1977 - You Don't Know Me, I Don't Know You [Ellison/fandom]

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Jan
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Postby Jan » Tue Sep 12, 2006 3:56 pm

rich wrote:but I think it may have something to do with HE is a better writer than the usual science fiction reader can grasp. At least that's what I think he thinks.

Which manifests itself in many forewords and introductions in which he presents himself as the tour guide to his own museum. This story I wrote in 1956, under such an such conditions, it's about guilt, and pay particular attention to the ending and the subtle use of expletives. In order to sell books and experience validation, he does have to prove his talent to those who have none, which he indicated is his struggle. There is no doubt, I think, especially not to us here at S.P.I.D.E.R, that he's basically correct in his assumptions about the average reader, especially now that most of them are so much younger than him.

Gwyneth wrote:Meeting the common fans would be a disappointment would then be a double whammy because not only do they have the affront of not being educated enough to appreciate good genre writing when they read it, but also not reaching for that GREAT thing within themselves and instead being mere CONSUMERS instead of PRODUCERS like Harlan is.

Gwyneth, I doubt that's the case, although I also seem to remember him once expressing sentiments to that effect, probably in the guise of a story. (Does anyone remember which one that was?) Harlan takes a lot of pride in his profession, but I don't think he wants talentless people to become artists and flood the market even more. If I understand him correctly, what he generally would like is that people be more alert and active, less accepting, more in control of their own lives. They need not produce art, but a decent society.

Note: I have to correct Carstonio, "Xenogenesis" was first collected in "Over the Edge", it's an old one. (Probably good news for Gwyneth.) Harlan also wrote sort of a letter to the fans in the form of his FL installment #4, reprinted in "An Edge in My Voice".

Gwyneth: I grew up on Tintin, like any decent German.

Jan

P.S. Guys, let's not discuss fandom itself, except if you want to do it in the general forum.

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Postby Gwyneth M905 » Tue Sep 12, 2006 4:39 pm

Hi, Jan,
As usual, you are right on the money:)

Jan wrote: In order to sell books and experience validation, he does have to prove his talent to those who have none, which he indicated is his struggle. There is no doubt, I think, especially not to us here at S.P.I.D.E.R, that he's basically correct in his assumptions about the average reader, especially now that most of them are so much younger than him.

I remember reading here on one of the forums that the vocabulary of the average teenager has dropped by 10,000 words since the 1970's. Harlan's work is just not accessible if you are a lazy reader, because the man uses words like Michalangelo used marble. He has them all at his disposal and then just chips away the superfluous ones. Which still leaves him with quite an impressive vocabulary indeed! I deeply appreciate Harlan's always striving for the correct word, never going for the trite or obvious cliche. I read him with a dictionary at hand.

Gwyneth wrote:Meeting the common fans would be a disappointment [because they are not] reaching for that GREAT thing within themselves and instead being mere CONSUMERS instead of PRODUCERS like Harlan is.

Jan wrote:Gwyneth, I doubt that's the case, although I also seem to remember him once expressing sentiments to that effect, probably in the guise of a story. (Does anyone remember which one that was?) Harlan takes a lot of pride in his profession, but I don't think he wants talentless people to become artists and flood the market even more. If I understand him correctly, what he generally would like is that people be more alert and active, less accepting, more in control of their own lives. They need not produce art, but a decent society.


I agree and disagree -- here's a quote from a wonderful interview with Harlan:
Platt writes: "He despises the notion that people might be happier leading lazy, unimaginative lives."

"Are they happy? I don't think they are. Anybody who settles for anything less than the moon, anything less than painting the Sistine Chapel ceiling, or voyaging to the center of the Earth, is taking less than what the world holds for them. This thing about ignorance is bliss, and they're happy as drones...I don't think so. Circumstances and indoctrination and a lack of self-esteem are the deterrents that keep people from doing whatever that golden thing is within them to do. I've seen the meanest clay do the most remarkable things. Look at the Watts Tower [a huge piece of sculpture built in a back yard in the Watts district of Los Angeles]. Here was an uneducated, illiterate day laborer, Simon Rodia, who built something considered great art, with his own hands. All you need to see is one of those, and you say, everybody's got it. I do truly believe that in every human being there is the capacity, from birth, to reach the stars in some way. When we don't we are denying our heritage, what we can be . So I struggle toward that."
Dream Makers: The Uncommon People who Write Science Fiction. Platt, Charles. Berkley Books. New York. 1980 (p.165)

I agree with you that Harlan doesn't want a lot of talentless artists, but I think that he would agree that there is a golden talent within us all, and it is just a matter of finding it, whether it be being a fine mason or bricklayer, a cabinetmaker, or a writer, an artist or an activist for a better society. Hell, as a non-driver in a city, I think that being a really good taxi driver takes a hell of a lot of concentration and talent.

