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

The SPIDER Symposion: in-depth discussion of specific Ellison stories and works.

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Anthony Ravenscroft
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Postby Anthony Ravenscroft » Wed Jan 03, 2007 11:36 pm

Okay, I think I've only read maybe a third of Ellison's published work, so call that a caveat.

And I'm also exceeding lazy, so I'm not going to flip BACK in order to pull a quote.

Jan, I have never gotten the impression from HE's essays that he's elevating himself. Very clearly, I get him baffled & a bit hurt that there aren't more people at his approximate vantage -- specifically because he doesn't see himself as demigod nor genius. If that viewpoint happens to be over the heads of the assorted cattle, then I also don't see any good reason to blame the goat that gets there for "seeing himself somehow above others" merely because he inarguably is.

(Oh, yeh: BA/BSci sociology, combo stats/methods wonk & History/Theory Of.)

Early on (I think it was mass paper release of Strange Wine), I started reading HE Forewords after the story. Too often, the tale would make me wax reflective, but the essay would make me laugh or cry or sneer or gasp in wonder, which kinda tends to ruin the impact of some damned fine literature.

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Jan
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Postby Jan » Thu Jan 04, 2007 2:57 am

Hey Anthony.

I went back and checked what I said (was so long ago) - I was speaking of an undercurrent of self-elevation in Harlans works. There was no blame attached. He has his uniqueness to deal with, which we enjoy.

If you think you're good at what you're doing and feel that what you're doing has some importance, yet most people would never be able to appreciate that by themselves, that would lead with some likelihood to the patterns that run through a portion of Harlan's essays and introductions.

I have to qualify this with two more remarks: Regardless if a need to beat the chest is part of why someone would make the choice to write introductions in the first place, I admit it is kind of difficult to avoid making oneself look good in such self-referential writing. Asimov effectively addressed this problem with his humor. In Harlan's case we have what sometimes looks like an absence of modesty (which we see evidence of at other times, but less often). Which brings me to the second point -

Harlan does clearly, as I tried to indicate and like he said again today, contain multitudes. One can find traces of many things in his works and his being, but it seems to me that the particular essay that we were talking about here sprang to some degree from that part of Ellison which is the elitist who wishes to distance himself as an individual from "the audience"/mere mortals. Despite my joy I can't help but find an element of posing and presumption in such essays and speeches. Self-elevation (subconsious or not) goes hand in hand with putting other people down, be it done in subtle ways or with obvious conviction, which is why it is not a completely harmless thing to do. Examples would be his lifelong resa dei conti with the fans, tv and film producers, and the public. I'm not sure if anyone can enjoy any of that stuff without a nagging sense of "uumm, Harlan?"

Regarding forewords: You're right, they are intrinsically problematic in Harlan's case because he's more free to speak and "easier to hear". In some cases in his older books I like the sound of the forewords better than whatever follows next. Part of the problem is the switch from personal/direct to performance/indirect communication.

I also think the human mind makes the mistake of considering foreword and story a unit. Any as with unit of meaning that we process, there is an effect of primacy - whatever comes first, gets all our mental resources thrown at it. If there is a foreword, the story is second in order, even if it's the main attraction. In the worst cases, after the foreword the mystery is gone, which our mind requires as fuel. Our mind is less open for a story that we think might only confirm what we have reason to suspect.

Jan

Anthony Ravenscroft
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Postby Anthony Ravenscroft » Tue Mar 13, 2007 9:27 pm

KristinRuhle wrote:Some how I cannot imagine Stephen King engaging in Harlan-style insults...

Rereading this thread &, sorry, I couldn't let this sit.

I recall King saying something in the Platt interview like," Have you seen science-fiction fans? They're all fat!!"

It's always stuck in my craw. At least Ellison tends to blast his own geeks & myrmidons on something relevant....

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Postby Jan » Thu Mar 15, 2007 9:52 am

They're both unfair at times to make themselves look good. I mean all that Harlan said about fan types over the years regarding their acne, their intelligence, their smell, their way of breathing etc... There must be some small amount of truth to it, though. I'm sure people who read books like The Stand become fat. :-)

There's a nice comic book about comic conventions by Daniel Clowes called "Pussey". (Not to mention Gaimans two-part Sandman, I think around issue 15, also full of funny insights.)

