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Commonly Misused Words

Allergy: Physical reaction of “cannot cope” from the body, in response to some object contact. Not “I don’t like this”.  Having an allergy means having an abnormal (and often serious) medical reaction to a certain stimulus (an allergen). If you tell the people employed in a restaurant that you are allergic to something, you are asking them to clean everything an extra time to make sure you don’t die. If you’re saying that you’re allergic just because you don’t like something, you are physically not allergic and are metaphorically being a dick. Try just asking politely if they could serve whatever it is you’re ordering without the thing you don’t like.

Anarchy: Without government. Rejecting hierarchy. Without leaders. Leaderless. None of that, you’ll note, includes “chaotic hellhole of violent rampaging survivalists who immediately turned on each other once there were no richer, higher ranking people to tell them what to do” which is how anarchy is typically viewed. See, that second definition – the inaccurate one – is entirely from Hobbes’ view of human nature. Namely, that class systems (yes, Hobbes was what we would call Classist) were necessary because human nature was a cruel animalistic sort of thing. Now, that’s a gross generalisation, but you get the point. Yes, some people calling themselves anarchists have caused political chaos and yes some people who have been called anarchists by others have caused political chaos (such as Guy Fawkes who explicitly wanted to replace the government with a theocracy – a desire which absolutely excludes anarchy as they are completely incompatible!). But most anarchists, despite the word being usurped to refer to militant groups in political wars who just happen to want a different government than the one American news stations support, are not in agreement with Hobbes on human nature. Anarchists think that society without government – without leaders – could work. As in: it could be a functioning society. In fact, that it could be a better functioning society than any governed society. Why? Because genuine anarchists take the opposite view to Hobbes: they think that without class systems and leaders (and countries) to divide us humans would actually be better to each other. As in: anarchists – especially anarcho-pacifists, which is one of the bigger sub-divisions of anarchists – are probably more optimistic and peaceful people than most others. Because in order to genuinely believe that people would work together in a functional society if there were no laws (and thus no threats) to keep them behaving, you have to be able to look at all the horrible injustice and evil that humans do to each other and still be able to truly, truly, believe that humanity is, by nature, better than that. So next time you’re about to write that “the battlefield was anarchy”, stop and ask yourself: Is the battlefield really a society without government? Or is it just a bloody, chaotic, mess full of screaming people who aren’t actually sure what’s going on right not and are just out to save themselves? For that matter, which one of those options actually evokes the image you’re going for? I’m betting it’s the latter.

Assault: Not actually the same thing as battery. Assault is an attempt or threat of harmful or offensive contact with a person. Battery is actually managing it. If someone charges at you with a sock full of batteries: it’s assault. If they actually manage to hit you with the sock full of batteries: it’s battery.

Ichor: Not actually the infallible touchstone of the seventh rate. Nor, however, a generic garnish for gelatinous oozes and other slimy horrors. Ichor has two very specific meanings and two alone. It is either an acrid and watery discharge from wounds or ulcers, or it is the blood of the gods in Ancient Greek Mythology – in which case it is golden in colour and poisonous to mortals.

Interpret: To construe, understand, construct or render in a particular way. To make a hypothesis about what something could be, rather than to give a fact about what it was meant to be. It’s fine for a literary critic or English teacher to say “the author didn’t mean X but a reader can apply X meaning to it” just so long as they don’t do what they all currently do, while bellowing about why the author is dead, which is to say “the author meant X” when the author has said they did not. It’s also perfectly fine to say “the author said they meant Y, not X, but they did a really shitty job of incorporating that into the text and so a reader can easily interpret it to mean X”, just not “the author, who has said they did not mean X, meant X”. The only person who can know what someone meant is the person who meant something. Or, to clarify the difference between what someone meant and what can be interpreted from their words or actions: “I didn’t mean to stand on your foot” “Yeah, but you’re still on my foot and it hurts so get the fuck off”.

Literally:  Despite what the internet may have implied at you, “literally” does not mean “metaphorically very much”. It means “really” as in actually in real life happening really. For example, if someone says “I am just venting about this topic and do not want any responses because it literally gives me blood pressure problems to just think about it for a second, and it triggers my anxiety problems” they are not saying that it like metaphorically riles them a bit. They are saying that bringing it up at them, after a direct plea that you not do that, is going to cause them real life medical issues and, thus having been warned, that if you choose to do so anyway you are knowingly and wilfully causing them medical problems. Similarly, Jon Oliver metaphorically destroys social issues on his show, but literally destroys a piñata (not multiple piñatas). No, seriously. Go look that up on youtube.

