Monday, February 3, 2014

Writing Against... Bradbury

In many cases, I lean towards the anti-censor-ship view that bad speech shouldn't be silenced, but combatted with good speech. That's not a universal principle and most self-satisfied anti-censor-ship people tend to be rather dense on the dangers of speech: do you let people in crowded theaters yell "fire" and just hope that someone else in the theater makes a compelling case that there is not, in fact, a fire?

But I'm especially think that we need good speech to combat bad speech when the bad speech isn't totally bad. When Edgar Rice Burroughs writes Tarzan, with all of its ante-diluvian attitudes towards Africans and women, we can't just drop it down a well and hope no one reads it. It's an entertaining book and the Wild Man is one of the most important/common archetypes to come out of the 20th-century pulp tradition.

Or take Bradbury: "The Veldt" is an interesting view of a holo-deck style entertainment room and generational conflict--that relegates the wife/mother to shrill alarmist. (She happens to be right, but the story never really validates her and she's not good enough to actually profit from her alarm.) Or in "Usher II," where we get an impassioned defense of imagination and fantasy--along with a murderous hatred of science.

So there's a lot to like about Bradbury and a lot to dislike. (Depending on the ratio, you'll either like him or, like me, wish he wasn't as deft with a sentence considering how reactionary his attitudes are towards the world.) So how do we write against Bradbury?

For a comparable case, we could look at Pullman writing against Lewis: God is the central fact of life for Lewis's cross-planar fantasies, but in Pullman's cross-planar fantasies, God is dead and only present as a figurehead for an oppressive institution. In that way, Pullman is writing in dialogue with--and against--Lewis.

So let's say you want to write against Bradbury's sexism, his vision of the 1950s suburbs as a natural order in "The Veldt" (and elsewhere).

We could make that subtext into text: a man uses his virtual reality room to recreate his dream of the 1950s. (Sure, while the kids aren't using that room for Africa, dad could be using it for his recreation--and knock before entering, gosh-darn-it!) Here the man is totally in charge, just as he wishes he was out in the real world.

We could write the parallel and hidden reality to the original story: all the work mom has to do to prop up dad in the 1950s.

We could write the reversal: mom is in charge here.

Or the update: instead of being happy with her 1950s-style role, the mom here reads feminist material and takes up the call of liberation. (Like the parallel/hidden reality version, this is basically about adding history back to the story.)

Any other ways to write back against something you don't like in an author?

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