Feminism: "You Might Be A Racist If..." Special Political Edition

[Content Note: Politics, Racism, Food Poisoning]

I don't usually do political posts on the blog because on my high-spoons days, I'd just tell you to all go read Shakesville and on my low-spoons days, politics depresses the crap out of me and makes me start wondering if Canada is as cold as Margaret Atwood tells me it is. (It surely is. Margaret wouldn't lie to us. *sadface*) However! Today I am holed up in bed with food poisoning because god hates me [1], and I made the Very Big Mistake of saying so on Twitter and in doing so I noticed this hashtag: #ThingsRomneyShouldSaytotheNAACP.

Oh dear.

So if you've always wondered if you might be racist, but you're not sure, here's a handy guide I've whipped up for you in between dealing with crushing abdominal pain.

1. A Vote For Christmas Past! If you vote based on your understanding of current events and their intersection with your personal needs, as opposed to voting on the basis of historical events that happened prior to your being born, but you expect People of Color to vote based on historical milestones that may or may not accurately reflect a current state of affairs, you might be a racist.

My party introduced and passed nearly ever piece of Civil Rights legislation for black as Dems fought them. ‪#ThingsRomneyShouldSaytotheNAACP
#ThingsRomneyShouldSaytotheNAACP‬ Republicans enacted civil rights laws in the 1950’s and 1960’s, over the objection of Democrats.

This one gets bandied about a lot, to my continued and utter astonishment. It's one of those logical fallacies that is so wrong that I'm not sure where to start in the dissection of it. Do we start with the fact that political parties are not controlled by a static unchanging charter set down in stone during the formation of the party, but rather they evolve over time in response to the people who compose it? Pointing out that civil rights was a platform of the Republican party in the 1900s is about as relevant in the year 2012 as pointing out that both parties overwhelmingly supported prohibition in the 1900s. (Can we really trust our vote to either party if they're just going to turn around and ban the production of beer? They've done it before, after all!)

But dabbling in the logical fallacies underpinning this argument makes it easy to miss why this is so racist as opposed to just plain Bad Logic. Because the point here really isn't about political platforms of the past or the present. The basic issue is that the White Person espousing this concept is saying that People of Color aren't capable of understanding current events and are too ignorant to be trusted to determine which party most supports their individual needs. So here comes the White Person galloping in with a carefully cherry-picked History Lesson that will teach the People of Color what they're too foolish to figure out on their own.

That's racism.

2. A Vote Is As Good As A Thank You! If you vote based on your understanding of current events and their intersection with your personal needs, as opposed to using your vote to express your abject gratitude to a person or persons who may not be one of the candidates or even technically alive, but you expect People of Color to treat their vote as the modern equivalent of a Hallmark card, you might be a racist.

#ThingsRomneyShouldSayToTheNAACP‬ remember when Democrats freed the slaves? Oh wait that was Lincoln!
That's my Dad. Can you find me one where Obama's Dad is doing the same thing? ‪#ThingsRomneyShouldSayToTheNAACP‬ http://twitpic.com/a69yeb

This is a fun one, because it's a sub-set of #1 (You should vote based on past events that may not be relevant in this current election!) but it's got a nice coating of aren't you a big fucking ingrate if you don't slathered all over it. The idea being that now it's not just ignorant of People of Color to not realize the abject pertinence of things that happened decades or centuries ago, it's also ingratitude if they don't immediately, permanently, and continually turn over their vote to the corresponding parties as a thank you to the people to whom they owe their most humble thanks. Whereas I'm pretty sure that most of the White People employing this argument have never seriously considered voting Democrat as an attaboy gesture to Thomas Jefferson or Andrew Jackson.

That's racism.

3. A Vote Is As Good As A Fuck You! If you vote based on your understanding of current events and their intersection with your personal needs, as opposed to using your vote to express your annoyance with or hatred of a person or persons who may not be one of the candidates or even technically alive, but you expect People of Color to treat their vote as the modern equivalent of the middle finger, you might be a racist.

Remind them that Al Gore's father voted AGAINST Civil Rights--yeah, THAT Al Gore. ‪#ThingsRomneyShouldSaytotheNAACP
Margaret Sanger is the founder of Planned Parenthood and spoke at KKK rallies. ‪#ThingsRomneyShouldSayToTheNAACP

This is, of course, the flip-side to #2; if you're not willing to use your vote as a gesture of gratitude, surely then you would consider using your vote to signal your irritation with a party's platform? And actually this is something that people do in real life -- it's not unusual to vote (or refuse to vote) -- based on their irritation with a party platform or with the bad behavior of persons involved. However, usually this begins and ends with people actually tangentially involved with the current party; Albert Gore, Sr. died in 1998 and Margaret Sanger died in 1966, and I think it's fair to say that people doing the post-vote analysis on a voting event that is largely binary (Republican / Democrat) probably aren't going to cotton on to the fact that the Democrats lost serious ground because of that feisty Sanger and all the people she's pissed off to this day.

(For the record, Margaret Sanger did speak at a KKK gathering, or rather she spoke to the women's auxiliary of the Ku Klux Klan in order to give a lecture on birth control. By her own account, she was afraid of the group and genuinely worried that she might be harmed by the members of the KKK, especially if she dared to mention abortion. She apparently believed that giving information about birth control to women, regardless of their horrific racism, was the correct and courageous thing to do. Because, you know, an organization that is built around White Male Supremacy and the marginalization of all other groups would never also consider marginalizing the women in their community, and bringing the concept of reproductive control -- probably the single most powerful factor in women's liberation -- to these women might have the side-effect of giving them the tools to plan their own lives, break away from their oppressive families, and reconsider what they'd been trained to believe all their life... you know what? Nevermind. I digress. Fuck it. I don't know Margaret Sanger and I don't have a horse in this race. But from what little research I've done on the topic, it sounds more complicated than the Twitters would have you believe.)

By once again engaging with the specifics, it's easy to miss the inherent racism in these arguments. Because, again, the implicit understanding is that People of Color should use their votes not as they personally see fit in order to improve their lives and make the future a better place for them to live, but rather they should use their votes as a symbolic gesture that will almost certainly be lost in the election noise, because there's not an exit-poll option for "because I think Al Gore Senior was an asshat". (And even if there was, it's unclear how the Democrat party would, ah, fix that at this late stage.) And, again, I'm pretty sure that most of the White People bandying about this advice aren't planning to vote against the Republicans in the next election in order to register their extreme displeasure with -- to pick an example at random -- Sarah Palin's oldest daughter for saying that abstinence for teens isn't realistic. So once again, the advice is putting forth one set of voting guidelines for White People (vote according to your needs!) and another set of voting guidelines for People of Color (vote as a symbolic gesture!).

That's racism.

4. A Vote In Favor Of New Historical Milestones Is Wrong! If you simultaneously manage to hold the belief that People of Color should vote based on the historical milestones of the past -- Lincoln, Civil Rights, Al Gore's father's voting record, and so forth -- alongside the belief that People of Color should not vote in order to create new historical milestones they would like to see, you might be a racist.

Explain how 90% or more of you voting for ‪#Obama‬ isn't racist, when it's racist if whites do the same? ‪#ThingsRomneyShouldSaytotheNAACP
Since 90% of blacks voted 4 Obama, you wouldn't say we're racist if 90% of whites vote for Me, right? -- ‪#ThingsRomneyShouldSaytotheNAACP

This one is all kinds of fun because it manages to assume all kinds of facts not in evidence. I mean, obviously all of those People of Color who voted for Obama did so because he was also a Person of Color, whereas the White People who voted for Obama did so because his policies aligned with their own, or because the opposition party headed in a direction they weren't comfortable with, or because they'd been saving up a big thank you to Thomas Jefferson for the lovely work he did with the Declaration of Independence. Whatever. Point being, we know White People voted for Obama for reasons but People of Color voted for Obama for race. It's self-evident.

And, you know, maybe someone, somewhere, was motivated to vote for the first viable Person of Color candidate in a U.S. presidential election 'simply' because they wanted to see that cultural milestone met for the first -- and possibly only -- time in their lifetime. I can easily imagine wanting to be involved in the making of that milestone as an active participant.

But if you, White Person, cannot understand the difference between a Marginalized Group helping to elect one of their own for the first time since the formation of this nation versus a Privileged Group helping to elect one of their own for the 40+th time since the formation of this nation (also known as "every other time besides this one"), then you might be a racist. Because refusing to understand the difference between those two cases despite it being explained to you over and over and over again?

Well, that's racism.

5. I've Noticed That There Are Words I Shouldn't Say! If you, a White Person, feel that it is even remotely relevant to remark on the fact that "NAACP" has the term "colored people" in it, despite the fact that people have been telling you for years that you can't say the term "colored people" in polite company without outing yourself as a racist, you might be a racist.

#ThingsRomneyShouldSaytotheNAACP‬ I'm sorry fellas, but I'm for the advancement of everyone including "colored people", as you put it
Shouldn't we strive for equal protection & rights under law for all individuals & not just "colored" ones? ‪#ThingsRomneyShouldSaytotheNAACP

I shouldn't have to goddamn explain this, but I will.

The NAACP was founded in 1909. Thanks to centuries of racism, the founders had to grapple with what, precisely, to call themselves since almost every possible term they could reach for had been sullied with centuries of bad connotations. Many of us still to this day reflexively and unthinkingly use the terms "black" and "dark" to indicate wrongness and evil because those connotations have been so deeply boiled into the terms that it seems perfectly natural to many of us to use them that way. And if you've never had to expend a moment's thought about what to call yourself that hasn't been used as a slur or derogatory term by someone somewhere, well, that's the beautiful warmth of Privilege that you're feeling.

One hundred years later, "people of color" is still the most polite term we have available to refer to the numerous groups that the NAACP strives to help in the face of systemic and ongoing marginalization in our country. And if the NAACP were being reformed today, they'd probably be called the NAAPC, with "people of color" inserted instead of "colored people". But they're not being reformed because they're a historical organization that has done a century of good work in the face of oppression and it's ridiculous to tell them that they have to rebrand everything because the term they chose in 1909 -- "colored people" -- was deliberately and intentionally ruined for us all by racist White People. Demanding that an organization for marginalized people change their name after the terms involved were deliberately ruined by privileged people?

Yup. That's racism. It's also bullying.

