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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » ownership of stories (Page 1)

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Author Topic: ownership of stories
Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Interesting article on writers writing about things they may not actually have experienced:

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/06/28/the-right-to-write/

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Reziac
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And I agree. We may gripe and carp about what you got wrong (in our opinions, anyway), but that does not negate your right to write it... whether you do so "respectfully" or not.

Or to put it more generally:

The reader's judgments should in no way restrict what the writer creates.

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Grumpy old guy
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I thought it was a thought provoking article and, I guess, it all hinges on the writer's intent. A writer may wish to explore some aspect of the human condition that they themselves are unfamiliar with. In such a case, if appropriate research is conducted, and done so respectfully, mindful of the sensibilities of the group the writer wishes to portray, then I think no subject is taboo.

On the other hand, if the writer has their own agenda and they are exploiting a certain group of people for vicarious enjoyment, malicious intent or purely financial gain, that is a whole different kettle of fish.

Phil.

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Denevius
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I'm not entirely sure that Stowe's "Uncle Tom's Cabin" is the best example to illustrate this point, but I do appreciate the overall sentiment.

If I won the literary lottery, I have wondered how Koreans would take a story featuring almost all Koreans written by a foreigner. But one thing I've heard increasingly often over the last several years I've lived here is, "Wow, you're very Korean."

Back in the States, a comment like this would probably be considered offensive to many. A black person, for example, being told by a group of white people that, "Wow, you're very white", is going to think they're being called an Uncle Tom (again, Stowe's book really isn't a good example of what the article is trying to illustrate). American history is complicated, and generally I don't think most people want to be told that they're acting like another race, whether it's a white person being told they're acting black, or a black person being told they're acting white, or what have you.

I, on the other hand, take Koreans saying I'm very Korean as a positive sign for a very specific reason. At the same time, I would never make any illusions and call my novel a "Korean novel". It's not. It's a novel that takes place in Korea and uses Korean culture to put a different spin on an old Western mythology. The vampire.

And if I'm fortunate enough to publish, I actually do only expect one of two reactions in Korea. Either they love it, or they hate it. There won't be much middle ground. Either they'll ask, "What right did he have to write this story?", coupled with, "This story sucks."; or they'll embrace it and call it one of their own.

The 'Right to Write' is born out of complicated histories, I think. If I were Japanese writing a story that takes place in Korea using Korean characters, the reaction would be more complicated, and probably more negative.

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Robert Nowall
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Asimov once complained about being taken to task for setting stories in the far reaches of the galaxy, none of which he ever visited when he wrote them.

If I just wrote what I know, or am in some way directly connected with, I'd be writing even less than I do. It's a matter of trying to make it interesting for the [hypothetical] reader. I could write about, say, my job, but, when it comes down to it, I'm not particularly interested in what I do for a living...so how could I make it interesting to anybody else?

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MattLeo
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I wrote a whole novel about Jews in the far distant future, and I'm not a Jew. Will some people be offended by that? Sure. Probably most of them non-Jews, but possibly some Jews will take offense too.

But I didn't let that stop me.

Still, giving *reasonable* offense was a big concern for me, so I did my homework and tried to make the characters as realistic as possible within the unrealistic framework of the story. Since I write satire, I deployed a lot of the stock Jewish stereotypes: the tightwad, the good Jewish boy, the arrogant smartypants, the Jewish mother. But I also take care to undercut those stereotypes. The tightwad is cheap in his daily dealings so when he needs to be he can be generous; the nosy Jewish mother is a Woman of Valor (Proverbs 31) who protects and nurtures her family.

Am I guilty of cultural appropriation? Probably. But I don't really try to say what it *means* to be a Jew. I concentrate instead on what it means to be *those particular* Jewish people.

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extrinsic
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Story ownership passes out of a writer's exclusive hands when shared: published. Readers assume shared ownership. They tune a story to their own channels. If a detail is inconsistent with a reader's knowledge, belief, opinion, desire, the reader balks, maybe complains, maybe criticizes, maybe loudly, maybe publicly. Such is the life of writing.

Readers own a narrative differently from writers and critics and from each another, too.

Roxana Robinson gets to the heart of the matter by noting she writes to make meaning of life circumstances that matter to her: the pain of war, for example. She has a human right to explore what war means to her. Readers have a right to own, accept, tolerate, or reject what they will or in total.

Warriors who feel Robinson cannot know what being a warrior means ursurp her subjective lookout, express that she's not entitled because the warrior bond is an exclusive club. Their identities as apart from non-warriors are threatened; their right. Her subjective lookout is hers, no matter the subject, nor matter anyone others' lookout, only readers who share ownership of her writing matter.

Within her free-will choices, limitations that define her audience and define her critical opposition; within each, her sales and readership potentials defined; within each, a strategy for success from building buzz.

Critics who pan or condemn narratives for their subject matter miss the mark, lend narratives promotion and publicity advertising marketing, smartly packaged marketing. Critics who justifiably attack writing caliber may have a soap box to stand on, may not if the writing's style intents are misunderstood, may if the intent is understood and the delivery missed the intended mark.

Ideally, though, the audience's ownership rights are met.

On the other hand, surprises' persuasions genuinely, irrevocably, unequivocably transform owned opinions, approach an audience's ownership rights differently than preaching to the clergy, choir, and congregation.

If Robinson's novel Sparta had considered that other less-traveled road, she'd have less critical opposition, maybe less negative publicity, less and more positive promotion proportionately, and maybe wider consumption. Perhaps she missed one or more persuasive narrative authentication detail from too close a focus on message and moral and not enough focus on reality imitation. Her right no less.

[ July 14, 2014, 12:45 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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MattLeo
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quote:
Originally posted by extrinsic:
Story ownership passes out of a writer's exclusive hands when shared: published. Readers assume shared ownership. They tune a story to their own channels. If a detail is inconsistent with a reader's knowledge, belief, opinion, desire, the reader balks, maybe complains, maybe criticizes, maybe loudly, maybe publicly. Such is the life of writing.

