Wyrdwend

The Filidhic Literary Blog of Jack Günter

THE CURSE OF BAD ASSUMPTIONS (about EVERYONE ELSE)

I very often agree with Pinker’s insights and criticisms, especially regarding linguistic and intellectual matters. And in this case I think he has a point as well. At least in part.

On the other hand the equally weighty criticism of this critique of the audience is as follows: 1) it assumes that every reader and audience (or even a significant proportion thereof) is ignorant, whereas in fact literacy is at an all-time global high, and most people intentionally ignorant of a particular subject matter would not be reading your words in the first place if they truly were, 2) it assumes that your insights, definitions, and assumptions (as a writer or supposed expert) about a particular subject matter are the correct ones (and that in itself is a patently false and often easily disproven position), and 3) it assumes that the writer himself is a sort of knowledge expert (as modern men wantonly and ignorantly define the term “expert“), and few things are both as personally disgusting to me and as effortless to successfully dispute as the idea that the majority of writers are expert (modern or otherwise) on any given subject matter in any way at all. (Of course I could easily marshal other such arguments against the “curse of knowledge” premise, – sounds awful scary doesn’t it, but that is enough to work with at the moment.)

In other words just because you are writing on a given subject matter, or feel yourself qualified to write upon a given subject matter, is not evidence of any kind that you actually are qualified to write on a given subject. That shouldn’t stop you, and indeed it won’t stop most writers, and throughout history has never stopped most writers, but it should at least give you symbolic pause about your own expert assumptions about your own supposed expertise.

I do not in any way assume my audience is automatically ignorant or uneducated on any subject I write on or they read on, I do not assume that even if they were ignorant (of either a term or an idea) that they could not easily rectify this situation themselves with a modicum or research and effort, I do not assume that my writing will be “bad” merely because my audience’s intellect does not soar to my vaunted levels of erudite elocution and elucidation (interject here the proper level of sarcasm you feel might be warranted by this comment), and I do not assume that merely because I am well educated on a subject that either my conclusions, theories, or definitions cannot be incorrect. Those would be wholly unscientific and ridiculous assumptions on my part about both myself, and you, the reader.

This is the multitudinous, pretentious, and totally self-fabricated bullshit of the modern writer, modern literary theorist, the modern “expert,” and the so-called writing coach. (Or indeed almost any kind of modern coach.) It is everywhere and reflexively repeated as the common and self-evident wisdom of all good writing – Dumb it down boys and girls for you are the rarefied mental wonder of the ages whereas your reader is the dim-witted lackey who struggles to pace himself against your enlightened – whatever it is you are so dammed enlightened about (and it must be something important, after all, you’re a writer – so Hooray for you Einstein)!

Truth is this is merely a modern conceit to the modern man about what he assumes about the modern mind. That being his own mind. The modern man thinks himself smarter than everyone else and he does so without even a hint of self-irony or self-reflection. And this is, to a very large extent, why modern man is as modern man so obviously is.

I am no dammed “modern expert” on any subject matter and have no wish to be. I hold forth on probabilities as related to reality as best I can determine such things, I do not hold forth on my own expertise. To hell with that, and the probabilities entailed by it.

Modern writers often border perilously close upon the idea that subject-matter knowledge makes their writing automatically admirable, correct, useful, and illuminating. It only makes their writing informed. At least informed about what they are informed about. Which may or may not be correct. But they assume that just because it is informed this is the same as being correct. Whereas I know human nature and psychology far too well to automatically make any such laughable assumption about any information presented to me on such a flimsy foundation of validity – informed and correct can lead to entirely different conclusions about reality. I’ll let you guess which one is likely to prove the more accurate of the two approaches, because Truth be told, I suspect you don’t need my help at all.

See how that works?

I have no more automatic respect for the supposed genius and infallibility or absolute correctness of a writer, any writer, including myself, than I believe most actors give Wise Life Advice.

We (writers of any kind) like to think ourselves brilliant and Wise. Truth is we’re a dime a dozen and that’s intelligence and Wisdom on the cheap. Sure enough.

I always try to keep that in mind when examining my own ego and assessing my own writings.

The Source of Bad Writing

The ‘curse of knowledge’ leads writers to assume their readers know everything they know

Updated Sept. 25, 2014 12:06 p.m. ET

Poor wording drains vast sums of money from the economy, writes Steven Pinker. Nick Cunard/Zuma Press

Why is so much writing so bad? Why is it so hard to understand a government form, or an academic article or the instructions for setting up a wireless home network?