6. I Am A Stranger To Actual Thought! If you have never actually engaged in actual thought before, it's possible that you're not a racist but are simply in fact aggressively anti-intellectual. However, if you are using your anti-intellectual stance to promote racist agendas, then you're as close to a regular racist as makes no difference because intent is not actually in fact magic.

#ThingsRomneyShouldSaytotheNAACP‬ Remember the bad old 3/5 of a vote days? By encouraging voter fraud, the dems are STILL diluting your vote.
The first black congressman was a Republican; the first black senator was a Republican. ‪#ThingsRomneyShouldSaytotheNAACP

...and the first black president was a Democrat! So vote for me. Against him. Wait, uh, what was I saying?

Fun fact for all you history buffs out there: When slaves were counted as 3/5ths of a person for purposes of determining the level of representation provided for that given state, those slaves weren't actually voting. The 3/5ths clause was deliberately superseded when slavery was abolished. Just so you know.

[1] Seriously. I was all set to have a Happy Night with Husband last night and deliberately met him at the door with a smile on my face and no tears for the first time in two weeks. Forty-five minutes later, I was kneeling in the bathroom trying not to heave my dinner into the toilet. Does grape juice contain salmonella by any chance at all? Because that's the *only* part of my dinner that wasn't heated to 145 degrees or higher.


buttercup said...

This is brilliant, thank you for consolidating the crap plus the takedown in one easy-to-share blog post.
I hope you feel better, my daughter was also pukey last night.

Aspermoth said...

Was your grape juice pasteurised? Because otherwise yeah, I think it actually can. Which sucks. Also this post is awesome and I hope you feel better soon.

Sherry Hintze said...

Nicely done. I really liked how you laid out & demolished each point. Sorry you're not feeling well, though. Hope you recover soon.

Will Wildman said...

This is amazing, and would be amazing even if you were feeling well, so it's at least 50% more amazing playin' hurt, so to speak.

I don't tweet, but if I did, I think I might try to start #ThingstheNAACPCouldSaytoRomney, such as "How come all of your arguments are from last millennium?"


The thing about voting on race lines is this: white people in power have a much broader history of using that power against or without regard to the interests of PoC than vice-versa. There's a vast track record of white politicians not caring and/or not understanding (and understanding usually requires caring). So if a PoC is running for a position of power, even knowing nothing else about them, the chances are notably higher that this is a person that another PoC might expect to understand what they're dealing with.

(Rough analogy - most of my friends are women. This isn't because I have something against men, it's because I prefer friends who aren't excessively competitive/aggressive and have a certain level of understanding about kyriarchy (regardless of whether they use that term). Of the people I've met over time, more women than men have met those conditions. I'm reasonably sure that's because women are less likely to have high competition/aggression pushed on them by their culture and because they have a greater experience of ways in which kyriarchy functions (on them personally if nothing else). That's not gender essentialism; that's a predictable statistical outcome of our societal framework.)


"Three-Fifths-Of-A-Vote" Dude is apparently also unaware of what the 3/5ths compromise was actually for - as described at the link (but I wish everyone knew this so forgive my rant) it was the slaveholders who wanted extra rep for their votes by increasing their share of the electoral college without increasing the number of voters in their states. By only counting slaves at a discount in the census, slaveholders didn't get quite so much more power than they were supposed to have. (Although, since black Americans still couldn't vote post-abolition, I'm not sure what the overall effect was when it got superseded.)

There's a West Wing episode about the census that has, in one of its key moments, someone using the three-fifths thing to support their argument that the language of the article is archaic (and therefore shouldn't be used to prevent the use of new census technology), which implicitly relies on the idea that it was about counting black slaves as less than full people. The argument still holds (the language is from a time when demographic relationships were drastically different from the modern day) but I think loses rather a lot of its intuitive rightness.

JenL said...

Forty-five minutes later,
Last time (well, the only time, really) I had food poisoning, I got dragged to the doc by ... someone... obsessed with the notion that I might have a flu and be contagious, over my objections that it would do me more good if they just let me stay home those few hours.

Anyway. According to my doc, what seemed like an incredibly sudden onset a couple hours after dinner was actually the result of food poisoning *at lunch*. She specifically mentioned a 7 hour time period.

Not sure if that has any bearing on what happened to you or not.

JonathanPelikan said...

Hugs, Ana. I know nothing about food poisoning, all I can say is 'try a doctor'.

(I'm fairly sure that my only beef with Atwood is her allegedly reportedly appearing to dump on science fiction?, if that's true than frak, but I think that's already been hashed out and I don't really know about the dustup and otherwise I'll join in worship at her altar.)

I recall hearing that Romney was going to go speak to the NAACP and I didn't see that myself but I knew, from the moment I heard it, what an unMittigated disaster it was going to be.

Also mark me down as shocked that lots of Republicans and Conservatives are racist and ignorant and offensive, and so much so that many of them seem literally incapable of comprehending how their mere presence is an offence against the United States and the principles it was founded for, and how their ideology consistently betrays and cheapens this country and sabotages our efforts to modernize, democratize, reform, and progress. Sigh.

(Alternate genuinely embittered antiCentrist reaction to this whole thing: "Look, Both Sides have white people in them...")

Ana Mardoll said...

Genre wars are never pretty. It sounds like she has a very clear idea of what "science fiction" means to her, and she would prefer her books be labeled in ways that make sense to her.

Brin Bellway said...

makes me start wondering if Canada is as cold as Margaret Atwood tells me it is. (It surely is. Margaret wouldn't lie to us. *sadface*)

It was 105F last Friday. This was uncharacteristic (summertime should be more like 80-85F on hot days), but what with global warming and all it's probably going to become normal. Just stay indoors as much as you possibly can during the occasions when it's 10F* or less (probably shrinking roughly as fast as the 95+ days are growing) and you should be fine.

Dad has taken to describing our location to Americans not as "Canada" but as "between Michigan and New York", to give them a more accurate idea of the climate.

*I had to look that up. I'm not very good at Fahrenheit once you get much below freezing. In imperialistic New Jersey it didn't get that cold often enough for me to need it.

Today I am holed up in bed with food poisoning because god hates me

Oh dear. Did you drink chocolate milk that your dad had previously drunk straight out of the carton several days previously too? (Okay, it probably wasn't his fault. The delay between drinking the milk and throwing up was too short.) Hope you recover...well, it's already too late for you to recover as quickly as I seem to have (knock on wood), but I can still hope for almost.

(As for the actual subject of the article, I've nothing to add.)

Will Wildman said...

I had cause to look up Atwood's evolving views on science fiction when I was writing a post on speculative fiction at my blog, which was about why I both agreed and disagreed with her. Atwood indeed started out with a pretty specific (narrow but not inaccurate) definition of 'science fiction' and was dismissive of it, but broadened her views over time.

Hmm - in fact, looking at the link Ana has provided, the wikipedia section about her views on 'science fiction' labels has been greatly improved since the last time I checked (which was ages back). I still disagree with her about the best use of labels, but I think the distinctions she's making are valid.


Relatedly: Canada is toasty warm at this time of year. I have no idea why people here take summer vacations to other countries. This is the time when it should be easiest to be in our country. (Mind you, I'm a fan of winter, too.)

depizan said...

Atwood seems to waffle with regards to how she feels/talks about science fiction. Her little essay in The New Yorker recently seemed more negative again, but that could just have been my reading of it. (The weird thing is, it kind of acknowledged that she is writing science fiction. It was odd.)

Of course, I have slightly less than no patience for people who want to make sure their work is viewed "properly," especially when this concern is voiced in such a way that it dismisses other people's work. I have a gut level response of *dislike* when authors wish to be viewed as literary. (Unless they feel they are being kicked out due to gender or race. That's a different issue.) My instinctive response is that this is snobbery, though I realize that it could be insecurity instead.

That's not to say that labels can't be useful when discussing fiction, but all too often they get used in really dismissive, nasty ways. Surely it's possible to say "my fiction best fits X label because it deals with A, B, and C" without also saying "I think of Y label as *dismissive description*"

depizan said...

On the subject of the actual post, I'm glad you have a more coherent response to all that than "GRAR HULK SMASH" which is kind of where my brain goes. It works ever so much better to point out what's wrong than to froth quietly at one's computer screen.

Ana Mardoll said...

Yeah. I think it depends a lot on tone, too. For example, anytime Nicholas Sparks insists that he doesn't write romances, it always rubs me up the wrong way because it feels like he's being dismissive of the one genre that has traditionally been dominated by literature.

On the other hand, as much as I love-love-love-omg-love Atwood and her work, I feel sorry for authors. Being pushed into a genre can be very constricting, I'm given to understand. I'm now recalling a quote by Stephen King that he was directly warned that if he published, oh 'SALEM'S LOT, I believe it was, he'd be forever constrained to write horror-and-nothing but. (He was apparently happy enough to be pegged that way.)

So, yeah, Dismissing Genres = Bad, Dismissing Others Works = Bad, Dismissing Personal Tastes = Bad. Trying To Keep Yourself From Being Pigeon-Holed Into A Genre You Don't Even Really Like Yourself = Understandable? I think it ultimately boils down to how the tone sounded to you as an individual, which is very YMMV.

depizan said...

I do have sympathy for Atwood, and anyone else who wants to avoid being pigeon-holed. I just wish they'd stop putting down whatever they're trying not to be pigeon-holed into. Especially as genre fiction - what ever genre - is still dismissed by a lot of people. (I can't tell from the website, but when I was going there in 1999-2000, the creative writing program of University of Nebraska at Omaha forbid genre writing.)

I don't care when authors say "I don't think of my writing as *genre*, I think of it as *other genre/description/whatever*" Where authors lose me is when they follow that up with slams on whatever it is they don't want to be categorized as. Or when they describe that genre in ways that seem disingenuous, dismissive, or ill-informed.

To me, it's the difference between saying "I'm not X" and "I'm not X, also, X is ICKY." I don't have much sympathy for the latter.

Ana Mardoll said...

I want to say "yeah, I completely agree" to your comment, but I am TOO DISTRACTED by this:

(I can't tell from the website, but when I was going there in 1999-2000, the creative writing program of University of Nebraska at Omaha forbid genre writing.)


Wow. That... makes me really sad, actually.

depizan said...

Yeah. I was an art history major, but I'd taken creative writing classes at most of the various colleges I'd gone to, so I briefly looked into taking them there. And was met with that. *sigh* Ah, literary snobs, how I loathe your attitude.

