Wednesday, June 1, 2011

No more "Nihilistic" fantasy.

Over the last several months there have been several minor blowups in the field of Fantasy. The biggest was probably Leo Grin's Big Hollywood article. It attracted a ton of attention, and because of Grin's political views that quickly became negative attention. By choosing to post that article where he did, he effectively has given those who are in favor of what he is against, the nuclear option. They can now shut down anyone who they feel even remotely agrees with Grin simply, and with that weapon. They've even sought to turn the two writers Grin specifically elevated against the article by pointing out how "Nihilistic" Tolkien and Howard are.

Though not quite as frustratingly overused as the phrases "Ad Hominem", "Godwin'd", etc. It fulfills the same goal of shutting down your opponents by making them look stupid or backwards or gasp, conservative. They are the Internets equivalent of killing their microphone or having security come and remove them from the premises.

Even just using the phrase "Nihilistic Fantasy" is enough to set people off now. It was never a very good description anyway. So far though no one's come up with anything better. I'm not up on epistemology and sociology and all that, so I won't even begin to try and do it. But I can notice certain similarities between the works that are the cause of the issues at hand. They can be called "Grim n' Gritty", "Nihilistic" among other things. They are diverse and various in their forms and from many many writers. The one thing they all seem to have in common is a deep rooted Post Modernist attitude. They are either intently relativistic (who is the reader/writer to decide what is right and wrong for these characters in these situations?) or Deconstructionist. Coyly playing with the traditional tropes of the genre. It's like putting the Gherkin Building up in London. Its an ingenious design for a building. but it can't measure up to the beauty of the buildings from the past. As a result, what should be viewed as a grand architectural achievement is viewed as an Eyesore.

That brings us to what those who support them seem to be forgetting another tenant of Post Modernism. Aesthetic relativism. Just as a lot of people today view Reubans Women as fat. Many today find the older styles of Fantasy stodgy. They enjoy the new books, they find in them parables for the modern "shades of grey world" they feel we all live in. And in their attempts to promote these books they enjoy them are ignoring my take, which is that I find them ugly and without value, I find their lack of a moral poles to be counter to basically everything I believe in. I find the very concept of "Shades of Grey" to be preposterous because they act as if it exists in a vacuum with no black and white poles to anchor it.

I think the idea of calling it Postmodernist Fantasy is probably the best way to view it. As a whole the Fantasy Genre does tend to look backwards and outwards rather than forwards and inwards, That's perhaps a flaw, perhaps not. Sometimes its good to look back at the big picture to see where you came from, it helps inform you as to where you should go next. Looking inwards and forwards just leads to you making up your mind what YOU want now. Its a self centered (not always a bad thing) way to look at the world. Instead of viewing yourself as one floating in the metaphoric sea of humanity, you are the lone island with the torrents raging around you. And in my experience, that is simply not accurate, and my experiences colour my view of these relativist fantasies and preclude the possibility of me enjoying them.


M. D. Jackson said...

Lagomorph you have made very good points and have talked a lot of sense about this issue. You have resisted ad hominem attacks and have managed to stay fairly neutral politically. No rational person could accuse you of being too liberal or too conservative with this post.

Therefore you leave me no choice: "A witch! He's a witch! Burn him!"

Trey said...

"who is the reader/writer to decide what is right and wrong for these characters in these situations?"

When has anybody ever said this?

What confuses me about this line of argumentation again and again is it willfully ignores that Conan or Fafhrd and Gray Mouser do not live in worlds of absolute moralit (other than perhaps in Conan's sorcery is an absolute evil--or at least their theivery, murder, and rape don't reveal it.

If I've understood you in discussions we've had on this point before and you seemed to concede that largely it wasn't character action that bothered you so much as presentation. Which I can buy.

So then why always to fall back to an implicit line of old fantasy=moral, new fantasy=amoral?

Lagomorph Rex said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lagomorph Rex said...

Trey, Thats actually what I was trying to get at.

I was attempting to make the case that, while everyone is going on about morals and what not, what it really boils down to is aesthetics. I view those in absolutely stark terms. Most people do.

And it's because of that that I think this whole thing got so heated. Some people just can't stand it if you don't like the exact same stuff they like. Most people have those feelings about something. Just look at the edition wars with D&D.

I'm sick of the phrase "Nihilistic Fantasy" when its clearly not, or not any more than the older works you listed. It's maybe more morally doubtful, and maybe not. But it's presentation is totally different.

It's the difference between a painting of a wounded soldier dieing on the battlefield and a photo of a real dead body killed by shrapnel. Some people view the first as naive and passe, others view the latter as repugnant and grotesque. Both present the same subject matter and its resultant damage.

Trey said...

I guess what confused is you spent a whole paragraph talking about morals and absolutism and "shades of gray."

You called them relativistic in the moral sense, and say they lack moral poles.

Isn't this doing exactly thing you now seem to say you're decrying? At the very least you're sort "poisoning the well."

And what about aesthetics is absolute? You've never "kind of liked something" or "could take it or leave it?" Or never found a peice of art good but flawed? I would actually say very few people have an absolute, stark aesthetic sense, except in rare circumstances.

Lagomorph Rex said...

I think I'm having problems getting whats in my head onto paper.

What I meant by Poles was that in order for the grey scale to exist it has to be anchored by the "Colors" Black and White. Grey is the shift between the two. But I've come across many people who will state with straight faces that the concept of "Evil" dosen't really exist because the other person (or people) don't view it as evil. in other words, just because their morals are different than yours dosen't make them evil. It's that sort of thinking that leads to stuff like "The Last Ringbearer".

There are some legitimately evil people, and some legitimately good people, and then theres everyone else that falls in between.. some gravitate more towards one pole than the other. But if they were truly Nihilist, which is the word I'm tired of seeing attached to it.. they wouldn't be arsed to be evil or good.. they'd just sort of lay there.

If they are nihilistic its the same way the Nihilists in big Lebowski are.. cause its fashionable to wear black and say you don't care about anything..

I think its really they've just shifted into the darker shades of grey and I don't feel entirely comfortable with that.

Or maybe it's just because they are killing people instead of Orcs.

Trey said...

Ah, ok.

Well, obviously the concept of evil exists--to state otherwise is ludicrous.

What exactly constitutes "evil" in specific situations equally obviously a matter of opinion, as your not going to be able to get everyone within the same culture to agree, much less people of different cultures--and there isn't any sort of objective tests we can do.

Certainly there are actions/behaviors we could get the vast majority of humanity (both now and historically) to agree upon though, I think.

Lagomorph Rex said...

Maybe its a bit like what REH said about Rome. So long as they were looking Eastward, he was able to see them as something akin to 'The Good guys', but as soon as they turned their swords westward, they became the Enemy.

The more alien, the less like me "The Other" is the less likely I am to be able to empathize with them. It's probably the reason why we view Robert Neville as the hero of "I am Legend" even once its revealed he's the impediment to them remaking some semblance of civilization, and they consider what he's been doing to be Murder, to me he's still the hero of the novel, and all the vampires are still the monsters.