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Postby Donald Petersen » Mon Mar 19, 2007 2:36 am

Jan wrote: I'm sure people who read books like The Stand become fat. :-)


Huh. For all of my young life, I was rail-thin. (My driver's license still claims that I'm 6'2" and 140 lbs.) But once I read the uncut version of The Stand, I started to gain weight. Now I'm 200 lbs., which isn't quite fat at my height, but ain't rail-thin neither. Jan, you might have something there... :wink:

But to revisit the possible temperamental differences between horror fans and SF fans, I have noticed as well that the horror fans seem a bit more sociable. To an extent, I've noticed that among horror film directors as well. I've had occasion to meet a few horror writers and directors over the years (my brother, Mick Garris, has a wide acquaintance in the genre), and the ones I've met have all been swell folks who are polite, friendly, and heaped to the rafters with mutual admiration where one might have expected some rivalry. Just speaking of the ones I've met and talked to, from King to Barker, Hooper, Malone, Schow, Raimi, Landis, Dante... more than anything else, these guys are fans first! They seem to genuinely love each other's work as well as the classics that came before, they delight in giving each other cameos, and the most surprising thing to me about the formation of the Masters of Horror series was that the dinners that started it all hadn't begun twenty years ago. I'm surprised they don't form a softball team. Or at least go bowling. And Mick has mentioned that "killing" his wife Cynthia in several movies (various characters she has played in his movies have been blown up, strangled, razor-slashed, or tossed down an elevator shaft) has given them over 25 years of real-life marital bliss... an outlet that might not be so readily available to the SF specialist. Don't know if this translates to the fandom realm, but there it is.

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Postby Czarcasm » Mon Mar 19, 2007 6:38 pm

FrankChurch wrote:This was from a much angrier Harlan. Todays Harlan is pretty chummy with many of his "fans," so to speak. He learned that candy and sunshine is sometimes better then black belt lacerations.

Damn-just when I was getting into black belt lacerations, HE goes soft on me. :wink:
I can only judge how I feel about him personally be how he has acted towards me and those I personally know, and he has always been a perfect gentleman. I was there for the infamous "t-shirt incident" at the Portland Westercon, and while he was justifiably upset, the other writers present came damn close to tearing that "vendor" a new one before Mr. Ellison ever saw him.

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Postby Carstonio » Mon Mar 19, 2007 7:57 pm

Jan wrote:I'm sure people who read books like The Stand become fat. :-)


Did you hear that King's publisher is going to reissue the book in a deluxe no-trans-fat edition?

Anthony Ravenscroft
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Postby Anthony Ravenscroft » Mon Mar 19, 2007 9:06 pm

I think it's myopic &/or self-congratulatory to blame the fandom for what might be endemic problems in the genre itself.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but the level of sniping, nastiness, backbiting, & abject moronic stupidity I've been noting within the past couple decades of SFWA looks far worse than anything in MWA or RWA. A few days ago, I dug out some comments by J. Michael Straczynski that led up to his (& Ellison's) resignation from SFWA, & am frankly still horrified.

If science fiction is a refuge of asocial lackwits, the "professional cadre" clearly reflects that.

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Postby Jan » Tue Mar 20, 2007 7:41 am

the level of sniping, nastiness, backbiting, & abject moronic stupidity I've been noting within the past couple decades of SFWA

Let's have an Asimov quote here about the 30's:

Naturally, it didn't take a club long to split up into two clubs, with each then proceeding to put out competing fanzines. The main task of each fanzin was to vilify the other group with an intensity and a linguistic fluency that Hitler might have studied with profit.
This may sound as though I'm exaggerating, but, honestly, I'm not. If anything, I lack the words (competent writer though I am) to describe the intensity of the tempests brewed in the microscopic teapots of science-fiction fandom. (In Memory Yet Green, p.209)

And any long-time visitor of the Ellison Bulletin Board has a pretty good notion of what it's like out there.