Will Wildman said...

Yeah, it seems that a bunch of folks have trouble walking the line between 'I'm this, not that' and 'because that sucks'. As I said on my blog, I think Atwood has a fair point about not being sure about the 'science fiction' label for some of her work, because a lot of people who are fans of SF would probably find Oryx and Crake lacking in stuff that they really enjoy, like extensive and comprehensive worldbuilding.

I do think that there's something relevant about 'viewing a work properly' - taking the example of Narnia, the whole thing is so very fairytale that criticising it on grounds of chaotic worldbuilding feels like accusing a fish of being biased towards water. (SEWING MACHINE. JARS OF MARMALADE.) But since it's also very much about philosophy and theology, criticising it on grounds of questionable moral imperatives is appropriate.

(Conversely, I think that the short story The Cold Equations had relatively little to say about morality but was hugely about worldbuilding, and so while it might be missing the point to talk about whether characters are acting with appropriate empathy, it is absolutely fair game to observe that the entire story would have been averted if the pilot's preflight checklist included 'look inside the unlocked closet two steps behind your chair and see if there is a stowaway'.)

The only ones that vex me are those who insist that 'viewing my work properly' means not calling it fantasy even though it's an incredibly by-the-numbers fantasy, simply because the author thinks they're better than the rest of the plebes. (I'm talking about Sword of Truth.)

Ana Mardoll said...

That really breaks my heart. I have an English degree and I *love( to read and write genre fiction.

Indeed -- FULL CONFESSION TIME -- I still don't even really understand genre/non-genre arguments. My English department never came right out and SAID this, but I came away with the impression that ALL books fit into a "genre" and that "literature" was just the genre-category for stuff that didn't fit neatly into anything else.

Almost all of the works claimed, for example, as "the first English novel"* could be jammed into a modern genre description if we really wanted to. Robinson Crusoe is Adventure & Survival Fiction; Moll Flanders is Biographical & Scandalous Fiction; etc. etc.

* It's contentious. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_novel_in_English

It wasn't until WELL after graduation that I stumbled into the middle of a genre war discussion and I was heartily confused by the whole concept that somehow Literature stands in opposition to (instead of a subset of) Genre.

Ah, how I love this blog. Come for the Racism posts, stay for the English Lit comments.

Ana Mardoll said...

but I came away with the impression that ALL books fit into a "genre" and that "literature" was just the genre-category for stuff that didn't fit neatly into anything else.

And there's the companion theory, of course, that things can have MULTIPLE genres and that "Literature" is merely the genre for Things That Have Been Deemed To Have Literary Merit By People Who Are Authorized To Do So.

In which case, Robinson Crusoe would be BOTH "adventure / survival" AND "literature".

I like that one a little less because "literary merit" is one of those things that people usually claim to "know it when they see it", which is of course prone to all kinds of unconscious bias and prejudice that many of us like to pretend that we, personally, do not have.

depizan said...

I realize I should be irritated by Terry Goodkind, but his "I'm not writing fantasy!" is so patently absurd that I just want to laugh. Though I find other things about his writing much less amusing.

I guess I don't really see "viewing a work properly" in the sense you describe as being about genre. I suppose it sort of is when one regards Narnia. (Though I'm not sure Narnia doesn't have some consistency problems even if you stick to fairy tale standards.) But The Cold Equations being about world building, not morality, is a great example of what I mean. Stories of both types are found in science fiction. It happens to be a world building story. A world building story of great WTFery. (I personally think it falls apart on several things, world building-wise.) But a fantasy version or a set-in-reality version would run into the same fails, assuming one simply translated it over.

Will Wildman said...

I've always taken 'genre' to refer to knowingly interacting with the traditions of the type of storytelling you're doing - e.g., murder mysteries are a thing, but not every story in which a character is murdered and others don't know who did it is a 'murder mystery' in the Agatha Christie style, and people who go in expecting one when they're getting the other may be dissatisfied, despite both being legitimate stories.

I haven't clearly formulated what I think Literary Fiction is, but I think it might be wholly independent of genre, not exclusive with it.

depizan said...

There's also the less snobby version of that, whereby "literature" is "things that have stood the test of time." Not a value judgement as directly, so much as an acknowledgment that that work of fiction continues to speak to us, whereas not everything from the time it was written does. I'm okay with that. Or the literature as "uncategorized/hard to categorize".

But I think you were fortunate in your school of choice. Every English department I've taken classes in made it very, very clear that genre stuff was icky. Even the English departments that let you write genre fiction in their creative writing classes.

depizan said...

I think there are some traditions of at least some types of literary fiction, though they might not be as easy to label. I know I found the literary works I read for various English classes every bit as predictable as any genre work. (Of course, I could just be good at predicting where an author is going to go.)

Will Wildman said...

Well, part of what made The Cold Equations a big deal was that it was a response to and critique of a body of existing science fiction work. It knows what people are expecting, going in (Magic Science Solves Everything), and its main value comes in subverting those expectations. So if it were presented in a fantasy scenario, it would be a story about a tragedy, but it wouldn't have the same impact or significance. It might have the same flaws, but it wouldn't have the same virtues, such as they are.

Ana Mardoll said...

There's also the less snobby version of that, whereby "literature" is "things that have stood the test of time."

True, but the problem with that is the usual problem we have with Things That Have Stood The Test Of Time: they "stood" because they were propped up by lots of privilege.

For example, I went into school *hating* "American Literature". I came out planning to master in it. What happened? I found out that "American Literature" included some really awesome women and minority voices that still aren't taught in schools as Literature because they aren't Best Beloved like all the White Male Stuff.

So there's that. Grr, I say.

*sigh* Classifying books is hard sometimes. I'm happy enough to be a fantasy author for now. The one I'm currently working on will be classed as YA. Why not? It's all good. :)

Ana Mardoll said...

But I think you were fortunate in your school of choice.

Oh, and thank you.

Ironically, that was a private Christian school that was HORRIBLE in every other way, but they had some incredibly brilliant English professors who had gotten involved for various reasons (in most cases, a family member / spouse was involved in the denomination).

So I had the strange experience of receiving an incredibly brilliant and liberal education in English from a school that otherwise tried its hardest to grind the life out of me for failing to fit in perfectly. I went in a conservative Republican Christian and by the end of my four-year stay there, I was a liberal hippie Wiccan. At least some of that metamorphosis can be credited to my incredible teachers, but a lot of it can also be credited to the dreadful administration.

And, well, I guess the remaining third was all me. :)

depizan said...

I can see that. Of course, while I come to The Cold Equations and the stories it was critiquing from a completely different time than they were written, I've always felt like it's world building flaws destroyed it's attempted critique. It doesn't seem like it would have been that much harder for the author to figure out how to write a story that deflated the Magic Science Solves Everything idea without relying on flawed world building. So the story comes off - to me - as less an honest critique and more of a take that at people who want Magic Science Solving Everything stories.


Actually, I just discovered something (possibly) that makes the story even more bizarre. I suddenly suspect that the world building flaws were intentional. According to wikipedia it was the editor, John W. Campbell, who wanted the story to end in tragedy: "[he] sent "Cold Equations" back to Godwin three times before he got the version he wanted, because 'Godwin kept coming up with ingenious ways to save the girl!'"

Now I really don't know what to make of the story. (I was trying to look it up so that I could re-read it quickly and explain what I meant about the story requiring flawed world building.)

Sign me confused.

Ana Mardoll said...

Edit: Speaking of modern literary fiction here, mostly. Though I'm of the (possibly mistaken) impression that the concept of varieties of fiction is, itself, a pretty modern one. Though it's interesting to note that plenty of things written before the concept of genres still fit them quite well.

I'm not so sure you're mistaken. If the first English novel was in the 1700's -- and that's what I was taught, but again, it's contentious -- then NOVELS have only been around for 300 years. That's not very long; and certainly it took awhile to build up enough noteworthy ones that "classification" became a necessary thing.

The 1876 Dewey Decimal classification -- on which I am NOT an expert -- doesn't seem to include the concept of "genre". (One of you librarians correct me if I'm wrong.)


depizan said...

True, but the problem with that is the usual problem we have with Things That Have Stood The Test Of Time: they "stood" because they were propped up by lots of privilege.

That is a very valid point.

depizan said...

Ah! I was unclear. I didn't mean genre in the sense of classifications, I meant as in genre fiction (sci-fi, fantasy, romance, what have you). That prior to whenever that materialized, all fiction was, well, fiction - even though things that predate that invention can fit various genres.

As for the Dewey Decimal system - it really doesn't include fiction, at all. The "literature" category includes criticism, plays, poems, humor, essays, foreign language writings, and the like. Fiction is off in the fiction category being organized by author's last name, regardless of whether it's the first English novel or Danielle Steel. (Though libraries may include various genre sections as well.)

Will Wildman said...

I recall a discussion over at old Slacktivist in which someone said "Ugh, high school literature classes, all that stuff is the same", and someone who (self-described) enjoys literary fiction said "Um, there are as many differences in literary fiction as there are in something like science fiction; can we agree to not bash either type as a whole? Because everyone keeps saying it's all the same and that flatly isn't true from my perspective."

I suggested that the problem wasn't with 'literary fiction' as a whole, but with teachers trying to 'reach' teenage students by spamming them with a dozen variants on 'young disaffected white guy rages at society' and then failing to analyse those stories on a level that would highlight any of the differences or suggest that these aren't the only books in existence. This achieved general consensus, if memory serves.

Ana Mardoll said...

Ah. I figured I was going out on a limb re: DD. For some strange reason, I have managed to get this far in life knowing very little about it. You'd think that would have been included in a class somewhere, but if it was, I've forgotten it.

But I concur with the general meaning: I do think that those classifications are probably recent concepts. Which is all the more reason why genre wars confuse me.

I rather suspect that a GREAT DEAL of genre wars come from the internal mechanics of the publishing industry. I would deeply suspect that "pigeon-holing" and "how my book will be marketed" and "how my next contract will be affected" are major considerations.

Of course, it's entirely possible that some authors do just think X is ICKY, if that's what their instructors are distilling into them.

Still! Banning genre fiction in creative writing! I can hardly think of a creative writing exercise that doesn't fit into some kind of genre! Breaks my heart.

