Wednesday, May 25, 2011

On Hold

There’s still no word on the hard drive. At this point, I’ve been living with the fact that the drafts I’d been either fully working on or tinkering with for the better part of a decade might be gone that I’m almost fine with the loss. I guess it serves me right for kvetching so much about the draft of the 3rd novel I was working on. A kind of cosmic "let's see whether or not you really are conflicted about it." Turns out? I wasn't as conflicted as I thought, and I want it back. I can't start on a...what do I even call it...a replacement?...a different draft, though, until I know. I'm on hold.
There is something I fear, though. It’s that one or more of the techs might get nosy while recovering the data. I fear that because I write transgressive fiction. As I’ve said in earlier posts, there are plenty of people out there who don’t understand what that’s about. Instead of seeing someone trying to work through the ugly stuff of the human psyche, they might think they see something else. Something worse. That “p” word that, once you’re labeled with (whether you are or aren’t), you can never get away from. What he or she might think if they read my work or my notes, and what he or she might do with how they feel if they do that is a big weight on my mind right now.
This is one of the main things that drives my life, my work: I am trying to understand the nature of power and how it is enacted on the body. When you look at it from that perspective, my fiction being transgressive and my scholarship being on dystopian work intended for adolescents makes perfect sense. The reason I’m worried is that, when power starts looking at a subject, the interpretation is never carried out in detail. Instead, people are fitted in to the most expeditious, convenient narrative possible. My fear is that, as has happened to me my whole writing life, someone will look at what I do and instead of deeming it art, they’ll think of it as confession.
The first thing of any size I ever wrote was a short story about a kid who survived abuse. I’m pretty sure I was in fourth grade. My father had gone to one of those “come see our time-shares and we’ll give you a computer” things. He brought home this shitty computer with an amber monitor, and from the second I first sat down to the keys, I was hooked. Even back then, I was interested (in a childish way, but still) in how someone lives their life while being harmed daily. As a voracious reader, people never really monitored my intake too much. This lead to a defining moment in that the first time I read something not from the science fiction aisle, it was I Know My First Name is Steven. That book is the story of Steven Stayner, who was kidnapped at age 7 and was raised by his kidnapper as a “normal son” until age 14. Normal son, that is, except for the continuous sexual assaults. The idea of how someone could live through that every day was a big question in my life, and I tried to explore that through writing. Once I was done with the draft (though I didn’t know that’s what it was at the time), I took it to school. The other kids immediately thought I must be writing about something that was happening to me, and there was, shall we say, a kerfuffle.
When Stealing Ganymede first came out, there was a question of whether or not to include it on my academic resume. I didn’t see a problem with it: Samuel R. Delany is a hero of mine, and being both a scholar/theorist and a fiction writer at the same time has always been the goal. One of the people on my committee, though, thought it was a bad idea; she basically called the novel both wish fulfillment (she was a Lacanian, if you know what that means) and pornography. That she would think this was no surprise, but I think it underscored what I’ve felt since I first read Less Than Zero, since I first read Try: transgressive fiction (and, indeed, any transgressive art), gains its power by dealing with all that stuff we shove way down in our psyches and refuse to deal with. As I’m writing that, I’m thinking that transgressive fiction and horror fiction have that in common.
During my work on my Masters thesis, I found Angela Carter’s The Sadeian Woman . In it, one of the things she says is that our culture does so much to “not know” that it begins to develop these lies that become the truth over time. This is especially true of the body, and what happens to it. She says that in order to better understand ourselves, we have to look squarely at the things we most don’t want to. Since the 80s, it seems to me that American culture has gone further and further into the mindset that “not knowing” is somehow a virtue. That those who want “to know” are somehow sick. If you look at the monster instead of running from it, then there must be something wrong with you. She says that she believes there can be artists who look squarely at how power and sex and the body are all intertwined, and that these “moral pornographers,” by not shutting off the camera during the smutty parts, will help us all to move forward.
I see this in Dennis Cooper’s work. I see this in J. T. Leroy’s work, even if the woman writing those novels was never a little boy who was abused. I see this in Chuck Palahniuk’s work. I see this in Irvine Welsh’s work. I see this in Bret Easton Ellis’ work. I see this in Adam Rapp’s work. This is what I strive for in my own.
But, in a culture where looking squarely at the monster is a sign of sickness rather than bravery, I fear. This is what I’ve been living with since having to turn over the hard drive to people who don’t know me, don’t know what I do. I had to balance my need to have my work back with the fear of what might happen if some tech gets snoopy and doesn’t understand. If he or she decides to place me in to the most convenient definition possible. So I’ve been living in dread of a knock on the door for the last month or so. Of having to try to explain my work to power that only wants to see things in definitions that are easy to type on to forms in triplicate.
No worries, though: as I said before, the draft of the next novel was already safely in the publisher's hands before the failure happened, so it is not in any way impeded. More news on that as it comes up.

2 comments:

M said...

I hadn't thought about this issue at all. Losing your hard drive is anxiety inducing, but you have an added layer of fear here. I think it is very brave of you to write about it.

I doubt any of your techies will get nosey, but even if they do--there is just as good of a chance that what they find on your computer will be the thing they need to read in their life. Maybe what they read will speak to them or change them or empower them.

No matter what, the risks you take in drafting and writing such work is worth it, right?

And that novel BETTER be on your CV. Screw anyone who says different.

J. said...

Thanks.