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bear by san

March 2017



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bear by san

well i don't know if i'm wrong because she's only just gone

I figured out how to describe what I'm trying to do with my art this morning. In an email to another writer, I typed:

I don't write consolatory literature. I write absolutionary literature.

And then I paused and stared at what I had just written. And it clicked in my head as solidly as something somebody mentioned at Boskone, I think it was, that other people write comedies of manners, and New Englanders write comedies of ethics.

Because I do write comedies of ethics.

And the thing about absolution is you have to earn it.

And now that this moment of self-absorbtion has passed, back to reading this horribly written book, which I shall tell you all about a little later.


Well, of course. There is no possibility of absolution without self-confrontation, even if your people don't know that's what they're doing at the time. Having just finished Undertow, I doubt that either Andre or Gourami or Cricket were planning on ending up where they did when we first met them, and yet they do.

And they're comedies because (despite the body counts) the protagonists are able to pick themselves up at the end and go on to the next part of their lives.

No. Jean was the only one who knew what he was getting into.

But he didn't need to find absolution. He already knew what he'd done wrong, and the sort of thing it would take to make amends for it.

He's ending his journey, and the others are beginning theirs, even when the beginning is an ending, so to speak.

It's the making the choice that counts.

I *like* your definition of "comedy." Which is the taking of "it ends with a marriage" as a metaphor, really.
I should add that I liked very much the way you made that contrast between Jean and the others, and the fact that you didn't let us in on that until we were well into the story and already knew the cast.

The wedding bit is Not True in all cases (it works a lot in New Comedy AKA Hellenistic Comedy and its descendants); but if you go back as far as Aristophanes you can see the "change" pattern pretty well: Someone undergoes a Big Change, often as a result of something they set up themselves, with something else entirely in mind.

Of course, Greek drama involves hubris</>--it's a given in Tragedy, but I think it's pretty common in the surviving Old Comedy as well (although the surviving Old Comedy is mostly Aristophanes)--and Old Comedy (or Aristophanes) involves a lot of social commentary and political satire as well. However, where in tragedy you set yourself up for a Big Trouble (usually a Bad End) through your hubris and everyone is very uplifted as a result and knows how not to act thanks to your horrible example, while in Greek comedy (Old and New), your hubris sets you up for a pie in the face, an extremely embarrassing mistaken-identity episode, martial problems, finding out your son wants to run off with a floozy who turns out to be the Girl Next Door, and you learn not to be such an ass as you have been.
Of course, then there's the "In Tragedy, your strengths screw you up, and in Comedy, your weaknesses screw you up" bit.

This has been a brief critique of Greek drama, by a partial, ignorant and prejudiced student of the classics. ;>
Well, you obviously know more about it than *I* do.
I'm dubious about that part--I may just be less bashful about emitting large amounts of an organic substance primarily useful as fertilizer in a highly confident manner.

I had a professor who was a big Athenian culture and society bug, especially WRT drama, and certain things are implanted in my brain, although they may not be implanted correctly*. It's highly likely I am confused about large parts of this, because that has been a large part of my academic career--being confused about what people were talking about, and what they meant when they said X.

So, you know, I think you're right about comedy as a transformation, but an actual scholar of drama (ancient, modern, early modern, or any other) is highly likely to come by, roll their eyes, and demonstrate why I am Really Confused* in my thinking about all this, generally and specifically.
But you require no further bloviation from me, and I shall get back to trying to sort out things at work.

*starting with upside-down-and-backwards, and going downhill from there.

ooo ooo ooo pick me

comedy ends with a transformation.

tragedy ends with a death.

Re: ooo ooo ooo pick me

It's a Shakespeare code ;-)

Though, truthfully, you could label it with any other playwright's name, could even call it the Alley Oop, if you wanted to saddle a caveman with such an identity and analyze cave paintings.
I don't write consolatory literature. I write absolutionary literature.

I think this relates to our early formative experiences as readers/viewers, interacting with our family, community, art. I geek over redemption as a theme, credit due to hardline parents, finding out I was adopted at an early age, and many years of Catholic school. Set me up to either love of hate stories like A Christmas Carol.

So, I either write stories where people end up damned by their actions, placing themselves in a position where they need redemption, or where people need to go through some sort of hell to reach that redemption.

I can see ethics as a New Englander theme. Harks back to the colonial days, I would guess. And you either buy into it or you don't. And you're allowed, as a writer, as a creative person, to present examples of both extremes and everything in between.
Yes. I think so.
You know, I can't wait to read your horribly written book, assuming you're still talking about Dust.

Of course, I'm currently in the middle of three books of yours -- I kept on interrupting each one as the new one came in, and then Whiskey and Water is taking me forever, just as Blood and Iron did. Though they are my favorites of yours, so far -- how does that work?
No, I'm talking about the Double Life Of Doctor Lopez, alas....

Um. The denser ones take longer to read? *g*
The Double Life of Doctor Lopez? Well, then, having never heard of it before now as far as I can remember, I'm not particularly looking forward to it. ;)

Summer is a hard time for concentrated reading? The HP7 blitz not-withstanding....
See next rock, once I get it read.

Currently, I am getting ALL my reading for the year done. It's a good time to stay in in the AC with a book.
something somebody mentioned at Boskone, I think it was, that other people write comedies of manners, and New Englanders write comedies of ethics.

Alexander Jablokov said this, from the audience (link) and although I think it's an excessively neat equation, it's also an awesomely neat equation.

I also see from my transcript that your bunny-ears perked up the way mine did the moment it was spoken.
You? Rock. That is all.
"Comedies of ethics" has to be one of the best phrases I've heard in a while. I've been trying to figure out what makes grown-up fantasy (and SF, for that matter), and I think that's it. I'm more intrigued by stories in which the protagonist encounters uncomfortable, awkward, unpleasing, damnable, self-defining choices, and the consequences that flow therefrom.

Consolatory fiction has its moment, but absolutionary fiction sticks with you.

veejane remembered who said it--it was Alexander Jablokov, at Boskone.
I wonder if some of Bujold's Vorkosiverse books don't qualify for this epithet.
That wasn't self-absorbed; you just articulated for the rest of us why we love your work.

If "Comedy of Ethics" were a recognized and sold genre, I'd probably end up buying most of the books labeled that way! ;)
Thank you.
I just finished Wiskey & Water and, just, wow. I'm not sure if your articulation of the idea in this post focused my attention more or just what. (I'm usually really bad at seeing Big Themes; I asked an English prof in college how one goes about seeing all the things we were talking about in class and she just goggled at me. I was a chem major, what was apparently intuitive to her was not there for me.)

Really lovely books, all of them, and can't wait for more. Thank you for signing W&W at Readercon, also! It was so cool to meet you there.
Thank you! And you are welcome, and I am very glad you liked the book!