? Listen. Don’t talk. Listen. Don’t tell about your own experience. Listen to someone else’s. Don’t deny the anger and don’t try to fix it. Listen to it. When you see another plus person failing in one of the above manners, step up and point out that it isn’t about them, and now is not the time for defensiveness or guilt. Now is the time for listening. Because the sad truth is that a lot of us listen better to people who are like us than to the people who actually have the experience under discussion. If you can redirect attention to where it currently should be, do it. That’s a bare first step, but it’s one that truly astonishing numbers of people seem unable to manage.

Also? Do not comment to this and prove the point in spades by talking about how your intrusion of your own experience into this or any similar discussion wasn’t like that. Because (all together now) it isn’t about you.

Nov. 21st, 2008

Glossary for kicks

So, one of the many and varied arguments surrounding acafen and anti-aca is about specialist vocabulary, how exclusive it is, and whether one can actually acquire it by reading Wikipedia, supposing one is interested in acquiring it in the first place.

In general, my own verdict on Wikipedia would be “no”, if only because most of the articles on theory are written by theorists and require the Western Philosophy base kit to understand (kind of like having a box of general Leggos before you get a special purpose pack).

And then, one day, I thought, well, could some of these concepts be explained differently? So that someone unfamiliar with the base kit could still grok it? And I thought, well, why not try? It came out fairly tongue-in-cheek, but it does seem possible to at least offer some place to start for conversational purposes.

So have a few litcrit concepts:

Semiotics: Word mean things, but how? They’re just sounds. Why do we all understand what the other person means by sounds like “table” or “car”, especially when it isn’t referring to any particular or present example? Let’s think about this.

Structuralism: We connect words to things by a set of rules, and those rules can be figured out. The rules are stable standards that can be scientifically mapped (and incidentally you should give us money and respect for doing so).

Post-structuralism: No, actually it’s all about context. We all flail around in a sea of sound and meaning, hooking up the two and unhooking them again as seems warranted by any particular group of people we’re trying to communicate with.

Deconstruction: Every action highlights its opposite. So if you walk south you have to define it as not-north, and therefore north is the most important thing even though you’re going south. So every attempt to connect sound and meaning destroys the meaning at the same time it constructs it. Let us make portmanteaus to describe this and explain at length how neat it is!

In conclusion, go read Ursula LeGuin’s “Bryn Mawr Commencement Address” from 1986. She’s one of the best writers I know at explaining complex ideas from the ground up.

Sep. 2nd, 2008

Genesis of the Twelve Shikigami

First the caveats: I don’t read even modern Japanese, far less 7th C Japanese, far less ancient Chinese, so my sources are all at one remove. I have tried to find ones that are not obviously biased in their translations and interpretations. Since this is a web essay, I have also tried to refer to web-sources, where I could find ones that seem reputable or are backed up from reputable paper sources. Nevertheless, this is a bit of a jigsaw puzzle, and there are places where I had to make assumptions and guesses. Do not take this essay’s conclusion as an attested source, because it isn’t.


The Twelve Divine Commanders (Juuni Shinshou) who appear as the shikigami of Abe no Seimei and his alternates in current popular literature such as Yami no Matsuei and Shounen Onmyouji seem to have started life as a group of tutelary deities or personifications in the five element system, settling into twelve figures with elemental powers based on the ten heavenly stems and the twelve earthly branches.

Read the full account )

Jul. 28th, 2008

The web and transparency

So, the Hale scandal has gotten me thinking again about privacy and business on the web. Have some random thoughts.

These thoughts aren’t about identity, or issues like outing fans; that was malice and vandalism in order to punish ‘competitors’ and gain traffic. Let us instead talk about privacy and anonymity on the web at large. Hale is trying to take advantage of business opportunities, so let us consider the kinds of information commercial sites can get about you, which has little to do with identity as fandom usually considers it.