The most popular explanation is that opaque prose is a deliberate choice. Bureaucrats insist on gibberish to cover their anatomy. Plaid-clad tech writers get their revenge on the jocks who kicked sand in their faces and the girls who turned them down for dates. Pseudo-intellectuals spout obscure verbiage to hide the fact that they have nothing to say, hoping to bamboozle their audiences with highfalutin gobbledygook.

But the bamboozlement theory makes it too easy to demonize other people while letting ourselves off the hook. In explaining any human shortcoming, the first tool I reach for is Hanlon’s Razor: Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity. The kind of stupidity I have in mind has nothing to do with ignorance or low IQ; in fact, it’s often the brightest and best informed who suffer the most from it.

I once attended a lecture on biology addressed to a large general audience at a conference on technology, entertainment and design. The lecture was also being filmed for distribution over the Internet to millions of other laypeople. The speaker was an eminent biologist who had been invited to explain his recent breakthrough in the structure of DNA. He launched into a jargon-packed technical presentation that was geared to his fellow molecular biologists, and it was immediately apparent to everyone in the room that none of them understood a word and he was wasting their time. Apparent to everyone, that is, except the eminent biologist. When the host interrupted and asked him to explain the work more clearly, he seemed genuinely surprised and not a little annoyed. This is the kind of stupidity I am talking about.

Call it the Curse of Knowledge: a difficulty in imagining what it is like for someone else not to know something that you know. The term was invented by economists to help explain why people are not as shrewd in bargaining as they could be when they possess information that their opposite number does not. Psychologists sometimes call it mindblindness. In the textbook experiment, a child comes into the lab, opens an M&M box and is surprised to find pencils in it. Not only does the child think that another child entering the lab will somehow know it contains pencils, but the child will say that he himself knew it contained pencils all along!

The curse of knowledge is the single best explanation of why good people write bad prose. It simply doesn’t occur to the writer that her readers don’t know what she knows—that they haven’t mastered the argot of her guild, can’t divine the missing steps that seem too obvious to mention, have no way to visualize a scene that to her is as clear as day. And so the writer doesn’t bother to explain the jargon, or spell out the logic, or supply the necessary detail.

Anyone who wants to lift the curse of knowledge must first appreciate what a devilish curse it is. Like a drunk who is too impaired to realize that he is too impaired to drive, we do not notice the curse because the curse prevents us from noticing it. Thirty students send me attachments named “psych assignment.doc.” I go to a website for a trusted-traveler program and have to decide whether to click on GOES, Nexus, GlobalEntry, Sentri, Flux or FAST—bureaucratic terms that mean nothing to me. My apartment is cluttered with gadgets that I can never remember how to use because of inscrutable buttons which may have to be held down for one, two or four seconds, sometimes two at a time, and which often do different things depending on invisible “modes” toggled by still other buttons. I’m sure it was perfectly clear to the engineers who designed it.

Multiply these daily frustrations by a few billion, and you begin to see that the curse of knowledge is a pervasive drag on the strivings of humanity, on par with corruption, disease and entropy. Cadres of expensive professionals—lawyers, accountants, computer gurus, help-line responders—drain vast sums of money from the economy to clarify poorly drafted text…

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MY HOMETOWN

My hometown city. And there is excellent reason to be extremely proud of it. It is a superb place for Business, Art, Music, and Beauty.

It is an wonderful thing to live in the South.

And as a friend said this is but the tip of the iceberg…

Edwin McCain shows off his favorite places in Greenville

NOT THE REAL KING, BUT STILL HE COUNTS

I think most (not all but most) of this advice on writing and being a good writer is truly pragmatic, solid advice any wise writer would do well to listen to and heed. The only trouble is that the title of the article is somewhat misleading.

King is not a great writer by any stretch of the imagination. He is an excellent storyteller, but not a great writer. He will not be read en masse in the future as will be still be Shakespeare, Homer, or Hugo.

He is a popular, famous, and wealthy writer. Like Nicki Minaj is a popular, famous, and wealthy singer. But she is not a good singer. In the modern world you don’t have to be any good to be famous, popular, and wealthy. You just have to appeal to people and tell them (or show them) what they want to hear, not necessarily what they should hear.

Nothing wrong with being famous, popular, or wealthy though, and I’m glad he is successful. His story ideas are often quite superb. But he will not carry far into the future because he is not a good writer. His ideas may but his writings will not.

Shakespeare was hardly what one could call successful during his lifetime. Homer likely was not. Yet still they are here hundreds if not thousands of years later. And often quoted. Can anyone really imagine that will be true of the writings of Stephen King? And that is what really makes for a Great Writer.

