The fiction of men

After you find out that a male writer has been a lesser person than you thought he was, have you found it harder to read and appreciate his work?

I bet you have.

I’m sure it’s the case with female, rather non-male, writers too but most examples we know are those of men.

Now, I don’t read anywhere near as much as many people do and so haven’t been prompted to abandon as many writers as they might have – although I have stopped reading many blogs by scientists for the same reason (e.g. Tommaso Dorigo).

But I just finished reading this essay in the New Republic and now so many writers are written off, including Kurt Vonnegut, whose absurd fiction I’ve loved so much.

I remember when I first experienced what I’m feeling now, a sense of unsurprising surprise, as best as I can put it: in early 2014, Bora Zivkovic quit as the chief of Scientific American‘s sprawling blogs network.

I also remember briefly being in quasi-mourning at the time, for having lost the ability, opportunity and whatever else to be able to consume Zivkovic’s work with pleasure.

The sorrow was proxy for a lingering tension in my mind, one that yearned for a distinction between a creator and his creation, and to prove that a tainted creator could produce untainted work.

This sorrow has only deepened since August or so last year, when wave after wave of #MeToo allegations rocked the Indian literary and journalistic scene.

But what has also deepened is the sense that this is the history of men in modernity, and where men have gone, their poisonous masculinity and patriarchy has gone as well.

That the sadness I felt with Zivkovic and Dorigo and Vonnegut is misplaced because it is rooted in false histories, in stories fabricated by the forces of men.

That the good memories in whose shadows these tragedies purported to thrive didn’t exist either. It was always dark, and the darkness had been impregnated with delusions of blamelessness.

If we learnt to see in the dark, it doesn’t mean there was any more light. It just means we learnt to see in the dark.

The tragedy that is the names of men being knocked off from our lists of recommendations isn’t separate from the painfulness of readers such as myself not setting out to discover new writers who only deserve, likely deserve more so, to be cherished.

Because unless that happens, the darkness isn’t going to go away.

I shouldn’t be sad, leave alone surprised, that Vonnegut was an asshole. His fiction was never actually a pinprick of light, and the claim that it ever was is only more fictitious.

To be sure, this isn’t a declaration to write off all male writers inasmuch as admitting some in order to exonerate all of them is simply #NotAllMen by another name.

Writing is my way to make sense of my self, and this has been an exercise towards realising that the elision of one author from the roster must needs be accompanied by the discovery and inclusion of another.

Elision alone would be pointless, even deleterious, much as a smaller dark room is just as full of darkness as a larger dark one.

About Me

I’m a science editor and writer in India, interested in high-energy and condensed-matter physics, research misconduct, pseudoscience, science’s relationship with society, epic fantasy, open source/access/knowledge systems, H.R. Giger’s art, Goundamani’s comedy, Factorio, and most things that require a lot of time to get the hang of.