Saturday, April 25, 2009

"My Hands are Scarred with Papercuts and Stained with Curry Powder"

This was a phrase that occurred to me this morning looking at my own hands. Yesterday, I got one of those mysterious papercuts that appear from nowhere and didn't even hurt at the time. When you try to figure out precisely where it came from, you can get nowhere further than, some piece of paper. The curry stains come from what I cooked for dinner last night.

As I approach the end of the manuscript for A Small Man's Town, which is now the permanent title for the first novel I'm going to try to publish, I'm thinking about future projects and what to do next. But, as is expected, considering the way I do philosophy, I also see common themes and explorations among all my long fiction projects that are percolating in my brain and on my computer. I realize that I've fallen into a kind of mission statement, one I think is very suited for Canada on the Earth of the twenty-first century. All my ideas explore how Westerners can contribute to the world conversation, given that we will be mistrusted and marginalized by the new dominant cultures of the South. We've dominated the Earth for so long that our voices no longer have value. The West will be shut out of global discourse just as Westerners shut out everyone else, and in moralities based on fairness (almost all of them, really), we will deserve this treatment.

Of course, this will not literally happen. Europe and the US remain powerful enough economies that they will have important roles, though more as partners instead of authorities. But culturally, the excitement of the Earth will be in India, South America, East Asia, and eventually Africa. Cultural production will be focussed on those areas that were minor and ignored before. Cultural revolution and transformation will come from there, and it's happening already. Indian, Chinese, Korean, and Japanese films are becoming the most influential on global cinema. The most exciting literature comes from writers like Roberto Bolaño the Latin American, and Orhan Pamuk the Turk.

The suburban narratives of white Western writers – of which I am one ethnically at least – are no longer important. The self-absorbed idiocies of Sinclair Lewis' Babbitt and John Updike's Rabbit are vanities to be set afire. Quite rightfully, the world should not care about these men dissatisfied with their picture-perfect families and lives that have rarely touched poverty. There are many more important problems in the world than rich white suburbanites having problems with their marriage and trouble communicating with their stuck-up self-absorbed spoiled idiotic children.

This is where my apparent mission statement comes in, what I think the new task of Western literature should be to suit best our new role as partners atoning for crimes of domination. The great Western literature of the twenty-first century will not revolve around the concerns of rich white people as if they were the most important things in the world. It will mock these concerns for their selfishness and stupidity. Bret Easton Ellis is a fine example of this. His greatest books, American Psycho and The Rules of Attraction, are about the emptiness, cruelty, and insularity of white Western life.

I think my own work fits into this as a positive contribution, where Ellis' are negative. The stories I want to tell in my fiction are stories of wealthy (in the global perspective) Westerners (not all of whom are white) who become aware that their own problems are selfish and meaningless, and try to find a new way to live. My characters are searching for a life beyond their insular environments.

A Small Man's Town is about a man, Joseph's encounters with two women. One, after she leaves him, becomes a global activist for free speech and ending poverty. The other, as they get married, is a nationalist Western politician, fighting for Newfoundland as if it were an oppressed, dominated nation. The novel ends as he weighs which life is more worthy.

I have two other stories which I might pursue, depending on circumstances. One is a subversion of cyberpunk motifs, about an ordinary suburban woman who slowly recovers from amnesia and rediscovers her old life as a government assassin. The setting is in a cyberpunk-ish suburbia. This story is of a woman who discovers the emptiness and cruelty of her capitalist society. I'd prefer to tell this story in a more visual medium than the novel, which will require collaborators, and possibly capital.

The other, which I've called Undesirables, is about a man who is persecuted in his quiet suburban community because when he was a young man, he committed an assault on a woman for which he feels immense regret and remorse. But because he's on the state list of sex offenders, the neighbourhood watch, led by a frumpy middle-aged woman with secrets of her own, tries to run him out of town. The protagonist, or maybe narrator, is a woman who becomes the persecuted former criminal's new partner, a young art gallery worker. She and his partner's persecutor both have the same first name, Jennifer. There is a side plot of an Arab family mistrusted in the community because of their race. This story is of a community that believes so strongly in its morality that it refuses to forgive any transgression.

Perhaps these stories are more negative than I initially thought of them. Aanyway, here, Orhan Pamuk talks about literature, culture, and life.

Despite the horribly antique opening graphics, this was actually filmed in 2008.

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