Thursday, 7 July 2016

Author guilt

Lucifer, by Franz Stuck, 1890
I'm at 50K in writing The Valleys of the Earth, and feeling guilty.

Chapters 8-11 are set in Ethiopia. Logically there's no reason angelic activity be confined to Europe and America, of course.  From the very first conception of this trilogy I wanted to move the action to Ethiopia at some point, because it's one of the oldest Christian nations in the world and it has the distinction of keeping The Book of Enoch as part of its Biblical canon even when the rest of the world lost all copies of that text (though it gets a namecheck when quoted in the Epistle of Jude, for example).

And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, He hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day.

That's the entire reason I visited Ethiopia a couple of years back, and chapters 7-8 are based pretty much word for word on my diaries, photos and memories. (After that I go seriously off-piste, I admit.)

So what I've done is sent my characters there on a MISSION and they end up killing a whole bunch of Ethiopian priests, not entirely surprisingly, because angels are ruthless douches. And I do feel a bit shit about this, because nowadays the racial-political subtext in genre fiction has become ... "problematic"*

Now, generally I regard this as a Good Thing to be aware of. It is  - as a friend suggested yesterday - a sign of growing emotional intelligence in our culture. "It's not just about us anymore, guys! Other people have voices and points of view too!" And certainly Avatar made me roll my eyes and feel slightly pissed off.

But I'm telling a story. It can't logically or dramatically be confined to characters doing nice things to other people, or even characters doing nasty things only to whitish people.

(My "hero" characters in this case consist - for the record - of 1) A Balkan Montenegrin of Serbian Orthodox background, 2) a Iraqi, and 3) an angel of no human ethnicity... so I'm guilty of cultural appropriation before I even start, yay...)

In the end, I'm going to have to just go for it. Story comes first. Readers have a choice to read or not, or to go look for some other storyteller. We are, after all, grown-ups. I can only continue to try and write as fairly as I can, within the story's limits (it cannot represent all POVs equally, some characters are just there to die horribly for the sake of the plot, some characters really are just wallpaper).

Feeling a bit guilty is, well ... part of life.

Thank you RG, I needed this!

*There's a poisonous weasel-word for you :/ Problematic should mean "a: posing a problem : difficult to solve or decide b : not definite or settled : uncertain  c : open to question or debate : questionable" ... whereas is is commonly used as shorthand for "YOU HAVE SAID THE BAD THING SO WE MUST NOT READ OR WATCH  OR ENJOY THIS"


Zak Keir said...

Haterz gonna hate, whatever you do, so be true to yourself and tell the stories you want to tell. Having read some of your books, I doubt you will be writing a bunch of lazy, unthinking colonialist crap, and I am a bit uneasy about what seems to be a growing tendency of idiots to yell about 'appropriation' in such a way that their demands sound more like a call for absolute segregation, with on one being allowed to wear/taste/write about/listen to any cultural artefact they didn't grow up with.

Remittance Girl said...

I'm so glad I could be of help. If only to get you into more trouble.

Academically, 'problematic' is an excellent word because it originally accepted that something might not just be be troublesome, but a challenge. It allows you to position interesting and complex matters as a puzzle to be solved rather than a mess to be swept under the carpet. Similarly, 'problematise' (which always garners more than a few sniggers) is also useful for conceiving of something as in need of closer reading, investigation, dissection, deconstruction (oooh, here we go), etc. To problematise Avatar is to go at it with critical tools and see what it's build of, what cultural biases inform it.

Delightful words. All of them.

Janine Ashbless said...

Zak, yes - that sort of writers' apartheid is very worrying, and makes no sense in a historical context. Fiction authors use their imaginations, by definition. Art is viral.

Janine Ashbless said...

RG, if I get into trouble it's all your fault ;-)