Modes of Discourse

So, I recently read a marvelously concise summary of the academic categories put to stories. The first point being that context is the determiner of these categories, not content. My personification of Context has no determination, though. Context lounges on the sofa singing, “que sera sera” while accompanying eirself on a plastic ukelele, which Context has never studied. Seriously, though, I can understand this, context, being the unspoken guidelines and sensitivities of a group of people towards these stories.

Myths are believed in: we can infer this from how a body of stories (categorized as myths) can be cited as an authoritative explanation for how things are or how behavior should be. Folktales, on the other hand, are purely entertainment, perhaps I could say that some firewall is more of a given between reality and fiction.

Before I read this, my approach to stories was of a categorization between tales and lore. The tales, the way I use the word, were any ideas, philosophies, experiences or representations thereof that a recorder-writer-person makes explicit in a medium of recorded history or fiction. The lore would be the sense of self, sense of world, relationship, and perceptions inferred and adopted from the tales, and refers to the given circumstances from which the tales would be generated, and lore becomes a sort of tale if I even try to explain what lore is (so, when it gets fuzzy then these terms are interchangeable.)

And, personally, I think I’ll keep it that way. Because I do believe that even the myths survive by sustaining some veneer of coolness and entertainment, and that even the folktales and pop culture stories intended for entertainment in the first place become really popular when there’s some deeper resonance.

What I did consider interesting was the category of a legend, basically running the gamut of attitudes between “well yeah obviously course this is completely made up” to “this might have actually been a thing so keep it in mind” and having one other main distinction: that is, of referring to the earthly rather than the cosmic. Legends have more verisimilitude. Two stories for example:

Story One: Little Red Riding Hood skips through the woods and encounters a talking wolf, which whom she engages in conversation without any pre-establishment of her animal communication superpowers. Myself as a young reader would have some intuition that this story refers to mythic rather than literal truth, or that it’s a folktale. All the humans in this story can speak Wolf. Whatever.

Story Two: Some random villager takes a twilight walk through a familiar meadow, only to find a cave in a hill in that meadow. This familiar meadow had no such hill or cave yesterday. There’s a party in the cave. The random villager’s sweetheart is serving on the wait staff of this party. The random wandering villager is well aware that this sweetheart died of tuberculosis two years ago. What the—just what is going on? What is this??? WHAT. IS. THIS?????

Story Two is, academically, a legend. In my personal categories, I would have sorted Story One among the Tales and Story Two among the Lore before, but now they’re both Tales to me. I appreciate how the flabbergastedness echoes through the generations of telling and retelling of the second one. The firewall of this being fiction is thin, here, and to me it feels like it could be too real.

That’s inevitable, comfortable—and perilous.

I find a contemporary gamut of legend in celebrity gossip and Real Person Fanfiction (RPF). The democratization of any corporeal living person’s image into fictionalization just sat so wrong with me. I personally shouldn’t write about someone else’s life unless I know the canon, if it were an incident belonging in my own diaries, or a result of exhaustive research that I should hope hadn’t become stalking or harassment by the end. What I personally shouldn’t do, though, would itself never stop gossip columnists. I’m inclined to consider the entitlement to another’s existence and life as the same between the sloppy journalists of celebrity gossip magazines or tabloids, and those who write RPF. One important difference is that RPF makes no claims or call to social action for something that plainly isn’t true, and if that absorbs the collective sense of entitlement into a body of harmless fanworks, then I’ve got to not only tolerate that RPF exists but argue for people’s right to write it. Besides, I have no problem with the fictionalization of historical figures, even though, by all this logic, I should. (Respectable news reports are a whole other thing entirely.)

So, I continue to make a distinction between the facts of the Corporeal, the contested perceptions of the Sidereal (my word for a layer of cultural value, so I might write “my corporeal friend Cecilia” or “my corporeal friend Anjie” but the value of friendship is psychological and cultural and therefore sidereal), and the forays and quests into the Ethereal, Incorporeal and Surreal. These have earned their categories by their very different natures in my experience, for the most part, but the firewalls between them can become too thin. So, I’m still mulling over ifwhen a distinction is or isn’t made, versus ifwhen a distinction should and shouldn’t be made.

