About Writers

On Leaving the Safety of the Self

selfie

We live in a self-regarding – some might say narcissistic – age. The combination of digital cameras, selfie sticks and social media allows us to display as much of ourselves as we want to as many people as care to look at it. So it comes as no surprise that writing too is affected by this trend. As author Rebecca Watson puts it in this article, “Internet ubiquity has bred creativity. It has encouraged us to perform: to use our life material for effect. It’s not a coincidence that the rise of blog posts and Reddit threads has aligned with the rise of autofiction – where the author self-consciously feeds details from their life into the construct of a novel.” The technique was carried to an extreme by Karl Ove Knausgård, who to great acclaim turned the minutiae of his own life into My Struggle, six volumes totalling more than 3500 pages. A similar approach was taken by Ben Lerner, of whom Watson says that he chose to write autofiction “not out of passion for the genre, but out of an aversion to the ‘great American novel’, where the highest goal is to achieve a state of universality through a supposedly omniscient voice that believes it encompasses all experience. Lerner’s form is born of kindness. It admits that he, as a white man, can only write what he knows, that he cannot presume to know what he has not lived.”

Fair enough. But how can we not agree with Philip Roth: “Fiction is a way of asking… what if I was different than I am?” It’s a way of exploring other possibilities, other people; infusing them, I dare say, with traits and foibles and fantasies of our own, but freeing ourselves from the confines of the narrow world we inhabit. As Zadie Smith – who incidentally is a great admirer of Knausgård – puts it “what insults my soul, is the idea… that we can and should write only about people who are fundamentally ‘like’ us: racially, sexually, genetically, nationally, politically, personally.” At the risk of laying myself open to the charge of cultural appropriation, I can, if I want, write about a sweatshop labourer in Bangladesh or a Chinese multi-millionaire. Or as Jeanine Cummins did, arousing much controversy in the process, about a family of Mexican migrants.

So what stops me? Actually, as I grow older – and bolder – less and less. In fact the Chinese millionaire is a central character in Mystery Manor – I had great fun writing about his childhood in Guizhou province, where I’ve never been (though I spent many hours researching it).

We’ve touched on this topic before, notably in the comments to a recent piece by George Salis, Falling in the Name of Research. What interests me here is how far your own boldness goes. Assuming what you write is intended to be plausible (i.e. not fantasy, magic realism, paranormal etc), how willing are you to risk the leap into another person’s culture and experience? How far have you gone already, and do you too find yourself getting bolder? Is it simply a matter of self-confidence? My own conviction is that if you do enough research, you can go anywhere. But I’d have to think a lot before deciding that the character I need is worth that amount of research – and perhaps, after all, there are cases where no amount of research can be enough.

 

 

 

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32 thoughts on “On Leaving the Safety of the Self

  1. Excellent insight, Curtis. My next novel, still in an attic corner and which I occasionally kick to see how much dust rises, is so personal that I don’t know what approach to take. Set during my days as a Vietnam medic, it contains too much about me in scenes most people, thankfully, can only relate to in the movies. Your blog suggests approaches worth exploring.

    Liked by 6 people

    • Thanks, GD, for that reminder that the self isn’t necessarily an easier option to explore. The question is how much we choose to fictionalise or not. I guess that’s something that will be different for each of us. But one of the things I like about writing is that it lets me sneak bits of myself into other characters.

      Liked by 3 people

  2. These are great topics for a blog post, Curtis. To truly do justice to the provocative questions you’ve raised I would need to write a ten-page essay sprinkled with dozens of thousand-word footnotes. I truly wish Toni Morrison or David Foster Wallace were responding to you, and not I. Sadly. . . .

    I am going to respond to each of your points succinctly and with wince-inducing directness. This will no doubt piss some people off—so be it. (To overthink these responses is, I believe, to invite posturing and virtue-signaling in oneself.) These comments may start a heated discussion. I welcome it, so long as any such argumentation avoids logical fallacy and ad hominen attack.