Of course from Stephen King’s point of view, who cares? Certainly he shouldn’t. He is successful, and rightfully so.

I think the author of the article just said “Great Writer” as shorthand not for Good Writer, but Successful one.

Which is what he actually is. However I’ve never read anything he’s ever written that’s even close to great. Or in any way profound.

The advice is very pragmatic and solid though. I recommend it.

22 Lessons From Stephen King On How To Be A Great Writer

stephen king

Renowned author Stephen King writes stories that captivate millions of people around the world and earn him an estimated $17 million a year.

In his memoir, “On Writing,” King shares valuable insights into how to be a better writer. And he doesn’t sugarcoat it. He writes, “I can’t lie and say there are no bad writers. Sorry, but there are lots of bad writers.”

Don’t want to be one of them? Here are 22 great pieces of advice from King’s book on how to be an amazing writer…

THE BAD-GOOD

At what point does pointless become pointed, or pointed pointless?

The Mystery of Murakami

His sentences can be awful, his plots are formulaic—yet his novels mesmerize.

Nathaniel Rich

Aug 13 2014, 8:09 PM ET

Seasoned fans of Haruki Murakami, having patiently waited three years since the gamma-ray blast of 1Q84, will have a few pressing questions about the master’s newest book, even though they may be able to anticipate the answers: Is the novel’s hero an adrift, feckless man in his mid-30s? (Yep.) Does he have a shrewd girl Friday who doubles as his romantic interest? (Of course; conveniently, she is a travel agent, adept at booking sudden international trips.) Does the story begin with the inexplicable disappearance of a person close to the narrator? (Not one person—four, and they vanish simultaneously.) Is there a metaphysical journey to an alternate plane of reality? (Sort of: the alternate reality is Finland.) Are there gratuitous references to Western novels, films, and popular culture? (Let’s see, Barry Manilow, Arthur Conan Doyle, the Pet Shop Boys, Aldous Huxley, Elvis Presley … affirmative.) Which eastern-European composer provides the soundtrack, and will enjoy skyrocketing CD sales in the months ahead—Bartók, Prokofiev, Smetana? (Liszt.) Are there ominous omens, signifying nothing; dreams that resist interpretation; cryptic mysteries that will never be resolved? (Check, check, and check.) Will this be the novel that finally delivers Murakami the Nobel Prize? (Doubtful, though Ladbrokes currently considers him the odds-on favorite, at 6 to 1.)

No great writer writes as many bad sentences as Murakami does.

Murakami, who learned to speak English by reading American crime novels, begins with an opening paragraph that would make David Goodis proud. Tsukuru Tazaki, recently turned 20, is planning his suicide: “From July of his sophomore year in college until the following January, all Tsukuru Tazaki could think about was dying.” But where Goodis would write something like “All right, he told himself firmly, let’s do it and get it over with,” Murakami is balletic, evoking metaphysical realms and a fine sense of the grotesque. “Crossing that threshold between life and death,” he writes, “would have been easier than swallowing down a slick, raw egg.” It is one of the key aspects of his style, this seamless transition from noirish dread to mystical rumination; the most perfect Murakami title, which really could have been used for any of the 13 novels he has written since 1979, remains Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. In Murakamiland, death means merely traveling across a “threshold” between reality and some other world. It is not necessarily the end. In fact, as we soon learn, Tsukuru’s obsession with death is only the beginning…

CREATIVE ACTIONS – HOW TO MAXIMIZE THEM

Although I am no fan of the Huffington Post I agree with every general point made in this article. Personally I would add a couple of more but I won’t quibble. I’d read the whole article.

18 Things Highly Creative People Do Differently

Posted: 03/04/2014 8:48 am EST Updated: 03/26/2014 8:59 am EDT

Print Article

CREATIVITY

Creativity works in mysterious and often paradoxical ways. Creative thinking is a stable, defining characteristic in some personalities, but it may also change based on situation and context. Inspiration and ideas often arise seemingly out of nowhere and then fail to show up when we most need them, and creative thinking requires complex cognition yet is completely distinct from the thinking process.

Neuroscience paints a complicated picture of creativity. As scientists now understand it, creativity is far more complex than the right-left brain distinction would have us think (the theory being that left brain = rational and analytical, right brain = creative and emotional). In fact, creativity is thought to involve a number of cognitive processes, neural pathways and emotions, and we still don’t have the full picture of how the imaginative mind works.

