March 30, 2007

crisis

Never mind when English-speaking rhetoricians started claiming that "in Chinese, 'crisis' is 'danger+opportunity'"; Language Log has cites. (I would like to know how native Chinese speakers use the word, instead of being reminded that etymology doesn't control meaning.)

When did English-speaking rhetoricians forget that 'crisis' in English originally meant both hope and fear? It was a medical term; I think Maturin uses it in Patrick O'Brian's novels, and I would expect it in, oh, Tom Brown's Schooldays and some Little Women and the diptheria and scarlet fever scenes of Victorian literature generally. The crisis is the moment at which the patient's fate is decided. Depending on the disease, or the narrative, the whole household is muffled, or everyone is rushing in and out of the sickroom with linens and water. Either way, 'crisis' means that there is a chance of a good outcome if we do something about the problem, which is, I would suppose, the idea that the users of spurious Chinese are trying to get across.

From the citations in the OED, the gloomier use of 'crisis' as a metaphor for the disease itself and not its turning-point dates back to the mid-nineteenth century--and is specifically political and economic in use. Perhaps politics is especially prone to making a word pejorative by using it as a euphemism.

Posted by clew at 04:59 PM

March 18, 2007

Squibs

I aten't dead.

It's a poor defense of fantasy that "it's only jailers who despise escapism", because it isn't quite true: jailers despise escape, but escape-ism without escape makes the inmates quiet.

The phrase 'x trumps y', where x and y are categories of outsiderdom, annoys a lot of people; not just those who think that y trumps x, but people who object to describing social ills as a game. I am not going to add injury to insult by making this joke in the middle of a serious conversation, but of course it's a game; we're all playing Social Contract Bridge Called My Back.

Posted by clew at 08:46 PM

[P|M]atriarchy

I have been cogitating (much of this is from a comment elsewhere) on matriarchies and patriarchies in SFF; I guess *archies are easier to write than an-archies. Certainly the one can be a comment on the other. ...I barely resisted the urge to partial-order them, but I cannot help but categorize.

The current sex-role-reversal, or 'exceptional woman' novel, I think most interesting is Karen Travissí series from City of Pearl to Matriarch(more coming); she starts with a kickass, tormented female soldier, who is introduced to several seemingly utopian societies, which get more frightening on closer acquaintance. (I am more than a little nervous about the idyllic society with a) males physiologically dependent on female affection, and b) spectacular biotech.) The series is a bit unusual for SF in that the obviously damaging societies do not seem any less frightening--no Pangloss comfort.

Califiaís Daughters (Leigh Richards, AKA Laurie King) has reversed-patriarchy matriarchy, generated by a sex-linked disease, and I think the denoument is humanist and feminist, though thereís no expectation that it will be utopian.

Elizabeth Bearís Carnival plays with a reversed-patriarchy and a surviving patriarchy, mostly as commentary on our expectations (her mats. are horrified by abortion; her pats. are strict animalsí-rightists). Wen Spencerís A Brotherís Price is a sex-reversed Regency romance and not subversive at all. (The Sharing Knife is a Regency romance in grubby clothes; the Ranger is a lot like the standard tormented-by-the-Napoleonic-Wars hero. )

The class-trumps-gender stories squick me out, probably because itís so easy for me to enjoy them because my class position is comfy. The Barrayar stories rule this genre, because Cordelia, who is Never Wrong, is so explicit about it; Ďitís easy for a democrat to adopt to an aristocracy if she gets to be an aristocrat!í Not really the point, Cordelia. Nor is your personal attempt to ameliorate the society you profit from. The fantasy that it would be OK to be on the top of such a hierarchy because *we* would be, you know, *nice* slaveowners is poison. It's wine for us drunkards. The Wizard Hunters, vols. i_iii, were similar in the end and I reread them over and over as escapism; an active woman from a patriarchal culture moves to a matriarchal culture, marrying one-or-more unusually active men there. All parties respect each other more than the recipient has been brought up to expect. It's actually pretty easy to believe that they will all be happier than they would be trying to fix injustices directly, but it still seems like free-riding on the immoral acts of others.

(Barbara Hambly is the opposite; check out her evolution from wizards and beleaguered marcher kingdoms to Patriot Hearts.)

The cornucopias assume away scarcity of resources (Ian Banksí Culture novels, obviously) leaving puzzles and the insoluble quirks of human nature to drive the plot. They seem feminist to me in about the same measure as the authorís assumptions about human nature do. This makes them rather like lit-fic Ďmundaneí novels in which everyone has an OK job of about the same salary; the cornucopias have fancier sets, which I enjoy.

The rarest books must be the ones that convince me the hero isnít always the hero, without making that into an excuse to leave obvious injustices be. Terry Pratchett, who can often make me cry, puzzles me about this; he makes a good argument that quiet, scorned, womanly magic makes the world tolerable (Granny Aching), and that the best a male hero can do is seek obscurity (Carrot) or inactivity (Unseen University). I find this fairly plausible as a description of power. It still bothers me because it has been so useful an argument in telling the powerless to be grateful that they're weak and virtuous. I think virtue is generally strong enough to withstand several courses at dinner and a soft bed.

Posted by clew at 07:56 PM
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