Monday, June 28, 2010

Knowledge: Chainsaw or Straitjacket?


I've been thinking about knowledge. To be honest, I've always had an ongoing discussion with myself on knowledge, it's use, it's blessings and it's shortcomings. As a reviewer, I suffer from the minority complex that I have not read enough and therefore I am far from entitled to an opinion. Because I lack knowledge, can't compare or know the classics I've the idea that I can't be a constructive contributor to the conversations, which take place at different blogs.

Of course, as far as reviewing goes, knowledge is useful, but more often than not a set of fresh eyes are needed to see a certain book without filters and discover a new element or a new interpretation. However, reading with an intent to review differs from reading in order to write. For this reason, intimate knowledge of past books serves a solely different function.

Damien G. Walter says in his post Should new writers know their SF history?: "But is knowing the history of SF [speculative fiction, just to clarify, because I personally confuse it with science fiction sometimes] essential to becoming a writer in the genre? On the one hand SF can be considered as an ongoing conversation spanning decades. It you enter that conversation without knowing what has already been said, you are not liable to say much of interest to people who have been following the arguments unfold for decades."

It's logical to assume this. Without the backlog information, say, a rookie writer wouldn't know whether or not his bad-ass gore-filled fantasy story about a band of mercenaries out to hunt down some baddies is fresh or overdone. If said rookie has only read Tolkien, then to him that idea is 100% certified bestseller material. Point proven, moving on, now. The writing world backs up this idea [me as well] with the advice to always read, read and then read some more. Plus, any skill is developed only when the foundation is laid and in order to come up with something brand-spanking new, the writer needs to keep an inventory list of the fantastic ideas already done.

Knowledge prevents the writer from looking foolish, but can it also have a side effect that may not be as desired.

More from the same post: "But on the other hand if SF is a genre that seeks to find meaning in modern life, raw responses to that life might be mire interesting than viewpoints filtered through the mirror shaded gaze of the SF genre."

And a few quotes written by Susie Nott-Bower on her post A WALK ON THE WILD SIDE: "Then we begin to learn. And the process of learning, whilst necessary for improvement, may also run the risk of becoming a process of domestication, or, more precisely, institutionalisation. As we learn ‘how’ to write, we become - quite rightly - aware of the parameters set by the industry we’re aiming to write for. [...] However, too much focus on such parameters can cause them to mutate into walls, then bars - and these can, over time, cause us to shrink, to wither into something a little less than we are. [...] Our writerly eyes become dull with the effort of ‘fitting in’, of doing it right. Our roars become muted. Our coats become dry and matted as the rejections drop through the letterbox."

Which I have also considered the case with knowledge in excess can be and as we writers are ushered to read, learn and encompass as much as possible, do we not raise barriers? Do we not set rules? Draw lines? Learn what is wanted and strangle our creativity, much like donning a corset, in order to please and produce what is expected, what is wanted and what is SOLD.

Because, let's not kid ourselves, we all want our work to be sold. Some want stardom, but most want a career and acceptance. The traditional publishing model [which still tops writers' wish-lists as a venue] has tastes, which have to be met.

So is knowledge a chainsaw or a straitjacket? Empowering or constricting?

It's both. It's never that simple. It's never either or. Knowledge can aid or it can cripple, all depending on who the writer is and whether he/she knows what he/she wants. I read to know how SF has reached the state, in which it is, but try to never accept it as rules set in stone, because otherwise the genre will never evolve.


Charles Gramlich said...

It's a tough question. My first response, though, is to wonder how any writer could NOT be aware of at least some of the history in the genre they choose to write in? Haven't they been reading in that genre? And if not, why not? And why in the world would anyone want to write something they don't even read in? I don't think that means they have to have read everything but surely they would have some basic familiarity.

Harry Markov said...

BUT there are people, who will assume they are special, THE ONE and only true writers and that they receive faxes from the Creative Gods from above, so why should they read, when they have it all pegged down?