The Game Blame

by rsbakker

So I’ve begun teaching that creative writing class at Fanshawe: it been awesome so far, though its reminded me of just how bad of a monologuer I can be. When 50 minutes vanishes into the echo of your own voice you know it’s time to start shutting up… If you can.

And I can’t.

Neth, one of the most perceptive and intellectually honest genre bloggers on the web, has come out with his review of The White-Luck Warrior. Even though the book didn’t work for him, I can’t say I disagree with any of his criticisms. It does make me think I need to change up my tactics in my interviews, however! No matter how nuanced I think I’m being, I seem to continually bump into the claim that I continually ‘blame the reader’ for their difficulties with my books. The fact is, I do blame the reader, but as much for their enjoyment as for their ‘difficulties.’

This just makes me think that I’m not doing a good job communicating the sensibility I take to writing and reading. My point has always been that fiction is intrinsically ambiguous, that the reader imposes as much as they are imposed upon. When it comes to defending myself from accusations of sexism, I have no choice but to hold the reader to account. I always try to be careful with my qualifications, to point out that pattern imposition is simply what all humans do all the time. It’s unconscious and effortless, so it feels as though nothing is being ‘done’ at all, that the meanings are simply ‘discovered as is.’

But we now know this sense of ‘semantic giveness’ is illusory, through and through. This is why the readerly default is to always blame the book, and why Amazon reviews take the form they do. Somehow, in the course of explaining this situation, everything I say gets boiled to the assumption that I simply hold the contrary view, which is to blame the reader, and that I think that anyone who doesn’t like my books is simply ‘too stupid to get them.’

In point of fact, I blame everybody involved.  Me. You. Obama. The evangelical Right. I actually think that I bite quite a few bullets in my interviews, but for whatever reason this seems to get blotted out. It probably has a lot to do with the context: I am defending myself and my writing, so it would be easy to assume that I’m not really biting any bullets. All I can say is that I spend way, way more time upbraiding myself for my compositional shortcomings than anything. I really think I’m trying to do something that is very, very difficult, so much so that falling on my face is inevitable. I look at it as a game of averages, and most certainly not one of good readers versus bad.

‘Books’ as bearers of meaning (as opposed to bearers of code) are a fiction, after all, a conceptual shorthand for multitdinous and multifarious readings. I write readings. I throw narrative patterns at people, and quite often the patterns received are at odds with the patterns transmitted. Given that our brains, both yours and mine, are only three pounds, go figure.