    Re: “A similar approach was taken by Ben Lerner, of whom Watson says that he chose to write autofiction “not out of passion for the genre, but out of an aversion to the ‘great American novel’, where the highest goal is to achieve a state of universality through a supposedly omniscient voice that believes it encompasses all experience. Lerner’s form is born of kindness. It admits that he, as a white man, can only write what he knows, that he cannot presume to know what he has not lived.

    Fair enough. But how can we not agree with Philip Roth: “Fiction is a way of asking… what if I was different than I am?” It’s a way of exploring other possibilities, other people; infusing them, I dare say, with traits and foibles and fantasies of our own, but freeing ourselves from the confines of the narrow world we inhabit. As Zadie Smith – who incidentally is a great admirer of Knausgård – puts it “what insults my soul, is the idea… that we can and should write only about people who are fundamentally ‘like’ us: racially, sexually, genetically, nationally, politically, personally.” At the risk of laying myself open to the charge of cultural appropriation, I can, if I want, write about a sweatshop labourer in Bangladesh or a Chinese multi-millionaire. Or as Jeanine Cummins did, arousing much controversy in the process, about a family of Mexican migrants.”

    So much to unpack here. My bullet points in response (remember, these are not comprehensive essayist [sic] responses but “shots fired” bits of wince-inducing truth and directness):

    —The idea of someone writing “The Great American Novel” that encompasses all—or nearly all contemporary backgrounds, experiences and perspectives—is a notion quaint and dead as Thomas Wolfe, for exactly the reason noted: the omniscient voice adopted to tell such a tale is prima facie evidence of the author’s ludicrous and contrived over-reach. Moreover, no one person—howsoever talented—could pull it off. Even ten-thousand pages would not suffice. Fiction must be focused, but not all art speaks to all people–so at the very outset of such a project one would be forced to admit defeat.

    —Roth has it right: “Fiction is a way of asking . . .” Countless (let us not flinch) white hetero-normative writers have written convincingly of characters who were “other” than themselves: other races, genders, religions and sexual orientations. “They” (I could list names—pro and con—but to what point?) have also face-planted time-after-time in embarrassing fashion when stepping outside their immediate life-lived experience(s). For that matter—shoe-on-the-other foot—the same could be said of “colored” people writing of whites, members of the LGBTQ community writing of “straights”, females writing of males, Hindus writing of Catholics, etc. These seem truths so readily self-evident and banal as to border on “Captain Obvious” provenance and strike me as of vanishingly small philosophical, aesthetic and moral worth re: debating the relative merits thereof.

    This question of “cultural appropriation” (an absolutely asinine, cement-headed-stupid and enraging term) is a red-herring: We are all the beneficiaries of “cultural appropriation”, here in the Western world. (Is anyone still sacrificing babies to Baal? Writing in cuneiform? Reading Norse or Pictish runes? Doing mathematics in numbers other than Arabic and without a zero? Calling the days of the week and the months of the year something other than their “culturally appropriated” Roman- and Norse-inspired names? Don’t we all acknowledge our debt to and then build upon Babylonian astronomy; Greek psychology, drama and science; Roman law, construction and sanitation practices? For that matter: 12-person jury system: thank the Norse. The English language: thank the Germans. Also—the French: who contributed 7000 words to that language during their Norman occupation of England. FYI: every pilot in the world, regardless of their ethnicity or geographic location, communicates with the control tower in . . . English. Gasp! Reel to the fainting couch, pearls tightly clutched. . . .)

    I submit to you that it is not “cultural appropriation” that is the enemy but systemic racism, prejudice and bigotry. The two are not the same thing, as a moment’s self-reflection and coherent thought will readily reveal.