A little background )

The thing is, we do all maintain balance of a sort. A thin thread restrains the merchants in question because they don't want to alienate their customers entirely. And the customers don't like finding out about how little privacy they may have, hence the voluntary policies that at least limit information trading. Even more than that, customers don't approve of dishonesty. When the extent of the Beacon network came out, when it was clear that Facebook had misrepresented it as something to share with friends and lied about the extent and of the information gathered, there was uproar. And Facebook backed down.

So Hale hasn't just been abrogating the mores of fandom. Indeed, she hasn't been acting within fandom at all; that was merely the front. She has also crossed the line for a commercial web-entrepreneur. She has suggested that her site was for fandom and/or historical research purposes, when, in fact, it is a commercial site. This is one of the few triggers just about guaranteed to anger and alienate prospective customers, thus demonstrating that not only is she a dishonest merchant but she's not even good at it.

I'll just be over here, watching the karma drop from a great height.

Jul. 19th, 2008

Taste testing

Continuing on with the What I Like series, I have been reflecting on where my genre fiction tastes intersect with my Literature tastes.

I enjoy a good deal of 19th C lit of all sorts, but the authors I am very especially fond of are Herman Melville and Virginia Woolf. Comparing them to my genre fic favorites and considering just what it is I enjoy, not just about reading them, but about analyzing them, I have concluded that I like authors who turn their brains inside out on the page.

But, and this is an important caveat, I also require a modicum of poetry to really hold my attention. That was my problem with Heinlein–well, one of my problems, to go along with my disgust for his rampant misogyny. His stories read as though he turned his brain inside out, indeed, and then just shook it over the page, squashed the pages together, and sent that off to the publisher like some kind of verbal Rorschach blot.

I require some linguistic artistry to go along with the brain-guts, otherwise I just get bored.

On reflection, this is often my problem with science fiction in general, at least the kind written by actual scientists and science associates, who, as a general rule, cannot write poetry to save their souls. Limericks, yes; poetry, not so much.

On a similar note, not only is brevity the soul of wit, it is the soul of keeping me reading. I have about the same tolerance for reading minute descriptions of machines as I do for reading minute descriptions of buildings and clothing, which is to say, very little. Jane Austin and David Brin both win on this score. Issac Asimov frequently loses and the less said of James Fenimore Cooper the better.

It’s really too bad there isn’t some kind of litmus test I can do on new books, a carefully calibrated metaphorical strip I could dip between the covers to see what colors it turned–whether I’d get that turquoise tinge that means poetry plus brain-guts or the flat indigo of just poetry. Which interests me about as much as just brain-guts, which is to say, yawn.  Jacket blurbs are worthless for this purpose.

Oh, well. I guess I’m stuck with standing in the aisle flipping through my prospective books and hoping for a bit of nicely turned gut phrasing to catch my eye.

Jul. 16th, 2008

Unboxable authors

I think I have identified one of the things that leads me to like an author’s writing: when they write in several genres at once.

I knew Bujold did this, and Pratchett. But they’re both the kind of writers it’s easy to think of as simply exceptional. What I just realized, recently, is that some of my other favorites do this too. Barbara Hambly, for example.

Hambly writes science-fiction and fantasy. She writes horror. She writes historicals. She writes romance. And the thing is, she writes all of them at once. While any book of hers may lean toward one more than the rest, you can pretty much count on all those genre threads being in every book.

Of course, this means that she doesn’t usually follow most genre conventions of any of them.

Take the horror, for instance. Hambly’s books have plenty of it, whether gruesome and unknowable creatures from beyond the stars or the depths of human depravity and cruelty. But it’s never the point. It’s just there, and the characters have to deal with it. Which means she can’t be easily categorized as “dark fantasy” either, because the fantasy elements generally contribute to a very optimistic story, overall.

Or take the romance. Her books do generally feature multi-verse spanning, life altering love found at long odds. But her characters deal with it as one would expect people in the middle of deadly crises to do: “Wow, this is incredible! If we live, let’s have a good snog/marriage/deathless bond, okay? Now duck!”