The Mapmaker

I re-read a short story by Neil Gaiman called “The Mapmaker” about, it seemed to be, a Chinese Emperor who had developed an interest in creating maps. He almost emptied the royal treasury in the creation of an island that would imitate the geographic features of his country, that would be updated daily in response to earthquakes or wildfires, with every miniature house being as near-perfect an imitation as could be managed. When the same Emperor said to the advisor that the next map to be made would be a life-sized representation of his own country, with each house represented by a house, and each citizen represented by a citizen…the council decided that this had gone too far, and the story hints that they assassinated the Emperor in his sleep. The new sovereign, incidentally, had no interest in cartography at all.

I wondered what would have happened had they allowed the Emperor to wake up and behold his country, with advisors also telling him that the map he sought had already been constructed while he slept, and so all he need do was behold it and compare it to itself. Such a map would be one with the territory: completely accurate, and thus completely useless. It all depended on how well an advisor could mess with the Emperor’s mind, a mind so organized that it had become a mess.

*

In the symbolism that I explore now, the spider’s web has grown in significance. I discovered some old notes from when the significant symbolisms were mists (perhaps in parallel with the experience of psi or subtle energy), masques and mirrors. Maps would have fit in with those just as well.

Those symbolisms didn’t exactly flow, even though I liked what they meant. It might be the difference between a gesture and true sign language, or a wordless sound and a true spoken language. Alone, a gesture or sound can convey meaning, but the underlying rules determine the language.

In his Red Book, Carl Jung wrote (translated by Sonu Shamdasani): “The ancients lived their symbols, since the world had not yet become real for them. Thus they went into the solitude of the desert to teach us that the place of the soul is a lonely desert. There they found the abundance of visions, the fruits of the desert, the wondrous flowers of the soul.”

I would have thought that the case would be the opposite, that ritual acts lived the symbols precisely because the world was real, even hyperreal, and the map would be the territory. To consider physical acts only having physical causes or consequences made a world map of the world, in the same way that the mapmaking Emperor could have if only he had thought differently.

On Transverse Thought

Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes is a compilation of folktales with analysis and commentary added. I read it when I was about nine years of age because I didn’t know that I wasn’t supposed to. It had fairy tales, so it was age-appropriate, wasn’t it?

In any case, that was when and how I caught the idea that, in fairy tales, the main character’s parents tend to be dead before the call to adventure if they aren’t going to be antagonists in the story. This wasn’t a realistic representation of reality: niceness isn’t fatal. This wasn’t a moral demonstration. If it was an artistic choice on the part of the teller and retailers, then the cliche would eventually be enough to put audiences off…wouldn’t it?

The prevalence of this trope, as Estes explained, was in its symbolic value: that of the turning point of self-actualisation, when a person realises that their value system is different than their parents’. Stories represent this shift through the death of the good-and-perfect parent, and often the introduction of the wicked step-parent. In some extradiegetic life, supposedly, they are the same person or the same idea of authority figure, but the psyche of their child tends to make some distinction or else acknowledges the shift through understanding the event of an in-story death.

How, then, would an extradiegetic death be symbolised?

It could be by some grand natural disaster that ends all existence or life as we know it. Or it could be by the fall of a single leaf. Death could even, confusingly, be symbolised by death.

So goes the transfer between the corporeal world and the otherworld.

The nature of any given focal point in the otherworld, too, is (from what I’ve observed) not only mutable but multi-dimensional. How the word “fae” can retain its meaning when applied to all of the following: to the powers of order, to the powers of disorder and madness, to the liminal beings interacting with humanity, to personifications of non-people entities, to people on the other side of some insular idea of people that somehow still remain people but in some other reality, to beings who speak in a language like the sound of bells and that were born of the laughter of newborn humans, and to miniature humans that grow out of flowers and have butterfly wings, to corporeal human beings who claim bloodline or inner nature that is fae…is a mystery that I can respect.

I don’t know what I’m doing. I can’t know what I’m doing, unless I’m doing it wrong. I find out by doing, translations, transliterations, interpretation, creation, and all the warp and weft of fabrication.

50 Shades of Postmodern Persephone

The following text may contain triggering material, rape in fiction, spoilers for Fifty Shades of Gray, Juliette, Eleven Minutes, and…no Persephone, actually.