Oh, and you know, it's probably an attempt to get away from the accusation of formulaic. Some genre books are turned out by "authors" who are 18 people working under a single pen name, and being accused of being formulaic can chafe, I'm sure.

So many rambles in my head right now.

Ana Mardoll said...

I recall a discussion over at old Slacktivist in which someone said "Ugh, high school literature classes, all that stuff is the same",

ARGH. Pet peeve.

I went into college LOVING to read, but I was openly honest about HATING literature classes. I have the unusual distinction of experiencing over a dozen public schools, private schools, and homeschooling textbooks in my life, and EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM sucked all that is good out of my soul when it came time for literature classes.

American Literature was Melville, whom I cannot stand to this day. European literature was Victor Hugo, whose Lew Miserables I hate with a fiery passion. English literature was Shakespeare: read, not spoken. Shakespeare is dreadful when read. (All these things? My opinion. Not self-evident truths.)

After I took English 101 or whatever at my college, I was astounded to learn that there was "good" literature. I actually trained to be a teacher, and I wanted to teach entry level college courses to help save people like me; to show them that literature can be lovely and warm and wonderful.

I did NOT want to teach high school, because (back then -- maybe not so much now?) your curriculum was set for you, and you didn't have a lot of say in what or how you taught it. At least according to my friends who did go into teaching high school literature.

So, um, yeah. I would agree with the sentiment up there. High school literature. Ick. *shivers* For a variety of reasons, but a big problem -- as you say -- is the White Male Authors And Nothing Else Except Maybe One Jane Austen book. (Guess who else I don't much care for? Yeah, I was REAL popular with the other female English majors. *sigh*)

depizan said...

Oh, and you know, it's probably an attempt to get away from the accusation of formulaic. Some genre books are turned out by "authors" who are 18 people working under a single pen name, and being accused of being formulaic can chafe, I'm sure.

Well, some publishing houses push formulas on their genre writers - romance, particularly. But the first person I think of when it comes to "people who are actually a brand name at this point" is James Patterson, and he's (they're?) just categorized as fiction by bookstores and libraries.

Though if Nicholas Sparks is trying to convince people he's not formulaic, that's nearly as hilarious as Terry Goodkind insisting he's not writing fantasy.

Ana Mardoll said...

I would call Patterson "thriller" -- and yes, he's my go-to for that whole 4-books-a-year thing, bless his heart -- but I have my own genre notions.

Nic Sparks. There was a looooooooong discussion on Shakesville about him. I was left with the impression that he's alienated some people by claiming that his books are not icky romance. Hang on.


Melissa: Nicholas Sparks: "The Lucky One was a very special novel for me to write, because I think Logan is a different character than I've ever created before." Ha ha sure. Has he seen Dear John? You'd think he would have seen Dear John, since he wrote it and everything.

KHBuzzard: I love how the interview begins and ends with Sparks petulantly insisting that he writes "love stories," not "romances." Romances are for ladies! And they're about ladies! Sparks writes about strong, silent dudes! This is a big difference, and it means that his books go in the "fiction" section rather than in the special ladybooks section!



depizan said...

I went into college LOVING to read, but I was openly honest about HATING literature classes.

Same here. Though I didn't have your experience of college lit being different from high school lit. Granted, I also suspect my tastes in fiction are different from yours. Still, the college lit classes I took (the bare minimum required for getting a degree) were very much Dead White Guy Writing.

Also, I'd love to hear all about why you hate Melville and Hugo (or at least Les Miserables). I've never read either, but that doesn't keep me from being very interested in your opinion on them.

depizan said...

Yeah, I like plenty of formulaic stuff. And I'm not going to pretend I'm not merrily following genre conventions in my writing. I just think that if Sparks claims he's not, he's kidding himself. Same with Goodkind and fantasy. (Atwood has a much more valid argument about not being science fiction, depending on one's definition thereof.)

Ana Mardoll said...

Oh! And Melville I hate for the same reason as Hugo: he seems more interested in his hobbies (whaling / Napoleon) than he is in his plot. And if an author isn't interested in their plot, then neither am I. *shrug*

muscipula said...

This discussion reminded me of the tower of Cambridge University Library, which stores a huge collection of material that was considered basically junk at the time of acquisition, and wasn't properly catalogued. But now, it turns out that scholars are very interested in Edwardian children's books, popular novels, crime reports, advertisements, and so forth, and there's an ongoing project to find out just what they've been keeping all these years - http://www.lib.cam.ac.uk/towerproject/blog/
I think there are plenty of literary gems in the 'genre' world, but it's a pity that we have to wait so long for literary critics to notice them (whereas the reading public has known about them all along).

depizan said...

It starts with a protagonist (Jean Valjean) who is SO innocent he might as well have a halo on his head. He's an ex-con, but he went to jail for stealing bread. Not for himself, oh no, but for his sister's starving children. And the main plot -- as best I could tell in my abridged version -- was that a police officer (Javert) was going to spend THE REST OF HIS LIFE tracking down Jean Valjean for the crime of... nothing, as far as I can tell. Valjean was released from prison and hasn't committed any new crimes for which there are witnesses willing to prosecute. To this day, I do not understand who was signing Javert's expense accounts.

Bzuh? *checks Wikipedia, becomes more confused*

Purely out of habit, he steals a 40-sous coin from chimney-sweep Petit Gervais and chases the boy away.

Wait, what? How could he have a habit of theft if the only other thing he stole was food!? And that was 19 years ago? I get the stealing the bishop's silver bit, since he was denied the chance to have an honest living on release, but that doesn't make any sense. Especially since the bishop had just given him the silver.

*later in Wikipedia*

"he accidentally puts his shoe on a forty-sou piece dropped by a young wanderer. Valjean threatens the boy with his stick when the boy attempts to rouse Valjean from his reverie and recover his money. He tells a passing priest his name, and the name of the boy, and this allows the police to charge him with armed robbery"


*continues reading Wikipedia summary, character explanations, etc*


Okay, I knew the general outline: Jean Valjean, convict, is pursued doggedly by Javert against the backdrop of the French Revolution. But I kind of expected something that made more sense. I think I sprained my brain. And I didn't even have to slog through the book itself.

Ana Mardoll said...

Oh, thank gods. It's not just me.

That novel made NO SENSE to me. At all. Even a little. I feel foolish trying to *describe* it, like I must be missing something obvious that everyone else on earth gets except me. It is, after all, supposed to be a MASTERPIECE.

I hear the musical is quite good. I wouldn't know.

Ana Mardoll said...

Amusingly, I cannot read The Count of Monte Cristo because of this novel. I read the first 10 pages, which HEAVILY BELABORED how VERY VERY INNOCENT the protagonist was and how DEEPLY UNFAIR everything that was going to happen to him would be, and I threw the book down because I'VE ALREADY READ THIS ONCE BEFORE AND I DIDN'T LIKE IT THEN EITHER. Ha.

Please note: I really did earn my English degree. But this is kinda what I mean; I love a lot of literature, but I don't love all of it and certainly not all the ones I'm *supposed* to love. This can make it very lonely being an English major sometimes, since there are certainly people in the discipline who consider these statements I am making to be basically heresy.*

* Relatedly, I was once -- in all seriousness -- accused of faking my English degree because I admitted to not having read the graphic novel Watchmen. The person making that accusation was convinced that it was taught (apparently by law) by all certified colleges to English majors. He wouldn't accept that there is SO MUCH literature out there that it's basically impossible to cover it ALL in school.

depizan said...

I suspect The Count of Monte Cristo makes more sense. (Though, I could be wrong. I've never read it.) But really, why whack your readers over the head with how innocent the protagonist is? Surely it's enough to say "Protagonist is innocent" once and trust that the readers will a) get that zie is innocent and b) get that what happens to them as a result of being thought not innocent is unfair. Did authors of the past have deep distrust of their readership?

As for the Watchmen thing, all I can do is boggle. I'm pretty sure that there are more English departments that consider all graphic novels to be worthless than there are ones that have Watchmen in the curriculum.

Ana Mardoll said...

LOL! Yeah I didn't want to SAY that, I think graphic novels have a place in literary learning, but I had the same thought: do ANY colleges teach Watchmen?

Probably there's at least one. But it's not something I'd come in expecting. :)

Amaryllis said...

Ah, how I love this blog. Come for the Racism posts, stay for the English Lit comments.
I admit, this discussion is not what I was expecting when I read the cogent and justifiably irritated OP.

But I'm glad if lit-talk cheers you up, and I hope the worst of the food-poisoning misery has passed. And yeah, from what I know of it, it can strike hours or even days after you've ingested the offender.

the problem with that is the usual problem we have with Things That Have Stood The Test Of Time: they "stood" (at least in part) because they were propped up by lots of privilege.

For example, I went into school *hating* "American Literature". I came out planning to master in it. What happened? I found out that "American Literature" included some really awesome women and minority voices that still aren't taught in schools as Literature because they aren't best beloved like all the White Male Stuff.

Oh, so tell me, who are your favorite "American Lit" women or minority writers? Especially, since we're talking about the test of time, anything older than the last couple of decades?

FWIW, here are some links to the summer recommended reading list for my local county:
Middle School
Grades 9 -10
Grades 11 - 12

There are some books on those lists that I like, some I've never read or even heard of, and one or two that I wouldn't touch again with the proverbial barge pole. And admittedly, "summer reading" is not school-year curriculum. But I do give them credit for broadening their scope beyond the Dead White Male category.

Question for the English majors: if you describe Jane Eyre as "Jane takes a position as a governess with the mysterious Mr. Rochester. How will she deal with her growing attraction towards him? The novel that the Harlequins imitate." -- is that an acknowledgment of literary connections or an attempt at what we used to call "relevance"? Is a fifteen-year-old romance fan likely to consider this false advertizing?

Which reminds me of this NY Times article. I rather like the illustrations at the top of that article, but I'm really tired of the covers that are all Twilight red-white-black.

Off-topic pet peeve, of which I was reminded once again by that Jim Hines post: I don't care what genre it is or what person is one the cover. But can we please, please, not have any more of those covers which feature somebody's head cut off at the top?

I recall a discussion over at old Slacktivist in which someone said "Ugh, high school literature classes, all that stuff is the same", and someone who (self-described) enjoys literary fiction said "Um, there are as many differences in literary fiction as there are in something like science fiction; can we agree to not bash either type as a whole? Because everyone keeps saying it's all the same and that flatly isn't true from my perspective."

