Taking Notes: "Politics and Fantasy" (2006) by Jeff VanderMeer

長久以來,不管是科幻還是奇幻,都被視為是一種「逃避現實」的文類。過往 的不少作品也帶給讀者這樣的印象。但我們也知道,文學或藝術無法完全超脫於現實之外,反映、嘲諷,乃至於批判當下政經社會的作品一直也來也都是科、奇幻作 品的重頭戲。Jeff VanderMeer 在本文中以他的新作 Shriek: An Afterword 為例,闡述一名作家就算在撰寫、建構一個迥異於現實的虛擬「第二世界」,也一樣會成為「第一世界」的反響。

"Politics in Fantasy" by Jeff VanderMeer in Emerald City #125


paragraph 1:
Politics is as personal as religion. Current events should have an impact on writers and resonate in their fiction. Activism has a place in the writing of fantasy fiction. Characters, plots, story structures all benefit from a careful consideration of, and dialogue with, the political world. (his emphasis)
paragraph 7:
Writing about my imaginary city of Ambergris changed all of that. As a place, it had to encompass nitty-gritty detail at street level. It forced me to think about politics on all sorts of levels. A city can’t remain stylized and be real — that would be like denying oxygen to someone, or depicting everyone in mid-step, forever frozen. A city also can’t be above politics because politics forms its beating heart — its institutions, its government, and the personal politics of its individual citizens, their personal interactions.
paragraph 13:
Not only are we closer to the total or partial breakdown of civilization than we think we are, we do not understand how close we exist to potential atrocity. In Ambergris, pogrom and counter-pogrom occur as the result of greed, ignorance, and fear. The gray caps, a native people driven underground by the founders of the city, exist in that dynamic shared by every group of oppressors and the oppressed. (The plot of such events varies in its details — whether in Rwanda or the Balkans, Cambodia or Germany — but the results are the same: a mass psychosis and individual indifference to suffering that leads to mass bloodshed.)
paragraph 14:
But "politics" in fiction is not just about using a backdrop of war or atrocity or city dynamics at the macro level to explore questions that affect us in a longer-term, broad way. It is also about understanding that all people are political in some way, even those who seem apathetic, because politics is about gender, society, and culture. Every aspect of our lives is in some way political. So if we don't, at some point during our writing, think about this consciously — if we simply trust our instincts as writers — we may unintentionally preserve cliché, stereotype, and prejudice.
paragraph 15:
...... What is the character's relationship to his or her job? Does the character think about the ethics of supporting harm to others, even if indirectly? What are the character's politics, and how do they reflect or not reflect the character's actual actions? How does the character justify both personal and political decisions? (his emphasis)
paragraph 16:
Asking such questions is part of creating fully rounded characters. A character’s politics — public and private — may be inconsistent or, again, irrelevant to the main story being told, but the writer still needs to think about such issues. The questions still need to be part of the conversation the writer has with him or herself about the character.
paragraph 18:
Just as every day we make potentially dozens of small decisions that reflect our thought or lack of thought about the world around us so too does a fictional character of any weight exist in a world of such daily decisions, such thoughts. Otherwise, the character becomes less than real. Even small decisions have consequences in the real world, because we live in a world where politics matter, where politics can get you killed or knighted, often for the same action in a different context.
paragraph 19:
As part of the whole of a character, these types of attributes, internalized, expressed at the most basic level can make the difference between good fiction and great fiction, but, also, perhaps as importantly, the difference between fiction that is relevant and fiction that is not.
paragraph 21:
However, there is at least one area of fiction in which the idea of relevance today leading to potential anachronism tomorrow doesn’t have as much truth to it: that loose grouping of types of settings or a way of seeing the world often labeled "fantasy," and, in particular, secondary world fantasy.
paragraph 22:
Seen through the mirror of a fantasy setting that allows the real world to be reflected in it, a writer can perhaps more easily be relevant — in the short term — without running the risk of becoming dated in the long term.
paragraph 25:
(...... But an organic novel, a novel that is alive, has at least one inherent trait during the writing of it: it devours the world. It is wide enough, deep enough, and enough about the entirety of life that it envelopes the real world and distills it out the other side in fictionalized form.)
paragraph 26:
Incorporating such issues from a through-the-looking-glass angle also allows for the possibility of presenting a heated current political situation in a non-threatening context. This doesn't mean that the ideas aren’t still threatening, but that the remove from reality allows for possible acceptance of those ideas by readers who originally did not share in that same system of beliefs. In other words, on some level, even if subconsciously, you may begin to change the world, one reader at a time. Even better, at least in Shriek, the politics of the setting do not overshadow the characters, but instead are expressed through the characters, and the emphasis in the novel is on other matters entirely. (......)
paragraph 27:
However, no matter what I intend, the success of that intention depends on reader reaction and interpretation. Sometimes the reader has a responsibility — and in the case of the political, that responsibility includes not screaming "didactic!" any time a writer raises important issues in his or her work. Readers who care about writing need to recognize that sometimes the entertainment value of a piece must be weighed against the depth of what is being said, that sometimes a story may need a certain slow pace in a section, may need to build, and may even need to, yes, lecture, to achieve its full effect.
paragraph 31:
I’m not a political activist. I’m just a writer. But in doing what you love most — writing — and in observing the state of the world you love so much and have such curiosity about — with its insane assortment of sad, beautiful, ugly, evil, wonderful people — how can you not write these kinds of things into your fiction?

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