Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Failure of Imagination Part 4 - Teasing Off The Blinders

Back in October 2010, Heather Massey, posted on The Galaxy Express, a discussion of my blog post Failure of Imagination Part 3 - Education.

Here's my post:


And here's what Heather said, telling a story about how she "discovered" Martial Arts films can be about something. She notes that she was wearing the kind of blinders I described in my post Part 3, and wonders if people who shun Romance or SF are in the same pickle.


In short, my answer is yes, it's exactly the same phenomenon, and it's purely human.

Our brains work on a kind of analog model of the universe, and we have to understand everything as "like" something else.

When someone comes home from vacation bubbling over with stories to tell, people ask (irritatingly) "what was it like to meet this celebrity?" etc.

Well, the WHOLE POINT of the "experiential" education is that it's NOT LIKE anything.

It's a new thing that later things can be likened to.

It's a new benchmark.  A new internal referent. 

Discovering that Martial Arts films are in fact "art" (oh, yes, I have a deep appreciation of Martial Arts films, and once studied them carefully) is a gigantic epiphany for Romance readers.

That is the kind of epiphany that happens when those mental blinders discussed in Part 3 of Failure of Imagination are ripped off.

Martial Arts films can have a lot to say about the human condition, the realities of magic, the use and abuse of power, the objective of becoming powerful, etc etc.

Just as the Romance Genre is built around a set of themes derived from the abstract philosophical premise Love Conquers All, so the Martial Arts films are built around a single, very abstract philosophical premise.

Finding and articulating that premise may give you a better understanding of Science Fiction, and I would suppose each of us would have a different assessment of what the ultimate theme of all Martial Arts films are.

But let me take a quick, preliminary stab at it and you can poke holes in my theory.

Let's Try: The basic theme of the Martial Arts films is the ultimate Wisdom one may acquire by studying and practicing the Martial Arts.

Now in the study of this Art, the first thing you are blasted with is that your MIND (intellect, deliberate thinking and decision-making) has to be cut out of the circuit in order to learn.

How many times have I said in these blog posts that WRITING IS A PERFORMING ART? I learned that from my first writing teacher, Alma Hill.

The Martial Arts are a PERFORMING ART too. Not necessarily for an audience, but the process is the same for winning a fight on a real life-or-death battleground as it is for playing the piano on stage at Carnegie Hall.

And the learning process is the same for writing and for Martial Arts.

One difference is that writing is a performance of the intellect while Martial Arts is a performance of the muscular system - skeleton etc.

There's more autonomic system involvement in Martial Arts just as in dance or acting or playing an instrument. But writing requires the same kind of smooth coordination among the integrated levels of the mind.

In other words, Martial Artists TRAIN, and writers TRAIN. You don't learn to write. You TRAIN yourself to write. That's why I give you all these boring exercises.  Everyone is born with the ability to write, to tell stories, to express emotion (starting with a birth-cry).  But it takes training to raise the ability to throw a punch into an Art, and the ability to wail loudly into words. 

I just did a post on The Flintstones and The Lone Ranger posted on aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com on 12/28/2010.  It gives you a training exercise on creating an icon. 

One of the ways you train yourself to write is to intellectualize about the thematic, symbolic and philosophical substance transmitted by every artform until you understand what Art is on a level that your audience does not.

That's what professionals in all areas do. They acquire some skill that those they serve don't have the time, talent or inclination for, and then put that skill at the service of those they serve.

A Martial Artist spends life acquiring reactions to situations, perfecting the smoothness of choosing the reaction and executing it, perfecting the ability to scale the force of the reaction to the size of the real problem, and so on.

The Martial Artist trains to react, not to think.

How do they attain that reaction?


How does a writer attain the understanding of the symbolism of their culture?


A lot of thematic substance of Martial Arts films is there to put the polish on the training of a Martial Artist, and thus does not "speak" to general audiences.

But I submit every human being lives a life which is in fact a replication of the best kind of Martial Arts films, a thematic replication.

