(urth) SRD on obscurity

Chris rasputin_ at hotmail.com
Wed Jun 14 15:40:07 PDT 2006

Dan'l said:
>"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.

Not to say that I don't agree with a lot of what you've said, but a 
qualification can be made here. You can believe in objective aspects of the 
world that aren't codifiable in language (and perhaps not even in 
principle). You can further believe (or not believe) that there are still 
empirical means of determining whether writer X is good - the idea that some 
things you know simply by *seeing* them (and of course people can see 
clearly, or not so clearly, on occasion).

SOCRATES: The disgrace begins when a man writes not well, but badly.
PHAEDRUS: Clearly.
SOCRATES: And what is well and what is badly -- need we ask Lysias, or any 
other poet or orator, who ever wrote or will write either a political or any 
other work, in metre or out of metre, poet or prose writer, to teach us 

Stanislaus said:
> > 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.

I get lost somewhere in this one. One could also hold that there *are* 
objective values when it comes to books, but that the overall "goodness" of 
particular books is a matter of opinion. Or as above one could hold that 
there are objective values, and the assessment of the goodness of books is 
not a matter of mere opinion, and yet still hold that no flat "criteria" can 
be given that codifies the goodness and badness.

>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."

I am afraid that your expectations are unrealistic, even with what we 
consider to be empirically demonstrable facts. I am sympathetic to the urge 
behind that particular Grail-quest, but ultimately we still have to come to 
terms with all these presuppositions which are not to be evaded or left 

> > 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.

That is perhaps the essence of what's at issue. We can't come to agreement 
until we agree on the nature of values. And this question cannot be avoided 
by simply ignoring the word, or pretending that "values" are not involved.

> > 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."

I think in a way he may be leaning toward the position I described above.

> > (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.

Yet all of the different kind of "goods" seem to have something in common 
that make them goods in the first place - a family resemblance. But what 
makes a good soccer player may have nothing codifiably in common with what 
makes a good novel (in any particular sense). Does this mean there's no such 
thing, objectively, as a good soccer player or a good book?

> > 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.

I don't know for sure what he was talking about. I am vaguely reminded of 
Proust's meditation on originality. He said that basically what is *really* 
original in art is inherently something that you don't at first know what to 
make of, or are even a little disappointed with, because it does not fit 
into the conventions of what you expected a "good" performance or painting 
to be like. One asks oneself, "Is this beautiful?"

Perhaps it can tie in to what was said above. One comes up with hypotheses 
about what makes a book good, but these hypotheses are only approximations 
of something that apparently escapes codification. Nonetheless one looks, 
and one recognizes the beauty. Only afterward are our hypotheses about the 
nature of beauty revised.

>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).

I think a lot of other people have had psychologically realistic and complex 
characters, though I can't cite examples at the moment. What struck me about 
Covenant as an anti-hero was that the writer does not spare a lot of love 
for his creation - or for that matter any of his characters. By this I don't 
mean anything syrupy. There is simply a certain amount of *care* with which 
one renders a character - even a repulsive one - in a good work.

I felt, throughout all of those books, that the author in some way loathed 
is creation, and it was more than just Covenant, it bled over into the world 
in general and even the characters presented as innocent. Perhaps this was 
original on his part, but in this case the actual feeling that it created 
was that of an ill-made creation by a self-loathing author, and by 
attempting to identify or engage in some way with his characters the reader 
ends up disliking themselves just that tiny bit more as well.

All this doesn't mean he's a bad writer, just that I did not like those 
books and did not see them as original in any positive sense.

>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...

Nonetheless most of what's been talked about isn't even about Donaldson, 
particularly, so I think the digression can be forgiven.

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