On Right Wing Fantasist Reactionism

The latest hubbub in the nerdosphere is an absurdly stupid article from Leo Grin that basically says that fantasy was much better in the good-old days when JRR Tolkien and Robert E. Howard (Conan the Barbarian) walked the Earth, and that since then fantasy has succumbed to liberal elite moral relativism to give us gritty, "nihilistic" fantasy writers like Joe Abercrombie, who naturally, by extension, represent the Decline of Western Civilization. Forget that Conan was an amoral figure who basically killed anyone who got in his way and took any woman he saw, and was in turn a send-up of what Howard saw as the namby-pamby chivalric knights that were popular in historical writings at the time. And forget that the morals in Tolkien's work have (pretty deliberately) the complexity of a fairy tale. But then that may be the point; the author wants to see beautiful, noble good up against ugly, traitorous evil and anything more subtle, more realistic than that is somehow the End of Civilization. In other words, he wants the kind of shoehorning of everything into a reductionist, black-and-white worldview typical of right-wing ideology in general.

It's important to remember that this sort of wistfulness about the imagined past and its simpler "morality" goes hand and hand with outdated and abhorrent cultural norms of class, race and gender. Howard's work is unrelentingly sexist in its portrayal of women and racist in its portrayal of minorities, and the peasant Hobbits in the end go back to their simple agrarian lifestyles while leaving the business of running the world to the aristocratic king-hero and his lily-white magical princess trophy wife. And both worlds have the troubling problem of all monsters being brown-skinned, with the race-anxiety that represents. (None of this analysis, I should point out, is anything new.)

The problem here is clearly highlighted when the author creates an example of what a modern author would do with The Lord of the Rings:

Think of a Lord of the Rings where, after stringing you along for thousands of pages, all of the hobbits end up dying of cancer contracted by their proximity to the Ring, Aragorn is revealed to be a buffoonish puppet-king of no honor and false might, and Gandalf no sooner celebrates the defeat of Sauron than he executes a long-held plot to become the new Dark Lord of Middle-earth, and you have some idea of what to expect should you descend into Abercrombie’s jaded literary sewer.

Frankly, I don't think I'm alone in thinking that I'd much rather read that series then what Tolkien actually wrote.

In the end, what this got me thinking about is how much more diverse the audience for SF and Fantasy is than the one for my old flame Literary Fiction. Granted that there's definitely people who "only read the classics" because post-modernism and everything after is decadent and wrong and bad for the children and so on, and there's certainly a reactionary element in Lit Fic composed mainly of older people who hate and fear technology and think everything was so much better back when they where growing up and they just don't understand them kids these days. There are people in Lit Fic who have stupid ideas about the world. But by and large the Lit Fic community is so entrenched in the university that you could never imagine one of them attacking "ivory tower liberals". Only people outside lit fic attack it as that— that is people like this particular strain of fantasy fan, or Glenn Beck's army of thriller readers who think The Overton Window is a work of merit.

In SF things are different; there are certainly the hardcore leftists like China Miéville and Iain M. Banks, but you're also more likely to get straight-up anarchists like Moorcock and there's these big strains of libertarianism and conservatism, as well as full-on religious fundamentalists like Orson Scott Card and Stephanie Meyer who would be very hard to picture in the Lit Fic milieu. Someone who wanted us to harken back to some simplistic black-and-white morality would be laughed out of the Lit Fic world— and deservedly so.

This has everything to do with SF's perception of being a "popular" art form, as opposed to Lit Fic as a "highbrow" one. And as much as I decry Lit Fic pretension as its own form of status and class anxiety, the converse is having to put up with the kind of anti-intellectual glorification of stupidity that passes for serious discourse among the Right.

And you're going to have to deal with this kind of thing if you want to talk about epic (or "heroic") fantasy, because many of the seminal works of that subgenre, from Tolkein and Howard to Lord Dunsany and CS Lewis, are all about wistful nostalgia for a simpler time that never was, with King Arthur in place of Eisenhower. Which is why the most interesting epic fantasies are the ones that in some way dismantle that nostalgia, morality and social norms and show them as bankrupt, as in the work of Michael Moorcock, Fritz Leiber, M. John Harrison, Samuel Delaney and Gene Wolfe. It's also why Moorcock systematically dismantled The Lord of the Rings in his wonderful essay "Epic Pooh", or why China Miéville did likewise in his own essay "Tolkien - Middle Earth Meets Middle England".

