Monday, February 25, 2008

Next Time you make up an Imaginary Girlfriend Make up one that Hates You

The title of this post is derived from a Lano and Woodley scene where Frank steels Col's imaginary girlfriend. The actual line is - 'Next time you blah blah blah make up one that likes you'.
But in essence I disagree. If you are going to escape in fantasy you may as well make it interesting, full backstories and the like. I myself as afrigid year 7 (a condition that persisted till late year 9) have made up girlfriends. But I made up good ones, maybe taking a leaf from 'the bigger the lie the more people will believe it' school invented by Hitler.
I started off cliche (meeting on a beach holiday) same same as in Napolean Dynamite. But then I embellished, driven on by my fellow bullshit artist Steven to newer dizzier heights as he claimed 'to know her' so I ended up dating a girl called cat with black hair, two different coloured eyes and her best friend was an albino.
That's about all I could recall because the illusion was short lived. One has to drop these imaginary girls in order to persue real ones from time to time.
But anyway, I have been reading up on some authors I like, and a couple of threads seem to fall together.
I have never read 'Closing Time' the sequal to Catch-22 but I will say that Catch-22 should replace the bible, koran, talmad and Mao's little red book as the most instructive novel ever written.
Followed only by George Orwell's 1984 which had I my way would make compulsory in year 7 and year 12, as nothing is more instructive of power.
And both these books are masochistic. They are not stories of hope and survival but despair. And still they remain incredibly entertaining reads. Admittedly Yossarian has that golden aura around him, but he is a prolonged tortured soul, and one could not side that had he the choice he would rather have not suffered any of the events (except for maybe the sex scenes) that he did in being the protagonist.
And Smith in 1984 undergoes a most brutal interrogation, reeducation process that is so horrific and so complete it forever changed the way politics is weighed and measured. It held a mirror up to a pointless greedy dark side of humanity and allowed no escape.
So to call either work escapist, whether John Smith being crushed by the completness of Big Brothers cold domination or the offhand way Joseph Heller springs the despair of the 'we've got your mates' with the soul possible exceptions of Clevinger and Orr, to call these escapist is wrong. They are challenging and instructive.
Now while Catch-22 is a work of redundant circular logic, Orwell's writing has held my awe from the first in how much economy of words he can achieve. Something I seem to be unable to do...ever.
As Blaise Pascal said 'I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time' except he said it in french. But the sentiment is all right. Its harder to say more with less than less with more.
Indeed George Orwell at least left instructions for how to write well -

  • Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
    Never use a long word where a short one will do.
    If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
    Never use the passive voice where you can use the active.
    Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
    Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

But this isn't comprehensive enough for what I am getting at, what I enjoy in writing, not just escapism but functional instruction. Orwell's rules don't cover the emotion of writing (and reading)
But then there is Kurt Vonnegut Jr.'s rules for writing:
  • Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
    Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
    Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
    Every sentence must do one of two things — reveal character or advance the action.
    Start as close to the end as possible.
    Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them — in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
    Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
    Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

