(urth) SRD on obscurity

Dan'l Danehy-Oakes danldo at gmail.com
Wed Jun 14 12:57:45 PDT 2006


> The real difference between facts and opinion is that opinions
> can be neither attacked nor defended. The opinion is the fact
> that I like or dislike something.

Ummm ... no, I don't think so. That's a very _narrow_ definition
of opinion. I can have the opinion that Gene Wolfe is a good
writer; or that the Earth is flat; or that there is life on Mars,
or that a Being much like the Judaeo-Christian God made
the world.

The first is debateable. The second is provably false, but I
_could_ still hold it as an opinion. The third is _in principle_
provably false or true, but not with available knowledge. The
last is unprovable by any technology I can imagine.

If I hold to an opinion which is provably false ("The Earth is
flat"), I am in-sane. If I hold to an opinion in spite of massive
evidence, but not proof, well, I'm stubborn.

"I like Gene Wolfe's books" represents a fact.

"Gene Wolfe is a good writer" represents an opinion; and,
unless you have objective, empirical means of determining
whether writer X is good (which of course means, to begin
with, an objective, extensional, etc. definition of "good" as
it pertains to "writer") , it will _always_ be an opinion.

> You can certainly say that there are no objective values of
> books, only personal likes or dislikes. That position is wrong, but it
> is tenable. It can be proven that books have an intrinsic value, but
> it would require many presupositions.

Ummm, that's the basic problem: all those "presuppositions."
I like to operate in a world where all the cards are on the table,
and only the empirically demonstrable is regarded as a "fact."

> Calling any judgement about value of a book an opinion, however,
> only confuses matter.

Then there's this word "value." What is the "value" of a book?
$5.95 in paperback? Fodder for a whole bunch of research
papers? Priceless, because it gave me an emotional
experience that changed my life? Or...? What does this word
"value' mean _as you use it here_? I do not like this word;
we don't have agreement on what it means, so its use does
not aid clarity.

> I can like a book, and judge it bad (eg some romance) or I
> can dislike a book and judge it good (eg Cortazar, or Joyce's
> Ulisses).

I agree with this statement, though I would perhaps have chosen
other examples. (I like Joyce.)

> In other words there are two separate things:
> an objective value of a given book,
> your liking or disliking of it.

Again: you assert the existence of this "objective value,"
without giving me any hint what it is or how I can determine
it. I question this; if you can't discuss it clearly, it's a ghost.
And then when you say:

> But whether a book is bad or good is not an opinion, but a fact -
> although it can be difficult to ascertain.

this sounds like you're already backing away from "objective."

> (It does not follow that one of the widely different books must be
> better; good and bad is not a one-dimensional cathegory, books
> can be good in different ways).

True: any kind of "value" is a _flattening_ measurement, i.e., a
single, one-dimensional measurement that combines in some
(usually quite complex) way a large number of measurements,
some of which are themselves multidimensional. This is why I
included the ludicrous "$5.95 in paperback" above: price is the
ultimate flattening value-measurement.

> >> I am curious about something. Is it your opinion that there
> >> exist no "bad writers," only writers about whose work
> >> opinions vary? Or just that yes, there are indeed bad writers,
> >> Donaldson (in your opinion) just not being oneof them?

> > Oh, no. There are very definitely bad writers. Piers Anthony, post
> > 1976. Anne McCaffrey, post-about-1970. Ed Earl Repp, ever.
> > John Saul. But if enough people I respect respect a writer that I
> > see no value in, I make the leap of faith that there's something in
> > that writer's work that I'm simply not equipped to see.
> So it seems you think that there are bad writers, but not
> good ones.

Where did you get that idea? You asked _specifically_ about
"bad" writers, and I answered the question you asked; I said
_nothing_ about there being no "good" writers.

In fact, I think that Wolfe, Donaldson, Delany, Ellison, Le Guin,
Tiptree, Butler, Shakespeare, Milton, Joyce, Mann, Faulkner,
Dostoievski, Woolf, Wolfe, and Twain are all "good" writers --
though I admit that there is at least one name in that list whose
work I don't personally care for.

> Unfortunately, this theory is contradictory. Great works can
> deliberately breach the rules which are the minimal limits of good
> writing. So you will have to say that there are bad and not-bad
> books. And some of the best books are bad.

You've gone waaaaay off on a tangent here that I don't follow
at all.

> Or perhaps you are simply saying that many people like
> Donaldson, and they may very well be right.

I'm saying that (a) many people like Donaldson, (b) I
like Donaldson and (c) in my opinion, Donaldson is both
a skilled and a talented writer.

> Donaldson's innovation in fantasy is the world as inner landscape
> - the land as the heart of the hero.
That would be one. Another is a little more complex ...

One of the clearest distinctions between "swords'n'sorcery" and
"high fantasy" is that the former tends to concentrate attention
on The Hero and the latter on ... well, something larger. This
becomes clear when you realize that S'n'S series are generally
referred to by the hero's name (the "Conan" series, the "Fahfrd
and the Grey Mouser" series, the "Alyx" series, etc.) while
high fantasy series are generally referred to by the name of
the world or concept ("The Lord of the Rings," "The Earthsea
Series," etc.), and frequently don't have a Hero figure as such.

What Donaldson did in the original "Chronicles of Thomas
Covenant, the Unbeliever" was to place a (psychologically
realistic and complex) character at the focus of what would
otherwise seem to be a high fantasy series; thus the series
title contains both his name and the larger central issue of
the series (Unbelief and its consequences).

Covenant is different from every prior high-fantasy hero of
whom I am aware, because he is capable -- I mean
emotionally capable -- of making a moral decision that will
result in the destruction of The Land. That's the whole point
of the series: he was selected by the Despiser precisely
_for_ that quality.

Lord Foul is "a facet of Covenant's character" only if the
Land's Creator is also: yet we see the Creator in
Covenant's "real" world (as the man in ochre robes),
objectively separate from Covenant. It might perhaps
be -- and I suspect that this is what is going to play out
in the final chronicles -- that Creator, Despiser, and
Unbeliever are three facets of a single larger personality;
but Foul and Covenant are decidedly separate, as much
so (at least) as the Christian Father and Son and Holy

But this is a Wolfe list, not a Donaldson list, and I only
quoted Donaldson in the first place because I thought
his remarks had some relevancy to some Lupine issues...

Dan'l Danehy-Oakes, writer, trainer, bon vivant

"One o'th'flay-rods gone out o'skew on th'treadle."

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