As I have begun to read the second book in this trilogy, what has struck me as an inherent challenge, and by extension an underlying theme, is the idea of rendering the abstract into words, into something known, concrete. To sculpt something tangible from abstract ideas, making physical change.
Of course the voice must be the blind poet’s, for how better to represent the challenge of making the abstract comprehensible, when that in itself cannot be seen. Without objectivity, there can only be subjectivity, and in subjectivity, there is all manner of truth.
At the beginning of this second instalment, we are confronted with the difficulty of facing the real, the concrete, the brutal truth, and in fact we shy away from it—much like being confronted by the blood of violence as opposed to the revelry in pronouncements of war. Not only is it impossible to portray the concrete, even when an attempt is made it is bound to fall short. It must be couched in known, shared terms. The symbolic lies between abstract and concrete, like shadow between dark and light.
I wrote in Sleight of Hand that the underpinning thesis of the Malazan Book of the Fallen was that no experience can be related, without living it itself—and so the journey of those books was the journey of the reader, becoming by doing. Here we are being shown a corollary of that idea, that the abstract cannot be portrayed or related—only the true experience holds the full effect.
And in the voice of the blind poet, the ink of this writer, we are seeing that problem laid bare, even as the very point necessitates its impossibility. The writer is discovering, reflexively, as this story progresses. The question now is, like in the Malazan Book of the Fallen, do we come along for the ride, do we live something in the concrete by experiencing this journey? Will we flinch from its truths even as it is dressed in a poet’s flourish? That is the holy grail for the artist—to communicate in the concrete, stripping away the symbolic layers and making it real.
There is of course a lot more going on here, but I’m interested to see if this thesis holds through the remainder of this book and the end of the trilogy.
Here is the first chapter of Freedom in Arbin, the final instalment of the Arbin Trilogy.
Freedom in Arbin will be available in the coming days. Stay tuned for links and updates!
Bone white ice capped Arbin like a prison. If I closed my eyes, I could pretend it wasn’t there, that the city was but a figment of my dreams, and I floated weightless in a void, bodiless, just the sum of all my memories and pain.
Were it not for the infernal cold.
I shivered, hunched almost double as I looked out of the small waist-high window of the loft apartment down to the dead street below. Snow lay thick on the ground, though it had stopped falling. Undulations streetside under eaves where drifts occasionally fell from nearby roofs, no longer able to bear its own weight, with the frequent noise invariably shattering my sleep. A lone stagger of bootprints in the pearly carpet had been filled in over hours, now just a dim outline. Windows and doors across were tightly shuttered, and I had yet to see them any other way. The busier streets and, I assumed, those north of the rivers, were regularly cleared by the few city employees that could be roused from hibernation. But here all was forgotten. Well, we tried. Read the rest of this entry »
I have been dancing around the idea of reflexive authorship in the fantasy genre, calling for conscious, empathic work. This rarely happens in isolation, and I would argue that strong critical voices are vital, perhaps necessary, to fostering that reflexivity in the genre.
If fantasy is to maintain any sort of standing as a subversive literature, there must be critical foundations to build and break. We must demand, as readers and writers, for critical voices, to foster our own reflexivity, and advance the conversation. There is no point becoming involved in a circular conversation—the best you can do is recite the known lines in unison. You must shift the conversation, intercept it, subvert it. Read the rest of this entry »
I have recently explored the idea that fantasy may consciously or unconsciously reflect aspects of our ‘real’ world. I argued that the more important reflection is of the unconscious reflecting of the writer’s culture/boundaries etc (their ideology) in the shape and form of the fantasy.
There is a notion of the fantastic as being the unreal—impossible—the ‘not’. But I think fantasy is most effective not when it merely creates impossibility, but when it defies the real. When it accepts and explores its boundaries, and challenges them fundamentally. That requires reflexive authorship. Again, this strikes at why horror can be so effective, because it works within the confines of the real, (presents the bounds) and then defies them by allowing the horrific (the fantastical aspect) to break through. This perturbs the psyche of the reader/characters. Read the rest of this entry »
Writing about escapism, I asked in a roundabout way how we might escape in fantasy, when the fantastic is the accepted structural norm. When fantasy is no longer an escape in and of itself, but a paltry reflection of ideology, what then is the route of escape from what is purportedly already an escape?
Well, psychoanalysis has a response—and it deals with the fantasy under which we live, not those we write.*