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branchandroot: Miako sparkling (Miako lovelove)
[personal profile] branchandroot

Notice: This is a repost of an entry; the first was cruelly devoured in a crossposting glitch and all the lovely comments with it. If anyone wants to comment again or more I will be perfectly pleased to carry on the conversations.

So, here’s the thing. I’m all in favor of having books that are id-candy, brain-fluff, that demand nothing from your intellect and instead go straight on to punch your emoporn joybuttons.

This is, after all, why I own three quarters of everything Mercedes Lackey has ever published.

But, first off, id-candy is a different thing from good writing. The joybuttons don’t care about bad grammar or triteness or slop, they just resonate to the character shapes that hit one’s kinks. Kinks are often trite and cliche, when you think about it. Id-candy is enjoyable exactly because it doesn’t make your brain engage, it doesn’t deal in subtleties, it doesn’t make you do any work. To get enjoyment out of genuinely artful prose, you generally have to think, to ponder even, to put in some work.

Saying that you enjoy your id-candy immensely and saying that your id-candy is great writing are very different statements. Among other things, the first is true and the second generally isn’t. (Unless you’re using a completely Utilitarian definition of “good”, and when people try to compare Rowling and Tolkien it is unfortunately clear that they are not employing such a definition at all.)

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with enjoying the hell out of trite, cliched slop, of course.

Let us consider Misty, for example. She’s the Queen of Exposition, has a tendency to extremely moralistic and preachy narrative, and drives home her morals with a ten pound sledge. She is guilty of the most egregious cultural flattening and caricaturization and the only thing that comforts me even minutely is that she does it to everyone, whitebread, ‘noble savage’ and orientalist alike. (I maintain that Ancient Egypt should take out a restraining order on the woman.) Her characters are flat, their angst is repetitive, and half the time the stories read like SCA handbooks instead of novels.

Nevertheless–three quarters, right there on my shelf, and I reread handfuls of them at fairly regular intervals. This is because they are excellent brain-fluff emoporn.

Also because they are not toxic. Her moralism can get wearing awfully fast, but at least they are morals I can agree with. Mostly.

That’s the second thing. You have to be careful of the id-candy that uses a moral framework that’s harmful to you.

The Twilight books are a prime example of this. The writing is no worse than most id-candy, but the value system those books are hung on is poison. It’s misogynist, racist, deterministic, conflates obsession and stalking with love, and runs the mobius strip of nihilism and femininity myths at full speed with special emphasis on death by/for childbirth. (I would not want to be this woman’s therapist, not without hazard pay). This id-candy has a razor blade in it.

Some people probably bemoan the loss of innocent fun now that we chop up Halloween candy before eating it to make sure there aren’t any evil surprises in it. I expect some people feel the same about their id-candy. But, you know, I’d much rather take the time to chop and evaluate than swallow a needle.

Date: 2009-04-25 06:35 pm (UTC)
ext_7543: (Default)
From: [identity profile] ranalore.insanejournal.com
Recommenting for the historical record, la!

Beautifully articulated, though I maintain Tolkien's a bad example to hold up in this kind of debate, since his status as any kind of good writer continues to be hotly debated. Technical competence is no less a component of "good" writing than compulsive readability, but nor is it any greater a component. I say this as an editor who has regularly rejected pieces that were proficiently written on a technical level, but which did not strike me as likely to engage the reader.

One reason I think this discussion crops up again and again is because you get a lot of people privileging technical competence, and a lot of other people privileging the Id factor, and thus they're not even speaking the same language when they use the term "good." This is unsurprising, since the term carries an inherent weight of subjectivity, and I'm not sure how useful it is to attempt to remove that weight. I think it's better to push for everyone to openly acknowledge it, and to articulate what measurement they're using.

Date: 2009-04-26 07:00 pm (UTC)
ext_7543: (Default)
From: [identity profile] ranalore.insanejournal.com
I bring him and Rowling up particularly because I've so often seen Rowling's worldbuilding compared to his

They're both good at synthesizing pre-existing tropes and mythologies into their own creation, but I agree Rowling's isn't quite as consistent. I mean, they both fall apart under too much scrutiny, but Rowling's explicitly posits the conceit that it exists alongside ours, and thus it should be subject to the same rules as ours except in those instances where it is specifically stated to contradict ours. This is basic suspension of disbelief. Tolkien's creation was never meant to be so...mimetic, is probably the right way to put it. Tolkien can get away with the rather simplistic formula of big-g Good and big-e Evil because he was attempting to create an actual mythology, archetypes rather than individuals (which is not to say that critics of this approach are wrong to critique his assumptions about what constitutes Good and Evil). Rowling's comments on her work indicate that she meant to write individuals and a working secret magical society, hiding at the edges of ours. Therefore, when she falls into the big-g Good and big-e Evil formulation, she's failing her own stated intentions.

Also, I honestly do not get attempts to compare two things that are trying to do two separate things. While there are similarities of plotline and characterization between Rowling's work and Tolkien's, they don't seem to have been aiming for the same goals at all. Which ties back into what you say here:

Which, of course, emphasizes the need to be particular when defining "good" so it can be properly disputed and solid examples brought in.

One thing that's come up in fannish discussions of concrit is authorial intent. Sometimes an author didn't intend a work to be anything other than id-candy, and I do believe that should be taken into account when discussing the work. However, I don't believe that excuses the work from discussions about whether or not it will work for a certain audience, or whether or not it has flaws. It's just that it's useful to recognize the context of the flaws; a particular piece of fiction may not challenge the reader to think about a particular topic, but it's possible it wasn't intended to do so, and the discussion of whether or not a piece should be intended to do a particular thing is not the same one as whether or not it does.

Date: 2009-04-26 06:18 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ferdelance.insanejournal.com
This is, after all, why I own three quarters of everything Mercedes Lackey has ever published.

Hahahaha, you beat me to exactly what I was going to confess! (Though really it's more like "one-third of everything" at this point; I pruned them something fierce last time I moved.)

This id-candy has a razor blade in it.

Yeah. This is what I seriously don't "get" about Twilight fans; it makes me uneasy around them because, if they're not seeing/feeling that razor blade... it means their insides are made of the same stuff. And the idea that I know/meet that many people with seriously skewed values is... disturbing.

Date: 2009-04-26 10:39 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Hope you don't mind my jumping in here!

if they're not seeing/feeling that razor blade... it means their insides are made of the same stuff.

I would say here - not necessarily. They could just be genuinely oblivious and naive. I know that the first time I read McCaffrey's Dragonrider series I thought they were wonderful - the next time I read them, some twenty years later, I was horrified by the crappy pseudo-feminism and outrageous classism (among other problems) and couldn't believe I had ever loved them so much. I wouldn't say I shared her views the first time around - I was just blinded by Teh Pretteh Dragonz and their exciting adventures.

--amedia (amedia.livejournal.com)

Date: 2009-04-26 10:43 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Here via [insanejournal.com profile] verilyverity (verilyverity, in case the coding doesn't work)'s LJ. I really like the idea you've shared and especially the extension of the metaphor (the razor in the candy).

--amedia (amedia@livejournal.com)

Date: 2009-05-08 11:48 pm (UTC)
gnatkip: "Gnat" (Default)
From: [personal profile] gnatkip
I... have no idea how I got here! From IJ, I guess? I've had this bookmarked for days so I could remember to tell you that I like it a lot, and especially your paragraph about Twilight. That's the most precise description of that series I think I've ever seen.

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