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]

Anthropomorphization: Ward & Executioner, Prt 2

In Anthropomorphization: Ward & Executioner, Prt 1, I attempted to show how important the innate impulse to anthropomorphize non-living entities was by contrasting its best (predatory detection) and worst (blaming non-living things for the havoc of conscious malevolence and thus neglecting the true culprit) aspects. I would now like to investigate the ways in which feckless anthropomorphization influences broader social systems and how it gives rise to, and sustains, various secular orthodoxies.

It is a common misconception among Liberals, Centrists and Progressives in the west, that only religious individuals map a consciousness onto the ordering of the world to better explain its manifold aspects. However, this is quite manifestly false, as even the most “open-minded” and progressive of egalitarian secularists hold to a system of dogmas, scriptures, rituals and traditions which in its structure (though not in its explicit doctrinal values) bears striking similarities to that of the old monotheistic religions.

Take the Green Peace Movement, for example. Here is a group whose mission statement is to, “-ensure the ability of the Earth to nurture life in all its [bio]diversity.” [1] One can see the confusion inherent in the sentence nearly instantly, for what does it mean for “The Earth to nurture life?” The unconscious framing is that The Earth’s purpose or goal is to care for all its inhabitants like Mother Gaia from Captain Planet. A loving, nurturing and caring entity, Green Peace envisions Earth, not as a enormous rock spinning through space that happens to harbor a biosphere, but rather a enormous rock that intended to harbor a biosphere and that is willfully part and parcel of that very system. It is, in this fashion that Green Peace’s ethos begins to sound an awful lot like the NRx conception of Gnon (Nature’s God).

The very excellent and incisive, Kristor of the Orthosphere remarks:

“Nature is nothing without her God. By herself, she is no more than a series of adventitious events, not as a whole ordered to any purpose transcendent to herself – which is to say, not ordered. Except insofar as they are grounded in Eternity and ordered under his Law, events are just stuff happening for no reason, and cannot therefore by themselves sway us authoritatively.”

The summation seems a popular one in reactionary circles, but I find, here and there, faults with the reasoning. First and foremost is that, regardless of whether or not there is a intelligent ordering to the cosmos there are inexorable laws and there is a order to things, or rather, discernible patterns that brook no argumentation; laws which remain consistent and potent regardless of their ultimate derivation. For instance, it matters not, as regards the effecting of Man, whether or not some being causes the seas to churn or the wind to blow, they churn and blow all the same and Man is similarly effected. Also, he remarks that without a “transcendent purpose” the whole of Nature is “not ordered.” This I suppose is true in that for something to be “ordered” a conscious agent must do the ordering. But it seems to me that he is referring to consistency of structure rather than agency – if this is the case then one might simply posit that there is no reason to suppose that Eternal Laws require conscious writ. Additionally, such a universal ordering would deprive Man of the ability to direct the nature of the Cosmos insofar as he was able, such a venture would be heretical and roundly scorned as hubristic insanity – “How dare you play God!” One might well remark, “To the man that wishes for the grandest possible game, what else is there to play?”

Ultimately, GNON is simply a esoteric stepping stone that the orthodox-faithful Christians utilize in a veiled attempt to convert the questioning and opened minded. This is not to say that it is useless (indeed, it is a marked boon for the Christian Traditionalist) but for those, such as myself, who are possessed of a more terrestrially-centered and empirically demanding outlook, it rings to the tune of self-imbued anthropomorphization (contrary to the unconscious anthropomophization of the conversationalist Envirocrats).

I note these assertions and interjections to show you the congruence between the monotheistic conception of Nature and their Green Peace contemporaries. Man, within this schema, is ultimately insignificant to the vastness of space, even the meager oceans dwarf him – scale gains inordinate importance and drowns out all other attributions until it becomes something of a idee-fixe. The Cosmos is so BIG and man is so SMALL – thus he must be insignificant! Bow to the root and vine, kiss the soil and bless the sky! Thy selfsame meaning, lost therein!

I’ll none of it. This philosophy is a thief! If you think I’m waxing melodramatic then let us return to the maxim on Greenpeace‘s website:

Greenpeace will never stop fighting for a greener, healthier world for our oceans, forests, food, climate, and democracy—no matter what forces stand in our way.

As you can see they are not fighting “for you” or even for anything as abstract as “Mankind” they are fighting for oceans, for forests, for democracy (as if that were liken to the other two)! No mention of human flourishing, no mention of human control, no mention of the unique importance of conscious creatures or their singular ability to generate meaning – all for the water and the trees and thy bureaucratic injunctions!

Before proceeding, I want to make clear that I am not wholly equating the ontology of GNONists with the ontology of Greenpeace, but one can not deny a striking number of similarities. Foremost among them – Purity of the “Natural.” For members of Greenpeace, and most other political environmental movements since the 1960s (and a few well before), for that matter, green growing things and democracy are conducive to the “healthy” state of man. Autocracy and skyscrapers are perversions, cancerous blights upon the world and not just aesthetically but in some kind of deep-seated psychologically harmful sense – a quasi-spiritual sense. Here the, what one might call for brevity’s sake, Envirocrats, have developed their own Original Sin mythos, strikingly similar to the orthodox Christian who seek to reel in the unsuspecting naturalist with their lengthy, sometimes obtuse, discourse on the essence of GNON. Both posit that the world was a healthier place before the arrival of man (at least in the Christian inspired variation of GNONism – i.e. Garden of Eden, Fall of Man – though there are exceptions), that most foul and perverted of beasts, who, through his insatiable ambitions, spread the blight of the coal factory and shopping mall far and wide and, through his thriving, spat upon the altar of the deity. Nevermind the benefits, you’ve displaced the flowers!

Though deity, here, for the GNONist, is, sometimes a literal one, sometimes a figurative placeholder, the deity for the Environmentalist is a impulsive, implicit instance of unconscious anthropomorphization. Despite the variables, the typical outcome is much the same; that being a largely non-human (and in many cases, outright anti-human) philosophy.

The truth of this assertion is well attested to by the constant mantra of the Envirocrat: “We need to lessen human impact for the good of the planet!” Carbon footprints, fuel usage, deforestation, destruction of grand geological formations for the creation of more human-friendly habitats – all such actions are, in their eyes, suicidal motions. Suicidal not to Collective Humanity but to The Earth upon which they live! Envirocrat doctrine then does not champion the control of the environment but rather a poorly defined notion of “harmony” with it. If the end goal is to “lessen” human impact as much as possible then the philosophy, when carried to its logical extremis, terminates at the formulation of a world without humanity at all.

One of my more pop-savvy readers might recall the scene in the film Watchman where Dr. Manhattan looks out across the vast and barren surface of Mars and remarks that the planet would not be be somehow improved by the addition of a shopping mall. God-like though he might be he fails horribly as some rather entry-level reasoning, namely, a planet, in no discernible wise, can want anything, not even its own improvement. A planet is a rock a big one, generally with molten core, but a rock all the same.

The GNONists are far wiser in this regard, rightly understanding that some kind of perfect “harmony” with nature is impossible. To quote the Orthosphere’s Kristor once more,

“The world is dangerous, or it is nothing.”

Quite so. Yet the GNONist still see Nature as something that should not be too much tampered with, for it is God’s garden and he who runs there afoul invokes His wrath. But if such dire invocation is the necessary price that needs be paid in the pursuit of man’s upward ascent and dispersal into the grand ambit of space and from there to other worlds and other pursuits far beyond our present understanding, I say, so be it!