Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Why Secondary Worlds?

"The fantasist, whether he uses the ancient archetypes of myth and legend or the younger ones of science and technology, may be talking as seriously as any sociologist-- and a good deal more directly-- about human life as it is lived, and as it might be lived, and as it ought to be lived."
-- Ursula K. Le Guin, on her acceptance of the National Book Award for The Farthest Shore

In preparation for the deadline of the secondary worlds digital anthology this April 15, I'm going to spit out something I've been chewing for several months now ever since dean and I first came up with submission guidelines.

Unfortunately-- and here's the scene where I'm pounding on an old typewriter only to pull out the paper, crumple it into a ball and throw it to one side-- I can't seem to get what I'm trying to say right. Maybe it's because I'm relying too much on the thesis-like approach or on other people's words. So I'll try to say it in my own words, based on my own experience.

Some people may wonder: why secondary worlds? Why write about them? Where is the sense of Filipino identity in such a creation? Pertinent questions, I admit. I can only speak for myself but my growth as a writer has lead me to a few realizations about a form of writing that is mostly Western-based (an accusation thrown against-- rightly, I think-- most Filipino spec fic writers).

When I first started writing, I wrote stories the way I read them: i.e. based on the fantasy genre. From grandpapa J.R.R. Tolkien to his children (Stephen Donaldson, Terry Brooks to Robert Jordan and George R.R. Martin), my understanding of writing fantasy stories involved tragic knights, wilfull princesses, and hapless thieves.

Then the criticism by someone near and dear to me made me stop and consider what I write and why I write-- which is not a bad thing to consider every now and then. In this case, the question was: what makes my writing any different? (And I think even then I realized writers hate to be pegged down.)

So I thought about it and I came up with a couple of insights. One is that there is a difference between fantasy and fantastical. The other is that one can develop a Filipino sense in any fantasy story (or horror or SF) even with the most Western of tropes. With these two insights, I started writing again and crafted a number of stories that I felt could stand against criticism in terms of national identity without foregoing the sense of wonder in such stories.

And they were damn fun to write, too.

Nine published stories in, I've now come to another turning point and another insight: as long as you realize that there is such a thing as national identity in your stories, you can now write without regard to it-- if the story calls for it. I mentioned earlier, writers hate getting pegged down and the idea of writing only one type of story-- i.e. the Filipino story-- seems absurd. Why limit myself when I can imagine far bigger things?

I've already proven I can write about dragons in the muck and grime of Philippine soil, or serial killers in the cold towers of the local call center industry. But gazing inward, I now want to look outward.

Thus the idea of a secondary world anthology. Just because these stories will be harkening back to the use of Western ideas (i.e. Tolkien, Donaldson, etc.) doesn't necessarily mean we have ignored what it means to be Filipino. However, this also doesn't mean that we'll only limit ourselves to being only Filipino. We are-- but we're also more than that (and I'm not even talking about international markets and globalization).

We're the same citizens of a world that's far greater than the one we live in and it's only as small as how much we limit our imagination. However, knowing this, I should like to add a warning. To quote Le Guin again in her essay "From Efland to Poughkeepsie":

"To create what Tolkien calls a 'secondary universe' is to make a new world. A world where no voice has ever spoken before; where the act of speech is the act of creation. The only voice that speaks there is the creator's voice. And every word counts.

This is an awful responsibility to undertake, when all the poor writer wants to do is play dragons, to entertain himself and others for a while. Nobody should be blamed for falling short of it. But all the same, if one undertakes a responsibility one should be aware of it."

(Both quotes taken from Ursula K. Le Guin's book on essays, The Language of Night, 1979)


Ryan said...

yes, this logic extends to other fields. architecture, rocket science, medicine, interior design, etc.
in guidebooks, you will see places in other countries described as looking 'suburban american' and not being índigenous to that country. of course, this is not true. it is a global style, perhaps a lot even actually originally designed by indians, filipinos, iranians, chinese, etc BUT built in the USA.
it won´t do to say everything new is ´western´or éuropean or ámerican. it is an injustice to the people who actually designed something and, more insidiously, gives a defeating mindset to all other countries.

banzai cat said...

too true. as you say, it's more of a 'global style' rather than just US. not everything revolves around them, yanno. ;-)