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Roger E. Eichorn's Blog: Fantasy, Philosophy, and whatever else I feel like writing about
(For R. Scott Bakker…)
Artistic conventions. — Three-fourths of Homer is convention; and the same holds true for all the Greek artists, who had no reason to adopt the modern rage for originality. They were completely lacking in any fear of convention; this was precisely what held them together with their public. Conventions, namely, are the aesthetic means that have been conquered for the sake of the audience’s understanding, the laboriously acquired common language with which the artist really can communicate himself. If he, like the Greek poets and musicians, sometimes wants to triumph immediately with each of his works of art—because he is used to contending publicly with one or two competitors—the first condition is that he also be understood immediately: which is, however, possible only by means of convention. What the artist invents beyond the conventions, he voluntarily attaches importance to and wagers himself upon, succeeding in the best of cases in creating a new convention. Originality is ordinarily seen with astonishment, sometimes even worshipped, but rarely understood; stubbornly diverting from convention means: wanting not to be understood. Toward what, then, does the modern rage for originality point?
– Nietzsche, The Wanderer and His Shadow, §122
(Continuing from here…)
The OWW was my own informal MFA program. I posted regularly, from late 1999 through maybe 2002. I put up dozens of chapters (most from that first version of Three Roses), along with a number of short stories (not my strong suit), and hundreds of reviews.
Being a stubbornly ‘self-taught’ high-school dropout, I’d never experienced anything like it before. The feedback I received from the other workshoppers was eye-opening. Perhaps equally important was learning how to assess other people’s works-in-progress. I discovered my latent copyeditor’s obsession with style and punctuation. One workshopper dubbed me “the Dark Lord of the Nits,” because my lists of niggling little questions and corrections sometimes amounted to full-blown copyediting jobs. This was sometimes appreciated, oftentimes not. Cecilia Dart Thornton, for one, went absolutely ballistic when she read my comments on the opening chapter of what would become Book One of The Bitterbynde. (To be fair, I responded to her response in spectacularly ill-advised fashion, and the drama escalated from there.)
Toward the end of my time on the OWW, I put together some of what I had learned about critiquing and being critiqued into a document that is still on the site.
Truth wants no gods beside it. — The belief in truth begins with doubting all the “truths” that have previously been believed.
— Nietzsche, Mixed Opinions and Maxims, §20
“He was a modern man, and the world of our ancestors was no longer the home of his spirit and his heart but his historical object.”
– Wilhelm Dilthey
What makes fantasy fantasy?
I doubt there’s any single satisfactory answer to this question. It seems to me that ‘fantasy’ is, to use a Wittgensteinian phrase, a ‘family resemblance’ concept: it signifies a cluster of distinct (yet related) features or qualities that works of fiction can exemplify in a variety of ways. If that’s right, then we shouldn’t try to force the pegs of ‘round’ fantasy and ‘square’ fantasy and ‘triangular’ fantasy into any one definitional hole.
Now, back in 2003 and 2004, I attended the Blue Heaven writers’ workshop run by Charles Coleman Finlay. Blue Heaven is exclusively for workshopping speculative-fiction novels: over the years, it’s midwived such books as Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl, Paul Melko’s The Walls of the Universe, and Catherynne Valente’s Palimpsest. One of my fellow attendees back in ’03 and ’04 was Benjamin Rosenbaum.
I forget which year it was, but I remember Ben proposing, one lazy afternoon around the dining-room table, what we might call a ‘phenomenological’ definition of fantasy: rather than thinking of fantasy in terms of features or qualities exemplified by texts, we ought to think of it in terms of the experience produced by reading. (Unfortunately, I forget what Ben proposed as the ‘experiential criteria’ of fantasy.) I objected that the phenomenological-definition approach must fail, because it would relativize the concept of fantasy so much as it render it meaningless: if fantasy were defined in terms of evoking experience E in reader R, then we would have to accept that, if R’s reading of Lord of the Rings failed to produce E, then it’s true that, in R’s case, Lord of the Rings would fail to qualify as fantasy. Call this the ‘paradigm’ worry: Lord of the Rings is the very paradigm of fantasy novels—that is, it’s practically definitional of what fantasy is; thus, we shouldn’t accept any definition of fantasy that would allow for the possibility that Lord of the Rings ends up not being a fantasy novel.