There you have illusions to economy, and furthermore that sadist aspect. I wouldn't prescribe these rules as a magic bullet, but like getting a jump shot happening in b-ball if everyone used them as training wheels we would get a lot better quickly.
But then that's the thing does all fiction have to be instructive, if you want to talk economy then there's nothing like strippng the fiction all together until you get the mass of atoms known as 'non-fiction'.
And this is good and I would urge people to read non-fiction if it truly even exists. (which I guess it must since opinions are facts) but then take one of the best series of books I've ever read that don't have any clear moral - A Song of Ice and Fire.
These are put simply, masterpieces of story telling, and yes still instructive because the tension is created by exposing characters ignorance when the reader knows better (such as Arya Stark's squandering of her Assasins 'three lives') that can literally have you tearing out your hair in frustration and couples it superbly with exploitaation of the readers ignorance when the characters know better. And he does this through shifting and introducing narratives such that good becomes bad, bad becomes good and your sympathy doesn't know where to go. As opposed to Tolkeins black and white world and Robert Jordan's ultimate evils, A Song of Ice and Fire leaves the waters muddy and absolutely no relief.
And that brings me nicely to Tolkein, I never really liked The Rings, or at least I red it and could count the interesting parts on one hand - gollums wretchedness, the battle scenes, the Nazghul, the balrog.
And the rest frankly put me to sleep. Would I prefer that Tolkein had happened or that he hadn't? happened of course, his real offering was creating a platform where a story could take place şn a complex and self contained universe. But his universe is dull. Sorry true tolkeinite nerds but the real achievement of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings wasn't in how he was true to the story, but how he sexed it up, how he made it actually bareable to sit through. And for that matter The Rings Trilogy features some of the worst acting of all time such that should I rewatch it my initial score is lowered each time.
But I couldn't put my finger on what was wrong with The Rings until recently, largely because my finger has for most of my life been busy elsewhere. I don't give things much thought unless they are thrown in my face.
And yet here it was.
I would like to reference Mark Twain 'It were not best that we should all think alike; it is difference of opinion that makes horse races.' and that is to say if there is one thing Japan teaches you it is that consensus aint worth much.
Getting closer, more unified isnt universally good. Diversity and difference make things interesting, some conflict is good. It is friction afterall that makes sex pleasurable.
And finally China Mieville came along and stepped over the line and insulted Tolkein, or simply said 'get over it'
Say what you will I like Mieville's work or what I have read so far. Maybe there are the kind of Marxist Hard-on undertones that keep most people away from protests and socialist alternative movements, but the massochism is there.
Tolkein reveres the happy ending, as the ultimate responsibility of an Author.
Whereas Mieville's Perdido St Station for its flaws, I think has one of the best unhappiest endings since I saw Seven. In seven the directors commentary talks about the 'wrath' of Brad Pıtt as being necessary to get that feeling that no matter how many bullets he emptied into Kevin Spacey, Spacey won. The storyboards toyd with Morgan Freeman providing some vigilante relief but they stuck to their guns.
Perdido st station simply destroys. It destroys the lives of its characters in a rare move for fantasy which is, they are dragged into a pointless venture, orchestrate their own peril and lose miserably, and thanks to the failings of the characters that make them so human. The one piece of refuge for the reader is taken away, and there is no means by which to resolve it.
Simalarly in the first book I read and the follow up to Perdido St Station, there is the Scar in which we are given a protagonist it is almost impossible to like. We suffer her and watch as she is manipulated and we are misdirected through around 6 or 7 climaxes. An achievement in itself in that it doesn't seem stretched at least not to me. And the Scar ends up being everywhere and in a true absurdist fashion, we never get there either.
Compare that to meandering through middle earth. Cooking breakfast sausages and reading painful chapters such as 'a shortcut to mushrooms' yes if tolkien where to publish tomorrow he would be eaten alive for that piece of shit.
The amazing thing I find is that I ever read beyond a shortcut to mushrooms...because I was not relieved of boredom or nonesense such as Tom Bombadil's cameo for several chapters more.
The Hobbit is much more childlike and at a much more readable pace to be fair. But The Rings Trilogy is like Netscape Navigator - crucial to the development of the whole internet but inferior product now. Hell it's like Explorer 3.0 or Mozilla Firefox 1.0 superceded.
But not just by more user friendly features but by more challanging interfaces.
And so if you really want to explore what writing shouldn't be - read Tolkein and then read the essay Epic Pooh, as Mieville was certainly not the first to level with JRR.
I didn't like Tolkein because frankly it put me to sleep, but these guys say it is irresponsible because it preaches comfort over development, a yearning for a nostalgic past. It pushes babes back into the arms of mothers rather than sending them down the river to fend for themselves. And certaimly a lot of the most devout fans of Tolkiens that I have met have correalated strongly with the people I would deem least likely to survive Hurricane Katrina.
But seriously, if you're going to make up a girlfriend make up one that has turned your home into a prison, whose rampant heroine addiction makes no consumer good safe. Who's intimidating family keep you hostage.
And then when it comes to finding an actual partner, go non-fiction. Avoid tattoos, pick the funny ones, reduce emotional baggage, assess their impact on your esteem, adress financial and family planning realities.
And use condoms.

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