And psychologically speaking, creative personality types are difficult to pin down, largely because they’re complex, paradoxical and tend to avoid habit or routine. And it’s not just a stereotype of the “tortured artist” — artists really may be more complicated people. Research has suggested that creativity involves the coming together of a multitude of traits, behaviors and social influences in a single person.

“It’s actually hard for creative people to know themselves because the creative self is more complex than the non-creative self,” Scott Barry Kaufman, a psychologist at New York University who has spent years researching creativity, told The Huffington Post. “The things that stand out the most are the paradoxes of the creative self … Imaginative people have messier minds.”

While there’s no “typical” creative type, there are some tell-tale characteristics and behaviors of highly creative people. Here are 18 things they do differently…

 

THE BLOOD

THE BLOOD OF UNCANNY MONSTERS

I thought this should also be cross-linked here. As it has definite applications to literature, poetry, art, and even song-writing.

INTERRACIAL ROMANCE, INTERRACIAL MARRIAGE, A ROCK STAR, AND THE DEEP SOUTH

Today I went to a store called the Dollar Tree. I go there to pick up stuff like razor blades and trash bags and so forth because “everything there is a dollar. (As my wife would say).

Well a few months back I also discovered that they sell books. And not bad books either, but I imagine these are overstock books Barnes and Noble (or some such bookstore, maybe even a whole-seller) couldn’t sell all the copies of off their shelves so instead they liquidate their overstock and unload their surplus to this company. (I used to do liquidations so I know how it works.) I’ve added to both my fiction and non-fiction personal libraries from their book section, and some of those books are quite good, such as Michael Crichton’s Micro and George Anders’ The Rare Find (which I’ll discuss later).

So today I’m browsing their new book selection and find a book called Rock Star. It appears to be a romance and ordinarily I don’t read romances, much less books about rock stars, but this one has an interesting blurb premise. It’s the story of a White Rock Star named Bryan from LA who goes to a small town in Alabama and meets a young black girl named Callie.

Now my wife is black and I am white and so this was a point of interest to me as far as the premise went. But it gets better, much better.

The boy is an urbanite and I guess not very religious but the black girl is a devout Southern church girl. So score that for me being interested too. Now my wife has never been hamstrung by being an urbanite or a self-styled sophisticate, and neither have I. We’re both country-people and couldn’t be happier about that. (Coincidentally, today, I just happened to hear John Denver’s “Thank God I’m a Country-Boy” on the radio, a song I haven’t heard on the radio in a very long time.) However this conflict between the supposedly sophisticated and worldly modern urbanite and the devout, rural, down to Earth country-person also often appears in my own writings. My fiction, non-fiction, poetry, song-writing, you name it.

Finally the book also addresses the entertainment industry, an industry for which I have great disdain (though not for everyone in it) and since my wife is a singer I know exactly how corrupt such industries can often be, and how difficult they are to work in.

So the book had three very interesting premises and themes running throughout the plot. At least according to the blurb. Enough to make me decide to buy it and read it. I mean it was only a buck, so even if it is bad I haven’t wasted much of anything. But if the quality of the writing and story matches the thematic premises then I might enjoy it a lot.

Anyhow as I’ve already said the conflict between urban and rural life is a big personal theme throughout my own works. In addition I understand the corruption of things like the entertainment and music industries through personal (if limited) experience, and if you ask me much of the degeneracy of those industries arises precisely from the fact that they are, for the most part, big-city urbanite undertakings.

So that one form of urbanite corruption feeds off of, or feeds another. It is cyclical, circular, and self-feeding. The urbanite outlook fertilizes the corruption; the corruption further bloats and enlarges the mass-urbanite scheme behind these self-absorbed industries.

Yet in the final analysis, as fascinating as all of these themes are to me, I purchased the book because I too am interested in writing a series of Interracial Romances. (Those who know me might think it bizarre I’d write anything like a romance, but in this case, yes, I would.) Now my wife and I have faced very little opposition to our marriage or very little opposition in any way due to our racial differences. And race never really comes up as a matter to us, except occasionally in a joking way – because she can’t dance worth a crap. (She can sing well though.)

So I wish to write a series of interracial romances that far more realistically deals with what marriage and relationships are like between interracial couples than merely focusing upon the racial aspects. (Which have been the least of our obstacles, if they ever have been an obstacle at all, and truthfully I can’t say race has ever been an obstacle to us.)

Now I do think that many people are interested in the subject of interracial romance and marriages. Rightfully, or wrongly. A lot of people who have never been involved in one seem to think there is some big set of obstacles to overcome or some big set of social problems to face.