Fifty Shades of Grey is a fiction novel written by E.L. James, originally published via digital vanity press, until 2012 when the publishing rights transferred to Vintage Books. It tells the story of a university graduate Anastasia and all the sex that she has with her wealthy older boyfriend, Christian Grey. (Or Gray. I can never remember.) The particulars of the sexual acts therein are depicted as unconventional and deviant, and let’s consider for now this element as the main attraction that had lead to this work’s phenomenal success and prominence in modern culture.

Sex is not (by my experience) a casual topic. Perhaps the allure of alluding to the matter does develop though generations, incrementally but enough that each generation whose members would hold to the standards of “acceptably perceived sexuality in public spaces” would consider the newer generations as unacceptable or at least uncomfortable, but—that’s also very individual.

So, that it comes out into public awareness at all tends to create a galvinating point of interest, exponentially intensified by the deviance of bondage, domination, and sadomasochism.

For whatever reason, many, many more individuals gained more of a familiarity with James’ Fifty Shades, rather than Paulo Coelho’s Eleven Minutes or many of the Marquis de Sade’s novels—I’ll name Juliette because that’s the only one of de Sade’s that I’ve read (one day, I’ll get around to reading Justine.) The latter two do contain sadomasochism, the author of latter even inspired the term (and the author of the former being a 90s book club darling because he wrote The Alchemist! What gives?); they contain introspection and extensive social commentary…and yet it’s Fifty Shades that’s the cultural phenomenon of today.

When it comes to categorical standards for what makes the quality of a book, Fifty Shades is no critical darling. The writing style is a word salad. The characters read as closer to concepts than people. The plot is static, more of a collection of events that set the scene for recurring and redundant conflicts…and, finally, it’s bad for society because of the power struggles portrayed as an integral part of the romance.

That last point, I’d actually want to examine further. In interviews, James often returns to this simple position: “It’s my fantasy.

~

In the twelfth chapter of the novel, Anastasia jokingly breaks up with Christian over an e-mail. He then breaks into her home and punishes her for the joke with sex. The major problematic thing is that he has no idea that it was a joke, and considered an e-mail breakup as license to break into his ex-girlfriend’s home…and rape her. Anastasia, from whose point of view this novel takes, conveys no excitement or arousal, and cries in misery after the event.

That certainly doesn’t read like a fantasy. It wasn’t, “Oh, that minx Anastasia thought she would hate it and knows that she should hate it, but the domination is attractive and confusing her with all the inner goddess that it’s drawing out.” It wasn’t, “She was being a brat exactly so that he would ‘punish’ her, mrrowr!” No, Anastasia didn’t get raped and secretly enjoy it. She was raped and hated it. Fantasy? What fantasy?

At the same time, I think I get it. To remind the reader at every line that this is a fantasy, would take the reader out of the fantasy (that James is offering.) In considering what stories are Bad For Society, it could even be more problematic to say that Anastasia secretly enjoyed it all along and thus that made it okay, as this event in the story was set up so that neither character had diegetically agreed to this sort of play.

But I can and do still see it as play. It’s just that the play began at cracking the cover to open this book. The blurb, the reviews, the word of mouth…were already, I think, a negotiation between myself as a reader and this piece of work.

(Of course, negotiation is an active entity. I actually haven’t finished reading Juliette because eating somebody else’s vomit is not something I was able to even continue reading about, even though I know it’s a fiction…and why I could continue reading after a hog-tied, prepubescent girl is tortured to death with sexualized impalement in Juliette, or chapter twelve of 50 Shades, is something I’m going to ask my therapist about next time I have a session.)

So, beyond that threshold, yes, I can believe that it was a fantasy…just not one of sexual exploration, necessarily.

It’s one of grief, and the verisimilitude of the cause would therefore be a crucial part. In examining this body of work, I consider Anastasia and Christian as aspects of the same consciousness. Anastasia is the bearer of the ego, the voice of the novel and the spoke around which the story revolves; and thus cannot see herself from the outside in the same way the reader can, if the reader even does (because I can see it as the reader’s ego that is invited to incarnate itself in Anastasia.) Christian is the Animus-Shadow: the amalgation of all the qualities classified in this work as what a Real Man is, controlling, dominant, forceful, sexual, violent, the antithesis of Anastasia. Their relationship is a process of conjugation, of reconciling these aspects, and that transformation would bring about grief.