There are always going to be those who see this project of dismantling and reimagining as a form of decadence and nihilism, because they refuse to believe in a world that is complex and messy and where things cannot be reduced to black-and-white. It's too bad, though, because, as Philip K. Dick once said, reality is that which when you cease believing in it, it does not cease to exist.

Comments

It is also worth noting that

It is also worth noting that the follow up to Grin's essay was written by Vox Day, a notorious "paleoconservative" with an unfortunate record of both sexist and "academic" racist views.

they're both aspergertarians

they're both aspergertarians

"reality is that which when

"reality is that which when you cease believing in it, it does not cease to exist."

2 comments spring to mind:

(1) For example, God?

(2) Quoting Philip K. Dick on the nature of reality might be counterindicated.

I like Moorcock's fiction (in

I like Moorcock's fiction (in fact, second to the Middle-earth legendarium my favourite work of fantasy or sword and sorcery fiction is the Elric saga) but saying "Epic Pooh" "systematically dismantled" The Lord of the Rings is absurd at best. Unless, of course, one welcomes and shares Moorcock's politics... well... at least if it's convenient at the time to advance one's contempt for Tolkien. Some do. Some don't. Go figure. I always sense a rather extreme but selective self-righteousness within these "analyses" of Tolkien and suspect if champions of Moorcock's essay applied Moorcock's lens to their own lives, let alone to books, they might be as guilty as, if not more so, than Tolkien of fulfilling the roles of hegemons in our society. Consider Moorcock's gender politics, his admiration for Dworkin, his opinion of pornography. It doesn't take a genius to guess that the large number of Moorcock's faithful so quick to criticise The Lord of the Rings for its apparent sexism include more than a small measure of men who probably beat off to misogynist commodities. And, well, gee, to eliminate our right to do that would be "totalitarian", no? Moorcock himself has defended the indefensible works of Moore, which make Tolkien look like Germaine Greer. I don't take lightly to being accused of complacency as far as gender is concerned simply because I enjoy a work of fiction when for all I know my accuser is a misogynist dirtbag. Having been raised on a diet of Gramsci and Luxemburg only to time and time again encounter gross disparities in the politics of my comrades I came to the conclusion that the left was left to rot in the grave in favour of a reworked ideology costumed as socialism that is hardly any better than what it purports to resist. By all means scribble about right wing fantasism but unless you're some kind of miracle that has never suspended their own principles when it suited them who are you to preach?

I find your comments rather

I find your comments rather confusing. You seem to be suggesting that one must be some kind of morally perfect being in order to comment on anything. Which is absurd. Let me put it this way: to quote Samuel R. Delany, "Men are sexist. It is impossible for us to be anything but sexist. Any man who claims not to be sexist is simply avowing his blatant ignorance of what sexism is and how it works." We are all always already living in a sexist, patriarchal and frankly racist society. If we see those traits in ourselves, it should hardly be surprising, and it certainly doesn't mean we shouldn't work towards and society and culture that is less sexist, patriarchal and racist.

The Lord of the Rings is sexist, racist, reactionary, classist, and patriarchal in ways that should really be commented on, and if modern works reinvent, expose or unravel those elements in the Lord of the Rings, they should be applauded for the effort.

A highly-regarded indigenous

A highly-regarded indigenous artist in Australia argues precisely that point about white people... all white people are racist. It's a fair observation and I wasn't saying we are all saints only that's it's self-righteous for you to say "the Lord of the Rings is sexist..." as a criticism of the work when you yourself by your own admission are a sexist and least of all when the example I gave is far more detrimental to the welfare of women than a work of fiction (not to downplay the dangers of this either). I don't buy it. I think it's rather telling that Delany is a man to be honest and it's not like there are not gender theorists who should strongly disagree with him. Unlike you I don't allow the questionable thinking of others to shape an apology for my own follies I try to do what I think is right and if you were intellectually-honest here that is exactly what you should also claim if, indeed, you are politically Left. I know our society is predominantly sexist/racist/classist/et cetera but it's a cop-out to use this excuse for sexist/racist/classist/et etcetera behaviour... shouldn't we be striving to minimise to eliminate these aberrations instead of explaining them away? A book. A book that apparently upholds qualities you purport to resist but you are also guilty of these qualities and think it's okay for blokes to indulge in media that is worse than the book you love to hate? Quite frankly, your response to my comment reads likes something one might read on an anti-feminist blog: "All men are sexist so if I do this or that it's bad and all but I am a man. Shit happens." Or, indeed, a fanatical rant from an adolescent who once read the Green Left Weekly... "let's fight the man but we are imperfect we are only human and I will jerk off to porn." If a man can beat off to porn and then critique The Lord of the Rings for its apparent sexism I suppose one can beat a black man to death and then cry about the novel's apparent racism as well? That's good to know.

