Hymn against the Stupid God 189

Old Jeremiah could at least believe
The god he served would give him a reprieve,
But I that faith have long since had to leave
For seeing Stupid God delivered praise
By many mouths across too many days.
In wilderness and scorched by summer rays,
In empty lands and frozen by the chill,
In office chair with pen in hand until
My fingers bleed, I rant, but still
The words I give, I give to no avail;
My throat grows hoarse, my wrists ache, and I ail
And falter, bloodless, growing deathly pale
Because my hope now far away has fled
And creeping death approaches in its stead.

This is not the one I mean.
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A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 311: Fool’s Fate, Chapter 34

Read the previous entry in the series here.
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The next chamber, “Commitments,” opens with a brief in-milieu directive from an old Skillmaster before turning to Fitz considering the shift in his situation and preparing to return to the Fool and Prilkop on Aslevjal. He returns to the Witness Stones and contemplates them before passing through the Skill-pillars once again and making his way to the Fool. The two confer, exchanging news, and the Fool affirms a determination to absent himself from Fitz’s life. The risk of occasioning change is too great, and the Fool withdraws the marks of Skill-sharing from Fitz, leaving the two sundered and Fitz considering what has been given to him by those whom he has loved.

How the mighty have fallen…
Source should be visible in this.

In the wake of the loss, Fitz follows Chade’s bidding and makes to retrieve some of the purloined Skill-texts that the Pale Woman had had, aided by Prilkop. They find the corpse of the Pale Woman, and Prilkop notes that he and the Fool will return to their shared school–in Clerres–to address some concerns they have there. Prilkop also urges Fitz to remain with him for a short span before returning through the Skill-pillars, which urging Fitz, being called by Chade and Thick back to Buckkeep, politely refuses.

Some things present themselves as of interest in the present chapter. One of them is a bit of foreshadowing that I do not think will be a spoiler to point out (aside from the novel being nearly twenty years in print as I write this): Fitz refuses a polite warning from a knowledgeable figure, and that has never worked out well for him in the preceding texts. Never.

Another point is that the present chapter is, I believe, the first mention of Clerres, the center of power of the White Prophet religion. I offer some discussion of it here, in “Manifestations of Medieval Religion in Robin Hobb’s Elderlings Corpus,” and I have the idle thought that I might revisit the project at some future point, expanding the conference paper with quotations and, maybe, further analysis. It’s not like I was going to place it in a journal in any event, after all; I still do some of The Work, but I am decisively out of academe. Still, the name might well be a bit of sequel-planting for Hobb, which would not be out of line–but even if it is not, the detail is not a throwaway thing as much as it is an enrichment of the milieu. After all, people give names to places, and everybody’s from somewhere.

One more, before I close, is the discussion of responsibility and authority at work in the chapter. It does note receive much space, admittedly, but there is something of an undercurrent of the issue throughout the Six Duchies books. Much of the action in them, and certainly the bulk of the political intrigues, result from the abdication of FitzChivalry’s father, King-in-Waiting Chivalry Farseer, from that position and his self-removal from the line of succession to the throne of the Six Duchies. Would matters in the Red-Ship War have gone as they did, had Chivalry remained present in government? Certainly, Verity would not have done as he did…but I am not a fan-fiction writer, and certainly not in the Six Duchies. That way lies opprobrium, and I have faced enough such in my life already.

Send a little something my way?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 310: Fool’s Fate, Chapter 33

Read the previous entry in the series here.
Read the next entry in the series

The succeeding chapter, “Family,” opens with a brief and pointed message from Patience to Kettricken before picking up with Fitz and Nettle meeting in the flesh for the first time. Their exchange is strained and somewhat awkward, although they both recognize that they are acting poorly and restart their conversation–with both of them being somewhat overwhelmed by their emotions, Fitz at meeting his daughter and not being able to say as much, Nettle by grief for her father and upset at the change to her family and station. Fitz passes along Burrich’s message, and Nettle takes her leave.

