It has taken me nearly two weeks to write this post. Due to a procession of unfortunate events which have lead to a drastic change in my circumstances over the last few months I shall no longer be producing fiction nor blogging under the name A W Hendry. That’s not to say that I shan’t be writing -far from it- I have simply had to change my name and so I am retiring this blog as of today. I shall, from this point on, be writing as A W Baader and my new blog can be found here. So if you wish to continue getting updates on my work -as well as my thoughts about all manner of random things- then you should subscribe to my new blog. If you just want to hear about when and where I have stories published then you can also sign up to my very occasional newsletter there.
My wee collection, Hinterland, will remain available under my old name.
So thanks for reading this and hopefully I’ll see you over on my new blog soon.
It seems that this is the two hundredth post on my blog. Since I started it at the beginning of last year some things have happened,some others haven’t, and in that time I’ve had story published online with another one due out this autumn and I’ve released a wee ebook sampler of my stories. I finished my studies at university but still haven’t landed a job in my chosen career -hey ho.
I wonder what will have happened by the time I get to 400 or 500 posts?
Nightmare Magazine runs a regular column, ‘The H Word’ which looks at various issues pertaining to horror literature. The most recent column, subheaded ‘Why Do We Read Horror‘ is by Mike Davis of the wonderful Lovecraft Ezine. He begins his piece by bravely giving an example of some of the abuse that he suffered as a child whilst growing up in a religious cult -he has mentioned this on the Ezine chats a number of times otherwise I wouldn’t mention it- and then goes on to look at his own personal reasons for reading disturbing fiction. It’s a good read and I would suggest that you give it a gander.
The piece got me thinking a bit about why it is that I enjoy dark fiction as well as the idea of horror as a form of catharsis whether I read this sort of stuff because it allows me to exorcise some of my demons (do I, therefore, write it to exercise those same demons?) and the conclusion that I came to is: nope. Looking back over the course of my life and my reading patterns I tend towards escapist fiction -science fiction and fantasy- when I’m in a dark place myself and towards darker literature when I’m in a slightly better place. I think that I read dark fiction because it allows me to keep the demons at bay in way that is healthier than indulging in my other pain killers of choice. Healthier for me and healthier for those around me.
Engaging with the darkness in this way isn’t an intellectual exercise -though for something to be horrifying to me it has to engage my intellect but that’s by the by- it is a way of stimulating those parts of my psyche that come to the fore when I feel the clouds begin to muster. In doing this it ensures that I am used to feeling a certain way and can identify the warning signs of a black spell coming on and take measures to mitigate the worst of the effects. Keeping one foot in the darkness means that I am rarely surprised when it sends its tendrils into the light.
I have a similar way of dealing with ‘traumatic’ events that have happened in my life -and boy, some of them have been proper doozies. Whilst I can’t say that my life experiences have been anything like Mike Davis’ experiences I have led a rather colourful and pained life. I’m not going to go into the specifics here as unlike Mike I, primarily, don’t have the courage to be so open about the things that have scarred me and secondly, in light of what I’m about to say, I am appalled by the trauma Olympics that play out in the discourse around trauma and ‘trigger warnings’ online. Mike Davis, for the record, isn’t engaging in the Trauma Olympics here, he’s just using his experiences to illustrate a point which is a completely different thing.
I placed ‘trigger warnings’ in scare quotes above as the practice has mutated over the last 4-5 years into something that bears little resemblance to the practice first utilised on feminist message boards to allow full and frank discussion of violence, both domestic and sexual, against women. Now there is a profusion of these warnings that cover everything from sexual assault to ‘imperialism’. We also see absurd calls from students in American universities -and yes, I live in the UK but these things have an awful habit of making their way to the Old World rather rapidly, thank you internet- calling for trigger warnings to be placed on Ovid’s Metamophoses and other works of literature.
This desire to protect survivors of trauma has had an extremely toxic effect in that the only voices that are heard are those of people able, and willing, to talk openly -and very publicly- about traumatic experiences and the voices of those who present themselves as ‘allies’ of survivors. Unheard are the voices of those who do not wish to make public their private life experiences -I most certainly won’t though you’re welcome to read my stories and try and glean something from them, that’ll be a laugh. No, we now see the discourse around trauma dominated by the vocal few and those who opt not to click ‘Share’ on their own experiences are silenced by the ‘allies’ of survivors as they do not visibly tick the right boxes when it comes to who should be listened to on these matters. Those who don’t bare their souls are instructed to ‘shut up and listen’ -the assumption being that if their Tumblr profile doesn’t include a list of their own personal traumas then it should be assumed that they have no right to speak on such matters.
