Sex, Violence, Death, Toil: A Brief Primer On Fiction Writing, Prt. 2

Putting aside many of the age-old questions concerning the validity of the concept of Human Nature one can with absolute certainty say that there are Human Universals, that is, Human Generalities. Everyone who exists was born and everyone who was born will die. Everyone feels the pangs of hunger and thirst, of dread and envy, jealousy and admiration, lust and love, of purpose and purposelessness. This is so easily observable that is wholly beyond contention (“but what if we are all brains in a vat in a vast simulation?!” Some cheeky fellow will doubtless interject at some point – mischievous rogues).

The acceptance of this a priori supposition then establishes some very fertile ground for purpose in fiction. Purpose is the first and most fundamental thing any given writer should ask him or herself before proceeding with a given piece of work (indeed it is the first of things which one should ask oneself before doing anything). “Why am I doing what I am doing? Why do I write stories at all? What do I wish to convey in it’s pages?” (and it should here be noted that if one does not wish to convey anything at all then there is no point in writing to begin with, the art that is only for the self and goes not beyond might as well stay contained within the brain! What is it then but a dream?) “What is the purpose of my art?”

Naturally, only you, the reader, can answer such questions in their particulars but there are some general principals that might help us better establish and define our aims as fiction writers. First and foremost among those principals is that if a story does not speak, in some meaningful way, to any Human Universals, then it simply will not be read with any regularity – or even if it is, it certainly isn’t going to be remembered (indeed, why should it?). But it isn’t enough merely to speak to the human soul, as it were, but also to do so in a clear and cogent way, that is to say, a understandable way. It is, of course, fine enough to write for a specific audience in mind (the case of Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra is here illustrative: his work was oft found difficult to interpret at best and downright incomprehensible at worst; the US literary critic, Harold Bloom described Nietzsche’s only fiction entry as “unreadable”).

Writing with a specific audience in mind is highly recommended; however, writing in such a way that no one but one’s own self and some small cadre of philologists and linguists (such would be the kind to say, Underworld is a masterpiece because despite it’s endless meandering without coming to a point, DeLillo is very good at making symbolic representations of waste-fixation as a American by-product which lays bear the soul of the post-industrial age – or some such tosh) is hardly the way to go for the simple fact that one is then, essentially writing in another language which will be totally incomprehensible to the common man and often, to the not-so-common man as well.

There is a tendency among post-modern novelists to zealously seek after originality at the expense of anything else (not all post-modern artists are guilty of this, obviously, but it is a general trend I have observed) and that anything else is generally a coherent and clear theme (again, DeLillo is a supreme example of this, he writes a lot of words but rarely says anything; there are implications, suggestions galore, but everything is tangential to something else which isn’t defined, or if so, poorly. Everything is obscured and referential, so much so that the obscure references and the inertia of his language itself become the whole point of the text – though he does, of course, have his high points).

This is a tendency to be avoid if you wish to approach art as a form of social communication (it seems lost on modern man that this was the purpose of nearly all ancient art – not the selfish, narcissistic impulse to stroke the ego that says, “Look at me! I feel something fragile and fleeting; observe it nonetheless, for such is my importance!” – but rather the communal sharing of a given societies highest ideals and aspirations for the purposes of civilizational lift).

Once one has acquired the knack for both clarity and purpose (and clarity of purpose) one should turn the mind’s eye to the directionality of the story itself. It matters not how far from terrestrial reality one flies upon the back of that great bird, creativity – whether you are writing about ancient dragons, or orcs, or cosmic horrors – certain human factors will always remain visible to be plucked out by the discerning no matter how phantasmal, grotesque or fantastical the setting, plot, characters or dialogue. Why is this – because you aren’t a dragon a orc or a cosmic horror, how could you possibly think as one?!

[to be continued in part. 3]

Fractal America, Kodokushi-6771, Prt.1

One of the most fundamental characteristics of the embedded American consciousness, is its rugged individualism, that is, the sovereign and heroic impulse to carve ones own path, to strike out on one’s own into the unknown darkness to there light a fire. Such is to be expected from a nation of wilderness conquering colonists, but sovereign individuality is, as many have rightly noted, a double edged blade which has contributed in no small part (though not in totality) to the scourge of societal atomization that now lies like a dunning pall over the star spangled banner. For most who speak of societal and political atomization, it is a apriori truth evidenced by lived experience, argued via anecdotal accounts of the particular social fabric (or lack thereof) of one’s known area. There are a lot of problems with these personal and locale-specific deductions; first and foremost, the alienated make-up of a particular town or city or even state does not necessarily hold true for any other states or towns within the (considerably expansive terrain) of the United States of America (though the title’s accuracy of late seems somewhat misplaced).

