Everything Is Nice

Beating the nice nice nice thing to death (with fluffy pillows)

Kool And Sexy And Popular

with 4 comments

M John Harrison feels he is beating his head against a brick wall:

Good luck to Richard [Morgan] with his arguments for a realistically human view of humanity. I’ve been making them for many years & no one in f/sf has paid the slightest attention.

Harrison has achieved a lot in his career and yet he still finds himself having to make the same arguments he first made forty years ago. I can see why this is frustrating. The message is being heard in at least some quarters though.

OF Blog of the Fallen has more commentary here, including a long comment from Vacuous Wastrel:

I also think that, although I know you’re a Harrison fan, talking about him as a prophet in the desert cursed by his courage to a short and brutal life, killed by us the unthinking mob, might just possibly be slightly overdramatising, and over-idolising, the man and his importance. He’s not actually a martyr, he’s just not as unpopular as other people. Popularity is not a right, and its absence is no deprivation. His stoning to death by the public consists in him being substantially wealthier, more influential and more popular than most of those who hold less ‘prophetic’ opinions.

VW goes on to post about this and China Mieville’s recent comments on Tolkien, where he concludes:

Going by what I’ve read said by both of them, I consider Papa Tolkien not only more successful and a better writer than Harrison, I also consider him a better, more admirable, more emulandory person. I’m quite happy with the side I’ve been born (or raised) on. What reason does anyone have to pay attention to Harrison’s hegemonic sociopolitical opinions (which is what the geek-hate ultimately is)?

The last sentence tips it over into comedy, and I’m not sure what “emulandory” means but without having any interest in martyrs or messiahs I know who I would prefer to emulate.

Written by Martin

18 June 2009 at 11:47

4 Responses

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  1. ‘You don’t like what I like… THAT is assault!’

    Jonathan M

    18 June 2009 at 12:15

  2. In case you didn’t notice, both passages were intentionally exagerated in tone to the point of comedy. The first one you quote was also not actually about Harrison, per se, but about the danger of artists and their critics turning them into something they are not – that is, prophets. Blog of the Fallen slipped into this, talking about Harrison’s rejections by the ‘mainstream’ in a way that made it sound as though he had been publically lynched – and I think it’s important to bear in mind the distinction between the sufferings of artists (ie not making quite as much money as they might otherwise do but not actually suffering in any way) and bad things that, you know, actually matter.

    The second passage, and the title of your post, refers to Harrison’s views on worldbuilding, where he has sought to distance himself from nerds/geeks, and to put all those who indulge in the sin of ‘worldbuilding’ into the latter category – yes, another of those Goodkindesque “I don’t write fantasy (or at least not nerdy fantasy), I write about real human issues. Please, cool people, take me seriously!” appeals. I called him “Kool, Sexy and Popular” because this called to mind exactly the same dynamic in schools – the sort-of-geeky kid loudly proclaims how different he is from the geeks, and how much he hates geeks, because he wants to be taken seriously by the kool kids. Even though to the kool kids, and indeed to everybody else, he looks just like a geek himself.

    For those who don’t read my post itself, the line “the side I’ve been born (or raised) on” refers to geeks. I am one, and I’ve always been one (I’m not perhaps a stereotypical geek in every way, but let’s be honest, non-geeks would see me as one, so I don’t care to fight it). Harrison seems to consider this a bad thing. Implicitly, his comment about worldbuilding tells us that we geeks should all be more like Harrison. Well, comparing geeks to non-geeks, I don’t see why it would be better not being one – and looking at Harrison’s behaviour, I certainly don’t see why we should be more like him.

    Yes, it was tongue-in-cheek, but I don’t think “hegemonic sociopolitical opinions” is really entirely inappropriate. He associates certain behaviours and interests in writing with a particular social group (‘nerds’) and on those grounds advises avoiding those behaviours – the implication of ‘worldbuilding is bad because it’s the clomping foot of nerdism’ is ‘so you’d better not do it, because you don’t want to be one of those horrible ‘nerd’ people, do you?’.
    This is hegemonic, even if the term is too grandiose for it – it expresses a hope to exclude the dissidant voices of a particular minority social group. I don’t think it would be widely accepted if the same were said of other groups characterised by shared common behaviour (“the clomping foot of conservativism”, “the clomping foot of Islam”, “the clomping foot of people who like rock music” – at best, it sounds politically hectoring or socially fuddy-duddy), or groups characterised by shared genetic features (“the clomping foot of femininity”, “the clomping foot of black people”). Personally, I think ‘nerdism’ probably involves both genetic and cultural componants.

    Above all, however, I think it’s vital to distinguish the three entirely unrelated topics: overdramatisation of Art; the importance of ‘realistically human views of humanity’ (or, to use the more common Goodkindian phrase, ‘Real Human Themes’); and the role of worldbuilding. The first topic is only tangentially related to Harrison – this was only an example of the wider point; the second point is actually one where I agree with Harrison, though I’m not sure I agree with him that such themes have been absent until now. As I said before, I think Morgan’s comparing things falsely, taking pulp fantasy and comparing to literary non-fantasy. Literary fantasy and pulp non-fantasy do both exist…


    “Emulandory”, in one sense, means nothing, as it’s clearly a nonce-word. That said, the meaning I gave it should be perfectly clear, and indeed you seem to have deduced it despite your denials!
    [It’s transparently formed from a hypothetical latin gerundive, with the common -ory adjectival suffix on the model of ’emulatory’. Being from the gerundive, it would, if it existed, mean “that which is to be emulated”]


    Thanks for taking the time to mention my views, though. New as I am to the world of you ‘Bloggers’, it’s a somewhat bizarre experience – hence, perhaps, my over-paternal anxiousness to explain my words’ meaning even after they’ve been birthed and sent off into the electric sea.

    Vacuous Wastrel

    18 June 2009 at 19:13

  3. Umm…as I said on my own blog, VW, the point was about the vociferous reactions that APs often inspire. Secondly, if you think I was talking about MJH being rejected by the “mainstream,” I would have to conclude that you missed it by quite a bit. If anything, “mainstream” is a word that I usually don’t use, except in an ironic sense. What “mainstream?” The “mainstream” of those outside the other “mainstreams?”

    Secondly, considering your own response and others who I guess would constitute the “geek” or “nerd” based on what you say above, could one conclude that MJH’s piece did succeed as a piece of AP?


    19 June 2009 at 00:09

  4. VW, the exagerated tone was why I quoted them but I didn’t see them as being straightforwardly comic (as you seem to admit). I think in both quotes you are arguing against positions that doesn’t actually exist. In the first case, as Larry says, I’m not sure that is a sensible reading of his post. In the second case, your geek dynamic is alien to me and, I suspect, Harrison so your attempt to impose it on him seems odd.

    With specific regard to hegemonic sociopolitical opinions I think it is quite clear that when Harrison is talking about nerdism, he is talking about a tendency rather than a set of people. So of your shopping list of comparisons the only one that makes sense is “the clomping foot of conservativism”. I don’t see what is wrong with this, indeed it is the sort of thing people say all the time. Your objection seems to be that it is “hectoring” but I’m not interested in this sort of argument over tone.

    I don’t think Harrison is an agent provocateur, he is just someone with a forceful and highly developed aesthetic sensibility. A lot of people seem to take this personally.


    19 June 2009 at 10:46

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