    Returning to this question of who has the “right” or cultural mandate to tell someone else’s story— bluntly speaking, it is anyone, anywhere, anytime. Period, full-stop. However—any writer who chooses to do so must expend great effort in getting their details correct, else risk justified derision and condemnation from the marketplace. Having the right to adopt another’s face in fiction does not equate to a blank check to proffer drivel as artistic output. Would we take seriously any contemporary writer of fiction who suggested darker skin tone equated to a propensity for violence or low I.Q.? A male writer who proffered—unironically and/or unexamined– casually misogynistic and/or homophobic tropes and stereotypes when presenting modern characters on the page? Would we accord respect and deference to a fundamentalist religious bigot (of any sectarian stripe) who advocated for the suppression of other faiths and a nakedly triumphal “my-god-is-bigger-than-your-god” attitude?

    Re: Jeanine Cummins: She failed the test of authorial responsibility:

    https://www.npr.org/2020/01/24/798894249/latinx-critics-speak-out-against-american-dirt-jeanine-cummins-responds

    Ms. Cummins got basic details of geography, language, and immigrant experience wrong. (And/or closely plagiarized.) This is why her novel is seriously flawed at present. (This could—and should—be fixed in revision, and acknowledged by her in a new forward.) The larger issues surrounding this controversy, however—such as why she was paid seven figures (!!) for her novel when divers Mexican authors writing from authentic experience either went unpublished, under-marketed or poorly paid is fodder for a relevant and timely discussion the particulars of which are unfair to saddle entirely on Ms. Cummins back.

    Re: “We’ve touched on this topic before, notably in the comments to a recent piece by George Salis, Falling in the Name of Research. What interests me here is how far your own boldness goes. Assuming what you write is intended to be plausible (i.e. not fantasy, magic realism, paranormal etc), how willing are you to risk the leap into another person’s culture and experience? How far have you gone already, and do you too find yourself getting bolder? Is it simply a matter of self-confidence? My own conviction is that if you do enough research, you can go anywhere. But I’d have to think a lot before deciding that the character I need is worth that amount of research – and perhaps, after all, there are cases where no amount of research can be enough.”

    I am currently—amongst myriad other projects—working on re-imagining Huckleberry Finn as the southern gothic novel Huckleberry Fang. Central to the plot is the re-configuring of the runaway slave Jim as someone other than a cliched minstrel-show character. I have taken careful note of criticisms proffered by black beta-readers, and have incorporated many of their criticisms directly into the text. (My favorite comment so far: “The writing is edgy and triggering: You’re gonna take more heat from white people than black people if you get this published.”)

    Liked by 5 people

    • Thanks, Carl, for those thoughtful comments. I think we’re in full agreement. The reason I’m interested, and worried, is that the ‘cultural appropriation’ argument is of the sort that instills itself insidiously in the public consciousness, at which point there’s massive rejection of anything branded as guilty of it. Amongst other things, Hucklebrry Fang – which I remember from Book Country – raises awareness of the issue, which can only be good.
      As with so much, the trend is more advanced in the US than in Europe, but I see it appearing more often here, which is what set me wondering.

      Liked by 4 people

      • Indeed, Curtis! We’re in full agreement. Here’s what I want to snap back at social justice warriors galloping in the wrong direction with the bit in their teeth, at the wrong times, with the wrong people, for the wrong reasons (see Aristotle on the four qualifiers of what constitutes moral behavior): “So-called ‘cultural appropriation’ isn’t the problem. The entire concept of an enlightened, universal culture presupposes a cafeteria approach to—well, anything and everything!—as no one parochial worldview, people or culture has ever had a monopoly on the best of all-that-is-or-ever-shall-be. Unfuck your semantics: it’s cultural desecration that is abhorrent to principled people of good conscience, not the laudatory practice of discriminatory (used here in the sense of choosing what is best) appropriation.”

        Liked by 5 people

        • victoracquista says:

          Wow. You stated this forcefully, eloquently, and passionately. Bravo!
          I would ask about political correctness, but would most certainly have to don body armor to read your response 😉

          Liked by 4 people

          • ROFL, Victor!

