Friday, November 21, 2014

Of A Larger Reality

Ursula LeGuin is a revered writer and a prophet of the imagination.  She received an award from the National Book Awards, and used the occasion to note that such literary awards are rare for science fiction writers:

"And I rejoice at accepting it for, and sharing it with, all the writers who were excluded from literature for so long, my fellow authors of fantasy and science fiction—writers of the imagination, who for the last 50 years watched the beautiful rewards go to the so-called realists."

But it is not just because an entire branch of writing has been snubbed, just as television awards snubbed Star Trek and other science fiction for most of its history.  It is the value--and the future value--of those visions:

"I think hard times are coming when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who can remember freedom. Poets, visionaries—the realists of a larger reality."

LeGuin then made some pointed comments about today's publishing world.  They may seem unrelated to her previous point, but they really aren't.  It is only when writers and creators can create and express their visions, including visions of a better future, that they can be shared.

We all know that television and movies are expensive to make and especially these days to market, and that the extent of profits have become increasingly the measure of success, and determines what is allowed to be seen.  (Not just profits, but the extent of profits.)  That's become dominant in book publishing as well.

These are ultimately self-destructive values, and the wrong measures, yet they are so easy to adopt. I've noticed for instance that instead of discussing the issues raised by Star Trek and other stories, or the visions of the future they suggest, the dialogue is increasingly about money, about blockbusters, profits and "the franchise."

Once we start talking about "the franchise" instead of the Star Trek saga, or the stories, then we're defeating ourselves.  Star Trek is not about profits, tent poles and maintaining a franchise.  It's about stories, visions, complexities, models and hope for the future.  Yes, the money involves some constraints.  But a sense of proportion and always remembering what it's actually all about--they are more necessary than ever.

Here's more of LeGuin on publishing:

 Right now, I think we need writers who know the difference between the production of a market commodity and the practice of an art. Developing written material to suit sales strategies in order to maximize corporate profit and advertising revenue is not quite the same thing as responsible book publishing or authorship. (Thank you, brave applauders.)

 Yet I see sales departments given control over editorial; I see my own publishers in a silly panic of ignorance and greed, charging public libraries for an ebook six or seven times more than they charge customers. We just saw a profiteer try to punish a publisher for disobedience and writers threatened by corporate fatwa, and I see a lot of us, the producers who write the books, and make the books, accepting this. Letting commodity profiteers sell us like deodorant, and tell us what to publish and what to write. 

 Books, you know, they’re not just commodities. The profit motive often is in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art—the art of words." 

 This post is probably longer than her speech, and quotes almost all of it.  But you have to see her give it, in under six minutes. The complete transcript is here.

1 comment:

flamur muja said...

Thank you for posting this! It's important that we hear more from such great authors as LeGuin. I value her experience and advice.