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From: Mike Sakasegawa 
Subject: Re: Re: (urth) Generic Considerations
Date: Thu, 24 Apr 2003 18:14:34 -0700

> A fussy point: Actually, I didn't say anything about the "writer's"
> discursive energy. If you recall, I put some emphasis on the expectations
> a reader brings to a text based on genre. The energy of the discourse
> is provided, not by the writer, nor by the text, but by the reader.
> As I said: The story doesn't exist unless someone reads it. A writer's
> skill is to produce a text with which a skilled reader can interact to
> produce an interesting-to-the-reader discourse. This means that the
> text provides direction to the reader's energy.

Ah, I misunderstood.  In this case, then, isn't it kind of difficult to
define a body of literature by the experience of the reader?  After all,
each reader will have a different experience of each work, many differing
quite wildly from each other.  Still, I suppose it could be argued that 
there will be enough similarities between the experiences of many readers
that such a definition will be possible.

> At any rate, you're describing a labeling of genres by manifest
> content. This is possible but problematic. But then, every attempt
> to define genre, that I know of, turns out to be problematic;

I agree.  

> which is why I suggested, early in this conversation, that a
> genre (and particularly SF) is best described as a fuzzily-bounded
> group of texts produced by a fuzzily-bounded set of writers, working
> in awareness of each other so as to produce a metatextual tradition
> and dialog.

This is a quibble, but need they be aware of each other?  Mostly likely,
most, if not all, modern SF writers are aware of each other and the
various historical figures in the genre, but what about those writers 
who began the tradition?

As I said, just a quibble.

> This implies a misunderstanding of what I mean by subject-orientation
> and object-orientation.
> Irving uses objective events to trigger and validate Garp's
> subjective reactions and realizations that are the principal focus
> of his story, what he analyzes.
> Card uses Ender's subjective reactions and realizations to valorize
> and intensify the objective events that are the focus of his story,
> what he analyzes.
> (Ender's emotions serve, in part, to present Card's analysis of the
> objective events. Irving doesn't use Garp's emotions this way.)

I think we have come away from "Ender's Game" with different interpretations.
I understood the story to be primarily concerned with, not the war and the
Battle School themselves, but the ways in which they affected the people
involved, Ender in particular.  In fact, in a writing article of his, Card
pretty much says the same thing.  The war with the Buggers is important to
Ender, but not as much to us.  Rather, it is the moral, motivational and
emotional consequences that these events have for the characters that is
most important.  

Of course, as you pointed out, the energy for the discourse is provided by
the reader.  Each reader will approach the text with a different set of 
assumptions.  Thus, your reading of "Ender's Game" is every bit as valid
as mine or Card's.

> Perhaps I've given the impression that I'm considering this as a
> binaristic opposition. I don't mean it that way. The discourse of
> most (all?) fiction plays back and forth between the object and the
> subject. Sometimes the subject is emphasized to the point where the
> object becomes insignificant, as in Kafka; sometimes the object is
> emphasized similarly, as in Clarke.

Good point.  The problem with hard, and especially with binary,
definitions is that there are no rules for literature.  A better 
approach might be using a statistical analogy.  For any set there 
will be items that deviate from the mean, but there are still
identifiable trends.

> In MF, and especially of the "literary" variety, the focus and
> analysis tend to privilege the subject; in SF, and especially hard
> SF, they tend to privilege the object. The rhetoric of each has
> developed accordingly.
> One could draw a sort of spectrum. Taking some of the writers
> who've been mentioned in this discussion as data points:
> Clarke
> Asimov
> Card
> Clancy
> Wolfe
> Crichton
> Irving
> Proust
> (Nabokov?)
> Vonnegut
> Kafka

I like your idea of a spectrum, but your placement of the authors
points out a big difference in the way the two of us perceive 
them.  This may be due to a lack of understanding on my part.  It
seems to me that, in general, what you've described as object-
oriented stories tend to be those that concentrate on either the
plot or idea (that is, ideas that don't relate to things like 
emotion, morals, etc), while subject-oriented stories tend to 
focus on the experience of one of more characters.  

Crichton, then, seems to have a lot more in common with Clarke than
with Irving.  Whether it's "Jurassic Park" or "Congo" or "Eaters of
the Dead," the focus is on the events of the story.  The characters,
while believable, are really important only insofar as they
advance the plot.  "Jurassic Park" isn't really about how Grant feels,
it's about the idea of a dinosaur theme park.  We don't spend very
much time in his head, and he doesn't tend to think much about things
other than what's going on.  Contrast this with "Ender's Game," in
which the title character spends an incredible amount of time on

I just don't feel that object-oriented vs. subject-oriented is enough
to distinguish SF.  Even leaving out what you call MF, what about 
fantasy?  We would never confuse Tolkien with Benford, and yet both
are much more concerned with the worlds and concepts they portray
than with individual characters.

I agree that defining genres by content can be problematic, but I 
think it is easier to do so.  In fact, I'd argue that most readers
probably do so as well.  A person who is looking for a story with
lasers and black holes reaches for an SF novel.  Someone who wants
thrusting loins and heaving breasts goes for the romance novel.  
These differences have just as much to do with the reader's 
expectations and seem easier to sort out.

Of course, it might be even better to try incorporating both ideas
into a larger whole.  Especially since I find your ideas much more
erudite than my own.



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