Thoughts on Fiction

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I should clarify that the way the Herodotus File ended up taking shape is NOT the thing that was initially proposed by the publisher. That would have been a dry, encyclopedia-like source book. My argument prevailed, with Eric Singer siding with me, that the book should be a free-wheeling, highly suspicious dossier full of unreliable information (disinformation) that captures the vibe and spirit of the series. The collection of accounts contained in the book is not ultimately useful as exposition (backstory). It's the mind space of the show in book form.

Peter Chung, Thursday, 12 January 2017 12:41 (four years ago) link

two months pass...

"The driver of human actions is deterministic, as is the course of the universe. But the unfathomable complexity of conditions that determine your actions are beyond your capacity to grasp, so you go on living life as if you were free. Which is the only way you can live."

Relevant to this (and to your original post, re: why we care about made-up stories):

Blair Gilbreath, Saturday, 18 March 2017 08:08 (four years ago) link

Thanks for the article. As it happens, just yesterday, I wrote down the following:

Evolution has enabled a prey animal to experience fear and the flight response as a way of avoiding harm. But it is in acquiring that very power that it has increased its potential for suffering. A more primitive life form, less evolved, is more easily killed and consumed by a predator. But its lack of consciousness means that it suffers less. Compare a rabbit’s experience of being eaten to a clam’s.
A human who is about to be killed not only suffers the physical pain of bodily injury, but perhaps worse, the psychological and emotional distress of knowing all the future life that he will be deprived of. And the nightmare of finding himself living in an uncaring world. It is better to be killed suddenly, without foreknowledge, before knowing what is happening. The anticipation of death can be long and torturous in a way that may surpass the actual act of dying.

A condemned prisoner is held in solitude with no means of contact with the world. He is told that there has been some kind of procedural irregularity or an intercession and that as soon as the arrangements are made, he will be set free. The prisoner is excited by the prospect and counts the hours for his moment of release. More good news is delivered. He has come into an inheritance and a beautiful young female admirer has fallen in love with him based on his story in the news. Finally, the day arrives. The guards come to his cell and let him out. He is walking towards the final gate, beyond which he can see his smiling family, the woman who loves him, new clothes, everything he’d hoped for. His face is beaming with joy. Tears stream down his cheeks. At the moment the gate is opened before him, he is shot from behind in the head, bringing instant death. It happens clean and quick, with no moment to experience pain. His last days were free of the kind of torment he would have endured had the truth been told. Is it morally wrong to allow the man to live in delusion if it alleviates suffering?

Peter Chung, Saturday, 18 March 2017 18:35 (four years ago) link

Well, the first thing I'd want to know about is the suffering in the minds of the people tasked with perpetuating the illusion.

Blair Gilbreath, Saturday, 18 March 2017 23:32 (four years ago) link

I was just watching the 1995 Ghost in the Shell movie again. It's a beautiful looking film, and I truly wish that I could join its admirers.
But there are many lapses of storytelling; it seemed they came about every five minutes. I'll be specific here for a moment.

Here's an important exchange that occurs at about 2/3 in: (from a transcript I found online)

"Uh, the Doctor is referring to the original pattern of the ghost-line that's now in the body. He's simply speaking in generic terms. The sex of the perpetrator isn't known and remains undetermined. Allow me to introduce you. This is the handiwork of the Puppet Master, infamous as the most extraordinary hacker in the history of cyber crime.


Your people at Section 9 came across his work too in that ghost-hacking incident involving the Foreign Minister’s interpreter. Section 6 has been following the trail of the Puppet Master for some time now. This case was given our utmost attention. We put together a project team centered around Dr. Willis. They were assigned to analyze every aspect in detail of our criminal. This gave us a fix on his behavioral and code patterns. Ultimately, this enabled us to devise a strategy with which we lured his program into a designated body.

You caused the Puppet Master to dive into a cyborg, then meanwhile murdered his real body?

Yes, that sums it up. He's originally from America. So the U.S. Cooperated with us in capturing him. That's why we'd like to take him back ourselves. You have no objections to this, I hope.

Hmm? Just another unidentified corpse.

You will not find a corpse, because I have never possessed a body.

Why are his sensors on? What the hell is this?

All external controls are turned off. The body's using its own power source.