I think you will find that

I think you will find that being "morally perfect" is not quite the same as _not_ being a hypocrite... I'm not saying you have to be abrim with virtues to critique anything neither am I saying one shouldn't find fault in something when that fault is one of their own only that it is the height of hypocritical thinking to strive to discredit a work and its author for these faults when you live your life making excuses for those faults in others including yourself. To say your male peers are sexist that their behaviour their real world behaviour is sexist and this is bad but to be expected and then scream hysterically about the sexism in a book authored by a man is about as ridiculous as it gets. I do admire Moorcock but his fondness for Moore (some of his work is about as misogynist as it gets in the realms of fiction) for Leiber (frequently critiqued as sexist) makes his charges against Tolkien in this respect seem as dimwitted as they remain debatable. If someone "reinvented" "exposed" and "unravelled" the life you live and published a piece labelling you a misogynist pig I'm sure you would be understanding of this being male and thus having little choice in the matter, right?

I have to go to a tea party at my local chapter of the National Front before slamming novels for their perceived racism.

I feel like there's some kind

I feel like there's some kind of fundamental misunderstanding going on here, or at least your responses only leave me more confused. What you seem to still be saying, and correct me if I'm wrong, is that if I masturbate to pornography (your example) then I am a hypocrite for calling the Lord of the Rings sexist. I'm not going to get into the very complex and problematic ethics surrounding sex work, but I will say that I feel completely comfortable calling out the Lord of the Rings as sexist, and saying that comment has no validity because I may (or may not) masturbate to pornography (and I in fact have very complex feelings about pornography) is the definition of attacking ad hominum rather than attacking the actual argument.

Thus, even if you disagree with Moorcock about pornography it doesn't make his criticism of Lord of the Rings any more or less valid. And I think his criticism of the Lord of the Rings (as with his criticism of Heinlein in his essay "Starship Stormtroopers") is pretty spot on.

Um... speaking of fundamental

Um... speaking of fundamental misunderstandings... it's _you_ who disagrees with Moorcock about pornography about sexual labour not I and he has written at length about his contempt for the industry and I should have thought someone so admiring of him should be aware of this but I guess not. I'm not saying the charge of sexism is any less valid because of your because of his or because of anyone else's sexism in fact I said this in my last post only that it is self-righteousness and hypocritical to aim to discredit an author and his work because of that sexism when the accuser themselves are sexist. Just because you might have "complex" feelings toward the world's third largest industry and one that plays significant parts in the trafficking of girls and young women one that sexualises racism one that increasingly exploits cheap labour in Eastern Europe and one that thrives on hegemonic depictions of its female subjects you can still identify sexism in a text but to argue that the text that the author is somehow inferior to you makes you a hypocrite. Plain and simple. You might have "complex" feelings and here I think you mean _convenient_ feelings but these exemplify precisely my point about an apparent Left that is nothing more than a bunch of self-righteous white male liberal bourgeois hypocrites who rage against something they themselves contribute to. Some white nationalists might have complex feelings about Muslim immigrants too but it hardly excuses acts of violence. Quite frankly your appraisal of J. R. R. Tolkien weighed against the excuse of the "complexity" of these issues make you sound as hysterical and as absolutist as the average religious fundamentalist:
"I think it is debatable whether or not pornography is inherently misogyny and I will reserve the right to enjoy it but Tolkien is sexist. No question. None."
What _is_ debatable is just how legitimate your politics your principles are which sound like politics of convenience if anything. It isn't only feminist theorists but humanist but socialist theorists too who critique sexual labour as more than just a bit "problematic" and it's men such as yourself that show that patriarchy is a pillar of the male Left in particular as much as the Right. Having a cry about the way the Daily Mail depicts Muslim immigrants and then excusing the way pornography depicts girls and young women is about as hypocritcal as it gets. You are entitled to think Moorcock's criticism of The Lord of the Rings is spot on even as far as sexism is concerned but my analogy about thumping immigrants and whinging about racism in a text seems to illustrate your complaint perfectly.

