Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Critical theory, drafts, and bats

Critical theory is a term applied to the reading, discussion, and evaluation of published cultural material.  Often applied in accordance with a particular discipline such as Marxism, feminism, or structuralism, these approaches, as their names imply, support a particular vision of Reality.  They may also suggest an opposition to or revisionist approach to a version already in place, thus structuralism giving way first to post-structuralism, then to deconstruction.

Such visions and conversations are the academic's equivalent of genre fiction, alternate universe in particular.  They also invite comparison to The Talmud, a compendium of rabbinic discussions and arguments of Jewish law, ethics, and philosophy.  These discussions and arguments have been recorded since about 200 of the Common Era.  As you might imagine, some of the Talmudic "comments" and "interpretations" over the millennia have led to increasingly vigorous debate, not the least of which have focused on the definition of who and what a Jew is.

In the middle years of the twentieth century, a passionate debate raged among literary critics, focusing on such nuance as whether science fiction was literature, were Utopian visions science fiction and if they were, did that mean dystopias were also science fiction?  The arguments did not stop there:  If 1984 had been written by someone less scrupulous--code for interested in financial return--than Orwell, would it have been science fiction, and was it wrong to think of Brave New World as science fiction?

Bringing the inner turmoils of The Talmud and the worlds of speculative literature to the table of debate also suggests an invitation to the political spectrum:  Progressive and Conservative,Tory and Labor, Capitalist and Socialist.  Not to forget psychologists:  Freudian, neo-Freudian, Jungian, even behaviorist, nor those strict constructionist jurists and their compeers, the liberals.

In the same ways extraordinary insights and visions have come from genre fiction, the academy, the political, psychological, and legal points of received acceptance, we have benefited from the dialogue and debate.  We have even achieved a modicum of progress.  Even though there could always be more such progress, the Universe appears to have its own sense of time line.  This is, then, no argument for more just justice, faster progress, more tolerant tolerance.

We are talking critical theory here.

Save the critical theory until there is at the least an entire first draft down on paper or screen.  Don't worry yet about whether it is not yet fully realized cyberpunk, only post modernist, even--gasp--mere modernist.  Such elements as theme, objectivity, and truth, believe it or don't, are already there, waiting for their chance to appear, but until you get a draft committed to some medium, they are only bit players, waiting in the wings for their cue.

It is worth remembering that most of us were drawn into the text in the first place by the author's voice, telling us a story.  We began to associate that storytelling voice with grandparents, one-size-fits-all elders, and the voice emerging from the print, after we'd got beyond the Look!  Look!  Look!  See Dick!  See Jane! stage.  From that moment on, we had the key; we could read.

We were also screwed without knowing it.

Writing seemed so easy because the writers we were drawn to had worked their ass off, making it seem simple.  We were screwed because we thought we could do it, too.  We thought so before we sat down to do it.

All about us is the incessant drama of men and women from all disciplines, thinking they can do religion or philosophy, or law.  Yet look how long it took us as an emerging race/culture to arrive at the Eureka moment of René Descartes1596-1650) and his "awareness" of the great dualism, I think, therefore I am.  Then think how many revisions we had to get through to see through that simplicity to what we assume now.

In all parts of the world right now, men and women politicians are displaying bat-shit crazy behavior, thinking such activity is a necessary adjunct to saving their respective place in their respective society.  We of this country are being handed a gift by the media, who seem to appreciate bat-shit crazy behavior as an audience draw.  Thing is, we've always had nut cases in this country, men and women on both sides of the ideological spectrum, who discovered it wasn't as easy as it looked.

Save the critical theory until you have the material down.  If your inner control freak can't wait to lay hands upon the work, try this approach:

Day One:  Get as much down as possible, then set it aside.  Do not spend more than thirty seconds worrying about whether this is the true point of beginning.

Day Two:  Start by reading what you did yesterday, tweaking and moving about.  You know how much writing time you have allotted.  Don't take more than ten percent of that time for the fussing and line editing.  Then start writing.  Does not matter if it connects directly to what you wrote yesterday.

As the days progress, your manuscript will grow, meaning you will begin eating into your writing time if you allow your getting-to-work editing session take more than twenty-five percent of your allotted writing time.  You are in effect wearing your control freak self off the job until a draft has been completed.  Get it?  You always spend seventy-five percent of your writing time writing.  Your twenty-five percent editing time is the literary equivalent of Lean Cuisine.

Control freak that you are, you are delaying gratification for the moments when you have more to feel gratified about.

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