I entered this body because I was unable to overcome Section 6's reactive barriers. However, what you are now witnessing is an act of my own free will. As a sentient life-form, I hereby demand political asylum."

The above information is delivered in the most matter-or-fact, literal, unambiguous way.
This part is particularly annoying:

"... Ultimately, this enabled us to devise a strategy with which we lured his program into a designated body.

You caused the Puppet Master to dive into a cyborg, then meanwhile murdered his real body?

Yes, that sums it up. "

Well, that sounds like it would have made for a great scene, but instead of showing us any of this, we get a static conversation of people talking about a fascinating event that happened off screen.
A good director could have done something remarkable with material like this.

Soon after, we get another static scene of a guy talking about, again, what sounds like a twist in the plot ripe with intrigue:

"Hey, Chief.

Ishikawa? What is it?

I've been divin' around in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs net. I think I found some juicy morsels for ya.

I'll switch to an encrypted channel.

Okay, now? Well, here's the scoop on that guy who showed up with Nakamura. He's an American: Dr. Willis, Head of Strategic Research at Neutron Company. A top researcher in the field of artificial intelligence. He happened to head up a project for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. And who do you think was the main programmer on his team?

Get to the point.

Mr. Mizuho Daita. Remember him? He's the guy Section 6 tried like hell to stop from defecting, so the Major dropped in and took care of the diplomat who'd been talking to him. This is our man.

Go on.

There's something that doesn't figure though. What's bugging me is that this project began one year before the Puppet Master ever appeared on the scene.

A year before? But wasn't it supposed to be set up to catch him?

Hmph. Well, try this one on. Maybe the men who broke in to take the Puppet Master weren't actually out to catch him? Maybe in actuality, they were trying to get him back. Think about it. It was the MOFA that wanted an excuse to deport Malles when that ghost-hacking incident happened with the Minister's interpreter. Maybe we've been taken for a ride. What if this Puppet Master is really some sort of tool the MOFA uses to get their way with things, and somehow, they lost control of it? They'd be screwed if they couldn't get it back. That would explain why they went to such lengths to snatch the body from Section 9. If the Puppet Master revealed this to the world, there'd be one hell of an international stink. Then it wouldn't be a simple case of rounding up the usual suspects. Some official heads would roll.

Any details on that project?

Naw. They've blocked all access. About the only thing I can tell you is the file name: Project 2501.

Keep at it. Don't let them know you're looking."

Up until this point, the viewer had little inkling that any of this might have been relevant to anything going on. We hear names, relationships, and events from out of the blue, we are TOLD they are significant by a guy just doing his professional duty. This exchange is not character-driven, it has no dramatic subtext, it is just plain exposition that we are to accept at face value.

Peter Chung, Wednesday, 22 March 2017 00:03 (four years ago) link

To make sense of these scenes, the viewer has to listen closely and try to make sense of these details, such as names and which characters they are referring to.
Some people might therefore claim that the film requires paying close attention and that you have to use your head to follow the story.
The demands being placed on the viewer are merely a result of the director's inability (or lack of interest) in conveying the information in a way that is integrated into the drama.

In fact, to get the viewer to understand events and their meaning through context and not through exposition requires true directorial skill. When a twist happens, its impact should be felt intuitively, not explained.
That is the entire point of directing.

Peter Chung, Wednesday, 22 March 2017 01:50 (four years ago) link

two weeks pass...

The new GITS film is bad, just in case you were wondering. I was steered wrong about it on another forum.

Peter the type of storytelling you point out is very common in a lot of video games, especially what gamers refer to as JRPGs (Japanese RPGs) such as Final Fantasy. I think gamers have moved on from this to SOME extent, but a sizable portion of them still believe that those long awful info dumps somehow mean that you're getting an intelligent, well-told story.

I have a question about "meaning" in Aeon that I'll ask in the "aeon flux kicks butt" thread.

