Friday, September 21, 2007

Of Conceits and Agendas

In a continuation of dean's search of what is Philippine speculative fiction (1, 2, 3), kyu cited a conversation he had with Professor Emil Flores of the University of the Philippines. (Flores, for those who don't know, is one of the few teachers who teach-- and the only one for the state university-- science fiction and fantasy as a subject.)

Overall, kyu's post is quite interesting. However, I was drawn to this part:

...(Flores) shared with me his thoughts on the development of American and British myths. He explained to me how the writers from these countries who wrote their stories a long time ago were trying to make a mythos that could be identified with their respective countries, in truth to find their own identities through their own tales, as against the then prevailing stories of Greek and Roman culture (for the Brits), and, ironically, British influences (for the Americans). He cited Washington Irving's "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" and Edmund Spenser's "Faerie Queen" as early examples of America and Britain finding their initial voices. I remember reading somewhere that J.R.R. Tolkien was trying to do the same thing for England with his 'Lord of the Rings" story because he rejected the Arthurian legends as just a hodge-podge of stories put together over time from neighboring lands or disparate tribes across the English countryside.

I was particularly struck by this quote because am currently reading Tim Pratt's The Strange Adventures of Rangergirl and my first thought was that this book utilizes the under-used Wild West mythos. Under-used because not too many American fantasists use this kind of mythos as opposed to the Tolkien-like, epic-style British fantasies. As far as I can remember, there've only been a handful or so who have applied the Wild West to the fields of specfic: Stephen King's Dark Tower series, Mark Sumner's Devil's Tower and Devil's Engine, and recently Emma Bull's Territory (which I hope to get soon).

My point being? Not much, just that the Wild West mythos is one way to develop a country's own identity. (Not that the US needs any further affirmation.) Which bring us to our own country and our own identity.

I remember my debates with skinny over the need to use Filipino tags in one's writing. Recently though, [identity-protected] pointed out to me that the act of writing is a way of creating a mythos and a national identity.

Personally, when I write a story, I consciously do so in a particular audience in mind, whether it's for a local submission or an international one (read: US). It's unavoidable in my part: some references I drop in my story would need no explanation for local readers but those abroad could use some info-background. For example, no insight is needed on General Douglas MacArthur's role in our country. But for those abroad, I'm sure they would not immediately recognize why he is a notable figure in our history.

Which is why I have this inkling belief that one has to have the cultural reference needed if one were to write or read what the Philippines is about or being Filipino since they haven't imbibed the values of being a Filipino or staying here. (This can apply to any other country, for that matter. Which is why British humour sometimes goes over my head.)

Obviously, there are some stories that don't need this kind of internal division. One that comes to mind is dean's short story, "Six From Downtown," which from what I remember has Filipino cultural references (the palengke, the manananggal) and yet these references won't hinder the international reader's understanding of the story.

I admit: I have my agenda when trying to write a story, especially when my audience is local. But when it's for an international submission, I give myself more leeway on my subject matter. Would I be able to do something a story that avoids such divisive categorization? Maybe. Anything is possible in the world of speculative fiction, right?


pgenrestories said...

Hi banzai! If you don't mind, I'd like to link to your posts. Thanks!

banzai cat said...

not a problem :-)