 Meant: In all its forms, meaning is an intention. A thing can mean something different to many different people, but no one can “unintentionally” mean something. Something can have other potential meanings than the one you meant (that is: can be interpreted differently) but you can’t unintentionally mean something. Meaning is by definition an intention. So when your English teacher or friendly local literary critic tells you that “the author meant X” when the author has explicitly said “I did NOT mean X”, they are a liar. They also think they know better than the original creator and yet, at the same time, they don’t understand the definitions of basic English words. What these people are trying to say, I presume, is; “The author meant X but it’s not explicit in the text and therefore it can also be interpreted by other people in way X”.  But they really need to actually say that.

Poisonous: Not the same as venomous. No, really. In the former case you die if you bite it, in the latter case you die if it bites you. Poisonous can also refer to gasses and liquids, but neither of those is going bite you. Typically the mix up here is writers describing snakes or arachnids as poisonous (which they technically could be, but in which case you need to show your character eating them) rather than, say, super-intelligent clouds of carbon monoxide swooping around and nipping at people.

Reign/Rein/Rain: If you “reign” in your horse, you are the ruling power inside your horse. If you “rain” in your horse you are a cloud precipitating in a most disturbing location. If, however, you “rein” in your horse, you’re just exerting pressure on the bridle in order to control the animal you are riding.

 

 
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Posted by on July 22, 2016 in On Writing

 

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Fantasy IS Fantastic, Thanks, And Needs No “Secretly Sci-Fi” Justification

I’ve been thinking for a while about how better to explain what I talked about (the difference between meaning and interpretation and why saying “the author meant” is not acceptable when the author has said otherwise) in the Death of the Author post without causing myself further blood pressure problems. It occurred to me that I had a very good example of how the Death of the Author has come to be misused in the rant on the worth of fantasy which I had been planning to do for a while.

What example? Well, there are an alarming number of Game of Thrones fan theorists (and even some of the actors!) who said that ASOIAF/GoT isn’t “really” fantasy and that it is really historical fiction/drama/sci-fi because it’s good quality and fantasy can’t be good. This is despite the fact (actual fact, not supposition) of what the author describes it as, what the publishers identified it as, and the fact that it contains fucking MAGIC.

Certain theorists even went so far, in pushing their “GoT is REALLY sci-fi” theory, to say that because GRRM wrote a lot of sci-fi before GoT must be sci-fi. The fallacious logic in that reasoning seems to have been that writers are only capable of writing in one genre and anything that disproves that must secretly be that genre anyway.

Here’s some actual proof that such reasoning and Fantasy-denial is absurd:

“Fantasy flies on the wings of Icarus, reality on Southwest Airlines. Why do our dreams become so much smaller when they finally come true? … We read fantasy to find the colors again, I think. To taste strong spices and hear the songs the sirens sang. There is something old and true in fantasy that speaks to something deep within us, to the child who dreamt that one day he would hunt the forests of the night, and feast beneath the hollow hills, and find a love to last forever somewhere south of Oz and north of Shangri-La. … They can keep their heaven. When I die, I’d sooner go to middle Earth.”

That’s a quote from George R.R. Martin. It’s from an essay of his called On Fantasy and it can be found on his website.

Now, if I was too daft to understand the difference between meaning and interpretation I might say that this is proof that what these people really mean is that they are too cowardly to admit that they may have been wrong to dismiss fantasy as “not quality” in the past and that they are therefore desperately clinging to the idea that it “can’t really be fantasy” in order to avoid admitting, even just to themselves, that they were wrong.

But unlike far too many literary critics, English teachers and fan theorists, I DO understand the difference between meaning and interpretation (and understand what the word proof actually means). So instead I will say: dear people who insist that A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones cannot be fantasy because it’s good; all you are doing is making it sound like you once looked down on fantasy and are now too pathetically afraid to admit that you might have to change your opinion.