I'm really glad you said this, because it's a profound and important point that I strongly agree with. But I don't think this is what Robinson is talking about.

What she's talking about is the notion that stories about some group shouldn't be written by anyone who is not part of that group. This idea confers a kind of metaphorical "ownership" of story subjects, themes and motifs related to a group to writers from that group. I have a lot of practical doubts on this score, but let's go right to the most basic question of principle: whether it is morally reprehensible to "appropriate" ideas about or images of a group for your own use.

John Locke wrote about the morality of turning things into personal property, and he came up with something which the libertarian philosopher Robert Nozick calls the "Lockean Proviso". Roughly stated, you can claim a resource as your own so long as that act of claiming leaves everyone else other resources that are just as good as the one you claimed. Nobody is deprived by such an appropriation, so nobody is in any position to complain.

This applies to stories about minority groups. UNCLE TOM'S CABIN didn't stop the publication of much more accurate depictions of slave life by actual former slaves, starting the following year (1853) with TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE. So I don't agree with the argument of "cultural appropriation", because I haven't seen an actual appropriation here, much less a deprivation. I just see use. "Appropriation" is just a word chosen to make "use" seem dodgier than it actually is.

There actually is an argument worth considering, which was that UNCLE TOM'S CABIN created an impression of what slaves were like that dominated public perceptions for decades and formed peoples' expectation of what a "good negro" should be like. I take this problem seriously, but I don't lay blame for that at Harriet Beecher Stowe's feet.

As a fantasy writer, I don't think that realism is the exclusive yardstick for characters in a story, otherwise I wouldn't be writing about elves and dwarves and other fairy folk. A character has to be credible in the story world and do his part to make the story successful.

Stowe aimed to create a powerful propaganda piece, something that would be instantly accepted by contemporary readers, that would fire their imaginations and arouse in them the same indignation she felt over slavery. And through a shrewd understanding of her readers she succeeded beyond any reasonable measure. UNCLE TOM'S CABIN may well be the most practically influential novel of all time. But it wasn't psychologically realistic.

I don't know if Stowe actually thought slaves conformed to the stereotypes she used in the story. It's possible that she did. But in point of fact I don't think that psychological realism was on Stowe's agenda at all. Converting people to abolitionism was.

This gets to the kind of ownership you're talking about. With ownership comes responsibility. Nobody should believe anything they read in fiction uncritically, and if anyone believes Uncle Tom is a model of a "good negro" it's not Stowe's fault.

[ July 13, 2014, 07:13 PM: Message edited by: MattLeo ]

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extrinsic
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Cultural appropriation is the adoption and eventual if not sooner adaptation of an identity group's cultural property by another identity group or individual not of the original group; not property as in a possession, but property as in a basic nature, behavior, or folk group identity marker. These items and motifs are what their groups share esoterically that they make, say, do, believe, know. Thought, of course, applies, in so much as thoughts are shared, not when they're private.

Cultural malappropriation is the abuse of identity groups property, again, basic nature, behavior, and identity markers.

Identity groups who believe their cultural property has been malapropriated too easily confuse property ownership with basic nature, behavior, and identity marker as a property. No one owns cultural property, since by its intrinsic nature it is shared. Not to say a property cannot be malapropriated, but that a given appropriated property may or may not be abused. Either way, if the appropriation is relevant, stet: let it stand.

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Denevius
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quote:
Cultural appropriation is the adoption and eventual if not sooner adaptation of an identity group's cultural property by another identity group or individual not of the original group; not property as in a possession, but property as in a basic nature, behavior, or folk group identity marker.
The idea of cultural appropriation is strange to me since culture is intangible, and can be adopted to.

I have a friend who's into motorcycle culture. I'm not, but I could be if I decided one day to be. But I am into several other types of culture: writing, martial arts. Culture isn't exactly exclusive by nature. It can be learned, and adopted to, and it's also contagious. One of the things other countries complain about is how their youth have been indoctrinated into American culture by the spread of our movies, books, music, clothes, etc.

The question is how long do you have to engage in a culture before you're no longer considered an outsider by a majority of people you meet (as there's always those who consider culture to be exclusive, and you're never going to be accepted by them). And once you're considered part of that group, can you really appropriate their culture? Or are you just writing your experience.

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extrinsic
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Many cultures are matters of activities: work, politics, religion, lifestyle, recreation, education, and so on. Others are matters which exclude persons who lack shared basic natural characteristics, ethnicity, age, biological sex, for examples.

Others are between, like regional centricity, orientation toward situations, like a school or association, environment as region-independent though activity-related. A person intimate with air movement regimes, for example, is a natural sailor and finds easy rapport among other sailors regardless of era, location, or situation.

The public debate about writers appropriating culture generally revolves around the second; that is, cultures which a writer cannot be part of: male writing female, one ethnicity writing another, young writing old, though not as much old writing young, we were all young once, and to a lesser degree a belief writing a foreign belief, like Christian writing Muslim or Jewish or vice versa, or Western writing Eastern or vice versa.

A woman writing a male warrior cannot help assigning a degree of feminine perception onto the situation; however, not such that the true-to-life reality imitation is inauthentic, since males can experience the full range of feminine emotions and traits and vice versa. Where a subtlety might arise and be overlooked, though, is the masculine acculturation tendency to suppress or oppress emotions among a warrior peer cohort, respected for it and bonds made and strengthened for it, and never ever fully share what vulnerability happened in battle.

Any woman generally may exhibit a full range of masculine traits but never be able to fully realize the unique lives of men. Men's business women cannot understand and vice versa. Men's masculine rites are impenetrable, without deep insight into masculine behavior, and vice versa. Sociologists claim contemporary culture lacks manhood rites, for example. Rites of passage for women are clear cut, and women engage in them ritually and fully, generally.

