Same of the more

Same of the more

John Ottinger III’s For Those Who Cry Sexism or Racism in SF Anthologies, Shut Up is one of those blog pieces that its author thinks is absolutely necessary at 9:00 PM but turns into an effing mistake by 3:00 PM the next day. It’s a kind of blog-flu. At 9:00 PM, one’s index finger hovering over the “Publish” button, passages like these have a fine ring to them:

I’ve had it with the constant allegations that this editor or that, when designing an anthology, did not include enough women or minorities or yellow flowered harpsichords.

or:

And what about all those folks that don’t get enough exposure in SF that are not women or minorities? There are not enough Christians, Islamists, or transgendered writers represented in most anthologies either. Nor are there enough writers who own dogs.

or:

I want great fiction, and if that means that the anthology is skewed toward men, than so be it.

But it’s a different story in the morning, after the caffeine has had a chance to heal what the Buddhists call dukka and the Germans, grief-bacon. John Ottinger is in for a steaming heap of dukka.

This piece has all the earmarks of one of those flaming RaceFail in the making. It has a gent called Reasonable Point sitting on the stool of Unfortunate Flippancy milking the cow of Let Me Be Clear.

Let me be clear. I don’t think John Ottinger is saying that women and minorities should be recycled as Soylent Green. I think he’s saying that we should appreciate stories as aesthetic objects and not as historical, cultural or political statements. We prefer to eat food that is food, or at the least, passes itself off as food, and it’s reasonable that editors and readers should approach reading the same way.

It’s reasonable, but as several commentators have already pointed out, telling people to shut up is not a good way to get a conversation going. And furthermore, telling people to shut up also happens, unfortunately enough, to be the tool of choice of control-freaks everywhere.

Actually, allow me to disagree with myself. What John wants is not reasonable. It’s bloody misguided, that’s what it is. Tastes are not instinctive things; editors have as much a role in shaping tastes (think Gernsback and Campbell) as they have in catering to them. But that means taking chances, giving new things a try, and even risk succeeding. Shit happens. But change needs a little encouragement. Or as Isaac Newton, that great minority alchemist, put it:

A body persists its state of rest or of uniform motion unless acted upon by an external unbalanced force.

Bet he didn’t write that at 9:00 pm.

***

Acknowledgements:

Featured Image due to: bkatt500. Regretful Egret.

  • Thank you for being fair to me. You are very right that I was wrong to ask people to shut up. I spoke with arrogance and was entirely wrong to do so. I was also incorrect in the things I said as well as being misogynist and racist. You put my point very well. But your disagreement with yourself is also correct, something I came to realize over the weekend after I posted the original piece – as well as being just plain rude – hence the apology.

  • John: Been there, man. 🙂 I have trouble with quality on a different front. I'd like to be able to compare one text with another, but every set of criteria I use turns out to be based on habit and/or convention. At the same time, I can't accept that literary quality is a socially constructed value. Russell remarked that Mathematics could be defined as "the subject in which we never know what we are talking about, nor whether what we are saying is true." Ditto, perhaps, for aesthetics.

    Thanks for the comments, btw.

  • chela

    enlighten me, o master A:
    what's wrong with literary quality being socially constructed?

    • O Chela, it could very well be that literary quality *is* socially constructed. But I like other explanations because social constructivism makes quality an arbitrary, community-specific and political notion. I don't mind saying that literary quality is a subjective thing, because then we could develop a psychological theory of how some stories work better than others. The ancient Indian aestheticians tried to do just that with their rasa/dhvani theory. But social construction makes works specific to a group, their property. It's not too bad when anyone can join the group; however, that's usually not the case. In short, literary criticism as a psychological theory: yes; sociological theory: no.

  • binu karunakaran

    Dear Anil,
    I work as a journalist for Manorama Online in Cochin. Would like to meet you for an interview if you are in Kerala anytime soon. If not would you be OK for an email interview?

  • John: Been there, man. 🙂 I have trouble with quality on a different front. I'd like to be able to compare one text with another, but every set of criteria I use turns out to be based on habit and/or convention. At the same time, I can't accept that literary quality is a socially constructed value. Russell remarked that Mathematics could be defined as "the subject in which we never know what we are talking about, nor whether what we are saying is true." Ditto, perhaps, for aesthetics.

    Thanks for the comments, btw.