Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Harrison's Very Afraid, revisited (thoughts beyond the curve of provocation)

All right, so maybe I’m not done talking about this worldbuilding thing, after all. There’s so much that’s fascinating in Harrison’s post, so much that’s seemingly not even addressed in all the blogologorrhea about this elsewhere (pace the thoughtful discussions in forums like Goblin Mercantile Exchange, for instance). I can’t claim to have read even a fraction of the responses that the original post generated—it’s like trying to count the gulls over a landfill—but after a quick and disheartening survey, it felt to me as if no one could negotiate his or her way past the curve of provocation generated by the n-word and push on through to the end of the post (it’s fewer than two hundred words long):

& in other worldbuilding news: Bush administration announces War on Climate Change — "We’ll fight with smoke & mirrors."

Here’s what’s on my mind. After reading what seems to be a rhetorically flamboyant screed against the pains of gaming-supplement-style writing masquerading as sfnal storytelling, at the very end, seemingly as a by-the-way, we find . . . the Bush administration?

And in other worldbuilding news: I’d like to offer a beyond-the-p-curve suggestion that the substantive body of the post doesn’t end where it seems to, at the end of the previous paragraph. The short final bit invoking Bush isn’t an afterthought. It’s connected carefully and purposefully to the rest of the post by the final repetition of that already-many-times-repeated term worldbuilding. And it appears in boldface, no less, so that we’re sure not to miss it.

Go back for a moment to the final sentence of Harrison's previous paragraph, which characterizes the worldbuilder’s readers as victims (and thus, by extension, the worldbuilder as a perpetrator). Strong language! And isn’t very afraid (the Lovecraftian final italics are Harrison’s) also a strangely horror-struck reaction to the surely minor literary sins of the gaming-supplement-style writer? Harrison doesn’t come across as being a writer who’s afraid of much at all. But here he’s very afraid, directly after which we encounter . . . George Bush.

I wonder if this doesn’t throw open a window onto a deeper grammar present in Harrison’s post.

By a process of anamorphosis, perhaps, is Harrison training his keen and savage eye on the world that George Bush is building? In railing against the exhaustive—and exhausting—excesses of the worldbuilding impulse, is he actually talking about the all-consuming, world-flattening juggernaut of so-called globalism or global capital, driven with increasing ferocity by the dual ideological engines of neoliberalism and latter-day U.S. empire building, as it imposes the totalizing (read: exhaustive) instrumental narratives of Western rationalism on the non-Western world, bent on creating a new global-level state that in its increasing penetration of every dimension of public and private life is making all too horrifyingly real the attempt to "exhaustively survey" (and surely surveying, so closely suggestive of surveillance, is a technology of dominance, discipline, and control) "a place that isn’t there"—yet!—but perhaps all too soon will be everywhere, or for that matter is here already? That terrifying smoke-and-mirrors world of the "global economy," "total connectivity," and "more security, more freedom"?

The world that’s being built before our very eyes, which makes us very afraid?


Anonymous said...

Yeah, you know, I hadn't read the post before, until after reading your analysis (after reading the latest Mother Jones and metabolizing a very scary donut). I think I would have had the same reaction - or, at least, you convinced me.

A member of my writing group has been in an ongoing struggle with worldbuilding and how to pare the copious huge genius ideas down to a usable core, and so I've seen lately what a dramatic difference throwing all the window dressing out can make. With that on the brain, I wouldn't have read the post as inflammatory - my bad, maybe, but...


Bill Henry said...

Hey, thanks for reading and commenting, CJD.

Mm, donuts. So clearly an instrument of hegemony, but so very, very tasty . . .

Eleanor said...

Boy, is this a interesting post, Bill. I need to re-read it. And by the way, I finished your Wyrdsmiths handout -- and Kelly's -- and Naomi's. But you are all going to have to wait till the next meeting for comments.