Manhood rites seem on the surface to be absent, abstract, meaningless, silly to women, or violent or distressing, or are missed altogether. Same with male perceptions of womanhood rites. Yet older men initiate younger men into manhood rites all the time. Handshaking, for example, a masculine rite derived from checking if a stranger is armed. A firm handshake is a test of peace, not a test of strength. The rite requires right hand to right hand, dexter hands, not sinister hands which have wiped the backside, a firm grip, three vigorous up and down motions to shake a concealed weapon loose, and a separation several steps apart, wary no less. Manhood rites are infinite in their variety, as are womanhood's, and only deep insight makes sense of them to the other sex.

For example, women gather for a baby shower, an emotional bonding ritual. The rite is a pledge the group will share as a group in the child's upbringing. Gift giving of clothing, furnishings, diaper services, babystitting offers, and so on, are those pledge bonding rituals.

This is masculine: What happens in battle stays on the battlefield. Writing about war at all is a violation of the warrior code, except the glory, honor, and duty outcomes. No mentions of vulnerability are respected among a warrior cohort. Self-effacement is not a masculine trait.

Once a person is accepted into a culture group, like work or a social setting, that person is acculturated to that group and exhibits the group's experiencial identity sharing. Perhaps shared attitudes toward, say, sail over motor boating, that person talks air movement not horsepower. How soon, once one talks the talk, walks the walk, and wears the markers of the group without much overt subversive expression. A sailor wearing motor-oil stained shoes is a traitor to the sailor group.

Ethnologists attempt to dynamically participate in estoric groups yet remain exoteric so that an objective perception of the group's culture is maintained. Ethnologists who have "gone native," bonded with a group under observation, sacrifice objectivity. Yet a degree of shared bond belonging is essential so that the group allows access to the group's sacred inner sanctums. Undercover law enforcement imperfectly practice this process.

Many people are born into closed culture groups, family for example. A person might marry into the group, or accepted as a close family friend, as welcome, equally entitled to the privileges and duties, and respected as a family member--my family calls these folk our out-laws as compared to in-laws.

Born into wealth or poverty, etc., strives mightily to be closed culture groups. Old money rejects new money, for example. And so on.

[ July 14, 2014, 12:20 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Denevius
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quote:
The public debate about writers appropriating culture generally revolves around the second; that is, cultures which a writer cannot be part of:
A bold, controversial statement. Gender identity is a hot topic. One may not agree with it, but to dismiss women who, from an early age, always identified as a male, and vice versa, is unwarranted.

Religion is especially in flux. It has to be, except for a select few like the Jewish tradition, usually religions are competing against each other for conversions. To say one can't understand it until and unless they officially and publicly claim to be a specific religion sounds somewhat illogical.

Ethnicity is a little more complicated because it's so tied to race, which is biological. But your point about ethnologists seems to undermine the belief that one can't adopt a foreign ethnic identity to a point that you've gone native. As an expat, one of the first things you're told about is reverse culture shock. It sounds funny, but it actually exists.

Culture is a way to make sense of the world around you, and humans are adaptable and flexible in order to survive. Even if you don't consciously want it to happen, hang out with the other long enough and you'll start to see reality through their eyes.

My problem with this original article is that "Uncle Tom's Cabin" is an awful example to make the argument with. I wonder if that critic really said, "Of course, as a white woman, Stowe had no right to write the black experience.” Is this taken out of context, did they elaborate, or what? I have a strong suspicion that they didn't stop there, as this article does so that it can leave us to believe that the critic was saying that, "No white woman (or I guess man) can write the black experience."

I simply wonder if that's what the critic was saying, or was he/she making the point that Stowe, in-particular, could never understand, being a white woman in that time period, what it was like to be a slave. That's what I suspect the critic was getting at, but since I wasn't there, I can't be sure.

But overall, I agree with this. You probably are running a risk if you try to write a "foreign experience" which you simply cannot, for various reason, ever really understand. And the world at that time would have never allowed Harriet Beecher Stowe to merge close enough with slaves to be able to understand their experience.

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mfreivald
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Well, if you take the notion to its logical conclusion, no one can write the experience of anyone except for their self. Even a black person cannot write the experience of another black person.

In fact, it is a silly notion to me that one person of a culture can truly capture the "experience" of the entire culture. Even within a culture you have different experiences and approaches (and filters)--so the best anyone can do is capture something interesting of their experiences for the sake of fiction--and that can be done by anyone who has some access and insight to the culture, however much they are a part of it or not a part of it.

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extrinsic
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Robinson's Sparta is antiwar propoganda. The novel's approach to antiwar is about a warrior's return from war and struggles to reconnect to home, civilian society, and life, asks is war worth the costs. Like her great ancestor Stowe, Robinson writes about a social wickedness she wishes to correct through understanding the pains of the complications of war.

Where her detractors step in is she writes from that antiwar propoganda position and doing so excludes a large part of warrior culture. Antiwar propoganda inevitably overlooks the necessary evils of war, and war's positive contributions, not collateral fatalities per se or, contrarily, war's impetus for technological advances, but that monsters will always be part of humanity and, contrarily, war forges change, wanted change or not, for examples. Maybe that neutral position is itself a propoganda, not so neutral since it doesn't accord with others' opinions of what constitutes neutrality. Deny one rhetoric; unintentionally or otherwise substitute another.

Writers interpret and shape cultures toward their narrative needs. They do so by creating events, settings, characters, and their suitably dramatic milieu cultures that serve their creative functions. Is a narrative possible without expressing propoganda? Probably not. Like fiction's ancestor folk tales, fiction serves a social function of informing, cautioning, correcting, castigating, controlling behavior. How well-packaged the propoganda is determines its persuasive properties.

On the other hand, if a propoganda-less narrative were possible, it could only substitute one rhetoric for the one denied. Anti-propoganda rhetoric is still propoganda. Pro message-less rhetoric is still message. Another writing double or more bind.