I mentioned in my piece on Simon Pegg’s comments with regards the infantilisation of culture that I do believe that this process is ongoing though I identify a different manifestation of the process. It is this attitude towards trauma and uncomfortable life situations which is, to my mind, responsible for the infantilisation of our culture. It is the desire to hide from uncomfortable and unpleasant experiences which leads to grown adults being unable to cope with the world around them -unable to cope as the world is a dark and fucked up place that, at the end of the day, does not bend to individual desires.
Now; I am not special. I am a random confluence of atoms that have coalesced through all manner of extremely complex processes kicked off by a chain of events stretching back billions of years and shaped by experiences and interactions that were all brought about by the same chain of events. This is remarkable, this makes me unique, but on a lump of rock covered in over six billion other similar entities and accompanied by uncountable billions of other unique creatures I am not special at all. There is nothing in my life experiences that is not manifest a thousand times over elsewhere on the planet and so why should I, in my unique and remarkable non-entitiness, expect the world around me to be shaped and moulded by my desires? It is I who must learn to live with the world -not the world with I.
It is the fostering of, and pandering to, this expectation which is responsible for the infantilisation of our culture. As children our parents, hopefully, try their best to protect us from the harrowing reality that can be adult life. They protect us from the reality which they themselves have to deal with. This is, I think, a good thing as childhood should be the sort of thing which is experienced in glorious technicolour rather than the drab browns and greys of adulthood. It is not however right for adults to expect to have a layer of cotton wool between themselves and the world. It is even less right for adults to expect the rest of society to be responsible for providing and maintaining this barrier.
One of the things that we do as adults is find ways of being able to function in a world that is not of our making nor under our control. There are as many ways of doing this as there are people -everything from watching chat shows through hanging out with friends to having therapy or medication to deal with specific issues. Everyone has their way of coping with the realities of adult life.
To be continually sheltered from the vicissitudes and discomfort of adult life means that the ability to cope with life is stunted and for this reason the culture of ally-dom and supposedly survivor centric discourse around trauma has a negative effect both on wider society and the individual survivors.
The way that I have developed to deal with the sheer existential horror of both life in capitalist society and the knowledge of the utter meaninglessness of the sickeningly short amount of time that we have on this planet is to stare into that darkness, laugh loud and make a joke about its mother. Reading dark and disturbing fiction -and listening to dark music and watching dark films- allows me to do this. It keeps my one foot in the darkness so that I can kick it in the nuts when it tries to take away the light.
Full Disclosure: Before folk start to question the validity of my opinion on trauma fetishists I have indeed experienced traumatic events -some that would make your fucking toes curl- and have worked extremely closely with people who have suffered traumas the likes of which privileged Western college kids couldn’t even begin to imagine, let alone understand. So, yeah, the fetishists of trauma can cock right off. 😛
Well, that was a damp squib of a crowd funding exercise. 😀 It would probably have helped if I felt confident enough to have pimped the campaign a bit more but I feel awkward enough trying to sell the stories I’ve written let alone asking for donations from complete strangers. 😦
Ach well, I’ll leave the campaign running on the off chance that some wealthy weird fiction aficionado should stumble upon it and decide to help me replace my dead desktop with a spiffy new chromebook. Then I may be able to write without having to either use the local library or sneak into the local college with my pal’s student ID card. Or write as much as I can in between annoying customers whilst at work -as I’m doing right now. 😀
In which I laugh at a bigot and then get all shirty about the new-new-new left.
Bigots make me laugh sometimes, they really do. I’ve lost count of the amount of conversations I have had over the years that have panned out almost exactly thus:
Bigot: *”Something racist/sexist/homophobic/twatty”*
Me: “Um, dude, that’s a bit kinda, you know, racist/sexist/homophobic/twatty”
Bigot: “How dare you call me racist/sexist/homophobic/twatty! I just believe *something racist/sexist/homophobic/twatty*”
So the following quote from author John C Wright -an author who was part of the Sad Puppy slate for this year’s Hugo awards- made me guffaw no end. The Sad Puppy slate was an attempt by a bunch of right wing bigoted fuckboys to game the nominations for the awards. They did this on account of feeling that heterosexual white males are an oppressed group in our society who are under represented in the fields of Fantasy and Science Fiction… seriously. The comment was made by Wright on the discussion thread below the absurd apology to the racist/sexist/homophobic/twatty community for a comment made by one of their employees on her personal Facebook profile. You can read about the whole fracas here. Anyway, the comment.