The only problems we’ve ever faced are the same ones any married couple are going to face: finances, sex, children, work, arguing, learning to understand each other as individuals, etc.

Therefore I wish to write a set of interracial romance books that are far more realistic and focus upon the real issues of an interracial marriage. Which have nothing to with some overarching racial bullshit (that may be the case in a small minority of such marriages, but as with any marriage those kinds of problems, nowadays at least, are very small compared to the real problems face din any marriage), but with the real difficulties of marriage: money, sex, romance, children, work, etc. In the end all marriages and all romances between couples come down to relationships between two individuals, not two races, or two classes, or two cultures, or ay of that other claptrap our society likes to politicize and call socially erudite and consequential. If the two people cannot get along it will not be because of their race, but because of their individual personalities and natures, if they can get along then it will not be because of their race (or class) that they do so, but because of their individual natures. Race, class, background, etc. may influence and variegate relationships, but those factors are far from determinative.

In other words I want to write some interracial romances that do not focus upon race but focus upon real human problems in marriage such as those I outlined above. I want to demystify this socially created and politically irrelevant bullshit of race-obsession and write some romances that focus upon the problems that individuals truly face in a relationship, relationships in which the individuals involved just happen to be different races. In other words realistic interracial romances.

Now I don’t want to give the impression that my wife and I have a bad marriage, or even a difficult one. We don’t, we have a very good and happy marriage and it gets better every year, although there have been times when the marriage was worse than it is now, and times when it was difficult. But none of those times were due to factors like race, even when we were dating, and we live in the Deep South. Though to be honest the modern Deep South is one of the most thoroughly integrated and best places in the entire nation for good race relations – as a whole. As with the mostly false misconceptions about interracial romances (at least in the rural South), the political propaganda regarding the modern South is largely fabricated and almost entirely erroneous. I’d take the good race relations of the rural South (most places in the South that is) over the race relations in almost any truly big city in the US any day and every day. There is no way at all I’d trade the race relations of the Upstate of SC for the race relations of Chicago or Los Angeles, for instance, and no way I’d want to live in places like Chicago or Los Angeles for that reason, or for any other reason I can name just to be honest.

Anyway I’d like to write some far more realistic books, as well as a literary novel (as a matter of fact I am writing a literary novel on this very subject – The Cache of Saint Andrew), on the subject of interracial romances and marriages.

That’s why I bought this book called Rock Star. I don’t know if it will be any good or not or if the story or the writing will be well done, but I very much like the premises of the book. So maybe in that sense it will be worth far more than the buck I paid for it. At the very least it may give me some further thematic ideas or help me refine my own.

THE SINS OF SKYFALL

If you ask me Skyfall is the best James Bond film I’ve ever seen. And I’ve seen them all, even the painful Roger Moore films. When I first saw Skyfall and saw the message mentioned in the author’s article that was my immediate conclusion as well. Though I did not consider the message an anagram, but rather a message conveying a personal code that M would instantly understand.

What gave me the most vital clue about the M-Silva relationship was how Silva kept calling her, “Mommy,” and how often M remarked upon the relationship with her agents in a far more than merely professional sense.

What I think the author did in his article however was a superb job of both detective work and of cryptoanalysis (of the clue and plot point) and I agree with his conclusions. Though of course it’s not really cryptoanalysis, even with the missing key, it is more a personal coding (M should understand the personal code immediately because their shared experience is the key – it would be an unknown code to others but a private shared code to her) or as the author states, an anagram encoding. If the editors intentionally downplayed the clue then in my opinion they did so because they didn’t want to diretcly explain or talk down to the audience about the possible implications. I think the film-makers were more than happy to let the audience draw their own conclusions, and rightfully so.

(I had drawn the same conclusion as the author of this piece, though for different reasons – and I think the Daniel Craig Bond is far more sophisticated and tries to be far more like a real field agent than the previous and mostly cartoon incarnations of the Bond intelligence agent – though he is still far too much a “superhero” than a real man or an actual agent. Though the Timothy Dalton Bond was usually a very good Bond as well.)

Anyway, kudos to Mr. Carter. A sharp piece of detective work and plot clue analysis. I recommend his article.