There is a reason that the Male/Female Relationship has been called The Battle of the Sexes. And there is a reason that the flipside of sexuality, even alien sexuality, is violence. Sex and Violence are thought of as two sides of a coin for a reason (I happen to disagree, so I spent a good many years working through understanding those reasons so I could comment on them graphically in stories.)

Just as Romance Novels have a lot to say about the theme Love Conquers All and how one can tread a path to Happily Ever After in reality, so too Martial Arts movies have a lot to say about The Battle Of The Sexes.

Writers can learn a lot by studying Martial Arts movies (also by actually taking self defense courses, Tai Chi, and Judo, Karate, and today Pilates seems to be gaining popularity). But you don't learn it with your MIND. You learn it with your nerves and muscles, with the part of your brain that can NOT access language.

Our artform is words. It's all about language for us. We are the kind of folks who read dictionaries for fun, encyclopedias for entertainment. We are made of words. And I have ever so much to say about the place of "words" in a life well lived. That's not another topic, but it will have to wait for another time.

Here I'm looking at the thematic dimensions a study of Martial Arts films can add to a Romance Writer's arsenal of Blinder Removers.

Heather Massey's discovery of Martial Arts films was more of a revelation or epiphany than most people are willing to undergo for the sake of enjoying fiction.

So writers who want to remove the blinders from Romance readers' eyes, or from Science Fiction readers eyes, and let them into the world of Alien Sexuality have to find a gentler way of melting those blinders away, dissolving them, paring them away a layer at a time, teasing them off.  Here you should re-read my post on The Overton Window,  October 19, 2010 on aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com  It's about the gradual epiphany, so gradual it doesn't hurt. 

Ridding oneself of "blinders" in fiction or reality widens one's world.

When you finally "see" a new thing, that discovery ADDS A REFERENT to the inventory of internal referents to which one likens subsequent new things that come along.

That's how we think. We are analog creatures. Everything is like something else.

In youth we acquire a set of things, compartments, categories, into which we MUST squeeze everything that happens later in life in order to "feel" that we understand it.

Adding a new reference point to our internal worlds later on can be painful.

It is the stuff of which religious conversion is made.

You add this new reference point, then take things you'd filed under other reference points out of those compartments, and slide them into the new compartment.   It rearranges your whole worldview.

If it works, you feel that NOW I UNDERSTAND. Oh, I was lost but now I'm found. Oh, I was soooo wrong, but NOW I SEE!

That moment of EPIPHANY is what writers work a lifetime to be able to create in their main characters, and thus awaken in their readers.  So the study of blinders is important to writers. 

The reason there's a word for "epiphany" is simple. It's a common human experience in adulthood. It doesn't happen in childhood, where we are in the process of acquiring new reference points and sorting all experiences into these little boxes we're building. Epiphany is the acquisition of a new internal, mental box into which to sort our experiences, after we have already installed a complete array of little boxes.

Education systems, especially centrally run or government controlled education systems, but also "apprentice system" Guild-run systems, assemble the world into an array of little boxes, then carve young folks' minds into that exact array of boxes, filling the boxes with pre-determined "facts" or skills, thus replacing elderly workers with new ones who are the same. 

If the array of mental boxes matches the world's actual shape well enough, the person succeeds in life.

If the world changes, and the person's array of boxes no longer matches the world, we say that person is "old" or "out of touch" or obsolete in skills. The person gradually, or suddenly, fails to cope.(think of techphobes, or people who won't touch social networking.  Think of publishers who think paper is enough.)

That mis-match happens because we are analog creatures, and analog is hard to edit. Digital is easy to edit. We can't change ourselves to digital.

We understand our world in SYMBOLISM.

Symbols are analog devices for parsing the experiences of the world, the truths we hold self-evident.

With the Romance genre, as with Science Fiction, we are asking readers to suspend disbelief and enter a world where the self-evident truths (the array of mental boxes) is different, and contains some new boxes (like a human-alien Relationship, and very strange alien sexuality).

