Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Harlan Ellison's Pure Vision: "Art is Guerrilla Warfare."

Harlan Ellison does not care what you think. He trusts his own judgment and he speaks his mind without regard for the consequences. The July 2001 issue of Locus contains a first person account of Ellison's views on a variety of subjects. Here are some excerpts:

"Having read the Sherlock Holmes stories early on, I learned the deductive method, and decided that by employing it I could pretty much control my own life, and my destiny. I make very few dumb mistakes. I make a lot of mistakes, like everybody else, but most of them are pretty well calculated. I look at it and say, 'I'll be a real schmuck for doing it, but it's the right thing to do,' and I go ahead and do it anyway. I take full responsibility for everything I do, everything in my life, the good and the bad and the foolish."

"I've said endlessly (and probably insultingly, though I don't mean it to be) that I dismiss a lot of the academic view of my work, because it postulates at core that a total stranger reading the material just on its own is more insightful than the person who was clever enough to think it up out of dream-dust in the first place. In other words, they think I was smart enough to write this story, but I wasn't smart enough to notice the basic Appolonian/Dionysian conflict...It is my arrogant sense that about 65% of the time, nobody knows what the fuck I'm doing when I write!

I write about courage, about mortality, about ethics, about friendship, and about accountability--cautionary tales...I'm constantly astonished at the lack of personal courage, on a daily basis, of many of the people who write the most heroic kinds of fiction. They write endlessly of mightily-thewed warriors who have a code of ethics and this, that and the other thing, and yet they live their lives rationalizing and explaining away and permitting most of the injustices that most people see on a day-to-day basis, without any understanding that they are peculiarly equipped to do something about them. I find too many of my compatriots sad people because--for whatever reason they write--there doesn't seem to be a spinal imperative, their timidity, their middle-class chauvinism, their intentional naivete, blinds them to an understanding that their work can be world-changing, powerful, significant, and courageous as well as merely entertaining!"

"As a writer, you have two choices: you can either dumb down your stuff to the level of a mall rat, or you can say, 'Screw it. I will operate at the highest level of my expertise and abilities, and let them come to me.' Well, that way lies suicide, because they won't come to you!...

That's what I've been confronting and dealing with and thinking about, and worrying about, for the last 15, 20 years. And of course I've chosen the only path I can, which is to write at the peak of my own expertise, to keep learning and keep hoping I get better, and just say, 'Fuck the audience.' What I mean is disregard, pay no attention, cut them out of the loop. You cannot be your own writer and pay any attention to your audience, because if you do something well, your audience will keep you doing it forever. Look at Isaac Asimov. He was capable of incredible strokes of writing, and you can see that every once in a while when no one's looking. But most of the time, he wrote what he thought that fans would like. He was the dearest man in the world, and he loved to be stroked. I love him, and I miss him, and I lament all the kinds of a writer he might have been. As an artist, I think you've got to have an adversarial relationship with your own audience. If you don't, they're going to buy you--they're going to buy you with their love.

There is a force that leads to mediocrity, and it commands, 'Don't ripple the water. Survive at all costs, even of the Art. Keep everything quiet.' But art is supposed to do just the opposite of that. Art is guerrilla warfare."

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