Scott would probably want me to interrogate my affection for him, because (he might say) our brains are tricksy, pattern-seeking, biased organs, and the more fervently we believe in the veracity of the decisions we think we make with them, the more deluded we are.
Or, as he says, “We’re all idiots around here.”
I’d like to interrogate my affection, and perhaps I will, when the furor dies down. But that’s the thing: there’s furor. And I, who have always feared confrontation and upheaval and rocking of all sorts of boats, feel compelled to address it.
Back in August of last year, “acrackedmoon” (I’ll refer to her as “ACM” from now on) wrote a post called “R. Scott Bakker: Prince of Misogyny” on her blog, Requires Only That You Hate. The post spawned a slew of comments, both pro and con, and a couple of far more recent posts on Scott’s own blog.
In one of his posts, he addresses humanity at large, thus:
“…if you actually give a damn about people, then you need to be careful about accusing them of being sexist or racist, because, as a simple matter of fact, you could do real damage and you could be wrong.”
And ACM is so very wrong.
Some of her assertions, paraphrased from the vitriol that is her blog entry (and the comments she makes after it): He’s a misogynist. (“Bakker’s offenses have to do with misogyny.”) Or he’s not a misogynist (“nor have I called him a misogynist”)—he’s just a bad writer whose pretentious claims as to the feminist underpinnings of his books are undermined by his total lack of skill. No, wait: he’s just a bad and pretentious man—“a self-important little roach,” in fact.
Several of ACM’s respondents attempt to question both these assertions and the bitterness with which they’re made. Several try to make cogent, rational counter-arguments.
I’m not going to be one of them.
Granted, I’m not all that good at crafting careful, reasonable arguments when I’m involved in a spirited exchange. I get emotional: I flush from neck to hairline and/or my voice leaps at least an octave and/or I cry. It’s horrible, because the person with whom I’m speaking usually assumes I’m being manipulative, not playing fair, getting out of producing an actual, empirical argument. I’m not. In fact, my emotional responses infuriate me. I’d love to keep things rational. I’d love to cite provable examples, rather than personal anecdotes.
But not this time.
Based on ACM’s posts and her responses to others’, cool-headedness would get me nowhere. What remains, then, is biased, knee-jerk, reactive, cathartic heat. This is playing right into her hating hands, of course—but I guess that makes it a win-win.
Of course, she’s ready for me, and indeed for anyone who might know Scott and defend him:
“You don’t know me, you don’t know meeeeeee.” Either it’s their wife, or their mom, or their goldfish, who thinks they are just dandily perfect human beings and would never, ever do or say anything that’d be sexist/racist/homophobic…After all, people who know them say so.
I know him, and I say so. Granted, I’m not his wife (though I did attend his wedding), or his goldfish (he prefers cats). I’m his friend. And since this whole tawdry mess is obviously about making personal, emotion-based pronouncements about him, I’m qualified. ACM isn’t. She hasn’t met him; it sounds as if she hasn’t even met anyone who has:
I’ve read impressions of people who met him IRL [in real life], and it seems he is about as pompous and ridiculous there as he is online, which is quite the contrast to the more common ‘author x is offensive online but fairly polite at cons.’
Scott doesn’t exactly contradict her:
Now, I’m not a popular guy. Part of it has to do with personality, I’m sure. I’m foul mouthed, and I have the bad habit of carving someone the instant I decide I like them (and only being polite to those I dislike). I’m a horrible know-it-all. I’m chronically disorganized and typically unreliable as a result.
With apologies to the man in question for contradicting him on the subject of himself, I say:
OK, so Scott is foul-mouthed, and many of the words he uses that aren’t foul are big. “Pompous,” though? “Not a popular guy”? Nope.
I’m not sure who ACM’s sources were. I’ve hung out with him a whole lot over the years—both one-on-one and in the midst of con crowds: crowds as big, congenial, energetic and goofy as he is.
Yes, he enjoys a good argument—a good one. I’ve never seen him be arbitrarily provocative or underhanded or mean; he’s always willing, even eager, to be proven wrong by a bracing and informed counter-argument.
Here’s a photo of us, taken at Ad Astra 2006. You’ll note that, while I’m wearing a sparkly dress (the lovely Lesley Livingston and I both sported these outfits for a couple of hours, when we acted as auctioneers for the Sunburst Award), I’m also looking kind of unhappy. And boy, was I. My second book had been out for a year, and I’d just gotten a royalty statement back from Penguin Canada, and it showed negative sales. Yes: negative sales. Hence the unhappiness. But there was Scott—there he is, in the photo, leaning in to listen to me, and to talk to me; offering the sort of impassioned, profanity-laced, unequivocal support he had ever since we met in 2000, on the Del Rey Online Writers’ Forum where we’d posted our first sample chapters and held our breath.
The sample chapters he posted were from The Darkness That Comes Before—the book ACM reviles without having read more than its first five pages (as she admits right off the bat, in her post, and contradicts somewhere in the comments). I read the chapters, and then much of the initial draft, and then the entire final product, when it was published.
I cringed more than once, as I read; the myriad, relentless abuses of power and people in the book are pretty hard to bear. But I never felt that Scott’s depiction of these abuses was gratuitous or self-indulgent. Partly because I know him, yes—but also because I’m pretty clear that authors don’t have to be nasty people to write about nasty things.
Authors use imagination and intellect to make things up—things they might be drawn to on aesthetic or thematic levels, but which might horrify them on an emotional one. He made up a dark, dire, grim patriarchal world in which women, men, beasts—hell, any and all life forms—are degraded. I understand readers who say, “Wow—this book isn’t my thing at all—I’m going to put it down forever.” But it’s a gargantuan leap from “I really don’t like this book” to “I really don’t like the man who wrote this book.” It’s a leap ACM makes effortlessly—because she was never actually reacting to his fiction. No: she’s made her claims about his novels, and him, based only on things he’s said in online forums and interviews and on his blog; based on the “impressions” of shadowy second-hand sources.
But why? She attacks his books without having read them. She attacks his character without having met him. There’s no reason here, and no reasons—just an inexplicably personal kind of rancour.
The rest of us who simply derive his attitudes from what he says and does online, well, we could never be magical enough to truly know him.
Magic has nothing to do with it, but luck may. And I’m grateful to be one of the lucky ones.
Hey, Scott. You do understand Nietzsche. Go Leafs. I miss you.