Dear Peter D, and all of you who claim Irene Gallo’s statement was true–
You are saying things you know or should know to be untrue, and you should be deeply ashamed for letting your emotions out of control, tempt you to dishonesty, and for yielding to that temptation.
I am not unrepentantly homophobic. I am nothing of the kind. It is a lie.
I follow the Catholic teaching on same sex attraction and how one deals with it. In public, I have heaped scorn on those who use a children’s cartoon, one I loved, to insinuate their pro-perversion propaganda in a cowardly and craven way.
I have no hate, no fear, nothing but respect for homosexuals.
You and people like you who use the false cloak of compassion for homosexual to lure them into ruining their lives, you are the ones for whom I have no respect. You are the ones who hate them; you are the one who urge them down ever darker paths.
One of my family members committed suicide because he pursued the homosexual lifestyle you and yours continually urge him and poor souls like him to pursue.
You are the ones who offer a drunk a drink before he gets behind the wheel of a car, and when Christian urge sobriety, you claim our motive is fear and hatred for the drunk, not prudence and compassion.
He abandoned my stepsister when she was six years old, and my step brother when he was four.
Your evil, vile, repulsive philosophy of pure selfishness is what I hate, not the homosexuals you use as a shield for that philosophy.
As for the other lunatic assertions of Irene Gallo that you now leap to claim are true — misogynist? neo-nazi? I wonder what St Mary and St Maximillian Kolbe would say if either thought me their enemy.
Racist?I wonder what my daughter, who was born in Chinese to parents who abandoned her, would say if I were racist.
Another one of my family members was wounded in World War Two, awarded a Purple Heart for his efforts in liberating a Nazi death camp.
You know nothing of me, nothing of my life, nothing of what I have known or suffered. Irene Gallo make statements beyond false: they were reckless with hatred, whereas I have ever spoken of her with gratitude and respect for the wonderful illustrations and compositions with which her department adorns the books she and I sell.
I am only the writer. The book is a team effort. Irene Gallo is a member of the team. She has apologized for her lies, and I accept her apology.
I would like you, sir, to do the same, and never dare to libel me again. When you do not know whereof you speak, close your mouth.
Now; have you ever seen such a perfect example of the complete lack of self awareness that near defines the racist/sexist/homophobic/twatty individual? Without missing a beat he skips merrily from “I’m not homophobic” to “Homosexuals are all perverts”. It’s a thing of beauty to see something like this and I think that we should all take a moment to appreciate quite how splendid Mr Wright’s comment truly is.
Have you done appreciating? Good. If you want to read a bit more about the most recent hoo-ha stirred up by the racist/misogynist/homophobe Theodore Beale (the voice of the oppressed straight white male majority) then Jim Hines has a good wee overview here. If you want to read more about the whole Sad Puppy affair then I’m afraid that Google will have to be your friend as I really cba to trawl through the morass that is the SFF scene looking for you. Oh, what the hell, go on then. Click here for more info.
Anyway, I don’t normally pay that much attention to the world of SFF or online fandom or the shit squalls that regularly erupt there as a) It’s bad for my blood pressure and b) I find it incredibly frustrating the amount of effort that people put into online ‘activism’.
The sentiment expressed here by Red’n’Black Salamander on Deviant Art illustrates quite well the frustration felt by many of those on the left who are actually engaged in political activities -or who used to be as is the case with myself. The posturing and showboating that has evolved in the online world, and has in recent years spilled over into the, for the most part, more liberal parts of political activism has had a really deleterious effect on the left. Where people on the left should be focussed on what unites us, us here referring to the working class rather than the left in general (lol, as if that’s going to happen), as workers -the foundations from which we can build the new society- we now see attempts to stratify through definition the working class under the guise of intersectional analysis. An intersectional analysis is a useful tool to have in one’s box if one is studying Sociology or writing academic papers but in the real world it doesn’t translate well, not well at all. In fact one of the reasons that I began my abstention from generalised political activity was the emergence of this approach -along with the increasing popularity of privilege politics- as I saw early on that the praxis that would develop from this approach would inevitably see a return to the embarrassing ‘hierarchy of oppressions’ which permeated the radical politics of the 1970s/80s (before my time -I’m not that old!).