J.P. McDevitt, Tuesday, 11 April 2017 05:28 (four years ago) link

I haven't seen the new GITS movie. The clips I've seen remind me of nothing so much as the Kusama AF movie, and make me wonder if anyone in Hollywood (Paramount in this case) ever learns anything.
I watched portions of the Oshii film recently. I get the sense that Oshii is savvy enough to know that the fictional plot of his movie is expendable. That is why he doesn't trouble himself with the hassles of dramaturgy.
He undermines his own intent however, in the same way I'd commented above. The viewer's mind is too distracted by the problem of sorting out the obscure plot that it doesn't get the space to consider any more weighty meanings.
A lot of Hollywood science fiction does this deliberately to draw attention away from any philosophical implications that might be in danger of sprouting up.

Peter Chung, Tuesday, 11 April 2017 09:28 (four years ago) link

In the interests of being complete, here is the other famous M. John Harrison weigh-in on this subject:

TS Hugo Largo vs. Al Factotum (James Redd and the Blecchs), Tuesday, 11 April 2017 11:52 (four years ago) link

Literary prose as a venue for imaginative narrative is archaic and is especially not suited for world building.
World building works much better on film, where it doesn't require the viewer's full attention while the story stops in its tracks to digress into description.

Peter Chung, Thursday, 13 April 2017 00:26 (four years ago) link

I know what you mean, but don't you think literary description can itself be incredibly satisfying - and create a richness to the story - if written well? Not so much stopping the story in its tracks as providing a sort of caesura in which the reader gains something almost like super-powers, able to see, smell, hear things they'd never be able to in their real lives?

There's a clutch of mystical literature that I feel you might like Peter, full of thrilling description. The Seven Who Fled, by Frederic Prokosch, shot through with fantastically detailed descriptions of lands he'd never visited. Salammbô by Flaubert..

illegal economic migration (Tracer Hand), Thursday, 13 April 2017 08:35 (four years ago) link

I would argue from the opposite angle, that text can evoke worlds with hand-waving efficiency, e.g. "Snow White slaughtered the seven dwarves with seven singing swords soldered by Samsung" is essentially describing an action, but also tells you:
-Fantasy setting
-Morally ambiguous universe
-Multinational conglomerates co-exist with magic
From this the reader can triangulate the world already.

Philip Nunez, Thursday, 13 April 2017 15:03 (four years ago) link

Yes totally!

illegal economic migration (Tracer Hand), Thursday, 13 April 2017 15:22 (four years ago) link

The hand-waving efficiency part is undeniable. It's why word language is the default instrument for authors/creators.
The dependence on words is a historical happenstance. We're taught from school to rely on them, but words have no inherent meaning in themselves. They are a convention.
As a visual artist, my own default is not words, but images.

Peter Chung, Friday, 14 April 2017 00:55 (four years ago) link

I listened to a remarkable conversation on the radio with the great French comics illustrator François Boucq. He says that the task of an illustrator is to translate the abstraction of words into the concrete form of images. To allow the theoretical to become the real.

Peter Chung, Friday, 14 April 2017 01:44 (four years ago) link

Philip, I agree with the point you are making.
I have gotten into a habit of snapping back at arguments that presume the primacy of the written word.
That was not your statement, however, so my reply was off point.

Peter Chung, Friday, 14 April 2017 07:42 (four years ago) link

Haven't read much of the thread yet, but agree 100% with what was said in the initial posts. As to the question of whether one should care what happens after the ending, I don't even know if we should care about the ending itself that much. The ending both as stopping point in time and how it reflects on the prior story is arbitrary. The ending shouldn't always be viewed as a confirmation of all that went before, the story shouldn't be thought of as a proof leading up to the ending. Does the Simon Oakland speech at the end of Psycho really explain everything that occurred? Are those tales framed as "only a kooky fever dream," such as The Wizard of Oz, Jacob's Ladder, really only that? Does the ending of Red River, in which the protagonists are told they are only behaving the way they do because they love each other explain away all the prior conflict?

TS Hugo Largo vs. Al Factotum (James Redd and the Blecchs), Friday, 14 April 2017 13:50 (four years ago) link

As for worldbuilding, I'll refer you to the time when I was a nipper and a friend of mine loaned me a book containing the complete blueprints of the U.S.S. Enterprise, which made me unable to watch Star Trek (TOS, of course) for many years.

TS Hugo Largo vs. Al Factotum (James Redd and the Blecchs), Friday, 14 April 2017 13:53 (four years ago) link

Hey, that's exactly what I was saying!