Thank you for the citation for Xenogenesis! My copy of the Essential Ellison did not contain it so I am pleased to have another source.
We'll keep the fandom discussion on another thread. :D

P.S. What was your favorite Tintin story? Mine was the one where they are lost in the Himalayas and meet the yeti.

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Postby Jan » Tue Sep 12, 2006 5:54 pm

OK, I haven't read that book. Interesting. As you point out, he is talking about people not realizing their full potential, regardless of what the nature of their talents is. He's also saying that almost all people have an artistic urge that they can develop, if given the chance and if they have the discipline and inclination. In the interview Harlan seems to have come down a bit from his elitist stance.

(Personal note: My favorite Tintin was King Ottokar, but Tibet was good, especially the opening, and I was always enamored with the Lake of Sharks adaption.)

Jan

rich

Postby rich » Wed Sep 13, 2006 8:54 am

Gwyneth M905 wrote:But what happens when the pressure from fans stops the work in its tracks? Don't we as fans, as mere consumers owe more to Harlan than to constantly nudge him?


I don't think we owe HE anything other than to buy his work. One could argue that we may owe him a discussion of his work, but that's just gravy as far as the writer is concerned.

As far as nudging him, HE is notorious for needing the nudge. Even though his output has diminished, HE has always been struggling to meet deadlines. His rationale is that art doesn't meet deadlines, and he may have a point, but I've always kinda looked at it the way Stephen King does: It's a job, and part of that job is producing work. Can't remember exactly where it was, but King said (in reference to Heller, I believe) that writing great works is fine and dandy, but 7-10 years between novels means you're just dicking around.

An extreme sentiment, perhaps, but writing is kinda like baseball. You are not going to hit home runs at every at-bat. It's an average and the only way you get your average up is by getting in as many at-bats as possible.

I think the only thing that stops writers is the fear of "good enough". You and I both have read stuff by good, if not great, writers that weren't that good. But the output is what's measured, and the great outweighs the mediocre. So for a writer to limit himself because of pressure or "the fans want more" is a writer lying to himself. I think the writer, and I'm not necessarily talking about Ellison here, wants so much to hit a home run that he ends up not even taking the at-bat.

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Postby David Loftus » Wed Sep 13, 2006 10:52 am

rich wrote:
>> But what happens when the pressure from fans stops the work in its tracks? Don't we as fans, as mere consumers owe more to Harlan than to constantly nudge him?

I don't think we owe HE anything other than to buy his work.


We don't owe him even that. We owe him nothing. And he owes us nothing. Unlike that between the commissioners of art and artists in the Middle Ages, it's not a business or contractual relationship.


rich wrote:I've always kinda looked at it the way Stephen King does: It's a job, and part of that job is producing work. Can't remember exactly where it was, but King said (in reference to Heller, I believe) that writing great works is fine and dandy, but 7-10 years between novels means you're just dicking around.


You mean, like James Joyce and William Gaddis and Thomas Pynchon and Edward P. Jones?

That's crap, too. King works in a different beanfield from some of those other authors, and there's no point in trying to compare them with regard to frequency of output. Heller is perhaps a debatable example: his works got progressively less valuable and meaningful, and so perhaps he was dicking around, but some of the others I've mentioned above clearly are not.


rich wrote:An extreme sentiment, perhaps, but writing is kinda like baseball. You are not going to hit home runs at every at-bat. It's an average and the only way you get your average up is by getting in as many at-bats as possible.


Wrong. Those wonderful writers above would not be who they are, would not have given us what they have, if someone or something had forced them to produce every year or every other year.