* raises hand *
I remember that! And while I don't think I was the only person saying things like that, but I'm pretty sure I was one of them.

Danel said...

The concept of "the canon" is responsible for much suffering.

The only major thing I know about the Count of Monte Cristo is how it inspired an awful semigenre of Harry Potter fanfiction.

Though I know enough that it goes in a very different direction from Les Miserables, which is probably more pleasing to modern tastes even if not to my own.

depizan said...

Question for the English majors: if you describe Jane Eyre as "Jane takes a position as a governess with the mysterious Mr. Rochester. How will she deal with her growing attraction towards him? The novel that the Harlequins imitate." -- is that an acknowledgment of literary connections or an attempt at what we used to call "relevance"? Is a fifteen-year-old romance fan likely to consider this false advertizing?

I'm not an English major (or a fifteen-year-old romance fan), but Jane Eyre does have a pretty standard romance novel plot (this is not a criticism). I'm not sure Harlequin is the name to be dropping, though, since I'm pretty sure even big romance fans consider them to be quick read junk food. Calling it one of the original romance novels seems a little more on target.

It's more than just a romance novel, of course. I don't know. I found it pretty readable when I read it in jr. high, but I was trying a lot of different things in jr. high. Only some of which stuck.

Ana Mardoll said...

Oh, so tell me, who are your favorite "American Lit" women or minority writers? Especially, since we're talking about the test of time, anything older than the last couple of decades?

This feels kind of combative to me. Is it meant to be? Honestly asking, because I'm not a good judge of tone lately.

I have many favorite American Lit women and minority writers, many of which date back to the early 1900s. That the White Male authors got an early leg up pre-1900s Because Privilege is kind of my *point*. "Standing the test of time because Privilege" includes the early start as well as the continual praise and re-prints.

Brin Bellway said...

I think I was fourteen when I read Jane Eyre. I only read it because Mom insisted. Such a slog. Most of the actual plot was in one eye and out the other*; the main thing I remember is counting the pages until I reached the 75-pages-per-day quota and could go do something fun. (I think I was the one who set the quota, trying to strike a balance between getting it over with quickly and not having to get through too much at once.)

*Almost all of what I know about it is due to cultural osmosis and reading The Eyre Affair rather than from actually reading the book.

Launcifer said...

Ah, the joys of English Literature. I remember once being deliberately marked down for some coursework I did because I'd chosen to compare the negative effects of the reliance on mecahnisation and whatnot in Brave New World and Do Androids Dream of Electric. Apparently, the phrase "open choice" in fact meant "compare something with The Handsmaid's Tale because you've just been reading it in class". My bad. The fact that the person who marked it also happened to be chief question-setter for the examining board we were using just made it all so much more fun at the end of the year.

Also, Les Miserables actually made so much more sense to me after reading Pratchett's The Night Watch. At least, I finally understood what the hell had been going on, I think.

JonathanPelikan said...

This discussion is quite fascinating, and I have little to contribute to it beside 'good fiction is good and bad fiction is bad and age and genre bah-humbug'. Also my stance on fanfiction vs published stuff; if it's good, it's good, and some of the best stuff I've ever read has been on fanfiction net. Oh, and I can respect an author's attempts not to get pigeon-holed into something, but am also quite tired of sci-fi and genre in general's long history of getting dismissed and belittled in some quarters.

Oh, except that the discussion reminds me so much of something I may or may not have already linked, a vid where a guy talks about genre vs literature in fiction:
It's like a college lecture compressed to 10 minutes with jokes sprinkled in.

Launcifer said...

My last post should read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. Why can I never find the edit function when I want it?


Amaryllis said...

Oh dear, I am sorry. No, I didn't mean to be combative; I try not to be at the best of times, and I especially wouldn't want to be rude to a food-poisoning victim who (one would think that the directors of the universe would have noticed) has had enough else to contend with lately.

I meant to convey an appreciative interest, agreeing that American Literature is more than Huck Finn and the Great Gatsby, wondering what your college courses had covered, and what you'd recommend, and whether any of your favorites were mine too (loved Edith Wharton, could never quite get on with Willa Cather)...that kind of mildly amusing chitchat. Apparently I'm not in control of my own tone these days. :(

Amaryllis said...

I read Jane Eyre at fourteen too. Thought the romance was okay, didn't really notice much else about it.

Reread it in my twenties and thought, Hey, this is a really good book. Sometimes the right book just needs the right time.

Of course, if you try it again and still don't like it, so it goes. The library is full of other great stuff.

depizan said...

I somehow got away with comparing and contrasting Rebecca and Borrower of the Night in my 102 class. I got a B+ (or A- or something like that), despite having strayed badly from whatever it was we were supposed to be doing for our papers (comparing and contrasting a work of "literature" and a work of genre fiction was not it) and not turning in note cards and an outline because I don't use them and didn't feel like backward faking them.

I know Pratchett was riffing on Les Miserables but, sadly, I didn't find the Wiki summary of it any less WHAT? inducing for having read The Night Watch.

Ana Mardoll said...

No worries, dear, it's why I asked before launching into "claws out". ;) I was mostly confused because I know you're a sweetheart. I'm glad you're not angry at me -- I *do* try to make these "I don't care for Melville" things light-hearted and Just My Opinion, but I *have* hurt feelings before, so I always like to check. :)

If we're swapping favorites, I had three in particular that made me sit up and go, MY GOD, WHY HAVE I NOT READ THIS BEFORE.

1. The Gilded Six Bits by Zora Neale Hurston in 1933
2. The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman in 1982
3. The Difference by Ellen Glasgow (1873-1945)

(That last one I simply cannot find an online version of and it breaks my heart. I have a megaton college anthology that I still keep just for that one short story. I need to cut and scan it, but the pages are Bible-leaf-thin; I'll have to be super-steady that day.)

And all this was particularly frustrating for me because all these stories COULD have been taught in a single class, one day in school. Read 'em for homework. Take a quiz. Be done. Go back to Melville and whales.

But every one of these stories deals with feminism and husband-wife relations and inequality and gods know we can't introduce THAT in schools or the communists will have won. Better to get back to whales and innocent men being locked up unjustly.


Ana Mardoll said...

Jane Eyre is funny for me. I hated it when I read it as a teenager and thought... well, I didn't have a concept for "anti-feminist" but that's what I would have labeled it, had I that term.

Now I realize that, in context, it's a fairly feminist novel for its time. [SPOILERS] Jane refuses to be embroiled in a non-marital situation that could severely ruin her, and she doesn't return to Rochester until she's independently wealthy. And, of course, at that point he's been humbled into Not Being An Asshole.

However! I thought the ending was awfully convenient, what with Inconvenience Wife Dying So Conveniently, and I don't like character redemption that (a) occurs offstage and (b) occurs as a result of a Timely Disability. For people who *are* disabled, it's rather irritating to see that used as a plot device to give people their Character Growth.

And no amount of offstage redemption will fix Mr. I-Deliberately-Invite-Girls-Over-To-Make-You-Jealous Rochester.

I did like the most recent movie version, though. That was well-done in my opinion.

Ana Mardoll said...

Also, I'm quite sure I read some Wharton short stories and enjoyed them, but I can recall none by name at the moment. Tsk. :/

Our American lit class specialized in short stories, obviously. So much more useful, I think, that One Big Classic spread over most of the year. YMMV.

Ana Mardoll said...

I *loved* Rebecca when I read it. That's been years though. I have the audio book around here somewhere.

I especially liked -- I remember feeling that this was refreshing -- I didn't feel like the author expected me to find... Maxim? Was that his name? Anyway, I didn't feel like she expected me to find him charming. I understood why the protagonist loved him -- gods, do I ever understand low self-esteem and yearning to please -- but I didn't feel like the narrative was saying ISN'T HE SUCH A SWELL CATCH, ISN'T HE?

It's totally subjective, I suppose, but I felt like the author and I were in on the tragedy of the whole thing. He's not a terrible husband, but he's far from the best.

Silver Adept said...

And this is why I read the threads...because, sometimes, a most interesting thing appears in the least-expected of places...

Re: politics: All of those sayings seem to be based in the reasoning of "I have black friends/have done charity to black people. I can't be racist." I was half-expecting, "Our last national party chair was black. Therefore, your argument is invalid." Ugh. I have plenty more on politics to pontificate about, but I try to keep that to my own link-filed blog entries.

Therefore: I agree with Ana - Shakespeare is best heard, or at least read aloud. Preferably with people who can get the gist of what its being said, even if they don't get the meaning of all the words.

I find genre labels a helpful shortcut when I'm doing reader's advisory for someone so that I can get my recommendations in the ballpark, but past that, I find it more helpful to say, "It's the story of a boy and his X-Box versus the Department of Homeland Security's attempts to pin him for a terrorist act he didn't commit." Genre distaste seems to me to be born out off the belief that it's not Serious Literature and is therefore only fit for [Insert pejorative -ist remark here], and anyone who accepts that and enjoys writing genre fiction has Sold Out on their Art. Reminds me of a Calvin and Hobbes strip about the distinction between "high" and "low" art, mainly.

From the descriptions provided, I feel that I have dodged several projectiles in that I did not have to read a lot of Classic Works, and that the material in my Literature classes was, by and large, forgettable, with a few exceptions. The textbooks were likely awful. Then, I got to university, and could choose courses in various genre forms, including science fiction. The prof was pushing his pet theory, which I didn't care for, but the books were at least enjoyable.

Ana Mardoll said...

Isn't it amazing how everyone has a Black Friend to trot out? I've been in at least three arguments online about disabilities THIS YEAR and someone has brought out a Disabled Friend to explain why my arguments are invalid because other disabled people totally disagree with me. Even though they've never talked about this subject before! That's the power of the X Friend -- zie will always agree with you!

depizan said...

I'm not sure what it says that it seemed fairly feminist (for a romance) when I read it in jr. high, except, perhaps that romances lag way behind everything else. There are still a lot of romances where the heroines are less active and allowed less agency than Jane. Which is really sad, actually.

The ending is awfully convenient, though. And "disability fixes people" seemed highly suspect even then.

And now that I think about it "fairly feminist (for a romance)" is rather damming something with faint praise, even by the standards of fourteen year old me. It was the least headdesk inducing gothic romance my teacher suggested to me, though, so it looked really good in comparison.

Ana Mardoll said...