Now, I’m not saying that straight white dudes don’t have it slightly easier than everyone else -we live in a society where the ruling class have fostered racism, sexism, and homophobia for centuries to suit their own ends- but the portrayal of heterosexuality, whiteness, or maleness as privileges has the effect of turning our focus away from the things we should be fighting -oppression, injustice, capitalism and class society- onto those things that we can not, and should not, fight -ourselves. The privileges identified by those who take an intersectional approach are unlike the privilege that 99% of the population think of when they hear the term: economic privilege. Unlike economic privilege these privileges can be neither given up nor adopted –no matter how hard some may try– and so, in practical terms, all a focus on them can do is turn introspection into a form of faux activism. It also has the effect of making those with the privileges the centre of attention -which is probably why it is so popular with white middle class kids- rather than the people experiencing the various manifestations of oppression.
These privileges, as I said, can not be fought as they are things that are, by their nature, inherent. What can be fought is oppression. It is possible to fight racism, transphobia, sexism, homophobia and so on because they are social, not individual, issues. That fight is hard though (if it was easy they wouldn’t call it struggle would they?) and it involves actively participating in political work through which these oppressions need to be challenged as a matter of course. If you’re fighting lay-offs or attacks on working conditions, for example, then you want all in the workplace to stand together as that is what makes us, the working class, strong. You don’t want to only stand alongside straight white dudes on the picket line -you want everyone regardless of sex, race, gender, or sexuality standing alongside one another. It is actual political activity like this that breaks down the walls of bigotry that the ruling class rely upon to keep us divided. That requires actual real world work though, it’s far easier to call someone a *ist shitlord on the internet though and get your ego stroked by a bunch of Facebook likes and retweets.
This lot knew the score.
Now, to segue wildly back towards the topic of the Puppies and internet shit squalls, people like John C Wright and Theodore Beale serve a social purpose. They are there to be mocked and to have the piss taken out of them. That is their purpose and that is the full extent of that purpose. Engaging with them in any way beyond this is a distraction from engaging in actual political activity -something that suits them and their ilk down to the ground- and creating a society that has solidarity at its heart and which therefore would be a place unwelcoming of those who would seek to undermine that solidarity. If that’s what a person wants rather than merely wanting to have their ego stroked.
When people like the Puppies pipe up, as they inevitably will, just point, laugh, and carry on not buying their books.
My wee eBook, Hinterland, is now available as an epub (LINK) for the measly price of £1. It would have originally been available in all formats but I foolishly signed up for an Amazon scheme that gave absolutely no benefits to me but prevented me from releasing the book on other platforms. I won’t be making that mistake again. The collection will also be being released in paperback via Lulu once I’ve had the chance to look over the proof copy.
Secondly, I’m working on a second, more substantial, collection of 16 stories which will hopefully be available this autumn as an eBook and regular old fashioned proper book. The working title for the collection is Sing Along With the Sad Song and the table of contents is thus:
Final March to the Beginning
For What is Sweet, and What is Right
in these ways we remember
The Downfall of the Good Worker Laura MacTavish
The Giant Who Fell in Love With a Storm
A Song of Work and Ire
The Corpse on the Clyde
You’ll Never Believe What Happened Next
The Horrible Old Man
On the Wasteland
Fall of the Squat of Usher
Of course, all of these titles are likely to change and some stories may be added or removed on naught but a whom of mine own. I also have an idea for the cover, what do you think? Pretty or gaudy?
Simon Pegg was interviewed by the Radio Times recently -an interview in which he discussed his concern about the infantilisation of culture caused, or reflected, by the popularity of American superhero films.
[…]part of me looks at society as it is now and thinks we’ve been infantilised by our own taste. We’re essentially all consuming very childish things – comic books, superheroes… Adults are watching this stuff, and taking it seriously!
