Saturday, January 6

This is where I sprain my arm patting myself on the back . . .

From the comments a couple posts ago:


Matt, I thought that these things might interest you:

My final project in English this semester is an essay centered around "Getting Away From it All." We could choose any novel we saw fit. I chose Blade of Tyshalle and developed the argument about how most of the novel is Caine's struggle to free himself from the limitations he had set for himself as Hari.

I earned an A. I might add it was the only A anyone received on the paper. And I feel quite confident in asserting that it was not my because of my writing that I got an was the book. So I owe you some thanks.

Also, I have lent my copy of Heroes Die to 9 people, all of whom are promptly going out to buy Blade. Just thought you'd be interested to know that your fan-base is ever growing and that you've shaped and changed many people's lives.

Including mine.

-Ryan Anningson
# posted by r.e.anningson : 2:33 PM


In the interests of full disclosure, I should point out that Ryan and I have corresponded a few times, and that I have always found him to be brilliant, scholarly, highly literate and in possession of impeccable taste.

But you knew that.

Here's the actual point: I really do try to change the world, one reader at a time. This is why, as the estimable Bob Urell trenchantly observed, my books don't hold your hand and drag you toward my point (or even my point of view); I really do try to just tell a story, and let each reader decide for himself (or herself -- Jenn, put down that knife!) what it means, or if it means anything at all. Because, try as I might to change the world, I can't control what it changes into, you follow? And trying to impose control on the world is the real path to the dark side.

Look at Darth Cheney, for example.

The coolest thing about my participation in STAR WARS ON TRIAL was that it gave me a chance to state baldly my fundamental beliefs about the nature of good storytelling (along with ruthlessly needling David Brin for a couple hundred pages).

Like here:

In all his talk of examining premises, and all the things that SF and fantasy and Literature in General Should Do For You, it seems to me that Opposing Counsel has been dragging around an unexamined premise of his own, a somewhat Puritan hand-me-down that needs to be dragged from the closet and shaken out in the sunlight every once in a while, because the mold that grows on it can choke art to death.

It's this notion that art has to be Good For You. That beauty is insufficient, and truth irrelevant, unless there's also some Crunchy Whole-Grain Goodness that's gonna Improve Your Psychic Bowel-Function along the way.

Opposing Counsel's view seems -- from my admittedly only semi-educated perspective -- to be a more limited case of this notion: that art should somehow serve as a comforting social glue. That it should shore up the values of our culture. Or -- as he likes to put it -- our civilization. That any work of art which does not do this -- which presents any other way of living one's life, or which might even, all gods forbid, actually criticize one or more of Our Mutual Sacred Values -- is . . . well, somehow wrong. Bad. Or, as the Soviets used to say, decadent.

Now, I'm not gonna claim he's wrong. There's an argument to be made there. I just think he oughta make it, instead of simply assuming everybody agrees with him.

Because I don't. And I'm pretty sure I'm not alone.

And here:

I avoid stating the "core lessons" of any work of art, for two reasons. The first is that I don't believe the function of art is to teach me a lesson; the second is that such pursuits always result in gross oversimplification. As I advise young writers (advice I once received from a writer older and far wiser than myself): "If you can state your theme in a sentence, don't write a story. Rent a billboard."

And, finally, here:

Now, I have to tell you something about what I mean by Truth, too. I'm not talking about engineer's truth, here: the kind of truth that is visible by microscope, measurable by laser balance, or quantifiable by any contortion of mathematics. That kind of truth is commonly referred to as fact, and as such has no need for the upper case T. There is another, dicier aspect of reality also commonly referred to as truth, and that is the kind that we turn to courts and juries to decide. These are truths that are still describable in plain language, but about which there may be legitimate disagreement, because they can't be reduced to straightforward observation, or measurement. Guilt or innocence, proportional blame -- these are what we call decidable questions. Ones that have more-or-less final answers. That's what we're pretending we're up to here. But we're just pretending.
Because that's still lower-case truth.
When you get to Truth, in the upper case, you face questions of meaning. Maybe I should say Meaning. Upper-Case Truth deals with Who We Are, and What It All Means.
That's when direct language begins to fail. Closing in on that kind of Truth, direct statement falters on asymptotic approach -- the closer you get, the less useful it becomes. You need imagery to even get into the atmosphere, and metaphor for landing gear.
Which brings us back to Star Wars.
Because upper-case Truth is the real subject of Star Wars. Not who we might be, or what might happen someday, or what ought to happen or what we should worry about happening in the future. Star Wars isn't about the future.
There's a reason why the whole Saga takes place "a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away . . ."
It's not anchored in time or place. It's not about some other galaxy. It's not about the future, or about 1977, or 1980, or '83, 1999, 2002 or 2005. It's about wherever is here, and whenever is now.
. . .
Star Wars is about Big Questions.
That's why we bother.
This is why it's worth your time to bother, too:
Because when you get to Truth, you don't get (pacé Regis Philbin) any final answers. You can't measure it, and you can't trust a jury of your peers to decide the question.
Only you can decide what it means, because in the end, what it means . . . is what it means to you.

If you substitute the phrase "my books" for the phrase "Star Wars," you can get a pretty good idea what I'm after. Which brings me back around (the long way -- call it the scenic route) to Ryan's essay.

Because what he got from it isn't what I put into it. It's what HE put into it.

In my mind, I wasn't writing on that subject -- but I was lucky enough to spark his imagination, so that he was participating in the creation of meaning and interpretation. So I get credit for his brains. See?

That means I win.


Chimeco said...

"That means I win."

I laughed. Then I thought, maybe he's serious. And I laughed again.

There is rhythm and flow in your writing. Very symphonic. With lots of bullshit too. You're my favorite author.

M.R.M. said...


Welcome back, Matt. :-)


r.e.anningson said...

Well, I don't know about the brilliant or scholarly part, but I do strive for highly literate and good taste. :)


Midelne said...

Good to see the updates. I don't usually comment, but I'm always here reading. Thanks.

Azrof D said...

Highly entertaining in and of itself; thanks for the insight into the quirky world you live in Matt :P

P.S. Hate to be a bug in your coffee, but any word on the next book?

gabe said...

Matt, it is soooooooooooooo good to see you back up and blogging! And even better, with your regular 'ol vigor.

This is why I love you man.

In an entirely manly, non-sexual sort of way, natch.

Now we just need you to get onto LiveJournal, where all the other soopercool authors are.

MWS said...

I actually have a Livejournal account. I'm just too goddamn busy to format it and get my sagging ass up and running.

Shevchyk said...

You have a livejournal and you need help making it work? Or setting it up?

Tis what you have webmonkeys for, Matt.

*looks at Ticket-Man*

UntamedPlayer said...

How nice to see you back. I hope the generally snarky tone implies a return to health and good spirits.