So why refuse to portray cultures not one's own? Are not the interpretations of those cultures or one's own cultures subjective regardless? Subjective to individual interpretations and subjective to specific individuals.

Malaproporiation is the abuse of a culture, not per se the abuse of individuals. Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin, for example, is specific to individual events, settings, characters. Though abolitionist and pro-Christian woman propoganda, the narrative portrays an individual interpretation of the unique lives of specific individuals, yet is taken as a ringing condemnation of slavery overall, which it is. However, the narrative is arousing for its glimpse into those unique lives, including the unique life of the writer Stowe.

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MattLeo
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quote:
Originally posted by extrinsic:
Where her detractors step in is she writes from that antiwar propoganda position and doing so excludes a large part of warrior culture.

Which is a legitimate point as long as that's as far as the detractors go. But if they go on to say she *should* or even *must* celebrate the warrior culture ethos, they've stepped over the line from criticism to priggery.
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JSchuler
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quote:
Originally posted by MattLeo:
[QUOTE]Nobody should believe anything they read in fiction uncritically, and if anyone believes Uncle Tom is a model of a "good negro" it's not Stowe's fault.

But Uncle Tom was intended as a model of a "good negro," in as much as Uncle Tom was intended as a model of a good man, being that Stowe was Christian and modeled Tom on Christ.

Actual malappropriation occurred with the Uncle Tom character as pro-slavery advocates subverted him into the model of a subservient, happy and complicit slave. This was then picked up by Malcolm X who used the term as a pejorative to describe Martin Luther King, Jr. It strikes me as ironic that it is the version crafted by the pro-slavery side that was "adopted" by black culture.

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Reziac
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quote:
Originally posted by Denevius:
Culture isn't exactly exclusive by nature. It can be learned, and adopted to, and it's also contagious.

This is precisely why I consider the notion of "cultural appropriation" to be so much horsepucky.... especially since there really is no such thing as a pure and wholly-owned culture. Every culture begs, borrows, and steals from those before and around them, that's the nature of human culture.
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MattLeo
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quote:
Originally posted by Reziac:
]This is precisely why I consider the notion of "cultural appropriation" to be so much horsepucky.... especially since there really is no such thing as a pure and wholly-owned culture. Every culture begs, borrows, and steals from those before and around them, that's the nature of human culture.

True, but I don't think things are so simple. The problem with "appropriation" is that it frames the issue wrongly. It's not appropriation per se, but the how and why of it.

If you spent twenty years living on an Apache reservation as a doctor or social worker you'd be in an entirely different position writing about that tribe than if you knew nothing about them but what you'd heard from reading pulp westerns.

I'm not saying you have to move to the res to have an Indian character in your story; I'm saying don't be a lazy writer who just recycles stuff he's read somewhere else. In a sense the problem isn't "appropriation", it's borrowing. Culture is something better stolen than borrowed.

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extrinsic
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The quantity of disapproval criticism grief, or approval criticism, any given narrative receives is directly proportionate to its popularity, regardless of grief area: cultural appropriation, character type, unseemly morals, language, grammar, craft, voice, topic, subject, ad infinitum ad nauseam.

[ July 18, 2014, 04:36 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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kmsf
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Interestingly, John Adams had this to say, and he's right.

"Be not intimidated, therefore, by any terrors, from publishing with the utmost freedom, whatever can be warranted by the laws of your country; nor suffer yourselves to be wheedled out of your liberties by any pretenses of politeness, delicacy, or decency. These, as they are often used, are but three different names for hypocrisy, chicanery, and cowardice."

And, despite insinuations people may make, this applies to all people. It's called freedom of speech. Because, let's face it, behind all of these calls for defining what writers write, is nothing more than a play for power. Scratch off the veneer, dare to feel the brunt of bellicose slander, and it is naked oppression.

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Grumpy old guy
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I'd add this quote from John Stuart Mills:

Let not anyone pacify his conscience by the delusion that he can do no harm if he takes no part, and forms no opinion. Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing. He is not a good man who, without a protest, allows a wrong to be committed in his name, and with the means he helps to supply, because he will not trouble himself to use his mind on the subject.

While, on the surface, it may not appear relevant to writing fantasy or sci-fi, I would argue that it applies to all forms of endeavour.

Phil.

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mfreivald
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quote:
. . . pretenses of politeness, delicacy, or decency.
(snip)
. . . different names for hypocrisy, chicanery, and cowardice.

And what of genuine politeness, delicacy, and decency?

Certainly—the issue of “freedom” aside—reasonable and good discourse can suffer from the rejection of all politeness, delicacy, and decency, no? Just because someone has the right to be a coarse jerk with no regard for anyone whatsoever, does that mean he has the right to everyone else’s approbation?

Of course not. So there is certainly good reason among the arts to circumscribe them within what is decent and good. This idea that one cannot define good writing and must suffer the mental pollution of belligerent agitators without resistance is it’s own kind of power grab and tyranny. No amount of shaming the opposition by name-calling will change that.

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Grumpy old guy
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I have the absolute freedom to be a loud-mouthed, opinionated, coarse jerk just as you have the absolute freedom to decry my opinions for what you see them as.

Having said that I have the absolute right to say whatever I want, I am also bound by what society will tolerate to a certain extent. In joining Hatrack I agreed to abide by certain rules of behaviour. It was my choice to do so. If I break the rules then I can expect to be properly censured and, if I continue to be an ass, then I would be rightly expelled.

Outside of this, and other areas where I consent to abide by a set of rules restricting my rights, I can be as obnoxious as I like. And people can disagree with me as vehemently as they are capable of; with this proviso: just 'cos I'm an ass in your eyes it doesn't give you the right to physically attack me.