Thoughts on Fiction

Peter Chung, Friday, 14 April 2017 17:49 (four years ago) link

Ha, yes, I see. Now I can go back and read the thread properly.

TS Hugo Largo vs. Al Factotum (James Redd and the Blecchs), Friday, 14 April 2017 19:14 (four years ago) link

Even more than the ending of Psycho, I'd cite the forced ending of Hitchcock's Suspicion. Hitch was forced to tack on a happy ending by the studio, but since it contradicts everything that happened earlier, the best conclusion to draw is that the spoken explanation is a devious lie. Viewers are in such a habit of relying on the spoken word that somehow they don't consider that someone capable of killing might also be capable of lying.

Peter Chung, Saturday, 15 April 2017 01:14 (four years ago) link

Yes. In fact I had thought about mentioning Suspicion as well when this thread was first revived, then overlooked it when I finally got around to typing.

TS Hugo Largo vs. Al Factotum (James Redd and the Blecchs), Saturday, 15 April 2017 01:18 (four years ago) link

"There's a clutch of mystical literature that I feel you might like Peter, full of thrilling description. The Seven Who Fled, by Frederic Prokosch, shot through with fantastically detailed descriptions of lands he'd never visited. Salammbô by Flaubert.."

I found a copy of Salammbo.

I'd read Flaubert's La Legende de St. Julien L'Hospitalier in middle school (French lycée in Tunis), and enjoyed it.
What I mean when I call literary prose an archaic medium for world building, it's because I find myself picturing the imagery residing in the author's mind as he chooses the words that best define a sensory experience. The sensory experience is being conveyed through a cumbersome code, not unlike morse code or sign language. We can admire the author's skill in the use of language to achieve this. But I'm always aware of the author editorializing and commenting on the thing whereas I prefer to simply behold the subject itself. A writer's voice cannot help but be a filter.

I've cited Robbe-Grillet's Jalousie as one of my favorite books, which I read as a student. I mention it because Jalousie is a book consisting of nothing but description. But what astonishes about Jalousie is that all the description is devoid of any emotional language, or even of any poetry or metaphor. It is entirely, obsessively, done without a hint of feeling, and reads like a technical account of physical phenomena. And precisely because of the author's suppression of emotion, reading it becomes an intensely emotional experience for the reader.

Peter Chung, Saturday, 15 April 2017 02:29 (four years ago) link

Hello Peter,
I'm a new member to the forum, but an old fan of AF.
A little off of the current topic, but related to prior comments: what are your thoughts on young people showing literal-minded tendencies?
I am not in animation, nor do I have a large repertoire of animation/film references, but when I can find any form of media that presents something abstract, esoteric, and meaningful, I cling to it wholeheartedly (not the scaffolding, of course, but the messages). AF has obviously supplied these things for me, and further brought me here, and now your words have me wondering what it is you make of a society which seems to be leaning more towards this sort of literal-mindedness in what I would argue to be most aspects of life? Do you have any theories as to why this shift is occurring? I live in a rural area, which tends to be devoid of people with the proper frame of mind which would allow for the appreciation of meaningful and strange media, and so I'm interested in what your personal thoughts on the subject are.

pynchon, Saturday, 15 April 2017 17:33 (four years ago) link

Welcome, Pynchon.
There's a tendency to call philosophical discourse "esoteric". When I use the word, it's to voice my disagreement with convention. The more an artist or a creative work addresses what is universal, vital and primary, the more it is deemed "hard", "inaccessible" and "esoteric". While the more something is frivolous, escapist or refers to a narrow cultural current, the more it is considered understandable or relevant. It should be exactly the other way around. Lost Highway and Men in Black both came out in 1997. Guess which one was being hailed as the must-see?

As for your question, it's something I've thought about a lot lately. The rise of religious fundamentalism is a symptom of it. I doubt that it's a cause, but I think the same trends apply. Biblical literalism became a necessary stance in light of a more rigorous epistemology. It's ironic that a more advanced understanding of rational argument is what leads to a stricter insistence on the inerrancy of a nonsensical scripture. When the rules of logic were less understood, the idea of textual inconsistency was less of a problem. So maybe a higher level of education is to blame.