Fatigued, Fitz falls asleep where he is. When he wakes, it is with Patience and Lacey present, and his appearance startles both women, so much so that Lacey passes out. Patience orders Fitz to assist her and Lacey to their rooms, and Fitz complies, barely getting the door shut behind them before Patience lights into him, demanding an account of his days and deeds since she had seen him buried. Only when Patience has finally fallen asleep does Fitz excuse himself and take a solid meal, purloining supplies to take back to Aslevjal for Prlikop and the Fool. He is sent aside by Chade’s Skilled command, though, and serves as relay between Fallstar and Kettricken as the former complains to the latter of Dutiful’s actions. Amid the task, he finds himself bidden advise Kettricken, and he does so–against Chade’s ideas. And he finds the older man ceding power to him at last.

The denouement continues in the present chapter, with Fitz belatedly “coming into his own,” although it is a partial and frustrated thing. Because he is not the true king, despite Chade’s epithet at the end of the chapter, and he is not the seniormost Farseer; that is, instead, Chade, even if Fitz was recognized as belonging to the family in a way Chade never was. So he is neither a public face for the throne nor the one most entitled to that throne, and he seems to be aware of as much, given his reluctance to assume power at this point in his life (with reference to an earlier instance of his doing the same). Again, though, Fitz’s story is not the traditionally heroic. It is, in some senses, much more as Tolkien’s legendarium operates; the traditionally heroic figure, Aragorn, is not the protagonist of the tale. And while Fitz is far removed from Frodo or Sam, he is just as far from the traditional heroic ideal as they are–closer in birth, perhaps, but far more willing to do what would never occur to either of those hobbits. But so much is to be expected from the protagonist of series that use the Tolkienian tradition even as they make decided efforts to move away from it…

Help me keep this going!

Hymn against the Stupid God 188

The scop-work sings that fate goes as it must,
And it is tempting to sit back and trust
That fate will work in ways we see as just,
But Clothos has to pay for what she spins,
And Urðr does not get her weave for grins.
Greed is rightly named the root of sins,
And they are sinners all who power seek,
And all of us will suffer virtue’s leak
As it will seep away, fed by a creek
And feeding mighty rivers in its turn.
The water gone, the landscape then must burn,
A drought descending, though people for rain yearn.
And Stupid God cavorting laughs the while,
Seeing what transpires with a smile.

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A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 309: Fool’s Fate, Chapter 32

Read the previous entry in the series here.
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The following chapter, “Through Stones,” opens with a passage from Chade’s writings about the Witness Stones and Skill-pillars before returning to Fitz’s attendance on the ill Fool and his messages through the Skill to Chade about the same. Fitz dithers about leaving his friend behind but is persuaded by Prilkop, Thick, and the Fool himself to depart in favor of the Fool’s continued convalescence and conference with Prilkop. Fitz offers to return swiftly, though Prilkop advises against rapid successive use of the Skill-pillars, and Fitz takes Thick to and through the Skill-pillar back to Buck and the Witness Stones.

Uh oh…
Image from Nettle’s page on the Realm of the Elderlings wiki, used for commentary

The trip through the Stones is unpleasant, but Fitz gets himself and Thick to Buckkeep, even so. He leaves Thick in the company of guards, and he makes his own way to the hidden chambers in which he and Chade long worked. Shortly thereafter, he heads to Kettricken’s chambers and reports to her before being asked to relay messages to Dutiful via the Skill. Fitz serves as a conduit between the Prince and his mother for a time, until he begins to be subsumed by the Skill and has to be forced away from the magic. After some time and recovery, Fitz is released and tends to himself briefly before being encountered by Nettle unexpectedly.

Or at least unexpectedly on his part; those who have read Hobb, or are rereading her, or who have followed along my rereading (thank you, by the way!) will know that Fitz gets to “enjoy” such things on an alarmingly regular basis. But though the encounter with Nettle must be a social shock, it is at least only that; for once, Fitz is not imperiled by a chance encounter, which is something of a relief.