As for the historical aspect, well even without her biographical blurb I’d have guessed she had either an advanced degree or an advanced hobby in history. Her narratives are chock full of little details that unmistakably set the stories in place and time. But it’s still the characters who are the point, not the details, and a lot of the books are set in places and times that didn’t actually exist, which makes it hard to call them historical fiction.

She writes against the genre grain, which I find charming. Also something I should probably keep in mind when next browsing the library or bookstore shelves.

Jun. 26th, 2008

First, the purpose of the system

So, we as fandom and ficcers have gone around on the question of ratings quite a few times, and for quite a few reasons by now. The most peculiar and widespread round was probably triggered by the MPAA’s pissyness over archives using the NC-17 rating. Plenty of people in US fandoms still use G-PG-R-NC-17, of course, because it’s widely established and generally understood. Others, like ff.net, adopted the slightly altered version of K-T-M. Still others have come up with still more customized variations, and some people have argued that the written word should not have a rating system applied to it at all, and that it certainly isn’t to professional publications.

Ratings are pretty embedded in fandom practice by now, of course, and I doubt we’re getting rid of them. So we struggle on to find a system that says what we want it to say. One of the more recent contributions to the debate got me started thinking, though.

Ratings, as applied to fanfiction, work rather differently than ratings applied to other media, such as movies. For one thing, they’re self-applied and, for another, they don’t actually seem to be regulatory. I am not sure, though, that this fact calls for an alteration in the most commonly used ratings.

Let us start at the beginning. What do we use ratings to indicate?

One of the most common things seems to be sex. Among US fans at least, I believe this is inherited pretty directly from the MPAA, who place a completely disproportionate emphasis on sex as the primary gauge by which to restrict audiences.

This leads me off, though, to one of the major underlying questions: do we use ratings to restrict an audience? Or so we use them for another purpose?

Consider the use of the contested NC-17 rating in fanfiction. My impression in my own fandom sector, anime fandom, is that this rating is used more as advertising than for restriction. When an author wishes to warn off parts of the audience, for disturbing content let us say, such restriction is more often handled through the warning labels rather than the rating. The rating seems most frequently used to advertise the explicitness of the sexual and/or romantic content.

In some ways, then, it seems to me that we have taken in the MPAA focus on sex and subverted it. MPAA ratings are about restriction, and focus on the presence or absence of explicit sexual content disproportionate to the wide variety of other things that might justifiably restrict the audience. Fan use of those ratings is about audience selection and enlargement; we often use them to appeal to the audience that is looking for sexual content (at least in my corner and I think in others from what little I’ve seen of book/media/etc. practice).

There is, of course, another segment of fans that is interested specifically in restriction, or, as it’s most commonly expressed, keeping youngsters away from ideas they should not yet be exposed to. The actual content of those ideas, again, varies, but some of the frequently cited ones are sexuality, cruelty and/or violence, and bad language. Ratings, however, do not seem to come up in these discussions as much as mechanical restrictions, such as registration requirements for sites that contain variously defined mature material. This may be because this segment understands perfectly well that a rating never stopped any kid, especially from doing something as simple as clicking on a link.

So the actual utility of ratings for fandom texts seems to have very little to do with audience restriction. Rather, ratings seem to serve as a special-purpose label, one that can generally be counted on to address the sexual content unless the rest of the meta information specifically points in a different direction

The meta information can be reworked as a whole, so that the rating addresses something else and the sexual content is addressed in some other way. I do this in my own archive. But if a writer or reader desires greater precision or specificity, it is unlikely that a different rating system alone will deliver it. Ratings, by their nature, are very general and not comprehensive. Verbal labels seem far more likely to deliver, on that score.

Then, too, the MPAA scale has gained jargon meaning, among US fans. When I post to fandom forums and comms, I find myself swinging back to the MPAA scale in order to communicate with my potential audience in a way the community consensus understands. Considering this, it seems to me that, at least in my parts of fandom, our subversion of MPAA is already sufficient to its task. If the rating were the only meta information available, then it would not be, but meta information has become a form of composition all its own, and, looking at it, I think this may be a good thing after all. We are not making movies; we are not publishing novels; we are writing fic, and that is a medium of its own that calls for and evolves its own framework.