There are still a lot of romances where the heroines are less active and allowed less agency than Jane.

Heh. So it's the romance that the Harlequins deliberately try NOT to be? :D

depizan said...

I found Rebecca a really strange book. It's beautifully written, and du Maurier does an amazing job of describing places. And I agree that Maxim is presented as flawed. But I could never quite decide if the narrator's lack of a name is part of her low self-esteem or whether the book, too, was depersoning her, which played into my discomfort with the contrast between the active-but-evil Rebecca and the passive-but-good nameless narrator. I don't think du Maurier was trying to say that good women are passive and nameless, but it's easy to get that message from the story.

And we're back to me having arguments with books about what they meant. I seem to do that a lot.

Ana Mardoll said...

Interesting! I *did* like the novel, but it has always left me very mildly uneasy; there's a reason why I've not re-read it since the one time. I must now go off and think if that is why. It does bother me that the narrator doesn't get a name, especially after I realized that I didn't *notice* that until someone pointed it out to me.

Thank you! Food for thought.

Ana Mardoll said...

...also, isn't that what we DO here? ;)

depizan said...

That it is!

graylor said...

Trigger Warning: Allusion to a violent myth.

I'm a failed lit major myself, for reasons which should seem familiar. In high school I really loved lit classes. Somehow we had some awesome teachers who were very into Zora Neale Hurston and encouraged us to roam mostly at will. I discovered I hated The Lord of the Rings (bad fantasy fan, bad) but I rather liked The Count of Monte Cristo. Yeah, innocent, whatever, there was a roaring rampage of revenge with xanatos plotting, which was, if memory serves, followed by a 'My God, what have I done!' moment, then throwing money at things to make them better. Compared to Camus, it was quite appealing, but, then, what wouldn't be?

Went off to college to become a lit teacher. Took an intro to poetry class: our textbook was The Norton Anthology of Poetry (1882 pages of poems in this particular edition). I *like* poetry, but I didn't click with a single poem during that entire course. Literature from the Rennaisance to the Enlightment was... okay. Somewhat soul-sucking but okay. They actually had a few interesting bits in there, like slave narratives (The Voyages of Equiano may have been the title) so it wasn't all white guys all the time. What was odd was that discussing works from the same period in my humanities classes (those were a liberal arts thing and were literature/history/geography/art courses taken every year) were much more interesting than my lit classes. So I switched and became a Classics major, where I was very happy, blissfully losing myself in the alien culture of the ancient Romans and Greeks. If it means anything, I still remember some of our class discussions while I've blanked on the lit courses. Nothing quite like dicussing methods of self-castration with rocks to stick in the mind, I suppose (Catullus, Story of Attis).

I took a creative writing course on my meandering way to my degree. Our first assigment: write a story about something that happened to you. Weeks passed and we wrote. We exchanged with partners. My story was horrible (If. I. Wanted. To. Journal. I. Wouldn't. Be. In. A. Writing. Class.) but my partner's was quite good considering the constraints. Our sainted professor, who had published her own literary tome, of course, told us when we were done that the point of the exercise was to show us why we should never try to write stories from our own experience because those are hard to write and tend to turn out unreadably bad. I dropped that course like a hot potato and slunk off with my icky genre-loving self.

Ana Mardoll said...

Our sainted professor, who had published her own literary tome, of course, told us when we were done that the point of the exercise was to show us why we should never try to write stories from our own experience because those are hard to write and tend to turn out unreadably bad.



O. M. F. G.


Gawd, some teachers. I personally witnessed an otherwise Very Good professor tell a class of remedial Writing 101 students that the difference between Good Writing and Bad Writing was "sentence length", with the VERY CLEAR understanding that Longer Sentences Are Better. I cursed him all semester long as I tutored papers that gave Proust a run for his money in terms of quantity, but never in quality.

Teachers Say The Darndest Things should be a website. I literally was pulled out of a public school (that I hated, so this was a bonus in my opinion) and back into homeschool by my enraged father when our 9th grade math teacher lectured me that "we're adults not and we don't say 'minus'. We say 'subtracted from'."

(For non-math geeks in the audience, saying "subtracted from" requires flipping the equation. "7 minus 3" becomes "3 subtracted from 7". For anything but the most rudimentary math, this is utterly unweildly and highly likely to mess us your equation. Dad cares *deeply* about math.)

Matt Redmond said...

...wondering if Canada is as cold as Margaret Atwood tells me it is

Come to Australia! It's like a hot Canada. Sort of.


DarcyPennell said...

The conversation moved on from politics a long time ago, but I have to add one comment to your excellent take-down:

The argument that black voters are racist because they overwhelmingly support the black candidate for president is incredibly disingenuous. By which I mean, if you're smart enough to put those words together then you're smart enough to see how flawed that idea is. In presidential elections black voters tend to vote Democratic regardless of race. I got these numbers from http://www.ropercenter.uconn.edu

Percentage of Black Voters:
2008: 95% for Obama
2004: 88% for Kerry
2000: 90% for Gore
1996: 84% for Clinton
1992: 83% for Clinton
1988: 89% for Dukakis
1984: 91% for Mondale
1980: 83% for Carter
1976: 83% for Carter

So yes, the overwhelming majority of black voters voted for Obama, but only 4% more than voted for Walter Mondale, 5% more than for Al Gore, etc. Demographic votes shift like this all the time. And of course, the entire argument hinges on the racist assumption that black voters are a monolithic group who all think the same way. People don't go around saying that women are misogynist because only 43% voted for Sarah Palin.

jill heather said...

Canada's not all that cold, unless -- as I seem to remember -- you live somewhere unbearably, miserably hot.

My mother actually read Jane Eyre to me at night -- when I was about 8 we resurrected reading out loud before bed until I was about 13 -- and I really enjoyed it, and enjoyed it again when we read it in grade 8, and actually understood it when I reread it in my 20s. I loved Les Miserables (because I love infodumps: look, it's 7000 pages on the Paris sewer system! This is fascinating! I am in that small minority who reads Neal Stephenson only for the infodump parts and ignores his annoying plots), but it requires some context about how pre-revolutionary France thought about felons and redemption, among other things. I also loved Rebecca, and The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers (all of which I also read at about 12-13, and which I probably didn't totally understand). I am all about the love for the novels mentioned in these comments.

Oh, Nicholas Sparks. I don't like his books. There we go.

The conventions of, let us call it "literary mystery" (no gore, no explicit details -- it probably has a name I don't know) are quite different from the conventions of cozy mysteries (also no gore, but: always an answer to every puzzle posed in the book), and every now and then you see reviews of the former where the books are being railed against because they don't follow the rules of the latter. It's sort of fun to read, in a perverse way.

Amaryllis said...


And I don't care for Melville, either.

I read Les Miserables too long ago to remember whether I liked it or not. Ordinarily I'm rather fond of a nice discursive or even meandering narrative, so I don't think I'd have objected to that aspect...but you'd think that if I'd really enjoyed it, I'd have gone back to it at some time. Which I haven't.

Thanks for the links. I've never read the Hurston, but it sounds interesting. I remember "The Yellow Wallpaper" from my youth; it made me squirm (which I guess was the point).

I can't remember any Wharton short stories either. I think I'm more of a novel person (see above re tolerance for meandering) and I was thinking about The House of Mirth, which I re-read fairly recently. Poor Lily, she never had much of a chance.

I remember being very confused by Rebecca. Teenage me was expecting a standard Gothic romance, and that was not what I got. I haven't re-read it since.

Amaryllis said...

I don't like character redemption that (a) occurs offstage and (b) occurs as a result of a Timely Disability. For people who *are* disabled, it's rather irritating to see that used as a plot device to give people their Character Growth.

I can understand that. But I never cared much about Mr. Rochester, one way or the other: I cared about Jane. Jane who didn't let anyone tell her what to think. Jane who, as soon as she was out of childhood, was determined to choose for herself.

Amaryllis said...

which played into my discomfort with the contrast between the active-but-evil Rebecca and the passive-but-good nameless narrator.
Did you think that the narrator in Rebecca was all that "good"? As I said, it's a long time since I've read it, but I remember not liking anyone in it very much. Are we meant to see "the second Mrs. de Winter" as just as flawed, in her own way, as anyone else in the book?

But it's been too long for me to argue convincingly.

graylor said...

Really, sadly enough. However, all of my other professors/adjunts/etc were great, (well, except for the business professor who wound up teaching a humanities course and Mr. Grad Students Make the Best Second Wives). Apparently the creative writing department was a testament to this woman's ego. I stuck with the Classics Department thereafter, because while they were eccentric, they weren't assholes.

That must have been a fun semester. *wince* I can see the temptation to give people 'simple' rules to help guide them into something as complex as writing, but that veers imediately into 'easy, simple, and wrong' territory.

... I've been doing adult all wrong then for a while. How pedantic. *boggles* You have to wonder what the teachers and professors those kids had down the line reacted to hearing that adults don't say 'minus' in math class.

Amaryllis said...

Compared to Camus, it was quite appealing, but, then, what wouldn't be?
Hee. There's much truth in that. (My opinion only, of course, I know people who LOVE Camus.)

Took an intro to poetry class: our textbook was The Norton Anthology of Poetry (1882 pages of poems in this particular edition). I *like* poetry, but I didn't click with a single poem during that entire course.

Now that's sad.

Was it that you and the instructor had such different ideas about what makes a good poem? Would you have chosen other poems for the class, or was it the class itself that never clicked?

depizan said...

But it's been too long for me to argue convincingly.

Same here, honestly. Though good =/= flawless, at least not to me.

graylor said...

;-p It takes all kinds. Shakespeare fans with Very Strong Feelings are porbably more fun, though.

I think our taste in poetry just didn't align. He liked fresh, cutting-edge, post-modern stuff while I like... hmm. War poets, horror, cynical or spiritual or... well, anything that doesn't involve how very gray the sidewalks are in winter.

I'm glad I took the course, though, becuase I would have never bought that anthology on my own. I still have it and it's riddled with bookmarks.

kd15 said...

I love reading, but I hated literature classes and the focus on learning some specific interpretation that was deemed to be the right one by some unknown expert. My high school senior English class was the worst, instead of 'young disaffected white guy rages at society' though, we got 'everything is bleak, don't bother thinking anything positive will ever happen because the ending will be bleak and everyone will be dead because that's how stories get meaning.' At one point I read Les Miserable for fun, that was a mistake. All those rambling detours away from the plot were so annoying, half the book could have been cut out. Similarly, I don't remember Jane Eyre very well but I do remember thinking that when I read it I thought that the entire middle third should have been cut.