Peter Chung, Saturday, 15 April 2017 20:28 (four years ago) link

There can be such a thing as too much school. What I notice in the discussions of fan culture is a kind of smarty pants syndrome, where each participant shows off the breadth of their knowledge of a particular fictional world. I can never remember the names of the planets (moon?) in Alien and Prometheus, even though I love them both and watch them regularly.
A site I visit to keep up with news from pop culture is IO9. The comments section there is both alarming and depressing.

Peter Chung, Saturday, 15 April 2017 20:41 (four years ago) link

First discussion topic in the comments:

Would it have been that hard for the Pratt character to find some technicians or engineers in hibernation who’d be able to fix his cryo-chamber? Then they all go back to sleep, problem solved. The whole premise is really stupid.

Peter Chung, Thursday, 27 April 2017 11:18 (four years ago) link

"Would it have been that hard for the Pratt character to find some technicians or engineers in hibernation who’d be able to fix his cryo-chamber? Then they all go back to sleep, problem solved. The whole premise is really stupid."

I forgot to add the q

Peter Chung, Friday, 28 April 2017 14:15 (four years ago) link

This blog post sees the trend towards literalism to extend from religion and politics to pop culture. I hadn't thought of the political implications, but we live in highly ideological times.
Naked facts and objective, natural reality in all its rawness are discounted in favor of the primacy of the written word.

Peter Chung, Monday, 8 May 2017 06:27 (four years ago) link

The New Republic article makes me think that there may be a correlation between textual literalism and conservatism, both cultural and political.
Individuals with a preference (or need) for canonicity are expressing their desire for an authoritarian rule of law.

Peter Chung, Wednesday, 10 May 2017 06:50 (four years ago) link

one month passes...

I had an idea of what your answer would be, and I can agree with you for the most part. Just as your animated stories send me searching for a personal meaning or an underlying message, so to does the world's current, apparent state send me searching for an understanding as to why literalism has taken over. I don't know if education is wholly to blame. Memorization of facts is okay, but learning the tools by which we apply them is of greater importance. Facts stop our searching, while processes lead us onward.

Biblical literalism sprouts its ugly head in response to its opposition: scientific and logically calculated interpretations of reality. The "facts" of the Bible have been taught to the believers, but not the processes by which we are to scrutinize those "facts." Those who believe in the nonsensical stories of the Bible do not possess the proper logical tools to understand what it is they're arguing for, and furthermore cannot formulate a proper argument to combat opposing theories. Evolution, for example, is seen as a threat to Biblical belief, and so it is rejected on the grounds of 'Biblical inerrancy' simply because they cannot come up with any other justification other than this ex nihilo attempt.

But I feel even more aspects of our culture hinge upon this literalistic train of thought. Even science itself can fall into dogmatic traps. Consumer culture has us believing that some things are in and some are out and that we must follow suit in order to be valued. The hive mind has us believing that we must fit in to achieve purpose or happiness.
I guess what I'm saying is, there seems to be this infectious idea going around that there's a singular right and wrong way to act, believe, think, and exist. As a story-teller, I feel you must share in my contempt for this narrow and sad way of perceiving this awesome, multi-faceted world in which we live. What a disservice we give and disdain we show for such a wonderful universe.

pynchon, Saturday, 17 June 2017 03:50 (three years ago) link

Good article by Film Crit Hulk on Ridley Scott, spends a good amount of time on The Counselor and Prometheus (two films Peter has spoken highly of recently) and the newest Alien movie:

J.P. McDevitt, Tuesday, 20 June 2017 15:38 (three years ago) link

one month passes...

Valerian in 3D is highly recommended.
It was refreshing to see a narrative that stuck to focusing on actions and the consequences while leaving a lot of exposition out.

There's a big war that sets up the story, but no details are given as to why they are fighting, and they are not needed.
Most of the time, there is no dialogue explaining strange events, but we understand what is happening purely through context.

It appears that Luc Besson returned to the mindset that inspired his first film, Le Dernier Combat, which had zero dialogue.
Pure cinematic storytelling.

Peter Chung, Monday, 24 July 2017 13:56 (three years ago) link

Alien Covenant, on the other hand, was a crushing disappointment after the sublime Prometheus. It appears that Mr. Scott succumbed to the negativity and gave us a film that undid everything he'd so carefully set up.