We might, in fact, think of our use of the G-PG-R-NC-17 scale as fic of MPAA, a notion that rather appeals to me.

May. 14th, 2008

The flexibility of orthography

So I was reading around on tvtropes.org recently and I read Spell My Name With An S, and I read Theme Naming, and I read Word Of God, and it all reminded me of the tangle that invariably comes up over the spelling of anime/manga names. Of course, any time we deal with a source from a different language the question of appropriate translation comes up, but names… names are special. Names get all the usual issues squared.

For one thing, there’s the basic issue of how one renders the sound of a language with a completely different writing system. In some ways, this is actually the easiest part; the only reason it’s complicated at all is that English has several standardized methods of romanizing any given Asian language to choose from. So some people write “Shaoran” and some write “Syaoran”, and if the two sides occasionally try to kill each other, well that’s fandom.

Things get more fun and exciting when the ‘Japanese’ name has, in fact, been taken from another language and there is a double transliteration to deal with. That adds the question of whether we should use a standardized English transcription of the original language (Xiao Lang) or a standardized transcription of the Japanese phonetic rendering (Shaoran).

Theoretically, an official romanization could resolve the question, but we run into complications there too. The original writer may or may not understand the rules of pronunciation and transcription for a) the original language or b) English if the two are different, and may or may not even be the source of the official information in question (aka Studio Minion Syndrome). This can leave us with romanizations like “Riza”, for a name pronounced ree-sah, which doesn’t make sense as an English spelling no matter how you slice it but almost everyone uses anyway just to stop the bickering. It’s just as bad when the official in question is an English speaker who doesn’t understand Japanese phonetic transcription of loanwords; that’s when we wind up with “Arukennymon” instead of “Arachnemon”.

Then, of course, there’s the problem that Japanese does not seem to have an official standardized system for kana-fication of other languages. The characters used to render Latinate or Germanic languages, especially, can vary, and the unwritten rules appear to be pretty constantly evolving. Complicating this basic problem, the same character often gets used for more than one sound. An extended terminal “ah” syllable may stand for an “er” or it may stand for an “a”. A terminal “su” may indicate an “s” or a “th”. If there is no official romanization or, better yet, if different official sources conflict, we’re left to guess and argue and act like there are spelling OTPs.

And that’s just for starters!

Because a number of anime/manga authors mess with the spelling of their characters’ names deliberately, usually in order to indicate that they are strange/futuristic/exotic. Consider the name Kira Yamato, about as Japanese a name as you can get, but spelled on the official website in katakana, the script used for foreign words. Consider K.T.’s penchant for putting extraneous double letters in the names of some characters, eg Nnoitra. Double letters in general seem to be a popular way to strange names, especially double L’s (Cagalli, Killua). And then, sometimes, the writer goes full bore and comes up with something like “Quwrof Wrlccywrlir” for a name pronounced “Kuroro Rushirufuru” (the historical betting leans toward the last name being an imported “Lucifer”).

That’s my personal line in the sand. If I look at it and say “it doesn’t make any sense”, even after thematic research, then I don’t care if it’s official, I’ll spell according to my own best guess. Milage varies on this, of course, and some fans hold by official spellings no matter how weird. All of which only goes to show, this is another debate that will never end. Ah, well, I suppose life would be boring if fans agreed on anything.

May. 5th, 2008

Machina, pathos and conflict

So, upon considering the question of disability in anime, two things pop immediately to mind. One: portrayals are very limited. Two: they’re almost all symbolic.

For one thing, cognitive disabilities are pretty much non-existent unless it’s a case of dramatically going crazy or being Emotionally Wounded and, erm, deciding to destroy the world because of it. These are clearly not intended to be realistic; instead they are a highly dramatized acting out of common emotional patterns.