Then there is the philosophical question of good and bad. This is predominantly determined by the society we live in and isn't an absolute. A cannibal is an upright and moral person in a society that routinely practices such a 'custom'.

quote:
Originally posted by mfreivald:
So there is certainly good reason among the arts to circumscribe them within what is decent and good.

So, just what is decent and good? WE may differ vehemently about that. I support abortion and voluntary euthanasia but others find these abominable practices. So long as they do not engage in actual violence I'll respect their rights to their opinions. The same applies to 'the arts'. There have been innumerable examples throughout history of 'works of art' being decried, vandalised and destroyed and their creators being hounded, persecuted and killed.

Edited to add:

In demanding that you respect my rights to be a complete ass, I am also accepting that I may not be popular among the general population. If I can accept that and live with universal condemnation surrounding me, then fine. If, on the other hand, I start crying about how unfair the rest of the world is for not letting me rant and rave and for calling me names then I'm not only hypocritical, I'm worse than a fool.

Phil.

[ July 18, 2014, 10:19 PM: Message edited by: Grumpy old guy ]

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mfreivald
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quote:
I have the absolute freedom to be a loud-mouthed, opinionated, coarse jerk just as you have the absolute freedom to decry my opinions for what you see them as.
Keeping in mind that I explicitly focused the conversation away from “freedom” and “rights” in order to focus on the topic of writing, let’s be honest with ourselves: There is no such thing as absolute freedom to do anything. For example, you don’t have a right “to be a loud-mouthed, opinionated, coarse jerk” in a hospital or in someone else’s home or even publicly in a policeman’s face. That’s just three examples out of too many to count. Likewise, I don’t have the freedom “to decry [your] opinions for what I see them as” in a movie theater, with use of someone else’s resources, or screaming them with some radical halitosis in your face. Such hyperbole discredits your position, and I highly recommend against it.
quote:
Having said that I have the absolute right to say whatever I want,
Wrong again. You do not have a right to libel or slander. You would do so at great financial risk in some cases.
quote:
I am also bound by what society will tolerate to a certain extent.
Which is obviously quite the opposite of “absolute” freedom claimed above. So—which is it?
quote:
Outside of this, and other areas where I consent to abide by a set of rules restricting my rights, I can be as obnoxious as I like.
It is obvious that this is completely false with just the few examples above, but I won’t bother with further repetition.
quote:
And people can disagree with me as vehemently as they are capable of; with this proviso: just 'cos I'm an ass in your eyes it doesn't give you the right to physically attack me.
What on earth are you talking about? Who said anything about any kind of physical attack? Besides which, if you scream in someone else’s face—don’t expect doves and payote-filled peace pipes in return. Someone is going to get physical, and the rest of society is going to back him. So even that statement is false. There is also plenty of legal precedent going against verbal provocation. You are so wrong on this, it feels silly that I’m rebutting it. You simply can’t say whatever you want, for example, to someone else’s children. You would be extremely challenged to find a courtroom that will take your side if you go over the line and someone physically intervenes. The police will physically remove you for a hundred different ways of being obnoxious in a public place and disturbing the peace. You don’t have a bare minimum of respect for the locals—you very well may get physically attacked, and no one will get in trouble for it. (And it’s least likely to be someone like me. But I’m one of the most passive people I know—I’m the minority.)

So—wow, man. Just wow. You are so obviously wrong about these things with only a cursory glance at the matter.

quote:
quote:

Originally posted by mfreivald:
So there is certainly good reason among the arts to circumscribe them within what is decent and good.

Phil writes:
So, just what is decent and good?

Oh, that’s just priceless. You blatantly attempt to impose your beliefs that would force an acceptance of extreme belligerence upon everyone else, and by doing so you are assert what you think is right, and then you try to disable the rest of us by saying that there is no “right” that can be asserted? Seriously think about what you are saying. You are saying: “My right is the only right, and no one else can assert right because all right is in doubt.” Extremely contradictory and irrational, and it should be laughed out of the public square.

The fact is—I am advocating that we all struggle through this as decent human beings and, as much as we can, work out something that isn’t intolerable to our enemies but also accommodates as much freedom as is reasonable. But you want to shut that entire struggle down and claim victory. I’m sorry—but it would be stupid of me to fall for that.

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mfreivald
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Anyway--the above two posts have distracted from the real focus of the discussion. Independent of what someone is free to write or has a right to do, is it okay for people to come together and decide what is decent and good in writing?

Of course, it is. It's all part of the ongoing human struggle to do so, and most of the time we'll get at least some of it wrong, but that doesn't mean all decent people should completely capitulate to allow the obvious belligerence and indecency of others to take over, let alone advocate them.

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extrinsic
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I understood Grumpy old guy's post as a verbal irony.
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mfreivald
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extrinsic, if you're saying that Grumpy old guy doesn't mean what he said, I'll leave it up to him to affirm.
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Grumpy old guy
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Thank you, extrinsic.

And, mfrievald, just to illustrate your misunderstanding of what I was saying, I do have an absolute right to indulge in slanderous or libelous behaviour so long as I am willing to accept the consequences of such actions; most likely going to jail or being ordered to pay huge amounts in compensation. That would be the act of a fool, or perhaps, a patriot.

Be that as it may, anyone can come together in a group and collectively decide on just what constitutes what is decent and good in writing. Just don't try and enforce your rules on someone who doesn't willingly subscribe to them. That's a little something called a freedom to choose.

Phil.

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mfreivald
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quote:
I do have an absolute right to indulge in slanderous or libelous behaviour so long as I am willing to accept the consequences of such actions; most likely going to jail or being ordered to pay huge amounts in compensation.
By that logic, you have a "right" to murder--which pretty much renders the word "right" to something meaningless. And it certainly does nothing to illustrate a misunderstanding on my part. (And, by the way, as soon as you inserted "as long as" into your statement, you demonstrated that it was not absolute at all.)

