Thursday, 4 December 2008

About Writing and Arrogance

I am fascinated by the reactions I got to my story Arrogance. I asked what you thought the title referred to. I am fascinated but not surprised that I got so varying replies. Someone suggested that Sarah was arrogant and another that the men were arrogant.

I don't know, but I suppose that those who found Sarah arrogant saw this as more of a traditional story where the arrogant female gets her well deserved spanking. That she had it coming and it was about time she was smacked for real. I don't say that it wasn't a traditional story but personally I find very little in her actions that speak of arrogance. Her disbelief and demand for explanations are what anyone would experience and do in her situation.

But the beauty is in the eye of the beholder and understating characters has its points. Did you notice that the young man was a very meek kind? Maybe he didn't deserve to be in charge and the arrogance was that his friend took it for granted that the woman should bow to the man in any circumstance?

There is no right and wrong. I am firm in my belief that when a story is written and presented to the reader it belongs to the reader as much as the writer. So, those of you who saw Sarah as arrogant have all the right in the world to do so. I don't mind.

This leads me (in quite a roundabout way) to another thing I wanted to say. Someone said about my Surrender story that they didn't know if they would like the man and another that the heroine wasn't very well described.

Both of those things have to do with understating and not describing. There is a great power in what is not said in a story, the point where the reader adds what they think.

Still I think the man is clearer than the woman but there is a reason for that too. She is the narrator and she is the one telling the story. Why would she describe herself other than pointing out certain features (which she does)? And would you really trust her if she told you what she thought about herself? I wouldn't. I do hope, though, that both characters will be clearer over time, when you see their actions.


Paul said...

Janice, your point is a good one.
Ursula Le Guin once told me that it takes two to write a book, the author and the reader.
I always used to say that I preferred the radio to television, as I get a better picture.
The reaction between the writer and the reader is even more one on one and hence purer
It's interesting to see in your readers comments that each of us sees something different.
Whether your idea of a dominant is correct, I don't know, but telling my sub to take her knickers off is something I did on occasion, but she never knew when I would do it.
I don't set out to be a critic, I just enjoy your writing.
Love and warm hugs,

Manorlord said...

My dear,

As I am the one who both (a) said I did not like the man, and (b) suggested that Susan was arrogant, allow me to explain.

As you know, I seldom like the men in your stories. Don't get me wrong! They are well crafted, they have substance and work well as characters. It's just that I would not, say, want to have a pint with any of them. Perhaps it is an alpha male thing. (That is perhaps a joke, BTW).

But as to her arrogance, I emphatically did NOT mean to imply that she "had it coming" in the stereotypical sense (the spoiled princess getting her comeuppance, e.g.) I meant that, once the situation presented itself, she may have underestimated her tolerance, her capacity to endure. This could be viewed as arrogance.

You will say: endure she must, and did. Yes...

But experience teaches that, in real life, the self-described "pain slut" has the safe word safely on the tip of her tongue, from the get-go... because the sting of palpable reality is very different from the tingle of a spicy novelette.


Wystan E

Mina said...

Janice, I agree it is interesting to see the different reactions and comments. I guess you could have as many different view points as there are people.

I didn't see arrogance in her and thought she reacted perfectly normal under the circumstances.

I did notice the young man was meeker and I saw a sort of parallel between the two males here and the two male characters, Sir Stephen and René, in The Story of O.

I like both the characters in Surrender and the narrator has not given us any reason to distrust either of them.


Anonymous said...

Lovely thought provoking stuff as always Janice.

Arrogance if it lies anywhere lies in this statement -

"A woman will do anything for you if you only tell her with authority, anything."

But I'm not saying to whom I attribute the arrogance!

What I found interesting was that Sarah, despite being opinionated and initially having the good sense to want to leave, stayed and took her fist taste of discipline without any coercion, no physical restraint, no threats, nothing much really. And afterwards, she didn't throw the Hairbrush on the floor and storm out, she took it home with her knowing full well what it was going to be used for.