For another, physical injuries or illnesses are rarely as severe or lasting in effect as they should be. Anime and manga in general are not written for physical realism either–quite the reverse in most cases. They regularly disregard all laws of physics and biology, and injuries are no exception to this. When a character is injured, the results are either hop-scotched via magic or technology (eg Bleach, Getbackers), or else the healing period is skipped with, perhaps, a few scenes of the character dealing with a cast used as humor. The day-to-day issues of “I can’t use that arm” or “I can’t stand up” are rarely dealt with, certainly not by main characters.

Sometimes an illness or injury is used as a source of plot tension, something the protagonists must overcome during a critical situation (eg Card Captor Sakura), but that seems to be a one-episode sort of thing, done to emphasize the hero/ine’s sense of responsibility. The rest of the time it’s used for humor and then cured so the action which is the focus of the story can be got on with. When there is a lasting effect that must be dealt with or overcome it’s a secondary character who deals with it (eg Eyeshield 21’s Torakichi), and therefore the process is not foregrounded.

The more adult-oriented the show, the more likely injuries are to be shown realistically (eg Cowboy Bebop), but even then the process of recovery is generally invisible. If the lasting nature of an injury is dealt with at all it is more likely to be in symbolic terms (eg CLAMP’s eye thing) than in terms of what a missing or inoperable body part actually does to a person’s life and experience.

This seems to be even more true of how chronic conditions are deployed, especially the most common one I’ve observed: tuberculosis. Japanese literature in general has a love affair with beautiful pathos, and TB offers writers an illness that is a) not unsightly, b) still allows the sufferer to be active in a pinch, c) is deadly, and d) has a great historical weight behind it. (For those interested, I highly recommend The Modern Epidemic: A History of Tuberculosis in Japan by William Johnston). So TB gets used as a lever to produce tropes like ‘impending fate’, ‘fragile beauty’, ‘vain struggle against the inevitable’ and so on. Okita Soujirou’s various animated incarnations make good examples.

The bit that really interests me, though, is that, while disability is almost never shown, the experience of social isolation that goes along with it is shown. Stories like Fruits Basket, X/1999 and Meine Liebe show characters who, despite any stated disability being either completely invisible or having no effect, are sequestered. The mental and emotional injury done to them by that sequestration is dealt with in these stories. So, even as the isolation and erasure of disability and difference continues on the screen, that isolation is critiqued. To be sure, social isolation is generally presented as a very bad thing in anime and manga, something to be overcome; consider Shoujo Kakumei Utena or Rurouni Kenshin. So, in those shows that state the presence of a disability but do not actually show it, it seems that two cultural imperatives are pitted against each other: that difference be erased and that social connection be paramount.

The subtext of those stories, that one must become somehow normative to be connected, is not exactly a hopeful one, but at least a few of these characters are making it out of the attic/basement.

(And have a couple interesting links that show a bit of the shape of how Japanese culture deals with disability.)

Apr. 21st, 2008

Oddities of ownership

Whenever I think about IP I find myself suffering from having one part of my brain considering the practical economic issues, another part working in abstract legal and ethical terms, and yet another part thinking about the practical writerly and interpretive issues.

For example, consider the notion of owning a character. In practical economic terms, I agree that it is useful to pretend that a concept plus description can be owned, in order that a writer be able to profit from supplying stories about that character. In economic terms I can see this working nicely as the sort of limited monopoly that, for example, patents offer, which allow inventors to recoup R&D costs and make a bit of a living.

In abstract legal terms, on the other hand, the notion of owning a concept strikes directly at something I consider a pillar of sensible and ethical practice: that ideas cannot be owned, only products. In these terms, only the specific words on a page can be an author’s property, and only direct copying of those specific words considered a violation of rights. Even a trademark, after all, that most ephemeral of intellectual property, must be a material, embodied symbol.

This touches on part of the writerly portion of my thoughts, because one thing I find curious is any author getting wound up over what another author does with “their” character.

As though it were the same character. Which, of course, it isn’t.