            The thing is, I’d like to see (one must be realistic) at least 51% of people (let’s hope for a slim majority) be profoundly kind, supportive and respectful of one another, celebrating their shared humanity and all-too-brief lives. You wouldn’t think this would be that difficult. Yet it appears we’ll never get there, as divers identitarian groups seem determined to keep atomizing into ever-more hostile Balkanized enclaves of crippling grievance, suspicion, fear, and demonizing “otherness”.

            Liked by 4 people

        • My favorite Lincoln quote:
          “Let us discard all this quibbling about this man and the other man; this race and that race and the other race being inferior, and therefore they must be placed in an inferior position; discarding our standard that we have left us. Let us discard all these things, and unite as one people throughout this land, until we shall once more stand up declaring that all men are created equal.”
          – Abraham Lincoln, Lincoln–Douglas debates (1858)

          By “all” are created equal, I’m sure Abe included everyone we don’t like.

          Liked by 5 people

  3. victoracquista says:

    Another excellent post. Thank you, Curtis!

    Write about what you know. Write about what you don’t know. What is knowledge? You can approach it from an epistemological perspective and dissect and parse out the nuances and details about what constitutes knowledge. Good luck with that as you enter into an academic and philosophic mine field. It’s good food for thought and discussion but inherently more opinion than fact. Do objective “facts” such as, “The sun rises in the East” represent knowledge? There are all sorts of premises that simple statement is predicated upon. What is East? Is this nothing more than some agreed upon convention? What do we actually see when we “see”? We get electromagnetic visual input that is received through limited senses and interpreted through some neural processes and this is agreed upon by virtue of some unspoken consensual arrangement.

    Loosely, I am willing to accept a form of knowing based on other people’s experience and analysis. I can learn a lot about China based upon what is written about China by others. There is a secondary quality about this type of knowledge. I “know” a lot about baseball, but it isn’t from my little league experiences.

    A more direct type of knowing is through personal experience. It’s completely subjective. If I go to China, I can learn from my direct experience and can then claim some type of knowledge. Is this truly knowing?

    I am also willing to attribute some aspect of knowledge that comes through some mystical input that some call intuition. Sometimes you just “know” something but can’t explain why. Collective consciousness? Who knows?

    So, write boldly about what you know (or at least think you know) and what you don’t really know but still want to write about. In the end, it’s a matter of perspective and beliefs. I don’t know that for sure; it’s opinion not fact.

    In my upcoming novel, I have scenes in different parts of the world and try to represent characters and settings correctly (based upon a lot of research). Did I get it “right” or did I get it “wrong”? I don’t know. There are some scenes that occur on a Navajo reservation. I’ve never been to the places I describe or interacted with the natives on such a reservation. I tried to get it “right”, but I’m not sure I can conclusively say what constitutes right and wrong.

    An author shared with me that much of his early success came as a result of writing something placed on a list of banned books. This provoked huge sales. If the Navajo’s object that I misrepresented something, it’s not intentional and may provoke some sales.

    Without sounding overly nihilistic, I say write in your comfort zone, outside your comfort zone, and everywhere in between and beyond. If people like it they will read it and tell their friends and family about it. I’m not going to convince a flat-earther that the world is round. My strong preference is to accurately represent the people and cultures and places accurately; however, the only unique experience I have is my own and that is subject to interpretation, reinterpretation, and a host of contextual influences that might cause me to get it wrong…whatever that is.

    Liked by 5 people

    • Thanks for putting the question into perspective, Victor. I think you’re perfectly right – a matter of perspective and beliefs, on both the reader’s and the writer’s part. Often, there may be a clash, and the veracity of our account called into question. So I’m still very careful, but pushing a bit further as I go. As you say, a matter of zigzagging in and out of the comfort zone.

      Liked by 3 people

  4. Perry Palin says:

    I am an old white American guy of Finnish extraction. My unpublished novel has a mix of characters including some from Ojibwa tribes. Parts of the story take place on an Ojibwa reservation. Ojibwa culture influences the actions of the Native characters. My developmental editor asked me if I was Native American. I took it as a compliment.

    I had Ojibwa friends in school and Ojibwa teammates in high school sports, and I’ve had a handful of acquaintances through work who lived or live on reservations.