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Postby Carstonio » Sat Mar 24, 2007 8:42 pm

Anthony Ravenscroft wrote:If science fiction is a refuge of asocial lackwits, the "professional cadre" clearly reflects that.


Why would science fiction be prone to becoming such a refuge? John Kessel's "Invaders" suggests that SF offers comforting alternatives to the real world, especially the power fantasy of the alienated child. He writes that SF fans are attempting to escape human nature. Kessel compares SF to an addictive mind-distorting drug - readers typically come to the genre at times of suffering, and the escapism allows them to deny their pain.

So how would Kessel's theory explain fan behavior as described in both "You Don't Know Me..." and "Xenogenesis?" Are many SF fans so wrapped up in the addiction of escapism that they've lost all ability to relate to real people? Are acts of rudeness toward SF fans simply driven by ego deficiency? Or is it more complicated than that? Do some fans unconsciously view SF writers as drug pushers or enablers, and act rudely toward them out of pure resentment?[/quote]

Anthony Ravenscroft
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Postby Anthony Ravenscroft » Sun Mar 25, 2007 9:14 am

To back up a bit....

There are many stripes & layers within Fandom. Hell, in Minneapolis the CONvergence was born when Minicon made it clear they didn't want stuff like media fen or drobies or anyone who wanted dances or live music, just Trufen who were into serious literature (and, well, dressing teddybears in historical costumes, getting really "tiddly" from stickysweet liquers, & playing the same dozen songs every freakin' year a half-hundred times so that all the Usual People get to sing badly along -- *>sigh<*).

Over the years, I've encountered plenty of people who want to expound upon Fandom & its offshoots who maybe went to oine convention before finishing the thesis or writing the article. There's no way you can "get it" by wandering around aloof on the fringes, snickering into your briar & jotting notes.

Are the horror stories true? Oh, god... I remember when "Xenogenesis" came out. Me & another hardcore were so angrified at the morons we were apparently surrounded by that we read that article aloud at the next three parties we had. To this day I am awestruck that Ellison did such a masterful job of calmly pillorying those selected morons.

Yes, I have been standing in line three persons back from a fan whose odor was so rank that my sinuses began to burn & my eyes streamed freely.

Yes, I have been to cons where the pool was shut down due to the film of brown fannish offal crud floating on top, which slammed the purification system into high gear & caused toxic amounts of chlorine to be released.

If you use a broad brush to question "fandom," however, you include me & Ellison.

Is it a refuge for the socially inept? Well, sure -- kinda like just about anything else. Ever hung out with model railroaders? sportscar nuts? usergroups? (my ex-wife's a subaltern in the Python cult) writing groups? reading groups? investment strategy clubs? chess fans? knitters?

People don't see any parallel groupings because (a) they don't want to admit their prejudices, (b) sf/f fandom forms into convenient large bunches on a regular basis, (c) pointing with glee &/or horror at "the other" has been a popular pastime for millennia.

What do I mean? Well, look at comics conventions -- enough said. And despite the spirited defense of horror fandom, I'm confident it's got plenty of slackjawed wankers; these are conveniently overlooked as an aberration, yet similar aberrance in sf/f fandom is highlighted as somehow indicative.

Sometimes, albeit a minority of times, a gathering of misfits helps someone. Firstly, showing them that they're not alone in the world -- it's empowering to shift one's self-image from being a "hopeless geek" to merely being a "geek." Then to possibly have someone who appears smart, well-read, & erudite validate you when you speak up stammeringly & ask a question or perhaps even make a brief comment, that's obviously bolstering.

Before you countercase: yes, of course there are plenty who use the in-group mindset to avoid change, & even to become more inept. Again, see previous allusion to groupthink & gatekeeping. Some people, given support, will hunker down & harden their prejudices; others will take the newfound stability & expand their worldview.

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Postby Jan » Sun Mar 25, 2007 11:20 am

Anthony - great, great post. Minor in intent, but as they say, I laughed and I cried. Everyone should write so well.

There is nothing left to add.

While I have never been to conventions, I have been to supermarkets, to parties and concerts, and in busses, so I doubt SF conventions are a place where more people haven't taken a shower than at any other place where people gather in their spare time.

Apart from that...