A character inside my head is not the same one as in someone else’s head. I might call it the same name, it might look a bit the same, but it isn’t the same character. No one can do anything to someone else’s character, because the only place someone else’s character lives is in that someone else’s head and on their page. The character in my head and on my page, that’s, well, someone else. The general agreement, in fandom and elsewhere, to pretend that all the Rukias, all the Leons, all the Rodneys we read are the same one, the shared fantasy of unity, masks this fact, I think. But the unity and the distinction exist side by side, and, in writerly terms, it is the distinction that I see most clearly. So the occasional diatribes about the “violation” of one’s characters being used by someone else seem to me to ignore some basic facts about how separate people with separate brains write.

It strikes me sometimes that many writers have a very poor sense of boundaries.

But, then, another part of my writerly thought understands, intellectually at least, that the emotional investment of writing leads very easily to a strong sense of ownership and identification. This part is entirely in sympathy with the desire to not know of the existence of stories that imagine other histories, other existences, for a character you wrote. It’s even more in sympathy with the wish to be clearly acknowledged as a source, and, if any profit is being made, to get a suitable share of it.

And that brings me back around to economic issues, and the search for viable models for licensing for commercial use. Alas, we have none yet, so this is where my thought process usually tails off into wild fantasies of a rational world.

When I try to imagine how all these different threads might actually be reconciled, that’s when I get irremediably tangled up. Practically speaking, it seems to me that the economic measure of copyright has dovetailed so neatly with emotional investment that the conjoining has become naturalized: people have started to think that copyright should protect the emotional investment and not merely serve as an economic incentive. This is certainly the direction European law seems to be moving in, witness the Berne Convention. I do not think it is a very productive direction; I do not think law should be based that immediately on emotion. But there it is, and it is certainly a fact that law changes and evolves over time, and someone will always not like it.

Which, now I think of it, probably means we’ll always be in this muddle. There will likely always be a huge middle ground that is ill defined and fuzzy. We’ll always be arguing over it from a slew of different, likely conflicting, perspectives. This is, after all, how rules are generated and laws are made.

So I suppose my conclusion today is, let us not try to quash any of these thought-threads in a vain effort to arrive at the One True Answer. Let us disagree and debate and not ever be ashamed to hold forth for what we each think is right in each moment and circumstance. The answer will change as we go exactly because no one of us controls it, and, all things considered, I can only think that this is a very good thing.

Dec. 2nd, 2007

A lot of people seem to miss it

A distinction that may assist in clarifying thought:

The practical business of the sciences is to figure out how to change the material world.

The practical business of the humanities is to figure out whether and how it is a good idea to do so.

Many have asked, whenever the various vields of the humanities are judged not sufficiently Serious and Morally Approved, what is the good of studying philosophy, literature, history, political science, etc. And the answer is not, as some philosophers would have it, “because it’s the most noble and spiritual thing possible to do”. The answer is, rather, “to figure ourselves out”–so that, hopefully, we can learn our own strengths and weaknesses and improve our lives without shooting our collective foot off.

History, stories, politics, they all tell of the patterns that human action and thought take. The better we understand those patterns, the better we can judge what effect a new technology or change may have on our lives, and how we need to prepare for it. Understanding isn’t a simple A to B line, though; you can’t just study Great Literature ™ and think that will give you all the understanding you need. Someone has to study everything, so you get the whole alphabet, so you have all the parts.

Studying in the humanities is about finding those parts, and every place you look, every sort of thing you study, is another piece, another letter, that you can add to the collective bag.

Unfortunately, the pretentious philosophers were often the ones with the money and influence to be heard, and their version still pollutes the mind of many an interlocutor, who then wants to know what on earth is so noble and spiritual about studying, for example, fanfic.

Well, you know, fanfic is probably Q.

It’s the wrong question, you see. It comes out of centuries on centuries of self-serving propaganda about what scholarship in the humanities is good for. Yes, Plato, I’m looking at you. And Confucius, you too. I mean, honestly.

There’s nothing especially noble about any of this. Rather is is a) potentially useful and b) a lot of fun. That’s it. And, really, what more can you ask from any activity?