    Liked by 7 people

  5. Thank you for the thought-provoking discussion. I hadn’t heard of autofiction before. I don’t think I’m up for reading or writing “epic sprees of navel-gazing.” If a writer’s personal experience is not in some way transformed through the writing into fiction, is the resulting book a novel?

    As the years have gone by, I’ve moved further and further away from writing autobiographical fiction, primarily because I got bored with it. How many divorce stories does one person need to write?

    Lately, as I’ve gotten older, I have become bolder in the characters I inhabit. But at the same time, I know my limitations.

    Liked by 6 people

    • Excellent question, Liz: “If a writer’s personal experience is not in some way transformed through the writing into fiction, is the resulting book a novel?” Nope. Autofiction refers to “books that invite readers to imagine they might be reading something like a diary, where the transit from real life to the page has been more or less direct. But that effect, whatever the truth of it, is an illusion.”

      Your deeper question, about autobiographical fiction, touches an interesting debate. Some authors believe that all fiction is at least partly autobiographical. I can see why, but I disagree: Is “Watership Down” autobiographical? Or, Tolkein’s “The Hobbit?” Or, the Harvard Lampoon’s satire, “Bored Of The Rings?” Writers write what writers write. It would take a torturous meandering to conclude that my “Bob Vs The Aliens” stories are autobiographical.

      Liked by 4 people

  6. mimispeike says:

    ‘A leap into another person’s culture and experience’ is taxing, I’m only adding touches of sixteenth-century reality to a piece of humor.

    I am now into Queen Elizabeth’s court. I discovered last night a book published in 1846, scanned and placed online by Ohio State University, a free read, and a marvelous one, packed with minute details on every aspect of well-to-do life. The etiquette of the dining table in a noble household is mind-boggling. I sample each topic and jump ahead, I’ll return to what I’ve passed on when I’ve read up on Transportation and on Amusements of the Court. That’s what I need right now.

    Most of these to-die-for zany details, I could not have made up anything nearly as wonderful. My story is character-based, I only need a few knock-em-dead descriptions to add real credibility to my tale. The task before me: to–carefully–consume 300-plus pages, don’t get me wrong, of fascinating stuff, I’m hugging myself with excitement, but I can’t truly enjoy it all until I’ve found the bits I’m after, that, for instance, will bring my carriage ride to jolting life, a segment that I currently judge painfully inadequate.

    I’m well-read in the era, but I’m finding gobs of stuff I’ve not seen anywhere else. And, the thing is, aside from court entertainments, I don’t know what I need to focus on for my ‘Weird Romance’ entry. I’m editing and filling in a few gaps. I have areas that definitely need beefing up with physical description, and the loonier, the better. I see that I have to have a go at bear-baiting. Elizabeth loved it so much she ordered theaters to be closed two afternoons a week to promote it. This definitely merits two or three paragraphs, if not more.

    Anyone who takes it upon him/herself to research and write on a totally alien culture, I salute you. And I wonder, are you a masochist? I’m in a tizzy over a small slice of Elizabethan life and, may I remind you, I’m writing about a talking cat, I can–and do– cut corners.

    Liked by 5 people

  7. DocTom says:

    Gee, why don’t you guys come up with some easy questions once in a while?

    I thought about this for a while and came up with two suggestions:
    a) you do as much research as befits your target audience’s needs and wants; and
    b) much of this discussion is so simply a reflection of our current (and hopefully fleeting) cultural environment.

    So (a): If I am trying to write a novel about life in Russia during WWII, and I hope to sell copies of the book there, I’d better be damned careful and do a lot of research. I’d probably re-read Svetlana Alexievich’s oral histories of children and women of the time, and also bury myself in Russian cultural works. On the other hand, if I’m writing a YA novel about an Egyptian during the reign of Amenhotep I, I’ll of course need to do some research, but it probably won’t need to withstand the same level of scrutiny as the WWII story (I can’t think of many Egyptologists who read YA fiction). I might also add that if you are writing a hard science, science fiction story you’d better get your facts straight. The days of having an “oiler” as a crew member on a spaceship are long gone! (I came across that in a collection of Sci-fi short stories from 1950.)