Literature classes just weren't a good fit for me. I read to enjoy the story, and for the most part I don't care about looking for some greater meaning. There has to be a better way to teach it and I really wish there had been more diversity in what we read so it wasn't just Old White Guys and Token Minority

kd15 said...

About the longer sentences being better, I specifically remember in AP English the teacher taught us that using longer sentence (and to make the essays as long as possible) was how you got a higher score.

fizzchick said...

In "Things Teachers Say", my favorite quote ever was a high school chemistry teacher. A couple of friends and I were asking multiple questions, trying to get at the why behind a particular method she was teaching us. Eventually in frustration, she snapped "This is an honors class! We don't ask questions!" I... boggled. Apparently she later took some more pedagogy classes and changed her attitude, because by the time my sister had her she was greatly improved.

As for the literature... I think this is why it depends so much on good teachers. I had a fabulous middle school teacher who got us through the 700 pg "abridged" version of Les Mis (as opposed to the 1200 pg unabridged) by showing us things we wouldn't necessarily have picked out on our own. And yes, some of the characters are rather... limited. But Gavroche and the Thenardiers? Such cool portrayals. On the other hand, my loathing of Edith Wharton is inextricably tied to the year we read Ethan Frome with a teacher who didn't care what you wrote, as long as you attempted to parrot what he'd told you in class and included the keywords "growth and maturation". Bonus points if you could tie it to Seamus Heaney somehow.

Melville... well, I won't claim that everything is hunky-dory in his writing. But Moby Dick is greatly improved by reading it in context, which I was incredibly fortunate to be able to do in a program at Mystic Seaport. Understanding the historical context of seafaring and the whaling industry, plus being able to go see examples of all the tools he describes in the whaling chapters makes it a LOT more fun to read.

And yes! to reading Shakespeare. Sadly, too many of my fellow students couldn't read aloud with any smoothness or feeling even if they weren't stumbling over unfamiliar words. It's yet another skill that falls by the wayside.

Loquat said...

Kate Beaton has some things to say about Inspector Javert.

Also, speaking of Angry Young Man Raging Against the World, I always hated Catcher in the Rye. Holden's constant whining about "phonies" grated on my nerves like nails on a chalkboard, and made me want to throw Mark Twain's "On the Decay of the Art of Lying" at him.

Amaryllis said...

Yes, I realized after I logged off last night that I might have sounded as if I were sneakily trying to revive the HP argument (which, by the way, I didn't mean to ignore you, I just didn't realize it was still going on until after it wasn't). Nothing was further from my thoughts!

Amaryllis said...

Bonus points if you could tie it to Seamus Heaney somehow.

Heh, at one point while I was reading Opened Ground, I could tie almost anything to Seamus Heaney. And often did.

Rowen said...

Someone upthread said that Les Mis took place during the French Revolution. It actually takes place about 30-40 years later, during the June Rebellion.

Anyway, I have a love/hate feeling towards the book. There's things I liked, but things I couldn't stand. We didn't need a blow by blow account of the Battle of Waterloo JUST to be told that Thenardier was an opportunistic scumbag. There were other interludes that were interesting (I liked the history of the convent where most of the nuns ended up going insane, and the history of the Paris Sewer system), but jarring. The history of the convent shows up while Valjean is on the run from Javert, ducks into the convent with Cosette, introduces himself to the gardener, and then RANDOM LEFT TURN to hear about the past, present and future of the convent.

In addition to that, half the characters were either Unredemable or Carried the Weight Of the World On Their Shoulders. Valjean spends 19 years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread (he attempted to escape a bunch of times) GOES BACK after the whole Fantine affair, fakes his own death, and gets chased around France/Paris with a ward in tow. On the other hand, you have the Thenardiers. Madame Thenardier is *grudgingly* given praise, which is COMPLETELY backhanded when Hugo says she'll do ANYTHING for her children (just like a lioness!), including beating someone else's child instead of hers. o_O

Right now, I'm reading the Baroque cycle and I feel it has some of the same problems. It took me a month to get through the first 200 pages because I felt like Neal Stephenson was showing off his knowledge of Restoration London, and I was getting bored/having to stop what I was reading and go wikipedia the Whitehall Palace or something (which was cool, mind you, but still).

chris the cynic said...

At some point I'll get to reading this whole thing, but until then I wanted to mention something Ovid said about genre.

The first poem in on of his collections says he wanted to write deep serious stuff about wars and death and whatnot (which is done in dactylic hexameter, equal lines of six feet each) but Cupid came by and stole one the feet, leaving him with elegiac couplets (a line with six feet followed by a line with five) and so he'd be stuck with love and light topics instead.

It's a neat little comment on genre from over 2000 years ago. (2028 years ago.) It worked because they had the form and function of work linked, epic verse was in epic meter, and so forth The novel was a few emperors away from being invented and would initially, as near as I can tell, be dominated by satire.

Lonespark said...

This post is a good post, but reading it and thinking about it just wraps me up in a ball of rage. So I hope writing it was cathartic and not truamatic.

Lonespark said...

I like Les Miserables. Infodumps and a zillion characters! Gavroche and the boys in the elephant! The old guy with the books! Sewers! Argot! I like Javert, too, which helps. And I like the way Tony Perkins played him, although that movie was overall odd. But I could have really, really done without quite as much Waterloo. And Marius, and Cosette, and probably Valjean. As usual, I prefer the minor characters and details. Plus, it was sixth grade. Whatever we were supposed to be reading was less interesting by far.

Also in the car I was pondering something:
Kurt Vonnegut.
Definitely a literary author. (Yes?) Definitely a writer of science fiction and speculative fiction, though not exclusively... How does he tend to get regarded by people who care about separating those things?

(I think I came around to thinking about this because I was thinking about Unbreakable and Samuel L. Jackson and Bruce Willis and Breakfast of Champions and Nick Nolte and Mother Night, because why I don't know. Vonnet stuff on film is missing a lot, but still good. Is there a Slaughterhouse Five movie? If so, does it make any sense?)

(Also also American Gods compared and contrasted with Cat's Cradle and Norse myths and tricksters and bargains and Frigga and entropy...)

Ana Mardoll said...

Thank you! I didn't think to get those numbers, and I'm actually surprised a little that they are that high, but that absolutely adds a serious dose of perspective.

Ana Mardoll said...

Hmm. Yeah, if I'd had to read it for school 3+ times, I would have soured on it too. repetitive "for fun" reading is very different from repetitive "for learning" reading (especially if the teacher isn't adding something fresh) and nothing ruins something like Bad Repetition. One reason why I stopped listening to radio.

Lonespark said...

Kate Beaton's Javert comic makes my day! Thanks, Loquat!

Also, I think I found Les Miserables a lot more readable than a lot of old work because there aren't (many? any?) POC in it, so I don't have to fling it across the room every few pages because REALLY JARRING RACISM. (Thenardier did go off to be a slave trader...)

Ana Mardoll said...

I love you. An X-Files joke about Javert. My day cannot, by definition, get better than it is right now. LOL forever.

CATCHER IN THE RYE! I read that one on my own and kept TRYING to like it because, dammit it, if it's on the banned books list, it must be good, right?? I remember almost nothing from it, except feeling like I just could not connect at all with Holden. I kept wondering if I was *supposed* to connect with him, or if I was supposed to see him as tragically depressed in a society not cued to notice these things and provide appropriate safety nets.

Lonespark said...

Catcher in the Rye is one of a long list of books I read for the hell of it in middle school and wish I hadn't. Because I could have been reading other awesome stuff. A lot of the awesome stuff I'm reading now didn't exist then, but I could have been reading, like, Octavia Butler. Oh for what might have been! / Making up for lost time now.

Ana Mardoll said...

Here is an update on the NAACP thing that is *must see*. Thanks to Melissa at Shakesville.


Will Wildman said...

There is no good reason to insist on 'subtracted from', not least because it reverses the order of numbers and that's just going to confuse people. Even if it was somehow cosmically important to not say 'minus', 'subtract' on its own would be fine: 'seven minus three' -> 'seven subtract three'. Ye gods.

(And I say this as the kind of person who cringes when people use 'minus' as a transitive verb, as in "You have to minus three from that to get the answer". I am pedantic enough to feel ill typing that. But that was grade four, when kids were also still operating on the idea that 'versus' was 'verses', as in "It'll be him versus her, and then I'll verse you".)

Let's see, my favourite WTF advice from teachers... there was the one in grade nine who told the class that we should have all grown out of using semicolons by now. That was hilarious. (He was also not a fan of parentheses, and when I spelled 'Allah' as 'Ala', he circled it but refused to explain why.) The other worst teacher that comes to mind was in university, and there it was less to do with bad information and more to do with the actively student-hostile attitudes, so there's not so much humour.

Some of my favourite classes at any level were language arts/English/writing; I was generally very fortunate with teachers. Particularly in my first year at university, I had one prof for a class on short stories who showed me all sorts of styles and authors I knew nothing about (how many times does a person get to be all "Let me introduce you to Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Isabel Allende"), and another that I don't recall all that well aside from knowing that it was the first time analysing a story for themes and language choices actually made it cooler.

Rowen said...

OH, the other thing I wanted to say is that MANY of the Jane Austen fans I've met tend to have only read Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility. Which . . .eh. I don't mind them, but I REALLY like Mansfield Park, BUT that's because I feel like it's a book that makes up for it's flaws. The characters all have . . . deep flaws? Imperfect? Something. (Mary's judgemental. Fanny is as well, but in an ENTIRELY different way, Edmund is blinded by combination of his faith and libido, Henry is just blinded by his libido . . )

I feel like it's a Regency version of Keeping Up with the Kardashians. You know, New Money Behaving Badly, but I don't think that was Austen's intent.

Silverbow said...

Hey, if it didn't get really cold in Canada...

Margaret Atwood couldn't show us her leet hockey moves!

Rick Mercer Report: Celebrity Tip with Margaret Atwood

Brin Bellway said...