And no writer is obligated to write at all. He or she has the perfect right to stop at any time. That's one of the things that makes it art: it doesn't have to be created at all. It's a joy (or a private, not a public and obligatory) burden to its creator, and a gift to its recipients.
War is, at first, the hope that one will be better off; next, the expectation that the other fellow will be worse off; then, the satisfaction that he isn't any better off; and, finally, the surprise at everyone's being worse off. - Karl Kraus

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Postby Jon Stover » Wed Sep 13, 2006 12:56 pm

I don't think all writing is art, unless we're going to go with a very broad definition that anything made by the hand of man or woman is art, in which case the concept becomes sorta meaningless.

Doc Savage novels are a lot of fun, but they're not art -- they were quickly assembled entertainments meant for quick consumption. Ditto for the vast majority of written works (sticking simply to fiction and poetry) that fill the shelves of any bookstore.

That doesn't make a skilful written entertainer any less important than a good utility infielder or the person who designs Ikea chairs, but they're not artists and what they produce isn't art. Sometimes the stuff that comes flying out to fill the shelves can be art when the writer is skilful (Philip K. Dick, Jim Thompson) but most of those productions simply ain't unless we go back to 'everything is art.'

Cheers, Jon

rich

Postby rich » Wed Sep 13, 2006 1:14 pm

David Loftus wrote:Wrong. Those wonderful writers above would not be who they are, would not have given us what they have, if someone or something had forced them to produce every year or every other year.


You could be right. Then again, you could be wrong. We just don't know what would've happened if they produced once every couple of years or so.

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Postby David Loftus » Wed Sep 13, 2006 2:09 pm

rich wrote:You could be right. Then again, you could be wrong. We just don't know what would've happened if they produced once every couple of years or so.



True.

But then, I wasn't the one who passed the initial judgment on the matter.

We can't know. Therefore it is ridiculous to say "they shoulda . . . "

You can claim, "the only way you get your average up is by getting in as many at-bats as possible," but the fact remains that Joyce, Gaddis, and Pynchon have a much higher batting average than King. That's why I say they are in a different league, a different business.
War is, at first, the hope that one will be better off; next, the expectation that the other fellow will be worse off; then, the satisfaction that he isn't any better off; and, finally, the surprise at everyone's being worse off. - Karl Kraus

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Postby Jon Stover » Wed Sep 13, 2006 2:22 pm

Red Herring Alert: 'speed' is separate from artistic capability.

Shakespeare produced two plays and a number of sonnets a year for about twenty years -- a Kingian pace -- and then retired. So did a lot of other Renaissance playwrights. Lord Byron was prolific and a best-seller in his time, though not the Most Popular Poet in England (that would have been Leigh Hunt). And so on, and so forth.

Meanwhile, Thomas Harris appears to be a painfully slow writer, but what he was doing while, say, Hannibal gestated is anyone's guess -- it certainly didn't involve producing something Joycean or Pynchonian, though God knows Pynchon's last two were pretty sucky for things that took several years to write. But good! But good!

King's comment simply doesn't really apply to non-professional writers (by that I simply mean writers who don't ever write to deadline) -- speed isn't the issue.

Cheers, Jon

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Postby Gwyneth M905 » Wed Sep 13, 2006 6:06 pm

I would argue that the only obligation a writer has is to his or her muse, as an artist; a genre writer or technical writer is obliged to write to deadlines and to fill a certain number of expectations.

Jon's points about Shakespeare and Byron are well-put and well-taken: both are undeniably artists--AND this meshes with David's arguement that they wrote for patrons of their work, so were in essence hacks for hire. Genius hacks but hacks nonetheless. (OK Gwynnie, you're really sticking it out here to play wack-a-mole!)

(Wait, I take that back -- Byron was independently wealthy, was he not? I don't know. Someone here will doubtless inform me. :) )

This brings us back to Harlan's quote above (see earlier post) about fans *demanding* more and more content: books, even though they have a whole oeuvre to choose from. (Or at least, oeuvre to date, to be precise about the meaning of that word.)

It's like eating ice cream by the pint over the kitchen sink, even though you might be satisfied by the 5th spoonful, you wanna keep eating until the pint is empty. And then you feel sick. More content! More content! The fans cry out! The writers must comply. Is it art? Probably not, as Jon contends, if it's written just to satisfy the gobbling gluttony of the marketplace. For me, books written about TV series characters fall into this category. (Just IMHO. Past the James Blish adaptations, I've never been able to read a ST book cover to cover.)

