Fantasy is a special genre

“Your strengths become your weakness, and your weakness becomes your strength.” A teacher once told me, several years back. To this day, I have wrestled with this idea, thinking about which direction I want to go- to strengthen things I am weak in, or to let my strengths become weak due to imbalance. I can say that the latter did not occur, as I did not methodically develop my career or expertise in a major way beyond seeking entry-level employment. I did, however continue to read about new ideas and fields, quenching my thirst for knowledge in world events and customs. One thing that was a previous study, literature, has comforted me on recurring occasions. Answers I cannot not find in a 200 word news article or even a 2000 word essay always seem to be floating in a novel somewhere. Quantity does not equal quality, but the effort is missing in shorter reading exercises that leaves me longing for something that delivers satisfaction. I enjoy the long expository form of writing to shorter treatises. Yet I haven’t read completed a novel in almost a year, one that is more than 150 pages. Collectively, the number of web articles I’ve read in that time is over thousands of pages, but it’s like walking a marathon- there are many breaks in concentration  and the direction changes in a news stream, whereas a novel is uncompromising, and uninterrupted in its sequence in describing another world.

The voluntary subjection to reality from compiled mainstream news and citizen journalism sources may be a weakness to some fantasy readers, but I will first suggest that it is my weakness in deeply exploring fantasy beyond skimming wikipedia summaries of Tolkien novels and lesser known works. I don’t know a single person who doesn’t read the news, but I know I read more news than others. Non-fiction can’t be compared to fiction. It can be more of a page turner to someone who is impressed by writers who aren’t concerned with inventing a sprawling, personalized world that is not subject to the fact-checking that is expected of society’s more public servants and legislators, and those who ultimately shape what is allowed and disallowed. The challenge of reading world and local news (by someone who is not obliged to have a major participatory role in society) is forcing oneself to deal or witness the proven struggles of the world, unless one considers oneself solipsistic, because “the real world” may commonly  be construed to more likely involve the reader than the adages of fantasy and fiction genres.  The challenge of the realist in reading fantasy, however, is letting go of hard-earned truths and inheriting grander mores than one is normally afforded.

Artists create a world as it never were, or reflect it for maximum impact. Innovations and Entrepreneurs in the real world are not necessarily artistic, thus writers and artists that communicate do this best. The fantasy genre is a privilege to a writer because it is so open-ended, yet to appeal to the mainstream, a work of literature most likely needs to contain a minimum trace of realism such that it would be recognizable at least as an accessible portal to a reader that doesn’t know where to begin, despite the obvious sequence of letters on the first page. this way, it can be used as a metric stick for its relevance.  Once someone enters a galactic or universe portal, “reality” changes insomuch as the laws of nature or supernature can allow them to do so. This is when fantasy emerges to be the dark giant of the literary genres. Fantasy is an unknowable expanse, hinted from a horizon,  but not immediately accessible without a change in displacement, unlike the established elements and predictable events and knowns of the real world. It is mysterious insomuch as scientists have not discovered nature’s unsolved theorems and visible mysteries, yet it remains as a fountain of human creativity, much like the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in natural sciences.

Fantasy is the way forward wherever there are shortcomings in the world. Real world “obstacles” (as if this were American Gladiators) or struggles shouldn’t always be neglected or abandoned, however. They should be approached with new ideas, solutions as well as old and forgotten ones. Fantasy is a protest of injustice; a rejection of narrow norms, an opportunity to make a new life without the labels and instructions of assimilation. Fantasy is potentially a more peaceful genre, insomuch it promotes tolerance and coexistence. Every detail of a society that has prospered from unity at the expense of diversity, can be the subject of an expository untangling. Fantasy doesn’t require a dominant nation-state for there to be peace. Historically, hunter-gatherers and tribal states may have appeared to be weaker technologically, but fantasy has the opportunity to convey a utopia. I think of New Zealand when I think of utopia, because that’s where they filmed Lord of the Rings. But there are things even in that story that I would reject. What I think contemporary fantasy works have succeeded in, is capturing the imagination of some of our earliest pristine concepts of a “pure world”. There are potential “perils of perfection,” but sometimes only in the wrong context/contrast. Some “pure”lakes can appear clear and fresh but may not be potable. Yet, the intent and technique of fantasy is that it will continue to seek what has not been explored, whether to existing reality or that not yet created. Fantasy writing is a worthy endeavor and one I plan to embark on.

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Finnegan’s Wake is to Idioglossia as La Parade de Cirque is to Pointillism

Using Pointilism as a visual aid to an already visual literature. Or a literal aid to a visual art.

Joyce is able to reinvent the English language by methodically dicing and replicing words her and fro. He tills the dry soil top of spelling and turns it upside down. Seurat and Signac began the pointilist movement in a similar way. Even if Joyce’s neologisms, portmanteaus and puns were not widely adopted, it opened up a new field of literature. I would call it a rift much like that between abstract and applied art. Applied arts were moralistically concerned with the lower class, and the lack of ornamentation, whereas abstract art sought to remain the bastion of the aristocratic. Middlebrow was in many ways, for the new moneyed, and the rest, was up for grabs. If one were to say Finnegan’s Wake were esoteric to the point of being reserved for an elite class, I would say it is far from the truth. Finnegan’s Wake only requirement is that one know the English language. It is not of any brow, but it requires a universal labor. The first 60 pages of Finnegan’s wake are a labor to maintain focus. The words themselves evade definition. The sentences demand attention to detail- that one actually read a word or phrase correctly so that one sees the different spelling that was used. Joyce is making a statement by suggesting eyes should look more carefully at each word, such as not to assume one knows what will be at the end of the sentence, or that it even started a certain way, because a runon will challenge an experienced saying. And that is the point.