“The key anagram is the cryptic message Silva sends to M shortly before all mayhem breaks loose: “THINK ON YOUR SINS.” The language is so highly stylized that I was certain, from the time the words appeared on the screen of M’s laptop, that there was a message hidden within. In the car on the way home after the film ended, I was already scribbling anagrams on a piece of paper. But I couldn’t solve it, even with the help of the Internet Anagram Server, until I remembered three bizarre aspects of the movie. (Here are the spoilers.) ”

http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2013-11-11/the-secret-james-bond-missed-in-skyfall-

LOOK, OVER THERE, NOT THE FOREST, BUT THE WEEDS…

This is a superb little article on writing. I myself have been saying for a very long time that most writing advice, especially most modern writing advice, is absolute bullshit and entirely contradictory to the idea of both writing well and of communicating anything worthwhile at all.

Now whereas I don’t agree that writing is all about, or at least not solely about, the “Observational trick,” it is a far better observation than most modern ones on writing.

At the very best the best any writing advice can do is encapsulate an extremely narrow range of ideas about how it is possible to efficiently communicate in a certain way (it can in no way exhaust the possibilities), therefore no such advice can ever produce genius or even real ability. And the Truth is that both genius and real ability tend to far eclipse any advice that could possibly be given about either.

Hemingway may have said it best…, no on second thought he didn’t, he said it best for Hemingway, but even Hemingway was no Shakespeare now was he? No, he wasn’t. There is a very good reason Shakespeare is the most quoted writer in the history of the English language and it has absolutely nothing to do with Hemingway’s writing advice. As a matter of fact it has a great deal to do with the very opposite of Hemingway’s writing advice. And that is also very likely why there is no modern equivalent of Shakespeare, because modern people are herdish and extremely easy to fool. Just give them all a popular, unchallenged fashionable theory to imitate and by God, come hell or high water, they’ll dig their own grave and happily and uncritically lie down in it to prove the theory.

I’m glad to see the revolt against this narrow minded, small imagined bullshit beginning. It’s long, long, long overdue.

So endeth the trick…

__________________________________________________________

“What’s the secret to writing well? As I’ve said previously here, an awful lot of people seem to think they know, yet their “rules for writers” are almost always (pardon the technical linguistics jargon) bullshit. For example, “Show, don’t tell” is frequently bad advice. In the right context, the passive voice is fine. Elmore Leonard’s most famous rule, “Never use a verb other than ‘said’ to carry dialogue”, is sheer silliness. Even the sainted Orwell’s rules are a bit rubbish: the final one is, “Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous”, which means his advice is really just “Don’t write barbarically”. So it doesn’t bode well that the psychologist Steven Pinker is to publish his own advice book, The Sense Of Style, later this year. Judging by a recent interview at edge.org, however, this one might be different. Writing, Pinker points out, is inherently a psychological phenomenon, “a way that one mind can cause ideas to happen in another mind”. So one place to begin is with actual psychology.”

http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/jun/28/change-your-life-how-to-think-about-writing

CONAN AND ME, PART ONE: LANGUAGE, PULP, RACE, AND FICTION

Lately I’ve been re-reading (actually listening to on CD) some of R.E. Howard’s later stories on Conan, such as The Conquering Sword of Conan.

Now every year, usually in the Fall (but at other times as well) or as the weather changes I get a desire to read or listen to Conan, or Solomon Kane, or the stories of HP Lovecraft. Adventure and horror stories. Don’t know why, I just do, it’s sort of a recurring literary theme with me. I associate Autumn and early Winter with adventure, and patrolling, and exploring, and the coming dark.

(I also at this time of year like to read or listen to the radio plays of Jack Flanders or the Green Hornet or John Carter of Mars or Doc Savage or other types of things like that I used to listen to as a kid.)

Now I’ve always liked the stories of Conan (though I have much more in common personally with the character Solomon Kane) as I enjoy a lot of pulp fiction. It’s adventurous, and that’s what I like about it. Adventure stories and pulp fiction tend to roam widely in space and time, and this very much appeals to the explorer and Vadder in me. As well as to the historian in me, as pulp stories are often pseudo-historical and often contain historical and archaeological allusions and references. I wish far more modern writers wrote really good adventure stories, especially for young men and boys, but also even for girls, such as my daughters. Alas, aside from children stories adventure yarns seem a dying or dead art. More is the shame.

But a couple of things have always bothered me about Conan and his adventure stories. One is Howard’s sometimes ridiculous use of inappropriate language, mixing antique, antiquated, and outmoded terms all in the same paragraph or sentence and doing so without a broader context. The same can be said for his general world building tendencies as well, he sometimes mixes wholly inappropriate matters and allusions and settings and events and places and personages together haphazardly and without any logical framework. I know this is part of his Sword and Sorcery Shtick but it can detract heavily from the appeal of the story. As a writer I certainly understand that every writer is at least to some extent a product of his times, and of what is known in his time. As well as a victim of his own his ideas, and a bondsman of his ideas about writing. Finally he is in at least in some sense a slave of his own language, real or invented, and his use of that language. But Howard’s language often descends into “pulp-speech” in a way that is almost an obvious caricature of pulp. In other words his writings become the very caricature of the pulp genre to such an obvious degree that it becomes impossible to read some of his phrasing without saying to yourself, “this story is pulp.” Instead of, “this story is a great adventure.”