There are some writers who churn out books which can be considered "art", King is one of them -- at least he has won several literary prizes -- but I don't think that a writer is obliged to write for his or her fans.
Even if he or she is only writing, as the Russians say, "For the desk drawer", the artistic writer is obliged to write for writing's sake, for the sake of the muse that drives him to write. To fail to do that is to fail to be true to that one true shard of eternity, or immortality, that glitters in his soul.

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Postby Jon Stover » Thu Sep 14, 2006 5:12 am

King's said on more than one occasion that he's a compulsive writer -- if he doesn't write, he starts to go bonkers. So his work ethic dovetails neatly with his compulsion.

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Postby Jon Stover » Thu Sep 14, 2006 9:54 am

I realize the meaning of patron has changed, Gwyneth, but I think David's referring to artists who created expressly within the old meaning -- ie. for rich guys who commissioned one to do stuff, a term used most frequently to refer to the rich guy who commissioned artists and sculptors but also involving poets. Shakespeare wrote his plays to be performed, and he made his money from writing and acting; Byron was a Lord (George Gordon, Lord Byron) and wasn't patronized by anyone -- he, too, made money off the sales of his poems and plays.

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Re: #30 - You Don't Know Me, I Don't Know You

Postby Gwyneth M905 » Thu Sep 14, 2006 11:21 am

Gwyneth M905 wrote: As an example, Harlan notes that Fritz Leiber's first novel in 8 years:

"...isn't as worthy of attention as the first novel of an actor, no matter how well it's written. It isn't as important as Sybil Leek's astrological bullshit...it isn't as important as a pair of westerns...it isn't as important as a six-pack of insipid romantic novels...? Why is that asshole Ellison angry?"

He condemns fans for not putting their money where their mouths are because they don't know the realities of life for working writers-- that the writers must "sell themselves" to survive and make a working living.


King is fortunate in that his work ethic and (for want of a better word) salability do dovetail, as Jon so eloquently put it. His output is prodigious, and so are his sales. He doesn't seem to have a problem with selling himself, as his books are now so popular that they sell themselves. But he did his work in the trenches, working on Carrie, while as a...was he working in a lumber mill or as an English teacher?
Jon, you probably know, I can't remember.

(As an aside, Steven King is also a mensch. I was at one of his lectures here in SF. When he took questions from the audience, one young--very young-- man introduced himself as a writer and then asked why he couldn't seem to write, to get the words on the page. The audience audibly gasped, held its breath, waited for King to eviscerate this guy and tell him that he was no writer if he wasn't writing. But he didn't. He talked about the fear of facing the empty page, which he himself felt from time to time, offered some tips and in essence told him to just keep writing. Great guy! He was so thin -- still recovering from his horrific accident I think.)

Likewise, Shakespeare and Byron were popular in their day -- Byron probably more so for his scandalous lifestyle. (It is thought now by some scholars that he suffered from spinal bifida.) But even Shakespeare had some patrons (at least for some of his sonnets I believe.) 'Course, I could be wrong. :) So neither of them suffered from the poverty that dogged, for example, um... Keats, who had to publish or perish.

Which brings us back around to the question about Harlan's essay to fans: You Don't Know Me -- don't pretend that because you've read my stuff that you know what goes on in my head, that you understand the creative process that drives me as a writer, that you know what it's like to balance that creative process with the need to hustle, to shuck and jive and make a living, especially a good living --- and I Don't Know You -- don't Bug Me.
At least, that's how I read it.
Jon, David, Rich -- want to move this thread over to general and discuss the aspect of fans' input and impact on the writer's work using Xenogenesis, this essay and the Edge in My Voice #4 as a starting place? Just a thought?

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Postby Jan » Thu Sep 14, 2006 12:45 pm

You shock me. :shock: Carrie was written when King was already a teacher, which was the basis for every other scene in the book.

You can talk about Xenogenesis and the Future Life installment here as well, it's all part of the same thought process. (If you do, I can change the thread title.)

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Postby FrankChurch » Thu Sep 14, 2006 1:00 pm

Well, I have a pretty good idea Thomas Harris hates writing so much, that he waits this long for a reason. He just hates having to write another book. The money insulates him from having to actually work. King just works because he loves it, like our Harlan.


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