Anecdotes are useful, indeed, indispensable, but anecdotes alone lack scale and thus here it is extremely useful to turn to a more wide scale methodology – the opinion poll. One opinion, one tale or anecdote alone, even if from a trusted source, is unlikely to turn widespread popular opinion but if one sees that widespread popular opinion itself has turned against their conceptions then such conceptions begin readily falling to pieces. Societal atomization is, like most widespread social conundrums, largely, objectively traceable as is evidenced by the continuous results of the annual Harris Poll which finds that political alienation amongst Americans, nationwide, is at an all time high. The survey showed that US adults from the ages of 18 and up believe thus:

  • 82% of Americans do not believe that the people running the country care about them.
  • 78% of Americans believe that the wealth/class gap is growing and that this is bad.
  • 70% of Americans think that the majority of people in power are taking advantage of the poor/lower-class.
  • 68% of Americans believe that their voice doesn’t matter, politically speaking.
  • 40% of Americans feel as if they are “left out” of the major goings-on around them.
  • When broken up by political party, Republicans feel the most alienated, with Independents second-most alienated and Democrats, third. Individuals who obtained a college degree ranked less isolated than those with only high-school or college education, but no degrees (likely resulting from the increased social avenues afforded by good degrees).

When taken in tandem with the studies of the highly lauded and prize winning economists, Angus Deaton and Anne Case – whose worked showed the staggering amount of ever-rising American suicide, which they tied largely to both economic, social and political alienation – the collective data paints a profoundly grim picture of contemporary American life. A picture of disheveled living spaces polluted with the toxins of fast food and click-bait circle-jerking scream-sheets heralding unimaginable horrors, bottom of the barrel alcohol and mindless Hollywood entertainment surreptitiously pushing innumerable agendas which or orbitally drank in and processed without cognizance. A picture of the young moving out of the house to never speak to their parents again, or staying there and still not much talking. A picture of midlife crisis of gang violence and increasing political fragmentation along tribal lines. A picture of increasingly disenfranchised individuals, both young and old; the old, longing for a golden age that they envision incorrectly as the merry, halcyon days of their youth, whilst the young, looking for a tribe and a cause, are ceaselessly bombarded with the notion that the only cause is the eradication of cause and destruction of tribe and the ceaseless tremelling down of all variation. It is a picture of fear and trembling and, most pointedly, despair.

From the pre-abstract statement of Deaton and Case’s study:

Midlife increases in suicides and drug poisonings have been previously noted. However, that these upward trends were persistent and large enough to drive up all-cause midlife mortality has, to our knowledge, been overlooked. If the white mortality rate for ages 45−54 had held at their 1998 value, 96,000 deaths would have been avoided from 1999–2013, 7,000 in 2013 alone. If it had continued to decline at its previous (1979‒1998) rate, half a million deaths would have been avoided in the period 1999‒2013, comparable to lives lost in the US AIDS epidemic through mid-2015. Concurrent declines in self-reported health, mental health, and ability to work, increased reports of pain, and deteriorating measures of liver function all point to increasing midlife distress.

These are, of course, but paltry samples of the total academic corpus concerning this dire and fascinating question, but they show, quite convincingly, how well and reliably these questions’s roots can be traced objectively. Of course, discerning and convincing the American populace of this is but half the battle, the other half, the reformation of a healthy and unified social modality which does not lend itself to ever-increasing rates of suicide, depression and destruction of local customs and history and the bonds formed therefrom, is significantly harder. But there is one profoundly important first step: parallel institutions and a parallel culture(s). For it was, in large part, the institutions of political power (and thus the social groups who put them there), the NGOs and “our” government that are to blame for the current crisis and thus the idea of remaining complacent at their perpetuation is tantamount to insanity. No. They are rotten and when a plant is rotten to the core there is nothing to do but tear it up by the roots!

But parallel cultures and institutions require, axiomatically a very rare commodity – the parallel individual. The et ferro.


Sources:

Harris Poll: Americans’ Sense of Alienation Remains at Record High

Rising Morbidity & Morality in Midlife Among White, non-Hispanic Americans in the 21st Century.

Nautilus: Alienation Is Killing Americans and Japanese

Jisho