Saturday, July 04, 2009

the letter or the spirit

I just had an interesting thought, thanks to a discussion on the GoodReads site. They were discussing The Left Hand of Darkness, and someone posted excerpts as examples of her writing style and flowing prose. But it made me think how closed off it seemed to be, that the ideas being put forth there were not being discussed, merely presented as fact. (It's a common problem in SF, where whole books are written to give the author a chance to present their worldview as fact.) The prose was lyrical, but lyrical language seems to me to be a very certain language, the ideas behind it are very settled and resistant to change.

It occured to me that perhaps this is what I dislike about descriptive prose in general, that it is a presentation of the world as a given, incapable of change. It's as if the words are chains used to bind the thought, to take the unsettled and make it settled. I don't get the feeling that the writer cares as much about the thing as about the words.

My own writing style developed out of a desire to not write what I don't read, namely, descriptive prose. There is description, but it's really perception, the world as it appears to the viewer. As the perceiver changes, so does the perceived world. I especially enjoy Patricia McKillip's RiddleMaster of Hed series, for example, also with very lyrical prose, but in her case the world presented is capable of change, that the shapes of the things we see are just that, shapes, and the same thing may have a different shape tomorrow. Or I may. The whole story is about definition, self or otherwise, but not about stasis. Nina Kiriki Hoffman's excellent The Thread That Binds the Bones is another of this sort.

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