I didn't bring up enforcement, you did. Enforcement is another topic, but here's a hint--you don't have an absolute freedom to choose, either, and when it comes to it, preventing those choices that go beyond the boundaries are always enforced in one way or another. There is no government in the history of mankind, including all modern democracies, where this is not true.

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mfreivald
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quote:
Just don't try and enforce your rules on someone who doesn't willingly subscribe to them.
And, by the way, that is exactly what the punishments for slander and libel does. But those aren't the only kind of expression that are against the law. It is illegal to publish state secrets, child pornography, and private facts about individuals, all of which are enforced and punishable by law.

I'm not trying to be a jerk by repeating this, but you keep saying things that are utterly disconnected from reality.

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extrinsic
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I'm still seeing verbal irony in Grumpy old guy's posts, hyperbole's overstatement and skewed elaboration, and ethopoeia (a descriptive portrait of a character's basic nature and behavior properties), used as a substitution scheme through transposition of first person as an estranging metaphor representing all characters of the type, and a mite of Socratic irony too, rhetorical figure after rhetorical figure: Grumpy old guy representing himself as a self-deprecating character viewpoint he satires, a transposition scheme--impersonation--; that is, a loud-mouthed, opinionated, coarse jerk. Delicious irony.

Problem is, even overt irony signals are too easily overlooked, let alone subtler cues, and defaults to surface meaning preempt ironical meanings, unless others pick up on the irony cues. Still, irony backfires if the surface meaning preempts the subtext meaning.

[ July 19, 2014, 03:45 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Grumpy old guy
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Exactly, extrinsic. However, the effect of the irony is not lost on those who observe it's effect on others with an open mind. Or am I being ironic again?

I think this is what Denevius referred to when he accused me of pushing someone's buttons, or winding them up.

There is, however, a more important issue at stake here. Perhaps you see it, most others appear not to have noticed.

Phil.

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Grumpy old guy
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mfrievald, I have an absolute right to choose to die on my feet rather than live on my knees. I have an absolute right to act ". . . when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. -- Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world." However, since the authors of this were going against the rule of law and rebelling against their lawful sovereign (and his Government), perhaps they should have all been hanged, drawn and quartered.

And I suppose you would have been there applauding their just and decent demise. Do you get the point yet? Independent thinking people are only governed by laws or opinion if they allow themselves to be so governed. If we choose to rebel, we do so freely, knowing the probable costs and willing to pay them.

I am not some coarse jerk, nor am I Big Brother enforcing New Speak or the Ministry of Thought. And no, extrinsic, this last post is not being ironic, it is loaded with sarcasm, pure and simple.

Phil.

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mfreivald
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quote:
I’m still seeing verbal irony in Grumpy old guy's posts,
quote:
Exactly, extrinsic. However, the effect of the irony is. . . .
Do you mean to say (both of you) that Grumpy old guy doesn’t actually mean what he says? If he means what he says, it’s not irony. If he doesn’t mean what he says, it’s extremely ham-handed (not to mention pretentious) irony that makes very little point and is not conducive to straightforward discussion at all. Quite frankly, it seems to me that you are using “irony” as some ploy to not have to take responsibility for your own words and avoid addressing the counter arguments. But even if you’re not, making an argument veiled in so, so sophisticated literary mastery is just hard for us unedumicated country bumpkins to unnerstand—you jibe? (Oh, yeah. That’s irony.)

If you don’t actually mean what you say—please state that plainly so that I can stop taking you seriously altogether.
quote:
There is, however, a more important issue at stake here. Perhaps you see it, most others appear not to have noticed.
If it’s so important, why don’t you put your irony aside that obviously confuses us plain-speakin’ bumpkins, and state it plainly?

[ July 19, 2014, 10:58 AM: Message edited by: mfreivald ]

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mfreivald
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quote:
I am not some coarse jerk,
By the way, in case there has been any misunderstanding, I have not once implied that you are.
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MattLeo
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I think a writer has the right to be deliberately offensive if that's what he wants to do.

A writer has the right to be tasteless if that's what he wants to do.

A writer even has a right to write badly. The difference is that nobody wants to be a bad writer.

A few of the things that make writing bad are laziness, ignorance and pretentiousness. When you're deliberately offensive and tasteless in order to make a point you're being provocative, but when it's because you can't do any better you're just being a lousy writer. Bad writers who think they're taking a principled stand by defending their stupid writing are just fooling themselves.

If they just said, "I can be a lousy writer if I want to be," you couldn't argue with them. But they want their lazy, unimaginative, third-hand writing to be admired as a some kind of blow for intellectual freedom. It's not. Bad writing is actually more like a parasite on intellectual liberty. We have to live with writing that is offensive because it's stupid so that writing that is offensive because it is provocative can flourish.

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mfreivald
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Well stated, MattLeo.

I would quibble just a little regarding the "We have to live with. . . " statement, though. There's nothing wrong with identifying bad and offensive writing and working against its purchase in the marketplace. I've given several examples above where it has been determined and written into law that certain practices of publishing writing are not good and cannot be allowed (Such as the indecency of libel or the worse indecency of child pornography). There's no absolute freedom to impose one's indecency on the public, so we don't always "have to live with" it.

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mfreivald
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So. . . yeah. . . not sure if this is even worth addressing since the Grumpy one is admittedly full of sarcasm. But I’ll address this in my simple-minded, straightforward way. (Sorry to bring everyone down from their lofty literary loftiness.)
quote:
And I suppose you would have been there applauding their just and decent demise. Do you get the point yet?
So. . . hm. . . you said it was pure sarcasm, and this is obvious snark, but it’s still obviously avoidance. I think you should stop hiding behind the founders and actually address the arguments I’ve presented you.
quote:
Independent thinking people are only governed by laws or opinion if they allow themselves to be so governed.
You’re only stating the obvious here, and as I indicated earlier, such logic justifies murder—so there’s obviously something wrong with it. But you didn’t answer that objection then, so I don’t really expect you to answer it now—if that’s even what you really mean.
quote:
If we choose to rebel, we do so freely, knowing the probable costs and willing to pay them.
Right—which is the opposite of having absolute rights to do anything. The questions isn't whether you have a "right" to rebel. The question is whether you are justified in rebelling. Having the "right to rebel" is incoherent.