If I read the novel with Freytag’s structure in mind, it seems to me that the present chapter is firmly in the denouement. Certainly, it feels as if the novel is working to resolve various plot threads before it concludes, the major actions of the plot being accomplished. (I believe I’ve mentioned elsewhere, whether in this webspace or in some other place, that the story that would “normally” be told in the Realm of the Elderlings is not Fitz’s, but Verity’s in the Farseer novels and Dutiful’s in the Tawny Man. As I get further into the reread, we’ll see how much it holds–and there’s a lot of reread left: seven Elderlings novels, the Soldier Son trilogy, and various other short stories, novellas, and other pieces. I picked a hell of a project, right?) But I rather like that aspect of Hobb’s writing; it works to give the impression that her narrative world is not just what is shown in the main text, but is suggestive of a larger world outside the narrative readers get to see. That things do not all tie up neatly at once, but close off raggedly…we come back to it, as I recall–and as I believe will show up soon.

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Reflective Comments about the Seventh Year

It has been seven years since the first post on this website, seven years I’ve been working on Elliott RWI. As I write this, I have published 1,213 posts to the blogroll (this will be post 1,214), and I have revised individual pages, collecting 65,277 views from 22,675 visitors as of this writing. In the last year, therefore, I have made 156 posts and collected 24,525 views from 6,803 visitors (based on “Reflective Comments about the Sixth Year”). Performance is up from last year and overall; I’ve made more posts than at any point since leaving Oklahoma (even with making no class reports), and I had more visitors offering more views than in any previous year.

Of the three figures below, the first displays posts by year of blogging. The second shows views by year of blogging, and the third shows visitors by year of blogging.

Figure 1, as labeled.
Figure 2, as labeled.
Figure 3, as labeled.

I remain pleased to be able to continue doing this kind of work, and I look forward not only to another year of it, but many other years of it. I’ve enjoyed doing the writing I’ve done here, and I’m gratified to have learned that at least some of it appears to have been useful and/or enjoyable to others.

Help me keep this going?

A Rumination about Affective Reading

I comment in my most recent previous post about affective reading, noting as I have many times that I ought not to do it. It occurs to me that I’ve not really spent time with the idea outside my years-ago graduate coursework, not in any substantive way, and that a fair number of the people who read this blog (thank you!) may not know what “affective reading” is or why someone like me might have been trained away from it. Thus, the following, in which I offer a cursory discussion of those ideas; as with many things, others have treated the topic more intelligently than I have (ever had?) it in me to do, but I do what I can.

Looks like a good time to me…
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Now, again, this is entirely cursory and paraphrased from years of courses and readings, so it will necessarily gloss over and simplify matters; I can’t give a doctorate in a blog post. But my experience with the term “affect,” and how I’ve used it subsequently, has been something related to reader-response theory. In that theory, the meaning of a given text (and this can apply, really, to any artwork, but I talk about things in terms of text because it’s easier for me to do it that way) exists somewhere in the negotiation between the work as itself and the reaction of the reader to the work. That is, a text is not the words on the page, but the experience of the reader with the words on the page; if there is no reader, there is no text, even if there is a verifiable physical object to consider. It has no meaning unless the reader acts upon it to produce meaning, although it is also the case that the meaning the reader produces from the object is guided and directed by the object itself. I think a lot of people understand this at some level; most of the people I have known have run into readings they didn’t understand, and so those readings didn’t mean a damned thing to them. Certainly so much was true for students when I had them, and I’ll admit that I don’t get a lot out of watching dance; I don’t understand a lot about how dance conveys meaning, so I don’t know how to act upon the performances I see and have seen to make meaning from them.

(Please don’t take this to mean that I don’t like dance or don’t esteem its value. That I don’t understand a thing doesn’t mean I think it has no worth. The failure is mine, and one of many, not that of the medium.)

“Affect,” at least for me, becomes something of an emotional engagement with the text, a self-identification with the events described in the work. That is, it is the manifestation of affection for the characters and their situations, which moves from the meaning-making into over/investment in the emotional content of the work in which they exist. To use the repeated example from the Hobb reread, I find myself sympathizing with Fitz an awful damned lot; I end up feeling as I read as much as or more than I find myself examining and considering what I read.