Peter Chung, Monday, 24 July 2017 14:29 (three years ago) link

Given your own experience, how much do you ascribe to the director vs the writers in the case of movies like Covenant, Prometheus, etc...? (Prometheus to me seemed very much of a piece with LOST which the writer was also involved with.)

Philip Nunez, Tuesday, 25 July 2017 05:25 (three years ago) link

Scott did not want to make another monster slasher movie, which was what the original Spaihts draft resembled.
A director with a vision will work closely with a writer to shape the story along the thematic lines that drive him to want to make the film.

I remember when Blade Runner first came out, it was received badly. But Scott knew what he was doing. The world caught up eventually. Too bad that today, the pace and volume of audience backlash has become insurmountable.
I came out of my first viewing of Prometheus in a state of elation. A world of discovery and adventure lay ahead for Shaw and for the public.
Alien Covenant is a despicable film and a betrayal- most sadly because of Scott's own doing.

Peter Chung, Tuesday, 25 July 2017 06:15 (three years ago) link

two weeks pass...

Rereading the thread, I have another thought to add to the comment regarding the appreciation for literary world building:
"I would argue from the opposite angle, that text can evoke worlds with hand-waving efficiency..."

This is fine if "efficiency" is what matters to you in the consumption of art.
But why would I prefer to read a writer's description of a physically dense, visually rich world, if the choice exists to have the sensory experience first hand?
The same applies to the interactions between characters. Dialogue is speech. It exists because it is SPOKEN.
Reading it on a page is a step removed, and to say you prefer to see the words printed rather than hear them with your ears - that is like saying you would prefer to read Beethoven's 6th symphony as sheet music.

This is maybe the reason why the cinematic form, either in movies or TV has become the preferred medium for audiences to get their fix of narrative fiction.
People don't read novels anymore-- I confess that I don't. There have been enough times when I've either finished a novel or gave up on one and been left feeling like it was a waste of time.
Many of my formative experiences as a young artist have been through literature. But maybe that is destined to be the future role of literary fiction in the lives on new generations.
Reading literature will be like reading textbooks on science and math. You do it in your student years, but once the principles have been absorbed, one rarely goes back, as the effort yields diminishing returns.

Peter Chung, Wednesday, 9 August 2017 18:37 (three years ago) link

"There have been enough times when I've either finished a novel or gave up on one and been left feeling like it was a waste of time."

Of course, a good novel does not make me feel this way, but the broader point is that the literary form itself is a reductive and linear experience that makes use of such a narrow range of your body's capacity.
I have to shut off my ears and minimize my eyes for the sole function of recognizing black symbols on a page. As a voracious "retinal fiend", my eyes can only remain starved for so long. In other words, for the duration of time required to read a novel, my poor eyes are shackled.

Peter Chung, Wednesday, 9 August 2017 19:25 (three years ago) link

How much do textual descriptions play a part in your production process? (The recent Mad Max movie was apparently conceived of purely in storyboards, rather than script form.)
Has any recent tool development allowed you to scale back text in favor of generating animatics directly?

Philip Nunez, Wednesday, 9 August 2017 20:59 (three years ago) link

Textual descriptions are absolutely central to my production process. Written language is the most efficient way to give myself clarity and to stay focused. The efficiency of language make it useful as a production tool. I also enjoy using language to deconstruct and evaluate a project after the fact- as you can see by my postings here.

Peter Chung, Thursday, 10 August 2017 06:44 (three years ago) link

Thanatophobia Script

As you can see from this script, I go into great detail describing scenes that will ultimately play non verbally on screen.

Peter Chung, Thursday, 10 August 2017 06:50 (three years ago) link

three months pass...

In the interests of being complete, here is the other famous M. John Harrison weigh-in on this subject:

TS Hugo Largo,
Belated thanks for the link to M. John Harrison. I read it at the time you posted it, but just looked at it again, and I completely agree with his stance.
It seems impossible that any writer working in genre fiction would not, if they are honest, reach the same conclusion.
I haven't read his books, but I shall seek them out.

Peter Chung, Tuesday, 28 November 2017 21:10 (three years ago) link

Personally, I think the book is it's own medium. It's an object. You engage with a book in the manner that one does -- opening it, etc. There are many, many great "experimental" writers that engage with the medium in a way that is specific to the medium and no other, and that continue to make advancements in said engagements.