The first 60 pages do not flow very smoothly, but they begin to flow more dreamlike on page 61. There is a  dreamlike effect that is induced from the cyclical rereading of the sentences to self-vet the closest guess as to the meaning of the sentence. The challenge is to imagine the sentence meaning given a number of newly experimented combination or permutation of phrases and neologisms. The technique is ostensibly mechanical, and thus a departure from what I would call, classical writing. There may have been precedents, but Finnegan’s Wake is a thorough new form. Much like Borges after him, there are thin borders between reality and dream. The focus is on metaphysical reflection, self-awareness, and multiversal or infinite interpretation. Pointilism ignores centralized interpretation and replaces it with potentially self-autonomy. It does not fail to organize into harmonious construct, but it explicates or makes vulgar the process, but it places faith in decentralized brushstrokes. Finnegan’s Wake is said to adopt part of the structure the 1725 essay/book The New Science by Giambattisti Vico, which is a philosophical treatise on the origins of civilized wisdom predating the major world religions. Vico formulated the Verum Factum principle:

“Vico is best known for his verum factum principle, first formulated in 1710 as part of his De antiquissima Italorum sapientia, ex linguae latinae originibus eruenda (1710) (“On the most ancient wisdom of the Italians, unearthed from the origins of the Latin language”).[8] The principle states that truth is verified through creation or invention and not, as per Descartes, through observation: “The criterion and rule of the true is to have made it. Accordingly, our clear and distinct idea of the mind cannot be a criterion of the mind itself, still less of other truths. For while the mind perceives itself, it does not make itself.” This criterion for truth would later shape the history of civilization in Vico’s opus, the Scienza Nuova (The New Science, 1725), because he would argue that civil life – like mathematics – is wholly constructed.”

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The concept that all of man have a natural ability to learn from language, suggests that the transformation of a civilization from theocracy to monarchy to democracy to chaos depends on whether knowledge will be privatized or shared. On a more personal level, Finnegan’s Wake is an engine without a mold. A sense of identity without a reference point. It is a running sorites paradox that allows one to understand that one is reading something until one realizes that they are no longer reading what they once thought.  If there is more to mere wordplay, and I think there is, then his construct serves multiple clients, or rather, civil life patronizes several constructs.

Once I got past 60 pages, the dream state was induced and the sentences broke free like brush strokes from their master.

Repurposed Realism

In the crowded world of fiction genres,  it may seem pointless that to suggest there is a need for another genre, but the definition of creativity implies that genre-bending or genre-expanding is part of the artistic process. I introduce to you today what i am calling “repurposed realism”.  Repurposed realism is a little different from magical realism. It is not about fantastical elements co-existing in a realistic universe like our own, but more like an environmentalist’s fantasy. In fantasy, you have exotic materials and creatures that you can’t find on this earth, or at least in the country, and need to travel to places like New Zealand to find (LOTR). In repurposed realism, the environmentalist writer is more interested in using domestic props and recycling tropes and characters in a parachronistic period and in a location that would be classified as “invasive species.”

A whale cannot inhabit a swamp, in a realistic setting. But the boundaries on logic should be tested and suggest that by not compromising the aspect of water, (not writing a novel where pigs fly-also a cliche- in this case, a whale hovering/crawling and struggling over a desert would be too unbearable and insensitive even for a fantasy reader), the elasticity of plausibility continues to hold true in a swamp. A whale could have navigated by mistake or by necessity into an estuary, and, if this estuary happened to be connected via a brackish waterway to a swamp further up a river, then, it would be not entirely extraordinary for a whale to be found in a swamp. It is also a more a tolerable form of temporary suspension of disbelief- whether it be for a short story, a poem, a chapter, or even a novel, and thus, exploring the new limits of plausibility should serve as the raison d’etre for expanding upon this genre. A whale in a swamp can survive a novel, but not a human life time. However, the point of repurposed realism is not to emphasize the crises of reality (endangered animals in captivity), but to enjoy a lightweight or vegetarian form of fantasy- one that doesn’t require the exotic medieval armor on loan from the metropolitan museum or the Game of Thrones set, or the CGI of Industrial Light and Magic to inspire the reader of a greener/better world. A whale in swamp is not “better,” but it should incite the imagination to some sort of positive action, or further creativity.

There is plenty of the ethereal in the existing world that it would be a bit wasteful to depend solely on stock products, imitated galaxies far, far away, and the tradition of the social guild. Realism is thus an established social order, even if it is tiered as in first world, third world, etc. Fantasy as a literary genre usually has more of a self-sufficiency prerequisite – completing a book on one’s own, rather than watching the news with reinforced social narration and validation. Realism in literature reflects society but does not overtly seek to change it. Repurposed realism is, in many ways, a practical fantasy, much like philosophy. If this does not convince you, let’s not forget the reality of fish farms as an apt metaphor for irregular habitats. I’m not entirely opposed to fish farms, but I feel like we should appreciate similar imagery in fiction if we are willing to remain blind of our food sources, and the conditions they live in.  Giving a whale a more visible presence, even if in an unnatural setting, only makes us more aware of our actions.

I compare this genre and am inspired in part by the applied art’s great schism from fine arts in the late 1800s/ early 1900s: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arts_and_Crafts_movement It’s also a pursuit of the uncanny- the capture and expression of, and transformation into something more familiar and friendly, domesticated, or at least documented (as in a sighting of the Loch Ness monster.) Another way of putting this is, I am interested in “a fiction stranger than fiction”. If it is plainly fiction, then it either successfully redefines the genre with recognition(suggesting fiction hasn’t been strange enough, and that it should be) , or it remains unrecognized and obscure or an outsider work by the paradigmatic kingmakers.