I didn't see Brin's 105F (40C)

Forty-one. (It sounds overly pedantic, but I've seen plenty of 40 in my time (New Jersey being what it is) and never seen 41 before last week. I'm accustomed to 104; I'm not accustomed to 105.)

optical [..] generally aren't covered

If you're twenty or older. They told me during my eighteen-year-old eye checkup I get one more free. (Not that it would be relevant to Ana specifically, but I thought I'd mention it.)

Smilodon said...

This makes me think of the book choices of the various English teachers in my high school. One of the English teachers picked for her novel study "House of the Spirits," a magical realism book about women in Chile. Another woman picked Fugitive Pieces, another novel written by a woman, and written within the last 50 odd years. A third (the only male) never picked a novel that wasn't written by a dead (presumably straight) white man. I'm not saying that Great Gasby isn't a brilliant novel, but it really had nothing to say to me.

The best story happened a few years before I was in high school, when the English teachers were picking plays for novel study. The two women picked "Death of a Salesman". The man picked "Equus", since "High school students wouldn't relate to Death of a Salesman."

Smilodon said...

Also, I did not expect this comment to post as a response to Will, I thought it would follow Ana's description of high school literature. Thanks Disqus!

JonathanPelikan said...

"If they want more stuff from government tell them to go vote for the other guy—more free stuff. But don't forget nothing is really free."

Oh fucking mother of the Gods what in the-
(Outburst continues like this for twelve pages)

And once again my jaded hatred of Republicans is broken through by the latest high-water-mark of offense. I legitimately was not expecting him to just out and say 'I tried to reason with those negroes, clearly an impossible task, since they'd rather freeload off of deserving white people like me instead of Bootstraps..."

Especially coming from that rich fuck, everything he's ever got in his entire miserable excuse for a human life has been free.

This is the guy Republicans want to be President. This is the guy who, in the worst case scenario, is going to get like 48-49 percent of the vote, and that's if honor and justice -wins the day- in November. This is the guy. This guy. THISDGDTHBB

okay i'm done for now

Smilodon said...

Seriously, what is with all the Bootstraps that people expect me to rely on? Seriously, it doesn't even make sense as a metaphor, since if I am correct that bootstraps are laces, it would be physically impossible for me to pull myself up by them. And beyond that, everyone I know relies on a support network, some kind of government services, and the kindness of strangers. Bootstraps don't grow on trees, you know.

depizan said...

Ah, but they are special people who get by entirely on their own. I know this from listening to the Republican/Libertarian/Assholes at work. They go on at length about how they are truly independent and got where they are entirely on their own work and how they think everyone else should, too.

That they live in a city (I doubt they have wells they dug themselves and outhouses), get to work on roads paid for with tax dollars, and work at a frackin' public library does not seem to hamper their assholry one bit. Nor would pointing out that they were educated in public schools. And that's just the tip of the iceberg, really.

These are people who, in fact, are utterly reliant on others. Both through what they buy (clothes, food, the car they drive) and through government/civilization (roads, most everything in category one, their fricking jobs). How they can believe they're self reliant is beyond me.

Brin Bellway said...

Seriously, it doesn't even make sense as a metaphor, since if I am correct that bootstraps are laces, it would be physically impossible for me to pull myself up by them.

I thought that was the point. It's possible I misunderstood.

Smilodon said...

I just asked the internet, and apparently you're right, it's supposed to imply performing an impossible task. In the contexts that I generally heard the phrase, that nuance was never made clear to me (possibly because the speaker often did not understand it).

Will Wildman said...

I think it was used for some time sincerely as a way of saying "This person succeeded in a situation others would consider impossible because they were Just That Awesome", and over time diverged into people who either meant "Yes, that's the way it should be done" or "No, I reject your superhuman framework". The first group focuses on the colloquial meaning (seems impossible but isn't), the latter on the original (sounds plausible but is impossible).

Ana Mardoll said...

Ah! The Unique American Melting Pot argument, such a pet peeve. I blame all the horrible, jingoistic history books (Bless James Loewen and his LIES MY TEACHER TOLD ME*) for perpetuating that one so thoroughly.

* The number of completely unsubstantiated claims he found is his investigation was terrifying. Stuff like "America has the most opportunities for upward mobility on earth" and stuff like that. CITATION NEEDED.

Ana Mardoll said...

And I believe all you Canadians on the weather, but... Texas. :(

(And, of course, I have family here, so it's really just a joke. Emigration isn't on the table, sadly.)

Laiima said...

Is this the thread where Will talked about '-urgy'? Because that got me thinking... I changed the name of my blog so that, when I start a new blog, I could call it by the old name, Fiadhiglas Wordsmithery. But lots of editors and writers have some variation of wordsmith in their names or web addresses.

So, what if I used '-urgy' instead? That would be, I think, lexicurgy, or maybe lexicourgy. I Googled it, and there were 0 results for either, but millions of results for lexicology, which I don't care about.

I'd rather have something utterly singular, than something shared with a bunch of people. Hence Fiadhiglas in the first place.

If you saw 'lexicurgy', what would you think it meant?

Rikalous said...

"Lexicurgy" would make me think "word magic," but I doubt my irritation at the misuse of the -mancy suffix is particularly common.

Rikalous said...

Hmm, that wasn't very clear. If I'm talking about a fantasy work and, say, fire magic comes up, I'll refer to it as Pyrourgy or Pyroturgy because Pyromancy would just mean "fire divination." So that's where that suffix makes my mind go.

Smilodon said...

I keep seeing the hashtag and trying to think of things Romney really should say to the NAAPC, but the only one I can think of is: "Ok, I looked at the policies that my party supports, and maybe most people in the room should be voting Democrat?"

Will Wildman said...

That was the thesis of the discussion that Laiima's referring to - chris and I were talking in the Writing thread about the proper uses of suffixes and the differences between a necromancer and a haruspex and whether there was a good way to get -urgy back in use. (Because, e.g., geourgy doesn't look like 'geo -urgy' so much as 'joorjy'.) I was wondering whether there was an appropriate consonant to drop in there, as you seem to have done with 'pyroturgy'.

Will Wildman said...

The 'lexic-' would definitely get me thinking of words, and before the recent past when I knew what '-urgy' meant properly, I think I'd still have picked up a sort of artisanal connotation from it. So, sounds good to me.

Silver Adept said...

Lexicurgy, for me, would mean "someone who crafts things from words", taking metallurgy as the closest analogue. Reading some of the comments, I believe this is the intended meaning.

As for the citation needed nature of the textbook, well, the Teri biggest markets there are California and Texas. Two guesses as to which one might pull the textbooks away from history, and the first doesn't count.

Ana Mardoll said...

Yep, and as a Texan it breaks my heart. We're not all like that. :(

I thought Loewen did a really good job, actually, of showing why the textbook authors and publishers and pickers fall into those traps sometimes even without conservative pressure. He interviewed... someone (can't remember who at the moment) who generally knew/believed better, but had fallen into the "but I want the children to grow up optimistic!" fallacy.

He had a really good-and-gentle rebuttal that children already notice unfairness (especially when it's being done to them, and not all American children are white-skinned, blue-eyed, blond-haired Children Of Privilege) and that glossing OVER problems didn't create optimism, it created cynicism.

Izzy said...

The "Republicans were originally for civil rights/freeing slaves/etc" argument does not make me think anyone should make me vote for Republicans now.

It makes me sad and angry about how far the party's fallen.

There's some kind of Saruman metaphor here, I'm pretty sure.

Silver Adept said...

Of course you aren't like that, just like how all Western Washingtonians aren't Seattleite hippies or members of the Peoples Republic of Fremont. Just that the ones that are seem to be able to elect themselves to the school board governing positions. (I was going to say "I've known several fine people from Texas", but that sounded far too much like "I know several fine black people" for comfort and effectiveness.)

I agree with the gentle rebuttal - kids and teens already know things aren't fair, and they also recognize their own powerlessness in the matter. Better to level with them and see if they can come up with ways of being able to exercise power than to tell them the problems don't exist or aren't as bad as they see.

I'm not sure Saruman is the right analogue - maybe the King of Men that became the original Nazgul?

Randy Kay said...

Well, it seems I missed most of this discussion when it was happening, which is unfortunate, but I'm going to chime in anyway.

I generally enjoyed my English classes in high school. It was in college that I had the experience of the Bad English Instructor. There were six people in the class, which may've been part of the problem, and our professor had a unique knack for killing discussion in the rare times when the six students actually got a discussion really rolling. We actually read Moby Dick in that class! And the professor questioned my assertion that the fact that the book starts with, "Call me Ishmael." and not "I am Ishmael." or "My name is Ishmael." is something worth considering when reading it. I was suspicious of their... legitimacy, I suppose is the right word, forever after that.

In high school, my issues with English class were limited solely to grammar lessons. Quite simply, I refused to do the work for them. My 11th grade teacher expressed frustration with me, as she told me that I was a good student, so she didn't understand why I refused to do the work for the grammar module, and I told her that good grammar didn't necessarily make a person a better writer.

My favorite "classic" authors are Edith Wharton, and Sinclair Lewis. I actually also like Agatha Christie quite a bit, even if there's a lot that's problematic in her writings; I tend to connect her with Wharton from a purely superficial vantage, which is to say, they both capture this world in their writings that simply doesn't exist any more. It is sort of like doing a cultural study, in a way.

For more recent authors, I suppose Stephen L. Carter is my favorite... although I do like to read everything Alex Beecroft writes, hahaha.

Smilodon said...

I live in Canada, so I only meet a small subset of Americans, and I'd say that most of the ones I meet are nothing at all like those I see on American news shows or running the United States. So I'm willing to give individuals the benefit of the doubt, until they prove otherwise to me.

Also, I find myself occasionally flabergasted by an American expressing a point of view that is so far outside the norm in Canada, but which they clearly expect to be a mainstream belief. For example, the American who explained to me that he'd been held up in a diner in New Jersey, and that the problem was that New Jersey didn't have concealed-carry so he hadn't had his own gun. Or the American who explained to an office full of Canadians that it's not fair how, in Canada, lazy people who just sell drugs instead of working could get health care before hard-working citizens. I've met pro-gun and pro-private health care Canadians, but even the most extreme of those didn't fall on the same spectrum as the Americans I met.

Ana Mardoll said...

Ha, it's even worse when you're from here and yet don't agree with those things. It's not uncommon AT ALL to overhear men at my work comparing how many guns they own, and despite my parents owning one and my brother owning several, it STILL freaks me out.

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