True, sometimes his phrasing and language use is clever, even inspired, at other times though it is both simultaneously banal and overwrought. At times like that you easily remember within your own mind, “this is fiction,” and that’s precisely what you want to avoid in fiction writing.

The second thing that bothers me about Conan is Conan’s obsession (in some of his stories at least) with race and tribalism and ethnicities and “groups.”

to be continued…

THE MASTER INFILTRATOR AND THE WORLD TO COME

It being Sunday and all I thought I’d post this. Ordinarily I would put a post like this on my personal blog, the Missal. But I haven’t imported it to WordPress yet.

My friend Edie Melson put up a very interesting post on the Line between the Secular and the Sacred. I responded but I think my response was too long for her blog to eat. But because I too find this subject so fascinating I’m posting my response here. You’ll find her post link at the end of my post.

_______________________________________________________________________________

“I thought many of the responses were quite excellent. And this is a topic that interests me intensely Edie so I appreciate you discussing it.

This is my opinion on the matter:

There shouldn’t be such an imaginary line between the Sacred and the Secular. In my studies for the priesthood I learned that the early church did not use the term secular in the way it later came to be adopted (what in Latin and English would be to us the term: profanus). Rather they used the term as a type of classification of the laity and the secular clergy, meaning clergy of the people rather than the Ecclesiastical hierarchy (administration) of the church itself.

Therefore the early church did not classify the world as Sacred and Secular but rather of Godly and of the People, or put another way, as we would say, the Laity.

That’s a totally different view of Sacred and Secular than the current modern one and modern set of definitions and a far more accurate way of looking at Sacred and Secular to me than the one normally assumed by modern people. For rather than meaning it is an uncrossable line (pun intended) it is rather a People moving along a pathway towards becoming ever more holy and Godlike.

As for shaming Christ I don’t think you can. I do not disagree at all that certain behaviors are Christ-like in nature and certain other kinds of behaviors are not Christ-like in nature and that Christ will always choose his followers to pursue the Christ-like behaviors. That is not my point and I so I don’t want people thinking I’m disputing that fact. I am not.

On the other hand it is simply a huge mistake to assume (and if you read the New Testament carefully it is impossible to assume) that Christ went unexposed to or was naïve and ignorant of the very worst forms of human behavior. They were all around him, he saw them constantly and spoke of all of them. Murderers, thieves, cheats, rapists, Zealots (so called because to the Romans they were what we would call terrorists and to many Jews they were guerillas), adulterers, drunks, brawlers, sinners of all kinds. Jesus saw and heard and lived in and around things that most sheltered, comfortable, protected, mild-mannered, middle-class, Western “Christians of today” would not long endure and could not long endure. Many modern Western Christians are simply too pansyish and fragile and intentionally self-sheltered to have long endured the currents in which Christ swam. Christ’s world tended to be far more brutal than many of our modern ones, especially most of modern American society. You could immediately and easily shame many modern Christians by simply uttering the word “Damn!” in a fit of anger, you could not do that with Christ. He constantly and easily saw and heard much, much worse. It did not shame him at all.

(And in that sense I mean you could not shame him. Now real evil did anger him, and often easily so, and that’s an entirely different story, but you could not shame Jesus with either petty vices or great evil as he was entirely unafraid of either. You could not shame Jesus with wrong because he understood human nature far too well and was far too used to being daily exposed to all facets of human nature. Unlike many modern Christians who go out of their way to avoid any exposure to sin or vice and certainly many seek to avoid evil at all costs – because it so easily frightens them and makes them so uncomfortable. Jesus on the other hand was a daily hand to hand combatant with both minor vices and with great human evils. And his share of supernatural ones. You could not shame or embarrass him away from such things. He sought them out.)

Believe me, read the Bible carefully, especially in Greek and you will know that many of the Apostles and Disciples were far more “profane” than the vast majority of modern Christians. (At least in public.) Yet many of those ancient and early Christians also tended to be far more Christ-like (and self-sacrificial, and unafraid of evil, and willing to hang around and befriend other sinners) in the really important senses of the term than many modern Christians.