We are asking readers to stipulate that Love Conquers All.

What are Martial Arts films asking us to stipulate?

Might Conquers All? That is FORCE or power conquers all?

And once all is conquered, then you are SAFE -- nothing can harm you?

Is Martial Arts all about the theme, "Make Life Safe?" Isn't that Love Conquers All?

Or maybe "Live Dangerously?" SF and Romance tackle that.

Or "Be Impervious?" Vampire novels emphasizing Immortality have that element.

My study of the Martial Arts films and novels yielded a different take on it all.

I think Martial Arts is about PEACE.

And the particular kind of peace it's about is Inner Peace, the kind that is achieved by the highest spiritually developed souls.

It's about curing your inner neuroses to the point where you function smoothly inside yourself, to where power, force of any kind, moves through you frictionlessly.

And that is what the study of Magic, the Occult, Tarot, Astrology, Alchemy, is designed to achieve. Think of The Magician card.  The Magician is a Martial Artist. 

To create Peace in the world - we must first create Peace within.

See my post on Tarot,
All the Martial Arts I've discovered so far focus on aligning the person's inner workings to where POWER moves smoothly into the muscles and skeleton, allowing that power to manifest in the material world as a harmonious force.

And it's not about HITTING, or enemies or opponents. It's about operating within the matrix of force in the world to still the furious turbulence that deeply disturbed people leave in their wake.

What we SEE in a Martial Arts film is a person landing blows.

What is really happening is a spiritual reallignment of the world's greater forces, a wave of PEACE emanating from the hands and feet of the Artist as he/she moves.

So the Martial Arts films could be looked at, as a genre, the same way that Romance is looked at, from a far perspective.

In Romance we see Love Conquers All.

In Martial Arts we see Peace Conquers All and creates a situation where Love dominates.

So we might conclude that Romance genre is about War, the War of the Sexes, about dominance ("I am going to get me that MAN!") about competing for a mate, "He's MINE," and other vicious attitudes.

But Martial Arts film genre is about Peace, Defending the Helpless, becoming One with the Higher Power.

Remember the TV show, Kung Fu, and Kung Fu The Legend Continues both with David Caradine (who died tragically much later)?

A Shaolin Priest travels the Old West in search of his (caucasian) father and protects the innocent much as The Lone Ranger did, continuing his spiritual journey until in meditation, he finally achieves levitation. (we actually see him in lotus position, floating).  Of course, The Lone Ranger never did that, but he left peace in his wake. 

Here's the complete first series of Kung Fu on TV (check out the fanfic - whew!) 

Kung Fu: The Complete Series Collection

Kung Fu - The Legend Continues

Remember the trilogy of films Karate Kid?

The Karate Kid Collection (Four Film Set)

Slice and dice these on the thematic level, then add your results to your creation of a new Icon exercise.

You may find the effort will erode away your own blinders -- or possibly just rip them off.

In working to get symbols (icons) to say something about blinders to those clinging to their narrow and mis-configured world-view, remember what you learned about The Overton Window by following the links in my post on October 19, 2010 on aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com

The Overton Window is the technique for creating symbols that become icons that actually change the world but do it gradually.  

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

1 comment:

  1. Terrific post, and thanks for the shout out.

    a gentler way of melting those blinders away, dissolving them, paring them away a layer at a time, teasing them off.

    This. As I read that passage, it occurred to me that it's not just about the books themselves, because a good number of science fiction romances take a gentle approach to melt blinders, but also how readers talk to one another about said books.

    Which is why I'm not sure it'll take *one* break out book vs. a series of various books, books with the collective goal of helping to melt the blinders. That, and readers who find ways of speaking to other readers in ways that break down the blinder barrier.

    The mystery is discovering which story elements/types will help the process along. There are so many from which to choose, and who knows which particular ones will prompt readers to cross over at any given time.

    Sure will be exciting to watch it all unfold, though!