ceri: Ghostly man holding a lamp lit up by his force of will (Sean with Lamp)
[personal profile] ceri
Elizabeth Bear wrote something in her LiveJournal that bugged me for reasons I didn't succeed in articulating well in my comments there. But now I've got it. Here's the passage in question, which I'm quoting at length to make sure I don't mislead by excluding context:

My job as an artist is to make you squirm.

My job as an artist is not to console you or distract you from the things in the world that make you unhappy. That's my job as an entertainer, and often it's in direct conflict with my job as an artist--but conflict is what makes narratives interesting, so that's okay. My job as an artist is not to give you characters and stories you care about and invest in and want to spend time with. That's my job as a storyteller, which supports and informs my job as an artist.

My job as an artist is not to propagandize for anyone or anything, because that would mean I have the answers, and my job as an artist is to point out that there are no total answers and no moral certainties and that the ones we think we have mostly are broken and flawed and kind of suck. My job as an artist is not to rubber-stamp anybody's belief system, including my own.

My job as an artist is to keep hanging out the reminders that it's always more complicated, that the human condition is fraught with contradictions and compromises and crippling choices, that we make mistakes--sometimes terrible mistakes--and that's okay, but also that we are capable of so much more than we aspire to.

The reason this bugs me is because of what it presumes about the audience. There are people who need to know that the world is more complicated, that the human condition is loaded with crippling choice, and all that. But only people with privilege need to know that. The victims of discrimination, bias, and all other forms of oppress already know it. We already get to squirm—we face the possibility we deal with authority, and brace for it each time we deal with surrounding society. It's a part of our lives already.

So Bear is imagining an audience of people with at least as much as privilege as herself. She doesn't have anything to offer the rest of us; we aren't on her radar at all, not in that deep-down space where every writer's soul goes about its work, not while she's busy making other, privileged people uncomfortable. I don't really have an opinion on whether that's a good aim, or whether it works. But I can tell that I am nowhere in her art's aim.

Date: 2009-05-25 06:47 am (UTC)
willow: Red haired, dark skinned, lollipop girl (Default)
From: [personal profile] willow
EB thinks being raised by lesbian separatists means she can understand what it's like to be black. in America. She believes her childhood prepared her to understand being a minority and facing oppression.

As if such statements and belief weren't damning enough by themselves, she also believes W.Sh*tterly is a truly nice person and just comes across as an abusive and raging racist and misogynist online - because online communication is fraught with misinterpretations and something also just changes with W.S when he's dealing with things online.

This is not just about having privilege. This is about raising having privilege and being blinded by it, into self-tortured Art.

Re: Who needs to squirm?

Date: 2009-05-27 03:05 am (UTC)
piranha: red origami crane (Default)
From: [personal profile] piranha
that's a good point. though having followed bear long before her sad actions in racefail, i think she's quite with the squirming herself initially -- though probably not long enough. and some of her writing comes out of those personal experiences with having squirmed.

but it's also worth remembering that privilege isn't a unidimensional thing, and that a person who's privileged along one axis might not be along another. and -- without getting into whether that's an artist's job -- an artist can certainly shake one up about one issue even if other issues are directed at the 101 level of the class while one's deep into 300 level calculus.

SF seems to me a good example of that, and very few works do well when looked at from the viewpoint of intersectionality. generally i am happy if they get one major axis right, and unfortunately, many fail even that small requirement. so much golden age SF is very hard for me to read now, and i sometimes bemoan that i didn't know it as a teenager.

Re: Who needs to squirm?

Date: 2009-05-27 05:33 am (UTC)
piranha: red origami crane (Default)
From: [personal profile] piranha
is it not doing any good? how can you tell? is it something that's obvious from reading her LJ? i admit to not having read it regularly anymore since before the racefailery; i couldn't "bear" it anymore (but that might be a failing within myself in dealing with extraverts who appear to me as holding court). since i didn't see any linkspam i was assuming she kept her mouth shut about mammothfail, having learned at least that lesson.

this kind of stuff usually needs to ferment though, and sometimes for long periods of time. and i don't think it's best done in public.

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Date: 2017-06-17 11:24 am (UTC)
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That is my occupation as a performer, and regularly it's in direct clash with my employment as a craftsman yet struggle is the thing that makes stories intriguing, so that is alright. My occupation as a craftsman is not to give you characters and stories you think about and put resources into and need to invest energy with. Easy Rider Leather Jacket

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Who needs to squirm?

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