Monday, January 25, 2010
A treacherous land
Tomorrow is Australia Day, and very new Australian I find myself going to my very first Australia Day barbie on the beach up at Killiekrankie. I'm quite looking forward to it. It's a strange feeling as I have been withdrawing from the concept of patriotism to South Africa for the last few years - which was hard as I come from a long line of people who fought either against oppressors for _their_ country or who volunteered to serve in the wars of their country. You can argue the logic and wax on about territorial imperitives etc. but there is a strong (and often illogical) tendency in many of us to find a group to ID with and to stand with them. This is a powerful arena to write in. Anything that stirs strong, primal emotions is. It's also of course a potentially treacherous land as the beloved of one group is often the bete noir (beyond logic sometimes in both cases) of another large section of the potential audience. So - a strong emotional driver - but a dangerous area where the allegience of the writer - and the reader - can over-run the bounds of common sense. It's a great story - but say the author is so anti/pro American as to alienate a large part of his/her audience (thereby not only losing sales, but the opportunity to show the positive aspects of his 'group'). Yes, the chorus of faithful will enjoy it. And that can be a substantial audience if that's a big group. But it is dangerous country for writers. No, I am not suggesting that you have to avoid it, the opposite - it is powerful stuff and dangerous territory is what makes books exciting and makes enthusiasts out of what might be tepid readers. What I am saying is it is not the country for blind assumptions that everyone (or everyone worth writing for)shares your viewpoint. I wrote extensively about it in MUCH FALL OF BLOOD (because I was very much in flux myself about issues of national identity) and the need of refugees (not economic migrants) to find certain things in order to integrate. I was very much writing about modern migration - with the strong feelings this raises, but I was able to put into an apparently neutral context, and to let the readers into the heads of the protagonists. I think it worked and makes it very strong book. But what do the rest of you think? does patriotism have any place in modern fiction? is it there whether we like it or not? (I've yet to read a single fantasy without some of it). How should it be handled?