So much is a problem insofar as attempts to plumb a text for meaning go. For one, reading with affect ends up making the reading more about me than about the text, and even if it is the case that the text does not exist as a conceptual thing without readerly interaction (and I do tend to follow a reader-response-informed theoretical approach, insofar as I have a theoretical approach–which may be part of why I never landed a “real” academic job), overreliance on the effect a work has on one reader inhibits the ability of others to use such a reading to glean their own knowledge and further their own understanding of the text. Too, sympathies constrain and restrict the ability to arrive at some understandings; it is harder to identify faults and label them as such amid some emotional engagements, and far too easy in others, which is not necessarily fair to the thing being examined or appropriate to the context of examination. So much is not to say that what is praiseworthy should not be praised and what is flaw should not be rebuked, but it is to say that it’s a lot easier to find the praiseworthy in what is liked and the blameworthy in what is disliked than the opposite, regardless of its actual presence or absence.

There’s also an issue I think is at work at deeper levels in the minds of teachers such as I have had and as I doubtlessly, in my own lesser fashion, have been. There is an apprehension in those who work in the academic humanities that their work is of no value; it is certainly said often enough and by enough voices to raise the concern. Long-standing practices associate emotional reactions with unserious things–and vice-versa. Consequently, emotional over/investment becomes something to be avoided; it becomes something unserious, and fields of study that already operate under the onus of perceived uselessness can ill afford additional associations with a lack of seriousness.

I have the sneaking suspicion that such associations and the admitted problems of reading with too much (any?) affect combine to move those who study the academic humanities from the love of the things that actually brought them to that study. I know that, for me, the idea of being a band director was one that emerged (at least in part) from a love of music and of playing as part of an ensemble; my shift to English studies emerged almost wholly from a love of reading and a desire to do more of it and be better at it. (I left off being a band director for other reasons, but there’s a difference between moving from and moving to, and it’s more than just a shift of preposition.) I also know that playing while I was trying to be a band director and reading while I was trying to be an English professor were…fraught; the adage about doing what you love so that you don’t ever work is wrong, and its prevalence leads to feelings of inadequacy and insufficiency. Or it did for me, at least.

Anyway, for me, reading with affect happens. And I’m not trying to work in the academic humanities anymore…

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A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 308: Fool’s Fate, Chapter 31

Read the previous entry in the series here.
Read the next entry in the series

The next chapter, “Dragon’s Head,” begins with an excerpt from a minstrel’s account of events before turning to Fitz and the Fool returning to the Black Man, who marvels at the return of the latter from the dead. Thick makes a scattered report of what he has been told through the Skill, and reports are exchanged, in the flesh and through magical means. The difficulties in concluding the marriage arrangements between Dutiful and Elliania are rehearsed, as are their resolutions–which involved Icefyre shoving his head into the Narwhal mothershouse and touching it to the hearthstones therein.

Quite the fireplace decoration…
Dragon-head Drawing by kejig on DeviantArt, used for commentary.

Fitz and the Fool confer about what was reported, and the Fool delights in connecting with Prilkop–the Black Man–whose experiences are both like and unlike his own. The Fool urges Fitz to return to his life and is surprised to have it affirmed that he will do so. And that night, Fitz connects with Nettle through the Skill, where the latter complains of the difficulties at court and makes her own report to the former, receiving his reports, in turn. Their conversation turns tense around the issue of Molly, but it ends amicably, and Fitz sleeps well in the knowledge that he will return home at last.

Were this the last chapter in the book, I’d not be worried. Even had I not read the book many times before, given what Hobb has shown throughout the Elderlings novels, and knowing how much text remains–nearly 100 pages in my copy–I would be worried. Fitz is in a good place, and that cannot be allowed to continue. And of course not; it is in seeing Fitz persevere against situations that are as often his own damned fault as not that so much of his attraction lies. It invites affective reading, which is something I ought not to do, given my training and experience–but it is how most people read, and I am far enough outside academe–more than ten years since my last degree, now, and some time since I had a college job–that I’m not really outside that “most.” Not so much anymore…

I could use your continued support!