I really probably shouldn't address anything else you say, though, until you tell me in plain language whether you mean what you say or not. 'Cause if you don't, well, silly me.

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mfreivald
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MattLeo, it's worth mentioning that working against bad writing can be done at many levels. For extreme cases, like libel and the other above examples, legislation is often in order, but in other cases, such as less harmful belligerence, the writing community and/or readers can (and do!) have a say in what is acceptable and not acceptable, and pressures of many varying kinds can be brought to bear upon publishers or media, or whatever. It can also be a matter not of marginalizing the offensiveness, but of giving decent writers venues and forums that are shielded from offensiveness. So when I say we don't have to live with it, I'm not necessarily prescribing some comprehensive and far reaching oversight by the government to make anything that approaches "indecency" illegal. (Like I said, for severe issues we already do that.)

The problem is this notion that belligerence and indecency must be given free reign, rendering everyone else helpless to respond. It's that kind of extremism that will ultimately trash the publishing industry almost completely.

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MattLeo
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I wouldn't be so quick to conflate "bad writing" with libel or indecency.

It's true that bad writers resort to indecency to get at least some kind of reaction from their dull work. But good writers (e.g. Vladimir Nabokov) might *also* resort to what most people would regard as indecent. The legal definition of "indecent", at least here in the US, *includes* works that have serious artistic merit. Indeed that's one of the dividing lines between "obscene" and "indecent" materials.

"Indecent" materials aren't regulated to protect public taste or morals -- at least not any longer. They're regulated so that people who don't want to see them won't have to. So something like Game of Thrones can't be broadcast on network TV in prime time, but it's allowed on HBO, which is a channel you subscribe to knowing it shows stuff people consider "indecent".

As for organizing pressure against indecency, I'm not for it. For one thing it's spitting into the wind. HBO isn't going to take Game of Thrones off the air because people protest the indecency, nor is Bantam going to take the books off the shelves.

I'm more focused on the question of when cultural appropriation is in *bad taste*. I assume that someone somewhere will be offended by it; but that's neither here nor there. Some people will be offended if you use only white anglo characters, others will be offended if you don't. You can't win that game, so don't play it.

I believe writers should simply be guided by the golden rule. Don't do something to others if you would be offended by it if you stood in their place. But that's not as simple as it sounds, because some writers are just too dense to see that they're doing something they'd be offended if it were done to them. And as far as I can see nobody's invented a cure for stupid, so we *do* have to live with that. We don't have to live with libel, which is a much simpler case than bad taste.

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mfreivald
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I would say that libel and indecency are categories of bad writing, which is not to be conflated with poor writing.

Your second paragraph is all part of the discussion, and we could discuss them thoroughly--my view allows for that, and hopes to promote good decision making in those areas. Same with the last two.

Regarding organizing pressure or not, it's really a tactical decision whether or not to do it or how to do it. I don't object to people saying any given organization or tactic is misguided or unwise, but I do object to those extremists who try to forbid us from doing so. There are also long-term strategies to be concerned about, also, so just because no gain is made now upon certain fronts (say, HBO), that doesn't mean it won't have a long term effect. But you have to be smart about it (including being smart enough not to overreach), and there's a whole lot of dumb out there.

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extrinsic
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I see ironies in mfreivald's posts too, MattLeo's as well. Rhetoric is the art and science of persuasion, which writing generally is rhetoric, even objective disciplines' writing, like for physical sciences or math. Irony is one of rhetoric's manifold tools.

Irony's translation from Greek is "an affectation of ignorance." Irony: "Speaking in such a way as to imply the contrary of what one says, often for the purpose of derision, mockery, or jest," which is sarcasmus: "use of mockery or verbal taunts" (Brown Silva Rhetoricae), which mfreivald uses in mfreivald's posts to this subject. Irony's affectation of ignorance is not limited to derision, mockery, and jest, though, nor to an affectation of ignorance per se.

Situational irony is a consequence of unknowingly expressing or doing the opposite of what's said or done, opposite of intent. Laurel and Hardy humor depends largely on situational irony: they know not what they say and do is contrary to their intents, though audiences know all along, which is dramatic irony.

Verbal irony is what's expressed on the surface is opposite what's intended, not per se to deride, mock, or jest, though beneath an intent of derision, mockery, or jest may lay a greater truth. For example, Jane Austen masterfully expresses irony for derision, mockery, and jest in much of her work. Beneath the immediate irony is another irony; that is, the affectation of ignorance is itself a genuine ignorance, not of Austen's but of the narrator-reflectors, the opposite of the second degree ironical intent and an opposite of the surface expression.

Henry James, too, masterfully expresses irony in his works. The next layer of irony in his works, though, expresses a message for which only irony is suited. This is the point: think for yourselves, consciously, critically, responsibly; otherwise, others will, and to their detriment and yours. Delicious irony at yet another depth; that is, telling auditors by implication to think for themselves is doing part of their thinking for them. Exquisite. Is there no end to the depths of irony? Only in so far as an auditor may find a supportable one.

Irony and its related attachment implication are rhetorical arts, persuasions, even if only superficial persuasions intended to arouse emotions through derision and mockery, which are Socratic irony: feigning ignorance, and using ad hominem attacks so that a debate opponent might reveal a true agenda when emotionally aroused by fallicious argumentation.

By the way, libel is not per se a criminal act, not in an empowered society. That society's laws may establish publication of blasphemous, treasonable, seditious, or obscene materials as crimes; however, what constitutes such an offense is broadly open to interpretation. Literature is one area that has often been so indicted, though an empowered society tolerates or even praises such liberties that cause no overt and direct harm to liberty, well-being, and prosperity. The Potter saga is accused of blasphemy, for example, though never yet brought before a duly empowered court.

