The Account of a Lifetime

January 9, 2013

Demon the Fourth: The Extinction Tower

This evening, I was most intrigued to read this thread over on the Bolthole. Directly, it links to Steve Vernon’s Advice for dealing with a bad review in the context of an author.

The Bolthole, being a place for would-be and fledgling write-y types to congregate and share their enthusiasm, to draw on one another for input, feedback, advice, criticism etc… well, we naturally would be inclined to sympathise. For the bulk of the Bolthole, that basically amounts to ‘imagining the completed, released story’, not really much of a leap of imagination: compared to myself, the vast bulk of folks are actually likely to be published. Some of them have a tremendous output even as amateurs. Wacky, hare-brained or embarrassing fan-fiction isn’t really something that’s to be found in the community.

Nevertheless, always one to see a different (and perhaps non-existent) angle to a conversation, I was reminded rather strongly and in quick-succession of a few thoughts and ‘bad reviews’ I’d had myself. Obviously, they’re not bad reviews: I’ve barely created anything, except any vaguely original thought that’s escaped my mouth – which I doubt there are many of.

Still, a lot of reviews with regards to conduct, contributions, discussions, bedroom performance… you get the idea: lots of things I do I try to do with some sense of professional (and personal) integrity, getting a ‘bad review’ rang as true, conceptually, as getting a bad review on a published work. Hell, thinking about it, I’ve had plenty of ‘bad reviews’, just not for published work. Bullying, for example, is something that, I think, many people wrongly treat as a bad review.

The Vague Case in Obscure Point

Now, I realise it’s part of the industry, it’s thick-skinnedness and whatnot. Hell, it’s part of life to get undue criticisms (or simple abuse). This thought followed in quick succession: the original poster (Shadowhawk, reviewer extraordinaire at The Founding Fields and Angels of Retribution) of the BH thread had recently come in for a (frankly shocking) degree of slightly passive-aggressive abuse over on Warseer for being ‘a corporate schill’ and a yes-man as he tends not to publish (or rather: bother writing in the first place) reviews of things he doesn’t particularly enjoy. Not terribly useful in a scientific, metrical sense, but it’s certainly a forthright and integral thing to be doing as someone who reads a (frankly terrifying) amount.

To put that in context: some of the discussion around it had been laughing-it-off almost jocular ‘bad review’ thinking. Certainly, over on Warseer, the moderation response didn’t seem terribly severe, though I can’t say I’ve been thorough in my following of it.

All the same, it was a worrying sight to behold: therein something had crossed the line from ‘bad review’ which should be happily dealt with as a clumsy communication, dismissed as somewhat ignorant or mistaken or otherwise accommodated. (I’m thinking the ballyhooed Stand Up Comedian mindset, wherein anything less than 4-Star is a damning, crushing verdict on their entire existence, for example, thus most comedians become slightly caricatured validation-seekers – not exactly surprising for anyone in the habit of producing things for mass consumption. Validation is by no means unimportant, would that we could all be resolutely stoic in the face of comment.)

Still, this all passed through my mind pretty sharpish. Reading up the further posts in the thread, some other thoughts occurred to me: bad reviews aren’t without content, similarly our reaction to them is surely an indicator of our ability to parse them without agony. Not everyone has the luxury of a suitably jocular thick-skin, or a witty venom-tongue for response – lacking those things any response at all to a bad review can be profoundly awful: it can make things worse than the review’s existence and content, it can ‘drag us down to their level’. Or inadvertently immunise us against things that might actually have merit, if only we have the rigorous canniness to perceive it despite insult.

That thick-skinned, laugh-it-off attitude also goes a distance to being pretty permissive about mindless (or mindful, spiteful) persecutions well beyond their logical remit. Bearing all of the above in mind…

Demon the Fourth: The Extinction Tower
The Living Mausoleum, The Soaring Hermitage, The Unattainable Perspective, The Ivory Citadel

I entered my own little post to the above thread, basically by poking my ego and letting a bit of the wounded, weak and vulnerable innards flollop out and onto the keyboard, thereby making its way onto the internet and infecting the minds of others like some fiendish, baleful… meme…

Making some small changes to fit the format and adding in a little I scribbled down as I was trying to go for a shower, it looks as follows:

Artists fabricating particular edifices distinct and for mass production are not the only special flowers in the world.

For some of us, unable yet to produce ego-boosting works of singular existence, we still can strive to have an integrity that leaves us thin-skinned and absurdly agonised by aspersions cast… and little to no defence by virtue of the physical, factual distance from the product… we can ‘hide’ in a fortress of reason and logic. But, unwary, should you breach the walls, the solace of rationality…

Urgh, to be reduced to a writhing mess of horridly emotional and weak conceptual pseudopods. Bah, there’s many a reason to forge an ivory tower. Self-loathing in face of the inability to process and interface with others’ often unwittingly unreasoning meanness is hardly an awful, pitiless motivation.

Personally, I’d prefer to hide that ugly monster, that demon. Deconstruct the ivory tower at everyone’s peril. It is, however, a wonderful setting for an adventure.

It most assuredly presents itself as a shield, an abode, a fortress well-armed and well provisioned. This demon, for surely it is nothing more and nothing less, welcomes you in, surrounding you and imprisoning you: it furnishes you with the sense of safety, of inviolability. It conceals yourself, provides sanctuary and foundation for your weakness.

Escape is near impossible. Flight from this hell-place is coloured by condescension, an air of would-be benevolence that is, in a profound and transparent manner neither honest nor convincing, even though it is ultimately a sincere gesture.

That bloated, writhing fiend protected within the vast edifice of thoughtful rationality, mindful serenity and oneness with reason persists, oozing sanctimony and conjectured empathy – for no connection can truly be made. The tower intervenes, it provides distance, offers perspective and allows you to see further. The monster becomes the tower, the tower is the demon, the effect of possession renders it inextricable. You become the tower, you are the monster; transformed and fused.

How to fight it?

Recognition, surely, is the only possible antidote. On both sides. For anyone so-afflicted, the ivory tower can’t be brought down without invariably damaging the contents beyond repair. In some respects this could be viewed as re-rolling the dice, re-shuffling the deck and re-dealing the game. A controlled demolition might allow some sense of continuity, some escape and rehabilitation for the dweller within.

A more constructive approach, in my esteem, would be for the dweller to become aware of the horror of its place, to embrace its qualities and attune itself to its isolation, to recognise the benefits of perspective and yet also the profound distance between observation and fact. Interfacing properly, wholesomely with ‘one of the little people’ simply isn’t likely. The reality of the difference is surely only the demon, the tower… the bizarre disaffection and attempt to hide behind logic, with reason as bastion-wall and inference as cannonade. To those outside, it’s bizarre, unfeeling, unsympathetic: most assuredly there will be a great many things you just don’t get, conceptually. Recognising and understanding those gulfs, moats perhaps, is important. At least, in some manner, this can allow a nice drawbridge to be lowered, a structured interface of understanding.

The monster still dwells within, but an adventure persists in the details… appropriately in the very essence of the so-called demon.

Poking holes, tearing down logic and building other towers, resenting the existence of the tower, or the incessant need to hide behind structured arguments and ward off fallacies or missteps in reasoning as if they’re the plague is merely… nature, in some sense. Fighting it, now that it’s there, is not necessarily a good thing. Advocating it as a something desirable is, of course, not necessary either, but recognising its existence and, paradoxically, not demonising it is probably a good first step.

In summary: that’s why I frustrate people, invariably isolate myself from them to some silly degree and often, critically, forget about it being my fault. I forget I live in an ivory tower. Apologies.

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