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 307: Fool’s Fate, Chapter 30

Read the previous entry in the series here.
Read the next entry in the series

The following chapter, “Whole,” opens with a personal letter from Kettricken to Molly. It moves thence to Fitz and the Fool as the latter continues to convalesce from the trauma of resurrection, beginning to explore the uncertainty of having outlived his prophecies. Fitz continues to care for his friend as they confer about what the Fool should do, moving forward, and the Fool determines to leave the stone city where Fitz had brought them.

How apropos…
Take Back Your Memories by BlackTeaandBones on DeviantArt, used for commentary.

As the two prepare to depart, they confer further, talking of their history with Girl-on-a-Dragon as they come to her. The Fool explicates some of what he has learned of the carving–Realder’s Dragon–including parallels between those involved, and he notes his purpose for the Rooster Crown–a thing to be given in exchange for the return of that part of Fitz he had rashly put into the carving years ago. The exchange is made, the Fool taking that part of Fitz back from the dragon and returning it to Fitz with difficulty for them both.

Fitz suffers through the onrush of returned memories, returning to himself only slowly and spending the evening considering what he has regained. The next day, he and the Fool return to Aslevjal, where they survey what had been the Pale Woman’s facility and confer about the nature of the Skill as Fitz recognizes a way home.

The present chapter makes much of the contrast between youthful passion and settled stolidity. I find myself reading with affect yet again, considering my own unexciting nature as I come ever closer to my forties and the ways in which I used to be excited about things. But I have no repository into which I poured my youthful feelings, no stone cellar from which they may be withdrawn by a kiss–and so I will not need to feel again what I felt then, for which I am likely the better.

Let’s be honest. I’m the kind of person who does this, now, and I was not much more active in my youth than now. So much shows in the habits that kept my belly flabby when I did exercise, and I do not do as much of that now as previously–not by quite a bit. I am staid now, and I was then, more concerned with avoiding the consequences of failure than with enjoying the results of success and therefore reluctant to engage with anything. The tendency has left me more timorous than not, and the fatigue and ennui of years spent failing at my goals has not helped.

Fantasy fiction serves as escapism, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But I know I would not be fit to abscond from such confinement as constrains me; I am the architect of my own prison and my jailer, and the judge who spoke the lifelong sentence. There is no appeal in it.

It’d be great if you could lend me a hand!

I Dream of a Brewed Black Death

I dream of a black-brew death
Drawing deeply of the draught
Listening to the lying voices that longer ago than is comfortable for me to think on
Spoke to me of study and success
And left me in a rush after a reckless day of writing
Returning on occasion when I, eager
To feel again a fortunate man and find
A piece of the power I had pursued
And held in my hands and heart at times in younger days
Drink too deeply of that darkened water
They sing to me, sirens, who cannot swim,
Stonelike in the saltiest streams and with a life-jacket on–
Perhaps the heart, too long hard, heaves me downward–
The lyrics lifting up light and life and laughter,
And I know there is truth in the tunes they turn out,
Know and have known the feeling named often
Euphoria, rapture, consummation, completion,
The power that pulses and pushes on thought and motion and life,
Can call it from the cup put to my lips again and again and again,
Drained dry and refilled and drained dry once more,
A singular sequence that sustains me each day and that
Promises puissance and perhaps the touch of some god upon me
Shunning the Stupid God that so often succeeds in the world
The day will dawn that I approach the domain of the singers,
Come before their choir and call them to take me up among them,
Bind my baritone into their bars and measure their meters in majors and minors,
Finally finding a finish to what I have done and am doing and want to do again.
I will pass through the portal that I pour for myself a cup at a time,
Twitch through the tunes I have heard in times past until I am no longer
Part of the audience but performer,
No bare bodkin to consummate me in my last bed,
But a more bountiful flood filling me than any fucking ever could,
However hard the hand upon the hilt,
And each day, each dram, each drop eagerly taken,
The thought that this will be the one that takes me there,
Finding each has failed and flailing for another
Until, at last, the carafe is empty, the cup is dry and cleared away
And nobody will be there to brew another batch.

What’d you think I meant?
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