“How long have you been working on Three Roses?”
A reasonable question, but one without an easy answer. I could reply, “For sixteen years this fall.” In a way, that’s true. I could also say, “For eight years—or seven, really.” That would also be true, in a way. Finally, I could answer, “For about a year.” Again, that’s true. Sort of.
The pessimist of the intellect. — Anyone who is truly free in spirit will think freely even about spirit itself and not conceal from himself certain dreadful facts about its source and direction. Hence others may describe him as the bitterest opponent of free-spiritedness and impose upon him the abusive and frightening label, “pessimist of the intellect”: accustomed as they are to call someone not by his distinguishing strength and virtue, but by whatever about him is most alien to them.
— Mixed Opinions and Maxims, §11
“Human maturity: this means rediscovering the seriousness we had towards play when we were children.”
– Beyond Good and Evil, §94
Welcome to the Kosmos Biblioth! I plan to post mainly about fantasy fiction, especially my own series. I may include regular updates on my progress. (I’m on track to have Book 1 done this year.) But I’ll occasionally write on other topics as well, I’m sure, particularly issues connected to my philosophical work.
The best place to start, it seems to me, is with an obvious question: What’s a ‘Kosmos Biblioth’?
One could translate the term as “the book of the world/universe/cosmos,” or (less literally, but more accurately) as “the library of the world.” It is the headquarters, as we’d say nowadays, of one of the primary religious-political powers in the world of Three Roses: the Order of Sophiel. The Kosmos Biblioth rears from the heights of the massive Ecclesia Sophielas, which sits atop Phebe’s Hill in the sun-drenched splendor of Farnesse. You can see a depiction of the Biblioth in the blog’s header image.
The Sophieli are one of several branches on the tree of Elaarism, the faith that has dominated the Continent, from Brytar in the east to Szarvas in the west, for almost thirteen centuries. The Sophieli established the Ecclesia Sophielas around 260, on the site of an ancient pagan shrine. The Kosmos Biblioth was the heart of the Ecclesia from its inception; it serves as the Order’s administrative center as well as the primary storehouse for its massive collection of texts.
The overriding purpose of the Sophieli is to produce as fine-grained a record of world history as possible, in order to correlate events with the far more compact history contained in the central sacred text of Elaarism, the Kosmostoria (History of the World), the transcribed words of the Prophet Yehru Bar-el. The Kosmostoria charts the course of history from the moment of creation to the end days; yet it is notoriously difficult (or, depending on one’s viewpoint, notoriously easy) to correlate specific historical events with the history transmitted in the sacred texts. Hence the Sophieli’s grand undertaking.
The actual library, where the books and scrolls are stored, is underground, beneath the massive domes and towers. For this reason, it is known as ‘the Tombs.’ The Tombs are organized along three axes: time, space, and perspective. The library is composed of a series of chambers, branching off a central spiral staircase, with main passageways radiating outward to north, south, east, and west. Each floor of the library is a particular decade(s), organized according to a scaled-down map of the world, with the central axis representing itself. So the Empire is northwest and northeast; Nevegas is immediately south; and Brytar is in the far east, slightly north of the east axis.
But that’s only the first two dimensions. The third dimension is the complicated one. There are formulas that unlock the various ways in which the chambers, laid out in the way just described, form cross-floor and cross-location patterns. One ‘reads’ the formulas in a variety of ways, including: the shape of the chamber (the chambers have from three to eight sides), and the doorways between chambers (some are square, others arched; and all have words or symbols carved above them). If one knows the formulas, then one can navigate the Tombs in such a way so as to follow certain ‘perspectives’ across different times and spaces.
The perspectives are numerous, and they are embedded in each other in complex ways. The main perspectives are, of course, religious, corresponding to the four main Archonical Orders: Dathiel, Sophiel, Macariel, and Thoriel. Embedded within these large-scale ‘perspectives’ are a huge number of other perspectives, including: wars, successions, population, crop patterns, etc.
Like its namesake, I intend for this blog to house the history of Three Roses, both past and ongoing. I hope you’ll drop by every now and then!