See the difference? I’m not telling you what you meant. I’m telling you what it seems like you may have meant. And that’s how does all of this ties into what I was saying last time about the misuse of the Death of the Author and why it needs to stop. It’s not okay that they’re saying (because they don’t like fantasy) the fantasy book is in fact a [insert genre of choice]. It’s not. It can also be interpreted as [other genre] but it is still a fantasy. The only fact about a book’s genre comes from which genre the author and publishers place it within. Everything else (from fan theorists, actors, literary critics, and English teachers) is interpretation, not fact, and should not be presented in the language of facts (“is” “meant/meaning” “really meant/is”, etc).

Here: have a comparison. If you go out cloud gazing you will see clouds. That is a fact. They are clouds. There is nothing to debate on that and no ‘one true theory’ to prove. They’re clouds. The beauty of cloud gazing is that you can look up at those clouds and ALSO see ships and castles, dragons and ice cream cones. But your interpretation of that cloud as an ice cream cone does not make it an ice cream cone instead of a cloud. It’s still a fucking cloud. Your friend might see a chainsaw wielding clown instead of an ice cream cone. Neither of you is right and neither of you is wrong. Each of you has a valid interpretation – because all interpretations are valid ways of looking at something – but no matter how valid your way of looking at the cloud (as an ice cream cone or otherwise) is, that does not make the cloud any less a cloud. Nor does it actually turn the cloud into an ice cream cone.

And this, I think, is something which gets forgotten all too often – by fan theorists who can’t bring themselves to admit that fantasy can be quality literature, by English teachers and literary critics who cannot accept that they should be saying “it can be interpreted as” rather than “it is” …all of these people who are seeking to find “the truth” about a book or “prove” their theory about what something “meant”. (Note: meant is an intention word: if you are saying the book meant something you are saying that the author meant something. Do not put words in people’s mouths. It’s rude and insulting.) In other words: these people are treating art as if it is science. It’s not. There is no “one true interpretation” of a work. There is no prize for figuring out the “truth” about what something “means”.  There is what the artist meant (their intentions) and what other people see in it. There is just the one cloud and people imagining ice cream cones and castles in it. But those ice cream cones and castles are under no obligation to actually be there. Art isn’t science. Science is the realm of single correct answers and definite truths. Art is the realm of one creator’s meaning (“Look, a cloud!”) and all the ways the audience can say “that cloud looks like an ice cream to me”.

That IS the beauty and glory of art.

 

(This is getting a bit too long for me to say everything else I want to say, so tune in at some point in the – hopefully – near future for Fantasy Is Fantastic, Thanks, part two.)

 
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Posted by on June 14, 2016 in On Writing

 

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The Author’s Not Dead or Why the “Death of the Author” NEEDS TO DIE A HORRIBLE FIREY DEATH

I really hate this topic. Really hate it. As in: just thinking about it for half a second LITERALLY makes my blood pressure shoot up and it gives me anxiety attacks. So, obviously, this is going to be short, rude, to the point and hopefully not something I get any responses to because those will also just make me unwillingly self-destruct. But this needs to be said.

 

When French literary critic Roland Barthes came up with the theory “The Death of the Author” in 1967, he meant that a work’s meaning should be theorised from the work itself and not the author’s biographical information (in other words: that it wasn’t okay to tell Tolkien that because he was a soldier in a world war that his Lord of the Rings was an allegory for WW2 or that it wouldn’t be right to go “Well the author of this work where a character questioning their sexual identity dies is Christian so therefore the work is a Christian anti-gay propaganda piece”).

Barthes explicitly did not say that the author’s opinion of their own work (for example, Tolkien writing a very angry preface to some editions of LotR explaining in detail that NO his work was not an allegory of WW2 and stop saying that) didn’t matter. But, whatever his intentions were when he advised everyone to take all works out of context, he might as well have done.

Regardless of what it originally meant, “Death of the Author” has come to mean “I – as a literary critic and thus someone who makes my living leeching off your creative efforts – have the right to say what YOU meant or did not mean about your own work, because your opinion of your work doesn’t matter. Like, you probably only spent years working on it and thinking through all of the options and meanings and stuff, so you obviously don’t know what you’re talking about, whereas I read it, like, once and quickly churned out an essay on what you meant or I’m teaching about it in a school or university so I obviously know better than you what your work means.”

