Saturday, 15 December 2012

mokie: A stack of old letters, tied with twine (dear letter)
Dear World:

I have a terrible sense of humor that skews dark and moody at times--especially in dark and moody times like these. I crack jokes not because I'm a bad person, or an insincere person, or an unsympathetic person, or because I can't take serious things as seriously as they need to be taken. I crack jokes because I can't walk around all gothy with my naked lacerated soul exposed to the salty, lemon juice-covered whip o' fate. I'm not wired for that kind of emotional exposure.

One person's wailing and gnashing is no more or less moral than another person's stiff upper lip, but realize that neither is more or less moral, either, than still another person's daring to crack a joke at a funeral. People cope in different ways.

As if this weren't bad enough, I also tend to slip into thinky-thinky headspace instead of emotional space when emotions are running very high, because I need things to make sense, and in some ways I think my emotions better than I feel them. It's hard to explain, but again, no less legitimate than anyone else's reactions.

The relevance to you is that I may respond to long rants about the evils of evil things with something that starts, "Well, technically..." and goes downhill from there.

I'm not trying to pick a fight or piss you off. I'm usually good (I think) about realizing when a rant is a rant and not a dialogue or an opening to a discussion, and staying out of the way. But sometimes my radar on this slips up, and I try to debate when you're trying to stomp, and it gets all fucked up. It's not personal, and I welcome you to tell me you're in rant mode--I'll back off and we'll both be spared some hard feelings.

The one thing I will not do, World, is let you chastise me for how I feel during troubled times, criticize how I express those feelings, or dictate to me the proper way to 'be'. Try it and I'll show you some emotion, starting with rage and ending with my foot up your ass. (It's one of those German emotions we don't have a name for: schoedenrump, the mortification of finding your moral superiority suddenly lodged in your colon.)

In closing, World, I know we don't always operate the same way, but that's the beauty of this whole Earthling experience. Some of us put it into song, some of us put it into action, some of us put it into a pint of ice cream and a sad movie marathon, but at the end of the day, we're sharing it, and that's the important part. Except the ice cream. Get your own.

Yours truly,
the always socially inept mokie
mokie: Ghostbusters' Vinz Clortho wears a collander and answers questions (nerdy)
First I flood you with dream entries, then my social ineptness, and now nitpickity book talk. I bet this isn't the exciting chronicle of chronic excitement you thought it would be.

For those who believe there's nothing as boring as hearing someone else's dreams, let me reassure you that I don't usually remember and record them this often, and this recent burst of dream entries probably won't last. For those uninterested in my social ineptness, you and my mother both. For those who don't care what I'm reading, take solace in the fact that I at least cut the spoilers. Unless you're reading by RSS, which I hear ignores cuts, in which case...oops?

Now, onto the nitpickity book talk!

I've made no secret of the fact that I'm twitchy about genres. There are genres for settings (westerns), genres for audience (young adult), genres about types of relationships (romance), genres that include unreal elements (fantasy), genres that include unreal elements that could be real maybe (science fiction), genres about types of relationships that include unreal elements (paranormal romance, though arguably chick lit would fit here too), genres within genres, genres overlapping genres, an entire wide swath of fiction dismissively dubbed 'genre'. It's chaos!

It irks me.

I look upon my shelves of science fiction/fantasy and sigh with relief at the convenient compromise that is 'speculative fiction'. I glance at the horror shelves and wince at the idea of a genre based not on the book, but on how the reader reacts to the book. I organize my nonfiction shelves by the Dewey Decimal System because it makes sense.

So I was happy to stumble on The King of Elfland's Second Cousin's entry "Ephemeral Horror and the Diffusion of Genre Markers" even if it wasn't about ephemeral horror, as I thought, but about horror as an ephemeral genre, which is something of an ephemeral horror. This will start making sense any minute now, I promise.

The following points made my inner M&M sorter very happy:

#1. "[W]e categorize stories based on the conventions they employ and the devices that show up within their texts. Spaceships, time travel, aliens? Let’s call it science fiction. Magic and knights? Let’s go with fantasy. [...] These devices, the objects and tropes of most genres, can easily be slapped on a cover to communicate the story’s category to booksellers and readers."

Sometimes, in my flailing about order and chaos and systems for big cohesive pictures, I lose sight of the tiny common sense trees--namely, that 'genre' is just a fancy French word for 'kind', and is not, never was, and never will be some high and mighty literary infrastructure. It's just a big mental box into which vaguely similar stories are tossed so that the stuff you like is near the other stuff you like, so you can find more stuff you like.

#2. "Horror lacks the constraints that more solidified genre conventions impose. We can write a horror story – like Shirley Jackson’s classic 'Flower Garden' – without a single element of the supernatural or the inexplicable. [...] This freedom means that – in order to be effective – horror must sneak past the reader’s natural defenses, must directly speak to the reader’s perceptions, values, and fears. This is the kind of deep-seated, emotional and perceptual communication that the literary fiction genre has traditionally claimed for itself. But where literary fiction uses such emotional and philosophical intimacy to explore comfortably distanced morality, horror uses a highly sensitized point-of-view to get as close to the nerve as possible, to map even the most painful experiences from the inside."

It's a fantastic parallel: like a good horror story, the horror genre is about wandering into the dark and unfamiliar room to check out that bump you just heard.

I've argued the merits of horror with haters before, and pointed out that like fancy pants literary fiction, good horror says something about the viewer and society (and not just "We watch movies with naked co-eds taking a hatchet to the face"). To play on our fears, horror has to be able to get into our heads and push the buttons it finds there.

#3. No quote here, because it's a bit too spread out, but the point is brilliant: there are (of course) horror tropes, except when we become too used to them, they stop being horror tropes.

When horror begins relying on tropes to define it, those tropes cease to be scary, and in a fundamental way, the works that feature them stop being horror. Once the tropes are no longer new and unsettling--once we know them by heart--we begin to redefine and re-imagine them. We turn vampires into moody romantic leads, disfigured undead serial killers into comedians, and the lonely werewolf from an alienated loner into a member of a highly organized underground society of walking AIDS metaphors.

It won't make me change how I organize my reviews, but it does have me rethinking the horror movies of my youth.

About dream/reading tags

y-* tags categorize dreams.

For types: beyond the obvious, there are dreamlets (very short dreams), stubs (fragment/outline of a partially-lost dream), gnatter (residual impression of a lost dream).

For characters: there are roles (characters fitting an archetype), symbols (characters as symbols), and sigils (recurring figures with a significance bigger than a single dream's role/symbolism).

x-* tags categorize books.

Material is categorized primarily by structure, style and setting. If searching for a particular genre, look for the defining features of that genre, e.g. x-form:nonfic:bio, x-style:horror, x-setting:dystopian.

Tags