    As for (b), we live in an era of hypersensitivity where the Internet has allowed what were once called rabble-rousers to be rechristened as “influencers.” Cancel culture, cultural appropriation, and my favorite: safe-spaces and trigger warnings on college campuses and in courses all strike me as a cultural equivalent to arthritis. A massive over-reaction to a problem which results in a greater problem. Don’t get me wrong, I understand the problem and in one case, faculty diversity, I’ve lived through, and gladly supported, the transition. When I started at Plattsburgh State most of the sciences were men’s clubs. The college worked hard and today many of the science departments are more than 50% female, and there exists a strongly enforced code preventing any type of harassment of students, faculty and staff. But at the same time you need to be very, very careful because it seems there’s always someone waiting to take something you say out of context and be offended. We’ve also had cases where students don’t realize the oddity of cultural boundaries today. It’s okay for a black student to sit in the student commons blasting a rap song which uses the N-word over and over for all to hear, but if a white kid uses it, it’s racism. In a mainly white, rural area a lot of kids hear this stuff on whatever devices they use and just assume it’s okay. We had a fairly significant incident like that. The white kid got dismissed from the college, and never realized what they had done was wrong until it was too late. A few days later a young staff member (trying, I assume, to be an influencer) was interviewed on the local public radio station claiming faculty had confederate flags in their offices. Of course, the reporter was just as much at fault because he never asked her to name even one (btw, there aren’t any).

    Well, I could go on and on, but in our current cultural environment I’m glad I write science fiction and fantasy. As far as I know, there are no Martians for me to offend.

    P.S. Thanks for mentioning “Bored of the Rings” GD. I read it in college and never laughed so hard in my life. I still have my dog-eared copy around here somewhere.

    Liked by 4 people

    • A nice analysis there, Tom – thanks. I see the attraction of writing what doesn’t need to be held up to scrutiny – in fact I have a fantasy series in the planning stage. Not that it makes the actual writing any easier, but it’s one thing not to have to worry about. But I also get drawn to topics or contexts that require at least some plausibility. At times that can be a bit of a juggling act.
      As for your second point, I hope, like you, it will be fleeting. But once they take hold, ideas are pretty good at spreading.

      Liked by 3 people

      • DocTom says:

        Curtis, it’s not that it doesn’t need to be held up to scrutiny, but it can give you a cover that allows you to explore topics without the kind of criticism we’re talking about. Gene Roddenberry once commented on the value of writing science fiction with a simple statement (I haven’t got the exact quote, but I remember it pretty well): If you write a script about racism in the south (this was in the 1960’s) no network will air it, but if you write a script about green people being oppressed by somebody on another planet they don’t have a problem with it. So there’s been a lot of commentary in science fiction that avoided the influencers of the time.

        Liked by 5 people

        • Thanks for that clarification, Tom. Yes, I meant the realism issue is a specific prism through which to view a certain type of literature. The attraction of fantasy is that I don’t have to bother with that constraint, but I can still make a clear analogy with politics here on earth. I didn’t know the Rodenberry quote but it sums it up perfectly.

          Liked by 4 people

        • There is a classic 1950s Mike Wallace interview with Rod Serling that addresses many of the points Tom is making here about the ability of fantasy and science-fiction to address themes that might otherwise be avoided by narrow-minded people “on guard” against a broadening of their perspective. (This interview took place before The Twilight Zone began running on network television; note how Serling reacts when Wallace suggests that a show like the Twilight Zone can’t possibly be considered on par with Serling’s earlier, “important” work.)

          Liked by 5 people

    • These are fraught issues, to be sure. And I readily concede the point that contemporary US culture is still heavily awash in sexist, racist and homophobic tropes, prejudices and practices.