Crtitiquing The Lord of the

Crtitiquing The Lord of the Rings as sexist remains as complex and as problematic as indeed more so than your seeming tolerance for media that makes it look like a feminist manifesto by comparison. And if it is okay for you to demonstrate complicity to capitalism and to patriarchy by being so "meh" with respect to gender and hegemony and media then labelling The Lord of the Rings "right wing fantasism" seems laughable to be honest. Your predictable complacency as far as porn is concerned hardly makes you a champion of left wing reality.

Yeah, I'm not sure how much

Yeah, I'm not sure how much longer I'm going to play this game, because you don't seem to be listening to me.

It's perfectly valid to have a conversation about the problems of pornography and sex work in terms of ethics, and I appreciate that you seem to have strong opinions about it.

Whether of not pornography is wrong, however, has nothing whatever to do with whether or not the Lord of the Rings is sexist. Like if I agree with you 100% about pornography, it doesn't suddenly transform the Lord of the Rings into a sexist or not sexist work. And if your argument is that I can't call anything sexist if I don't agree with you about pornography, that argument is demonstrably false. If I say "paying a woman less for doing the same job as a man is sexist", that statement is true whether or not I myself am a sexist or in fact keep a woman chained as a slave in my basement.

But you don't seem to actually be interested in having a discussion based on the merits of the argument, you just seem to want to rant off about how terrible I am.

Neither do you seem

Neither do you seem particularly interested in acknowledging the glaring hysteria of describing a work of fantasy as "right wing fantasism reactionism" as if each charge you lay against the work is something exclusive to the Right. I realise that sexism is sexism and irrespective of your own that something sexist remains sexist but then I hardly think you're the most qualified judge of what is or is not sexist and not only because you're a man. I mean if you tell me a particular advertisement that dehumanises women is sexist and indeed it is it isn't any less so simply because you think sexist dancing oops sorry "sexy" dancing is all good and dandy. My point isn't that you're a bad person a bad leftist perhaps but that because you think it is debatable whether or not pornography is sexist but perceive indubitable sexism in The Lord of the Rings that you're either being intellectually lazy or hypocritical or worse. And no this doesn't make the work any less sexist _if_ indeed it is sexist but it brings your capacity to identify to see sexism for what it is into question and makes your claim dubious at best. There may be merit to the argument that The Lord of the Rings is sexist but I don't buy it and not least of all because there are moments where women show courage show strength defying the expectations of their gender and neither do I believe the work to be racist regardless of its racialist distinction between borders between kingdoms because of the age because of the world that it sought to illustrate. Assuming Moorcock _is_ "spot on" in his assessment of The Lord of the Rings I still fail to see how this devalues the work unless you're morally perfect and refuse to read anything for pleasure for reasons beyond reading anything even fiction unless it is to reinforce your politics well... at least those you espouse when it is convenient. Even Moorcock has the sense has the integrity to concede that a mere work of fiction however dangerous to its readership is hardly comparable to the real world use of women in pornography and although rather known for his opposition to censorship has questioned whether or not pornography should be accorded the same courtesy. The Delany quote resonates here because assuming you are right and the work is sexist is patriarchal in its depiction of men and women labelling it Right Wing because of this suggests you don't quite understand what patriarchy is either. And the same can be said for racism for classism even as evidenced in the behaviour in the complency of the modern left for want of a better word.

To quote Moorcock: "If I were

To quote Moorcock:
"If I were sitting in a tube train and all the people opposite me were reading Mein Kampf with obvious enjoyment and approval it probably wouldn't disturb me much more than if they were reading Heinlein, Tolkein or Richard Adams."

And that's all I have left to say about that.