Otherwise, too, libel, when not a crime, is a civil action if a party believes it has been defamed by a publication. Slander, too, is soley a civil action, again, when a party believes it has been defamed, though in speech, not publication: which is defined as disseminated in a fixed and tangible form, speech being neither fixed nor tangible in form, ephemeral, actually.

Praise Providence thought cannot be libel, slander, crime or civil action, nor cause harm, though may be a sin: sinful thought's connections to word and deed trespasses are between each's origination deity by whatever of the thousand names for God and the self.

[ July 19, 2014, 02:51 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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mfreivald
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quote:
"Speaking in such a way as to imply the contrary of what one says, often for the purpose of derision, mockery, or jest,"
Right. As you say numerous times here, irony is saying something contrary to what one means, which is exactly the point I made in the last several posts. Again it screams the question: Does this mean that the specific points made by Grumpy old guy that I rebutted were points that Grumpy old guy actually meant, or not? Please tell me which, if any, of the points I rebutted were not actually points that Grumpy old guy intended. If you cannot do that, then this "irony" tangent is nothing but a smokescreen.

So let's have it, Phil. Which, if any, of the points that I rebutted are things you don't actually believe and did not intend to assert?

If, as you say, you were just being "ironic," this will be a simple thing for you to do, and we can have a different conversation trying to figure out just what on earth you did mean. If, on the other hand, this "ironic" thing is the smokescreen I believe it is--you will have some difficulty in that.

So what is it?

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extrinsic
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Irony fails its persuasion function if it has to be explained, and loses its powers to entertain.
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mfreivald
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Boy, heh. I guess I'm just that stupid, ruining your pleasure, and all.

But, hm. Does that mean nothing Grumpy old guy said was intended to be taken seriously? It's just a bunch of silly entertainment with no meaningful value? Is that right, Phil?

C'mon, man. These pretentious tactics are transparent and silly.

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extrinsic
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Demands for unequivocal answers deny and support the very meaning of Grumpy old guy's post; that is, to each a right and duty to express as each chooses, mindful or not of the consquences--and to each a duty and a right to think critically, consciously, responsibly for one's self.

Please, form your own conclusions and otherwise let it go. These types of aggressive discussion tactics and personal abuses serve no purpose otherwise.

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mfreivald
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Of course it's his right if he wants to retreat, extrinsic, but it doesn't look too well considering the simple request I made. I would take your post above as a "no," except that it doesn't come from the guy who needs to give the answer. Perhaps he should speak for himself.

Additionally, do not accuse me of personal abuses where there is none. Where exactly have I been abusive? Please quote the text. I'm not the one who came into this discussion with all barrels firing, so again--implying that I am the one instigating the aggressive tone is just another transparent ploy on your part.

I'll let it go when Phil decides to either own up to his words or retreat from them. Either one is fine with me.

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extrinsic
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"These _pretentious_ tactics are _transparent_ and _silly_."

Ad hominem abuses, among others.

Taking a persoanl exception to kmsf's citation of John Adam's opinion position(s) regarding freedom of speech is where the discussion went off the rails. That that opinion position runs contrary to another consensus is neither here nor there relevant to other consensuses.

I understand exactly Adams and Grumpy old guy's opinion positions. Wholeheartedly support them? Not in this life, even if I want to. I'd go farther and do. Yes, even to the point of tolerating or appreciating a written-word fictional portrait of child abuse. Not because I'm amoral or approve of child abuse, but because child abuse is a real-world crisis in any circumstance.

Take Joyce Carol Oates' "Where are you going, where have you been." Wholesome fifteen-year-old Connie is molested by a sexual predator, not on-stage physically molested, though on-stage preyed upon. A minority consensus disapproved of the narrative, partly because the open-ended ending doesn't show the raw, visceral outcome of a naive girl physically molested by a sexual predator, mostly because the narrative projects an afterstory of a brutal outcome for Connie and from disagreement with an unhappy outcome that doesn't suit that minority consensus.

The irony of the narrative, though, implies the narrative's true, epic, larger-than-life meaning, which a majority consensus appreciates; that is, the entry into and ongoing life of womanhood is fraught with cruel sexual perils. Exquisite ironical use of child sexual abuse to express information, caution, correction, castigation, and control. There but for the grace of Providence other young women go; and there but for the grace of Providence any man may trespass. The narrative isn't a lecture or a sermon preaching; but is an expression of the true state of sexual affairs generally. That quality distinguishes the New Feminism narrative's departure from its precusor patriarchal kinder and haus märchen tales.

By the way, Grumpy old guy lives in Australia, twelve or so hours away in time from the U.S. Midwest. At the present moment there, the time is the wee dark early hours of sleepybye nighttime.

[ July 19, 2014, 04:31 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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I am dumbfounded at how this topic has evolved.
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MAP
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quote:
Originally posted by extrinsic:
Irony fails its persuasion function if it has to be explained, and loses its powers to entertain.

If the irony has to be explained, then that is a fault of the writer not the reader. Unless the writer is purposely trying to exclude a portion of his audience, which is rather disrespectful.

Hatrack is supposed to be an inviting environment for people of all experience levels and educational backgrounds to engage in constructive conversations that may help them to grow as writers. Purposely excluding a portion of that audience or belittling them for not understanding is not in the spirit of what this site is supposed to be. I can't help but wonder how many members are silenced by this type of snobbery.

This is not meant to be an attack on anyone. This is just how I am interpreting this conversation. If I am misreading anyone on this thread, please correct me. But writers don't get to blame the readers if their writing isn't clear. Know your audience and respect them. That is all I am saying.

[ July 19, 2014, 05:36 PM: Message edited by: MAP ]

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