Think of it this way: You work as a cashier in a store. You have a chair behind the desk your register is on because you work twelve hour shifts and when you have a chance you desperately need to take the weight off your feet for a change. Just outside of the store are always loitering a bunch of window shoppers – they browse, but they never buy, yet they claim to know better than you how much everything should cost. But that’s not the worst of it. No. The worst of it is that they’re Cashier Critics by trade, meaning that they get paid (often out of your pay check!) to loiter around outside and tell everyone that you put that chair there to symbolise how everyone is Jesus in Purgatory. Every day you have to explain to customers that you aren’t a fucking Christian (you have nothing against Christianity, but you’re so sick of having strangers tell you that you don’t know your own religious affiliation that you’re angry at the whole subject) and you just put the chair there so you could have a fucking rest once and a while. But the customers never believe you – because the Cashier Critics have told them what you meant, or that you’re opinion of what you meant and why you did the things you did doesn’t matter. Your agency, your ability to make decisions as an adult, your Cashier-ial integrity: don’t matter. Those loiterers outside claim that, because they’ve studied this academically, they know better than you what it is like to actually do what you do for a living. You’ve repeatedly told them to stop LYING to people and putting words in your mouth that you never said and often find offensive, but they just tote out a grand old theory one of them came up with called Death of the Cashier, in which you might as well be a self-checkout till because you’re obviously too stupid to have relevant opinions about your own work and why you do the things you do.

It’s offensive. Worse, it’s a FUCKING SCAM.

Why? Well, let’s stop applying Barthes’ theory to him for a second and ask of his theory the age old question: who benefits?

….Oh, that’s right. Barthes and everyone in his profession – LITERARY CRTICS – are the ones, the only ones, who benefit from that theory. Why? Because now they have “proof” that they can dismiss the author giving factual statements about the meaning of their work and keep churning out empty, meaningless essays and university/high school literature/English classes while arguing over whether the author meant one thing or another – despite the author repeatedly telling them they meant [third thing] and not either of their precious theories. And THAT means they get to keep making comparatively cushy livings off lying to everyone about how they know better than the authors what the authors themselves meant.

Why do I keep saying “lying”? Because no one can know better than someone what that someone meant, thought or felt, so every literary critic or English teacher who has chosen to ignore what the author has said about them meaning of their own work to make essays or give lectures on their/the common theory which is contradictory to what the author said is KNOWINGLY LYING. “The book means [x]” is a lie when you know damn well the author explicitly said “The book does NOT mean [x]”.

 

Oh, and here’s an example of how important the context of the Author actually is: to someone who doesn’t know a thing about me I’d sound like a violently insane person if I say at the end of this post “The injustice of this dead-author nonsense makes me want to tie up every literary critic and English teacher on the face of the planet who has ever encouraged or benefited from the theory or has said any variant of “it/the author means X” when they knew bloody well that isn’t what the author meant and pour Hydrochloric acid down their selfish, arrogant, lying throats”.

Why is the Author important there? Because I’m a pacifist – and knowing that is the difference, for some very disturbed individuals, between doing nothing because they know that I’m just justifiably venting and  doing something because they think that it would actually be a good idea to go out and horrifically murder people who (although not innocent) definitely do not deserve that. Knowing the author isn’t (metaphorically) dead is what makes the difference between thinking someone is a violently insane lunatic and knowing that they’re just a horror writer with a graphically realistic imagination who therefore uses graphic metaphors and examples but would never want any of those things to actually happen. It also has serious affects on the author’s lives and how they are remembered. History has turned Machiavelli into an evil manipulator because literary critics fail to consider that he was a strong proponent of the free republics and almost certainly wrote The Prince as a Satire. Lewis Carroll gets remembered as a druggie and paedophile when he was actually just writing a big complicated math metaphor. This isn’t just about literary theory. It can HURT PEOPLE. REAL PEOPLE. But the proponents of the theory don’t want to admit that, because then they’d have to change and they – in their self-absorbed, spoiled way – feel that they are entitled to ruin lives and lie about what people meant for the sake of their precious theory.

 

Think about it: how would YOU feel if you created something with an immense amount of thought and effort going into it, and then some entitled arsehole came along and told you that your own opinion of your work didn’t matter, they lied to everyone about what YOU meant in your work, and even made better money off it than you did, all while ensuring that you would go down in history as something you abhor?

Well, you already know how it makes me feel. I quite literally need to go take something to get my blood pressure and anxiety issues under control now.

 
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Posted by on May 18, 2016 in On Writing

 

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