And I will leave you with

And I will leave you with this comment I encountered for it as well as finding comedy in comparing J. R. R. Tolkien to Adolf Hitler or that I find in male hegemons sooking about the big bad Right captures my feelings about Epic Pooh and Starship Stormtroopers:

"Since these are adults, they cover themselves with terms like
"escapist" and "meaningful themes." Even so, the likes of Moorcock
bashing the likes of Tolkien has the same cultural relevance as a 12-
year-old posting "my albino's demonsword ownz your hobbits" on a WoW
forum, after the hobbit player has already logged off."

in future, when you decide to

in future, when you decide to go trolling, remember that punctuation is your friend and it will make it much easier to understand what the hell you're talking about. I'm saying this because you clearly spent a good amount of time typing out these critiques, but I can't for the life of me figure out what it is your point is, other than some vague claim of hypocrisy. Unfortunately I can't tell if the accusation is directed against Eric or Michael Moorcock. More problematically, I'm having a very difficult time figuring out why you think either of them is a hypocrite. This has left two alternative hypotheses for me: 1.) you're just a troll or 2.) you're very worked up and that's negatively affecting your ability to string together a cogent sentence.

As of right now, I'm leaning toward the opinion that you're an alumnus of the James O'Keefe school of right wing gonzo jackassery. I say that because what you've written reads much more like a caricature of radical feminism than it does an authentic point of view. The reason it reads that way is because it's both internally inconsistent and externally incoherent. That's a strong sign that you don't actually hold the position you're advocating, and that you don't really understand the position that you're trying to portray. That suggests that you're most likely saying what you're saying in order to "uncover" some "secret ideology" that you think we lefties only really voice when we're in safe company among like minded individuals. There are three problems with the James O'Keefe model 1.) It's the right, not the left, that has created a whole cable news network so that they can avoid hearing people on TV say things they disagree with 2.) When you clearly don't understand your opponent, what you project on to them says far more about your values and fears than it does about what your opponent actually believes, and 3.) This is the internet, it's an open and more or less permanent record. So there is no "secret ideology" to be found here that isn't also public, and when you try to pull this kind of thing, you don't have the convenient option of editing the tape later to cut out all the ridiculous crap you pulled to try to get your opponents to say things that, when taken out of context, will make them look bad.

In other words, either go back on your meds and start making sense, or go home and stop trolling here.

You're right. I was feeding

You're right. I was feeding the troll.

Delany is wrong. That's just

Delany is wrong. That's just another load of disembodied standpoint bollocks. Universal generalizations about cultures are almost always a result of either laziness or propaganda. I have no patience for it. Just like I have no patience for Samuel R. "I'm a polyamorous greenanarchist douchebag whose dopey sci fi novels are the leftist equivalent of Robert Heinlein" Delany. Not that Moorcock isn't sometimes just as bad, but at least his books don't suck and he's a very good critic.

You might come around to

You might come around to Delany if you read the Jewel-Hinged Jaw, which is quite good (especially the essay "To Read The Dispossessed". His only point, and he was writing in the late-sixties/early-seventies when sexism was much more pronounced in this country and he gives countless examples of it, is that sexism is so deeply ingrained in our culture most of us are sexist without even really thinking about it. Or, as the song in Avenue Q puts it about a similar topic, "Everyone's a little bit racist".

Also, E

shame on you for falling into this ID politics nonsense. You know as well as I do that that's all just factionalism engendered the ruling class to keep the proletariat in its place. IF this poster is for real, and IF the poster isn't mentally unstable (two big ifs) this sort of internecine bullshit is precisely the sort of thing Rupert Murdoch wants people arguing about. I'm not paranoid enough to suggest that the fact that most of this stuff comes out of the mouths of upper middle class kids with parents who have advanced degrees is some sort of conspiracy to fragment the leftwing intelligentsia into feuding special interest groups founding on a reductive essentializing view of group identity. But you have to admit, that's pretty fucking fishy.

meh

crawl back in your hole.
http://www.wetasphalt.com/content/disembodied-standpoint-or-why-i-dont-take-certain-parts-leftwing-blogosphere-seriously-and-y

No gray without black and white.

This is of course a ridiculous argument. For there to be "complex and messy" morality to be "dismantled", you must first identify what morality is black and what morality is white. You may do so consciously or via a desperately repressed subconsciousness, but nonetheless you've done so. Then you mix the two together to get your beloved moral ambiguity.

What this means in practice, however, is that you purposefully reject attempting to be wholly good. This speaks of mental illness, or worse. But I suppose that's modern liberalism in a nutshell.