Rather than demonstrate these concept-characters as concepts, however, they’re written out as people. And real people act all this out…without acting, but as real people, as separate consciousnesses, as not aspects of a process, as not fictions, and grieving over violations of personal sovereignty within a socially constructed sphere of being forbidden to heal or escape from when it should have never happened.

~

All that said, I don’t believe that this novel necessarily has the power to promote, normalize, and even romanticize abusive relationships. Rather, it’s an expression of an already established, normalized, romanticized power struggle that is already present in the collective consciousness. I cannot conceive of how it’s possible to take anybody to task for what this has done. It’s a fiction. The events described might imitate a very real horror faced by many people under a veneer of romance, but what does that imitation then do? And how does it do that? For every answer given, it ultimately depends on the reader or viewer.

This isn’t to say that relativism can be brought up to invalidate all perspectives and shut down all discussion, nor that those who criticize 50 Shades only do so because they forget the difference between fiction and reality.

(The main reason that I read Juliette is because it made the list of this one authoress’ favorite books, where she described it as having raised awareness for the abuse of women and girls, even if the Marquis himself wrote it with every intention of it being a one-handed read.

I read it myself, and I couldn’t even see how anybody could have written it as a one-handed read. The eponymous Juliette carries the voice, bears the ego-identification, and she is the one subject to all the sexual violence and abuse. Wouldn’t an author who objectified characters and people of that gender and position, not put such a character front and center narratively, not spend all that time, effort, and consciousness essentially in her skin as he writes?

During the torture of the prepubescent girl in Juliette, my translation read: “Her screams were terrible.” Authored by a sexual sadist, wouldn’t that line have read, “Her screams were delicious”?)

50 Shades is still in many ways an irresponsible work, and that irresponsibility is very well worth discussing and critiquing extradiegetically. (As established, I completely missed out on if any of that critique were present dietetically.) Also, offering concrete alternative actions to affirming the popularity of a work that embodies such a terrible thing is great.

All I hope to offer, when I put out there that this is a fiction, is, hopefully, to break the thrall. True, 50 Shades doesn’t sound itself out in a vacuum any more than it came from a vacuum. It’s just that the fact that it’s a fiction means (to me) that there are so many ways to take it. The real question is, how to save the world or even just the victims of people who have taken this work in a very wrong way (for the established value of a wrong interpretation)?

Loose Canon: Hades and Satan, Syncretized

So, a while back I phant’sied this presence of (I intuited) a syncretism of Hela from Norse mythology and The Morrigan from Celtic mythology, which at some points go together like a turkey ham McFlurry, which is to say they don’t actually go together but there she is.

I just refer to her as Lady Hawthorn, and wonder why I didn’t get another syncretism instead, for instance, Kali and Izanami, or even somebody else entirely such as Death as a perky Goth girl from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman.

I did wonder if syncretistic deities were still happening, though. In a way, I sort of got my answer:


(transcript here)

I forgot where exactly I typed up a wall of text, I might have typed it up at multiple places, about J.M. Barrie’s Neverland being misconcepted as it became popularized out of the novel that he wrote. The misconception, however, came off to me as an echo of a place or basically a fairyland in an even older story: Tir na nOg, returning to the collective consciousness by another name.

It could be a combination of coincidence and personal bias, and certainly much of the beauty and profundity of Barrie’s version is lost when Neverland is shunted to regressing into an imitation of something perhaps simpler and less challenging a description of the otherworld and what it would mean.

The point being, I waffle between trusting the collective consciousness to generate and popularize the stories that the most people need, and mistrusting the stories as lies to advance some agenda, such as sustaining the imbalance of representational power. (I haven’t gone so far as to detest fiction and storytelling completely as ungrounding and misleading and untrue by nature.)

In the former consideration, the old stories of Poseidon’s attempted conquest of Olympus or Hera’s being displaced by Hades’ attempts that are a new thing, could show how much more uncomfortable the collective consciousness is with mortality (than, say, natural disaster or women.)

On the other hand, I am so bored by the antagonization of death, and Lady Hawthorn and I might not be alone in this but there aren’t comparatively as many stories that show death as an inevitable and not particularly inimical presence, even adapting from mythological spheres where it (in this case, Hades) was that. So, now I can consider the damage of appropriation, and understand a little better why the flow of stories (which I’d previously considered a natural resource that belongs to everybody, even if the money attached to intellectual property has its own separate flow) ought to have dams and filters.