      The question is: How do we react to this? How do we ensure a fairer, better world with economic and social justice for all?

      As a 56-year-old working-class white man whose net worth is currently .48 cents; whose winter coat is patched with duct tape (ditto the rusted-out 20-year-old car); who survives for days on a loaf of bread, a package of pre-washed baby carrots and slices of sharp cheddar cheese; I have little to no sympathy for someone who begins ranting about my “white privilege”. Yes, I have it–but am apparently “doing it wrong”. I sacrifice every payday simply to ensure continued access to a cell phone and the internet. (As do legions of others: a majority of my fellow citizens would experience an unexpected $400 expense as a precipitating crisis that could result in homelessness.)

      We would do very well in America to shift the emphasis from racial animus to socio-economic solidarity with one’s dollar-downtrodden brothers and sisters.

      It’s a matter of tactics: Good luck berating, insulting and/or mocking someone to greater cultural sensitivity and decency. After all, most people instinctively recoil when someone sticks a finger in their face and shouts, “We need to have a conversation!” The un-woke understand that what the accosting accuser really means is: “STFU and stand there in shamed silence while I enumerate all the ways you are a clueless, loathsome POS.”

      Better to insist on fairness and decency for everyone, everywhere, at all times–no exceptions. Take each situation as a one-off. Did a cop shoot someone in the back eight times while the perp was running away? Murderous brutality, plain-&-simple. Was an openly gay man or woman harassed at work, on the street, or in their home because of sexual orientation? Address the issue from a perspective of fairness and decency. Was a woman a target of unwanted sexual advances and comments in the workplace, and/or denied a promotion because of her gender? Discipline the offender who harassed/side-lined her.

      I am not suggesting that government has no role to play in addressing long-standing and systemic issues of racist, sexist and homophobic oppression. It does. Nor am I one who complains that contemporary culture is “too PC” (What is it you want to say, I oftentimes wonder of the self-censoring–for the moment–bigot. Just come right out and say it!–but be prepared for my shocked, angry reaction if what you say is ignorant and offensive.)

      What is the end goal of all our sociological-focused endeavors, ethics-wise? Surely it’s to foster an environment of inclusion, tolerance and respect for everyone regardless of race, sex, gender, religion (or lack thereof), etc. The way to get there is to acknowledge everyone’s right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” in an absolutely identitarian-blind fashion: fairness and decency applied with strict impartiality across the board, no exceptions premised on bigoted notions that “those people” are not entitled to the same protections and opportunities as the rest of us.

      I am neither in denial nor naive. I have already conceded that there is still systemic racist, homophobic and misogynist practices and attitudes readily identifiable and active in contemporary American culture. I am suggesting that the best way to confront these issues head-on is not by airy theorizing and blanket condemnation of majoritarian prejudices and proclivities to self-insulate and ignore the pain of others, but to take each issue of “wrongness” that arises as an opportunity to apply civil and criminal law (and inclusive, supportive social interaction) in a strict identitarian-blind fashion across the board, irrespective of tribal differences.

      How does this affect the writer? He or she, I believe, has the duty to make sure they get their details correct when writing of other people and cultures. And to communicate to the reader that though certain characters they are describing may hold offensive views and/or engage in reprehensible behavior in their narratives, they do not share these lamentable low ethics and/or criminal tendencies with the socially maladjusted.

      And if anyone hurls the charge of “cultural appropriation” your way–ask the accuser what clothes they’re wearing, what language they’re speaking, what mathematics they’re using–and then continue with the work of creating an inclusive literature that speaks to what burns best and brightest in all of us.

      Written this day of 03-07-2020 by an old, white, working-class, bisexual, atheist, democratic socialist male.

      (The horror; the horror!)

      Liked by 6 people

  8. mimispeike says:

    I do not worry about cultural appropriation, or fostering empathy, or any of that. Writing a story set in a completely alien culture, my heartfelt opinion is that you have too many balls in the air. You’re gonna get beaned by one or more of them sooner or later.

    Liked by 5 people

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