Wednesday, May 09, 2007

New Propaganda

I happened upon a quote by Terry Goodkind from his novel Phantom, which I have not read. It inspired my comments below. If you can't bear to read the whole thing, then you should be able to get the point from reading just the first few sentences:
Like all irrational beliefs, it was also unworkable. To live, those beliefs had to be ignored to accomplish goals of domination, which in themselves were a violation of the belief for which they were fighting. There were no equals among those of the Order, the torchbearers of enforced equality. Whether a Ja'La player, the most professional of the soldiers, or an emperor, the best were not simply needed but sought after and highly valued, and so as a body they harbored an inner hatred of their failure to live up to their own teachings and a fear that they would be unmasked for it. As punishment for their inability to fulfill their sanctified beliefs through adherence to those teachings, they instead turned to the self-flagellation of proclaiming how unworthy all men were and vented their self-hatred on scapegoats: they blamed the victims.

Through an act of deep magic, I have developed my very own literary crystal ball, and here is what my probing vision reveals: The "philosophical novel" is going to be the next genre. (Or, at the very least, the future of New Romanticism is going to be burdened with too much dense, quasi-philosophical prose.)

Pray, let this not come to pass.

We writers, by and large, are nothing like real philosophers. Few of us have integrated -- or will ever integrate -- enough particulars to write competently about the sort of broad, philosophic themes that Ayn Rand deftly tackled. And when a writer wants to tackle lofty themes but lacks particulars to draw upon, he will always resort to bald reporting. That's why this new genre's guiding principle -- or so I gather -- will be to tell and not to show.

This should never happen to an Objectivist.

More than any other literary theory in history, Ayn Rand's romantic realism respects the mind, both the reader's and the writer's. The romantic realist illustrates his ideas primarily in the form of images using words, which themselves primarily denote action, to which the reader responds via an active and deeply familiar mental process -- the process of looking at "reality" and perceiving it. The effect of this kind of transaction between writer and reader is an enormous commitment to story, and a sense of traveling on an emotionally complex thrill-ride.

Clearly the most engaging fictional imagery emerges when a writer draws upon his own observations and integrations in the real world, by which I mean, from that which he knows in fact, not just in theory by means of reading other people's books. Qua romantic realism, Atlas Shrugged is not a boilerplate. It couldn't be even if it wanted to be, which it doesn't. (For Rand's view on this, see especially the taped version of her course "Fiction Writing".) That's because no writer living today even slightly resembles Ayn Rand. (Please forgive me if I have overlooked a budding genius among us.)

At the very least, by reading this passage by Goodkind, perhaps some of my readers may now understand more clearly why I have, at least in part, placed some psychological distance between my work and the explicit tenets of Objectivism. I don't wish to write in a philosophical genre. For that matter, I don't wish for anyone to -- unless they can do it the right way, which is to say, the very same way that I plan to write an adolescent adventure story.

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