Being a fan of anything puts you in a weak position. Both the passive and the active fans are sad sights in their own ways. The passive ones get no respect from the artists because they present themselves as a bunch of people who sit around with too much time on their hands and without talents of their own. The active ones have a hard time avoiding the impression of trying to suck up to the artists, they also look like they have too much time on their hands, and some of them indeed need attention.

However, all artist started doing what they're doing because they were passionate about something as well as being admirers of other artists.

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Postby KristinRuhle » Tue Mar 27, 2007 12:06 am

One of the most insightful comments about fandom came from an acquaintance of mine (who admitted that his own background was somewhat troubled) noting that there weren't that many people there who were "sane" or "normal" or had "happy childhoods" ...

"Fandom is an extended dysfunctional family."

That probably applies to the pro community also. I have heard (from people that deliberately distance themselves from it) that pro feuds are worse than fan feuds.

Um, Stephen King has far *less* connection to fandom than Harlan. Part of it is that someone ahs FAMOUS as he is..(MUCH more a household name than HE, face it) and more likely to attract psycho stalkers...wouldn't dare go near fandom. Maybe once long ago, but not now. Part of it is that (well I don't think) he came from a fannish background. Harlan was once a fan himself, a fact that has made him enemies among those oldtimers who call him "ungrateful." So, maybe King has *more* right to hold negative stereotypes or diss fans than Harlan does?

Yeah,I know a lot of so called Trufen and many of them are pathetic people with no life. Most of them don't have children, or if they do, those childrens' interests have drifted far from their own. Old fashioned fandom is probably going to make itself extinct as these people age and die. The tragedy is, *literacy* might go with it. Reading science fiction can be inspiring, mind expanding and intellectually stimulating. Does anyone read books anymore?

The *sanest* fans are perhaps the readers of hard science fiction. They have better things to do than attend conventions, like curing cancer, or performing brain surgery, or building a *real* rocket to Mars. (I know, Harlan doesn't think white collar work is real work, but people don't go to MIT to learn to be plumbers.) They are worthy of an artist's respect, because they make the best of what they HAVE been given, and don't suck up, but do acknowledge the inspiration they got from artists.

I have a great talent.....for writing academic term papers. I have a BA in English. I'd turn in 50 pages when the assignment was 10 and get an A. It's just that I didn't want to grow up to be Harold Bloom. I could have been a humanities professor or a publish or perish post modernist - but heck, the world needs more janitors than post modernists. I don't think I could write a novel to save my life....and I am an underachiever and know it. So I don't really expect anyone to actually respect me. I'm just a consumer. I help pay Harlan's electricity bill, I guess.

But enough of my own feelings of inadequacy. (I had a socially dysfunctional childhood and never had any steady friends before I started going to, of all things, Dr Who conventions. I'm still friendly with the people I met there, but I don't wear a 20ft scarf everywhre I go any more, and neither do they - they have lives.)

Actually it's amazing that anyone in fandom loves HE at all. Even I feel an emotional tug of war between the part of me that loves Harlan and the part that is repulsed by some of his attitudes. Elitism just really isn't that in me. I've hung around those "filk sings," and while some sing badly, there are people there who do have talent, and as for the rest, it helps get shy people out of their shells and lets them develop even minor talent in a non threatening environment. My boyfriend has dragged me twice to Burning Man, where everyone is exepcted to partiicipate, and everything is ephemeral, not made for posterity.

But I have a weakness for outrageousness, for wild geniuses. I admire their best and forgive them their worst.

"You Don't Know Me, I Don't Know You" is not a title aimed at any individual....it was an individual speaking to a group, I know. But I have a pet nightmare of HE saying those words to my face (not that HE ever would....or at least I hope not...but I suppose he has done the equivalent more than once; if he feels you hurt him he will cast you off at best and hurt you back at worst) as a ritual excommunication! If someone said that to you directly ...such words could blow through a sensitve soul like an icy winter wind drying up leaves. No wonder ex-friends become bitter enemies. Cold rejection is harsher than any harsh words anyone can say.

Yes, this post is rambling. I'm just using this thread to enter too many thoughts that are on my mind. And I AM going to see HE's movie. See ya htere.

Kristin


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