". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Bloody, Twisted, Inverted World of Twilight + Discovery of Witches

"Violent Vampire Sex, Demon-Babies and Overwhelming Female Desire. Twilight is saturated with sexist tropes--to the point of being disturbing. But that disturbing element is compelling, too."

I have been thinking about Twilight a lot because of the author of A Discovery of Witches appears to have studied it carefully. Deborah Harkness seems to have broken out all the parts that seem to be the most appealing wish fulfillment for the adolescent reader, and then transmuted them to an adult woman's fantasy wish fulfillment.

Sarah Seltzer at Alternet recently has been thoughtfull about Twilight, sparked by the professional obligation to screen the latest Twilight movie franchise:

[ " But as for the substance of her wants, therein lies the perversely haunting twist. I’d argue that Bella's desires are direct responses to the patriarchy we actually live in. In fact, Meyer has created for her heroine an inverted version of our unjust society. In this invented, inverted world, Bella is allowed to want sex, and vocalize it, and initiate it, while her partner is the gatekeeper who makes sure she is safe and married before she gets “hurt.” In her world, the men around her urge her to abort her fetus for her own safety, but she gets to “choose” to deliver it even though it kills her. In her world, her boyfriend can urge her to attend college and better herself while she can push for an early marriage--and be right! In her world, she can reject her body and trade it in for a new one that is agile, strong, lithe. Her choices are consistently to fall into the arms of the patriarchy and trust that it will catch her, and her faith is validated: she gets a perfect husband, angelic child, new body.

What if we could do this, the fantasy suggests? What if we could just will ourselves to accept the prescribed roles society gives us (damsel in distress, object of protection, vessel for childbearing) and make it okay through the power of our wills? And what if the men in our society were horrified by their power: physical, social, sexual, and curbed it themselves and we didn't constantly have to be on our guard? " ]

It's interesting in terms of fantasy and what women want to compare and contrast Bella with the witch Diane. Bella starts as human. Diane starts speshul as can be, a witch, a witch is even speshul among witches. But Diane is an adult with a highly successful career, who in childhood, eschewed her witchy  heritage of specialness. Or so it seems. What makes it so interesting a contrast and comparison is what Diana wants vs what Bella wants -- what an intelligent, educated, curious, adult woman wants is very different from what an incurious, uneducated, non-disciplined teenager wants.

A Discovery of Witches (2011), Book 1 of The All Souls Trilogy is the most engrossing sf/f  (as opposed to sf or f -- sf/f here referes to a novel that is both science fiction and fantasy) I've read in some time. It's only rival for excellence is in this cross genre of science fiction and fantasy is this year's World Fantasy Award winner, Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor.

Now, many whose judgment I tend to agree with have hated A Discovery of Witches and made great big fun of it. I had read the first chapter excerpt on Tor, and what we got from that seemed to confirm that this was yet another version of the Twilight tiresomes: the special snowflake helpless as can be but firming her feisty chin in determination to take care of herself instead of allowing the gorgreous, brilliant, unbelievably ancient, powerful and wealthy vamp protect her -- and who loves her because -- why? since the love object is a zero, lacking all qualities other than shallow and ignorant, without curiosity, intelligence, education, knowledge of the world, interests or achievements.

But that's not what Discovery of Witches turns out to be. For once we have two lovers who are equally matched, who don't pull that I hate you but I love you o what will I do garbage. In fact, that they are matched equalities and agencies who truly love each other actually matters to the plot -- and not in that simple-minded when will they do it with each other? way. These are The Lovers, that you feel are worthy of the Tarot Major Arcana card named "The Lovers."

A Discovery of Witches is a fiction infused with intelligence. It's well-written, well-structured. For once I'm not going "They should have cut out at least 125 pp. of the 579 pp. that make up this novel."

I am enthusiastically looking forward to the second volume, Shadow of Night, which comes out next summer. I'm expecting this second volume in the projected trilogy will not fall into 'disappointing trilogy middle volume' syndrome as Deborah Harkness is highly intelligent, deeply and broadly educated, and she's also an experienced author.

Later I'll try to break down in particulars and specifics why this book worked so well for this reader at least. A lot of it has to do, alas, with all the wrongs it did not commit, that are embedded in almost all fantasy novels now, it seems, whatever variety of fantasy they are. But even more has to do with what all the rights the book commits.

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