And I get that and even understand the dichotomy and fully understand why so many modern Christians prefer seeking to become holy (far more like Ekklesiastical Clergymen) rather than be more like Secular Clergymen or laity (and to some degree I think it is entirely justified). They do not wish to imitate or become the very thing they eschew. On the other hand if you look at Christ and the Apostles then you just have to accept the true and real facts of the matter: they all spent the vast majority of their time at secular ministries rather than seeking self-holiness or to separate themselves from the world or its sins.

The actual Truth of the matter is that they delved and penetrated deeply into the Secular world in order to overcome sin and reform the world, thereby erasing or eliminating the line between the Sacred and the Secular. They did not seem interested in overthrowing the secular world, or of ignoring and condemning it, certainly not of hiding or sheltering themselves from it, as much as they were in reforming and rebuilding it. Keeping what was worth saving and replacing what needed to be replaced with far better things. In other words a great deal of the whole idea concerning the Kingdom of God is to make the Secular World Sacred by bringing it into complete harmony with what is truly holy in the most important ways. Small and fleeting was the time Jesus spent in the synagogues or near the Temple compared to the times he spent in the “secular world.” That is where Jesus specifically chose to spend most of his time and with good reason, it is the patient who needs the physician. Then again the physician does not fear the disease nor does the disease embarrass or shame him. His job is to cure the disease, not be repulsed by it. If he is either repulsed by it, or afraid of it, or does not wish to be made dirty or infected by it then he cannot possibly cure the disease. Only the fearless man can fix the world. The man who fears evil is the victim of evil, not its conqueror. At the very best the man who fears fights a rear-guard action, he is simply far too afraid to take the fight to the enemy. The one who actually conquers goes straight for the throat of the enemy, for you actually win by offense, not defense.
That’s true of conquering disease, and it’s true of conquering evil. Or anything else you can name for that matter.

That is, you save the world by overcoming evil and reforming the vices of the Secular World, and by not by making the Sacred World an artificial and sterile and unobtainable otherworld. You do this by making the secular world a fully Living World in which Secular Things become Sacred.

(This is not to say that I believe there are no Otherworlds, such as Heaven. I do. I have a very firm and totally unshakeable confidence in many Otherworlds, including Heaven and Hell. What I am saying is that when this world behaves in a way so similar to Heaven that if you were in either place it would be hard to tell the difference between the two, then will the Kingdom of God be complete and real victory achieved. If the dichotomy between this secular world and Heaven is so stark than many could say of our world that is is Hell instead of Heaven – and many alive today can certainly say that now – then the Kingdom of God is at best a shadow of what it could be and we have much territory yet to take. But we do not want an artificial and fake Kingdom of God on Earth, a mere impossible pretense of holiness, but one that is naturally sacred and fully secular at the same time. Meaning they’ll be practically indistinguishable from one another.)

The point therefore to me is not to create an artificially sterile and impossible Sacredness of the Secular World but rather to transform the Secular World to such a degree that all the really important things become Sacred (again) as it was actually always meant to be.

Now all of that being said I am not taking issue with the idea that Jesus would have been ashamed to do evil or to harm others. As a matter of fact it embarrassed him so much he refused to sin and to harm others.

Then again neither did he fear or feel shamed by or embarrassed by, nor did he retire from the Secular world. Instead he penetrated deep into it and fight there. The Secular world was his battlefield. The secular world was exactly where he thought the battle for the Kingdom of God ought to be really fought, and he thought if he could win there then the Kingdom of God was bound to triumph. After all you don’t reconquering territory you already possess. You seek to conquer what you don’t yet control. So Jesus fought here, and the secular world was his battlefield.

And if you ask me he was sure as hell right.

You win here and Hell itself has no where else to retreat. In a very real way the Secular World is Hell’s last battlefield.

And how do you win here?

You infiltrate. Like Jesus did.

Jesus was a master infiltrator. And he was God-awful good at it.

To the world there are always frontlines and rearlines and battlefronts and homefronts. And this frontier and that line of demarcation and on and on it goes.

To the real infiltrator there is no such line, and there are no such divisions. And there never has been and never will be.

Jesus was the master of Godly Espionage. He knew exactly how to do it.

We could learn a helluvah lot from Jesus about how you really do this, and how you really kill Hell.

You do it from the inside out. You do it by going to the heart of Mordor and killing Sauron where he lives.

Everything else is just sit around and wait for a world that will never come.”

http://thewriteconversation.blogspot.com/2014/06/weekend-worshipthe-imaginary-line.html

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