The divisions in publishing between what is a novel or poetry or anything else are most often grafted onto it for the purposes of marketing. If someone asks me what I do, I usually just say that I" work with text". And much of what I read or have published with my collective is similarly meant to reflect this. (

Unfortunately, a lot of what winds up being published these days is written with an eye toward transposition into other mediums -- films, shows, podcasts -- and this isn't literature.

Here's a really great interview with a publisher/architect that I think reflects some of the more forward-thinking movements in literature and publishing in general:

Derdekeas, Monday, 4 December 2017 02:38 (three years ago) link

*its own medium

Derdekeas, Monday, 4 December 2017 02:39 (three years ago) link

four weeks pass...

I often listen to podcasts or lectures while drawing. This discussion at one point becomes a debate on (as usual with Harris) how to determine an adequate basis for morality.
It's an aggravating exchange when Shapiro persists in trying to bolster his theistic world view that morality can only be acquired through religion. Harris, who himself holds onto a contorted claim for absolute morality, tries to argue on the same shaky ground that "morality" is a thing. Morality is a convenient word for a class of judgments.

The argument here is backwards. Why presume that this thing "morality" exists from the outset? The idea of morality arises out of the fact that human actions must follow only one actual course out of a multitude of potential paths. When making a choice to do one thing versus another, one judges the course that will lead to the desired outcome. Depending on whether one chooses the path leading to benefit or to suffering, that choice is later labeled with the words "moral" or "not moral". Over time, humans become more confident in predicting which choices will be more beneficial than harmful, and they are able to judge an action as moral based on such projections- before observing the actual outcome. The ability to make this judgment is a useful social tool, and we call this tool "morality". But that is what morality is, a tool. Imperfect, but convenient. It is not some cosmic force of nature.

(You could call it a "fiction", so I'm posting these thoughts here.)

Peter Chung, Tuesday, 2 January 2018 13:30 (three years ago) link

The argument against subjective morality (a redundancy) is that it reduces moral standards to opinions, or mere personal preference. This is a game. The truth is that, even those who ground their moral standards on some objective foundation (reason, in the case of Sam Harris) are actually just dressing up their personal preference in a more elaborate guise.

Peter Chung, Friday, 5 January 2018 21:20 (three years ago) link

Do you consider language itself a fiction, and thus incapable of describing or alluding to an objective foundation?

Philip Nunez, Friday, 5 January 2018 22:07 (three years ago) link

Good question. Yes, language is a fiction. But no, unlike morality, language IS capable of describing an objective foundation.

There is an important difference between language and morality Morals describe values, not facts. They measure a subjective quantity-- the assessment of what promotes human well-being (I will use Harris' wording), which by its nature cannot exist apart from living consciousness. Values, unlike things, do not exist "out there" in the external world.

There is a difference between objective morality and absolute morality, but both are ideals that cannot exist.
Absolute morality is self contradicting. Even theologians will concede this.
Theists will fall back on the notion of "objective morality". I sympathize totally with the impulse being expressed in the debate by Ben Shapiro. One wants to believe that certain actions are good or evil without regard to how anyone thinks about them. I used to espouse that belief myself. But I cannot see how it doesn't just boil down to someone expressing his personal preference. while pretending it is otherwise.

Peter Chung, Saturday, 6 January 2018 08:18 (three years ago) link

To go back to what prompted the post above, while listening to the debate, I realized that I disagreed with both sides (Harris and Shapiro).
But in considering both flawed arguments, a new insight occurred to me, which is that the origin of morality in human affairs must have been prompted by the fact that the course of one's life "collapses" into a singular path at some point. One option is taken and others fall away. Moral standards may have arisen as a tool for aiding in deciding which path to pursue. Whereas the conventional view is that its main importance is in the administration of justice.

Peter Chung, Saturday, 6 January 2018 08:30 (three years ago) link

I wrote " Harris, who himself holds onto a contorted claim for absolute morality,". To be accurate, I should have said "objective", not "absolute".
The difference was less clear to me when I wrote that.
This debate has been distracting me from my work, but I realize that my thinking on this subject has become clearer just in the last few days.

Peter Chung, Saturday, 6 January 2018 08:59 (three years ago) link

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