Do we really think this was because of the tone of Johns voice?

I don't think so.

I maintain she did it because deep down she understood that she needed it.

Its interesting that Janice gave her a caning first off, no easy introduction with a little hand spanking, straight in with something quite harsh. Clearly it would hurt, clearly she didn't want it in the way we "want" something genuinely rewarding. Yet she co-operated anyway with very little resistance.

Thats the contradiction of people like us. We know its not entirely palatable, but something in us, which may be completely dormant or hidden most of our lives, means that if put in Sarah's position we would take it, maybe reluctantly at first, but we would; that's what we do.

You can talk to a normal (vanilla) person any way you like until you are blue in the face but they won't take their panties down and accept a caning.

That's the arrogance, in thinking that it was entirely down to the force of John's will, and that Sarah didn't have, or didn't make a choice. Of course she did, we all did the first time we bent over.


Oh PS - gender has nothing to do with it. You could take exactly the same words and just swap the men and women around and get exactly the same result for the same reasons.

Janice said...

Dear Paul, I am envious, you have met Ursula Le Guin...sigh. But she is right, I agree with her wholeheartedly. I don't see you as a critic, Paul, I really appreciate your comments...thanks.

Dear Wystan, yes, you commented on the man and I don't mind if you don't like him...smiles. I am sorry, though, if I managed to target you in my blogpost, it was not my intention, please accept my apologies. I think you made it quite clear in your earlier comment that her belief in her ability to endure (perhaps) was her arrogance. My remark was based on more comments.

Dear Mina, 'normal' is the word for me too. I find your parallel to the Story of O very interesting. I had no intention of that but it is not unreasonable to think like that, not at all. Subconsciously, perhaps, I was thinking of that parallel.

Dear Recidavist, for me you are spot on. That statement makes me cringe but it is also very right in the context...innit? All my disclaimer was about that sentiment, because I don't share it. You may be right that she really wanted it. That is one of the things I didn't tell. If you read my stories you will find that there is a lot about unexplained acceptance of authority.



PS. The woman's name is Sarah...still...smiles.

Remittance Girl said...

I think you need to accept that, once you publish, the authority to make meaning of the piece stops being yours. People bring their own life-experience to their reading, they fill in the gaps you leave, populating the fictional world with their own expectations. It becomes a hybrid work, part writer, part reader. Wonderful, ain't it?

Read Roland Barthes "The Death of the Author"



Janice said...

Dear Remittance Girl, not sure how to interpret your comment. I don't think I need to accept that, for the simple reason that I have already done that. I think my blogpost was about that, really, at least I said something along those lines and those who have followed my blog know that this is my position and has always been. Thanks for the links but I am afraid I won't read it. Roland Barthes is one of those people I try to stay away from.



Janice said...

And, to take your comment seriously the right to make meaning doesn't at all stops being mine. I am still a reader and have as much right as anyone to make meaning of my text. I do see your point and share it to the point that I claim no right to impose my interpretation on others. I still have the right to state what my intentions was. And what is the work? The text was and is still written by me but how it is read and understood is out of my hands and I like that part of it, I really do.

I am not picking a fight, I was just a little confused by being told to do something I try to make clear I do.



Anonymous said...

I have to admire anyone who is able to 'make meaning' of Roland Barthes.

Manorlord said...

My dear Janice,

Although you and I have had our philosophical squabbles, I have to think that the question of the "ownership" or "reality" of a character qualifies as one of those empty discussions you eschew.

(Intellectual property rights are a different matter, of course!)

Barthes is not the most opaque writer I have ever encountered. He had some useful insights. But his thesis is delightfully (and consciously) self-refuting. As a thought exercise, or mental gymnastics, his work may have value. To the extent he proffers a blueprint for reading text, Barthes is irrelevant, or worse.

In this reader's opinion...


Wystan E

Janice said...

Dear Anonymous and Wystan E, I did read the Barthes article after all.