“It is a kind of dumbing down because it’s taking our focus away from real-world issues. Films used to be about challenging, emotional journeys. Now we’re really not thinking about anything, other than the fact that the Hulk just had a fight with a robot.” (The Independent)
Now; whilst I do believe that we are seeing an increasing infantilisation of culture, at least in the anglophone world, I think that this has more to do with the steady creep of a trend with American culture which has been seeping outwards thanks to the internet and the dominance of the American cultural voice in that medium -exploring that isn’t the purpose of this post though. What Pegg seems to be saying here is that it is the practice of the culture that has formed around the comic book/superhero genre which is causing the infantilisation of culture. I really don’t think that this is the case; I think that Pegg is here putting the cart before the horse -the popularity of superhero films and comics I think reflects the way in which cultural production -in Hollywood at least, churns out lightweight escapist material at times of great social tension or unease. Of the top ten grossing films in the US during the 1980s, another time of heightened social tension, nine are fantastical and the tenth, Beverly Hills Cop, is a comedy (LINK). In fact if we look at the charts reported then we see that films incorporating the fantastic show up repeatedly in every decade’s top grossing films -right back to Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ in the 1920s. Which isn’t really that surprising given that crisis is the permanent state in which we, in late capitalism, find ourselves as capital seeks to adjust to technological and social developments.
I think that I understand however where Pegg has gotten this impression. Science Fiction fandom is experiencing something of a shock as it has found itself, more so than ever before, dragged into the mainstream. For those of us who have had an attachment to all things geeky that stretches back before this new surge in popularity it may seem as if literally *everyone* is getting hooked on all things SF. I don’t really believe that this is the case. The Avengers and Avatar may be the biggest grossing films in recent history but that doesn’t mean that this interest necessarily transfers into a desire to explore other manifestations of SF/F for most people.When my Mam, or the guys at work, start talking about the latest Avengers film as something other than a film to take the kids to I may reconsider this position. An SF or Fantasy film is almost always going to be a visually spectacular treat for movie goers -even the bad ones like Transformers or Prometheus are visually stunning- and so are going to have a wide general appeal for some of the same reasons that action films do -they are spectacles. We find ourselves in a situation where we have the circuses but not the bread.
Pegg’s view is one that seems to be shared by the great Alan Moore who told the Guardian in 2013:
I hate superheroes. I think they’re abominations. They don’t mean what they used to mean. They were originally in the hands of writers who would actively expand the imagination of their nine- to 13-year-old audience. That was completely what they were meant to do and they were doing it excellently. These days, superhero comics think the audience is certainly not nine to 13, it’s nothing to do with them. It’s an audience largely of 30-, 40-, 50-, 60-year old men, usually men. Someone came up with the term graphic novel. These readers latched on to it; they were simply interested in a way that could validate their continued love of Green Lantern or Spider-Man without appearing in some way emotionally subnormal. (The Guardian)
Moore’s criticism here though seems more directed at the world of the superhero comic itself rather than at any wider social trends and with this I agree -though my knowledge of comic book, and especially superhero comic book, fandom is extremely limited as they are something that has never appealed to me, even as a youngster. Moore expanded on this in an interview last year, 2014, where he said something that I think is a lot more relevant to teasing something out of Pegg’s position:
I would also observe that it is, potentially, culturally catastrophic to have the ephemera of a previous century squatting possessively on the cultural stage and refusing to allow this surely unprecedented era to develop a culture of its own, relevant and sufficient to its times. (Slovo Books)
This, I feel, is a much more incisive critique of not only the current plethora of superhero films but also of the preponderance of reboots and ‘re-imaginings’ that we have had over the last five years or so. I don’t, necessarily, have an issue with the concept of the reboot/re-imagining -the reuse and remixing of older stories is the bedrock from which 4,000 years of human literature has grown after all- but this current glut does seem to be as though a previous generation is, consciously or not, trying to indelibly imprint the present day with the semiotic signs of its youth. This isn’t the infantilisation of culture but the cultural manifestation of the mid-life crisis of a generation of, mostly, American, mostly, men -some of whom have found themselves in the position of powerful cultural producers. In this way the recent spate of reboots and superhero films are culturally reactionary in that they serve to displace and subdue new forms of cultural expression that need to arise to address the situation in which we find ourselves today.
That’s not to say that people who enjoy superhero films, or reboots and rehashes of films gone by, are swivel eyed conservatives -far from it, I really quite enjoy the Marvel films and TV Shows, but the effect they have on new forms of culture is, I feel, undeniable. This collective mid-life crisis, coupled with massively increasing social stratification and hardship, has defined the form that the circuses with which we are amused have taken: Superheroes and attempts to recreate the youth of a generation of American men. Which is probably a bit healthier than throwing religious minorities into pits full of dangerous animals to be sure. I have little doubt though that there are those amongst us who seek to have a reboot (or would it be a re-imagining?) of that old tradition….