Of myths and monsters

Of myths and monsters

fantasy writer

Of myths and monsters

compelling China Mieville

When I finally stepped into Bookworm, I was told the last copy got sold 10 minutes ago. The man at the counter had been curious about the book’s brisk sale in the last one week. My luck turned at Gangaram’s where I grabbed their last copy of the book.
I listened to China Miéville earlier at the Toto Funds the Arts writers’ meeting and later at the British Council Library. At the library, Miéville read an extract from his new novel Kraken, out this May. Kraken are legendary sea monsters of Europe and Miéville likes stealing monsters and using them.

As a fantasy writer, he enjoys eschewing the anthropology of myth and monsters in a human society and jumping headlong into the drama of the shapes of monsters he loves. Octopus features as his favourite and much better animal while he concedes squids are highly dramatic. However, one trigger for his novel Kraken that first started out as a short story was watching Mickey Mouse and his broom in Fantasia.  

Miéville articulates his position as a writer and political activist with depth, curiosity and intelligence — listening to him makes you want to read all the books he has written and wait anxiously for the unwritten ones. He makes it very clear that his political activism is a complete non-issue when it comes to his fiction writing and he seeks to share a combative relationship with his readers where he can make the readers want what he gives and never the other way round. He has become increasingly disciplined as he writes more and considers his current writings to be an argument with his earlier books.

In his response to characters in his books, he uses and repeats the term ‘epistemological violence’. Explaining it further, he says that as a writer he prefers a radical naivety — forgetting to know what the characters are about, and in that act of forgetting perceiving their extraordinariness. The methodology of character development where a writer lists details of his characters is something he dislikes and fails to comprehend. With honourable exceptions, he finds meta-fiction a kind of spurious radicalism. He also finds literary fiction a genre that has catapulted itself to the top of the hierarchy by clever marketing and careful appropriation of the term ‘literary’ before others could grab it.  

On the inevitable question of language, he cites the Zimbabwean writer Dambudzo Marechera and his book Mindblast where the struggle with language is political. He recounts what Marechera had once said — “For a black writer, the language is very racist; you have to have harrowing fights... before you can make it do all that you want it to do.” As an English writer, he is careful not to allow metaphors to collapse into a neat web of meanings that closes responses. He is suspicious of meaning-making and the too careful usage of the present tense in books.

At the library event, Miéville converses with three young writers from the TFA — Deepika Arwind, Poorva Rajaram and Joshua Muyiwa who have read The City and The City, The Scar and King Rat respectively. Within the narrow confines of their limited readings of Miéville’s works and betraying no sign of being avid fantasy/weird fiction followers, their conversation with Miéville plays out as an extraordinary performance of radical naivety.
For his part, the author swiftly excavates small hooks from their questions and uses them to expand the conversation. Part provocative and mainly banal, the questions bristle many veteran readers of the author in the crowd.

Predictably, after the session opens for audience questions, a number of hands shoot up. This is quite a rarity in Bangalore where many authors have to face the requisite one minute post-reading polite silence before the audience can be coerced for a question or two by the seasoned moderator.

The first audience question ‘What is rejectamentalism?’ takes us straight into the Miéville world. For the uninitiated, the author quickly explains Rejectamenta is Victorian for ‘things thrown away’, that he likes rubbish and therefore the name Rejectamentalist Manifesto for his scrapbook (he doesn’t want to call it blog). Online you will find that it is called China Miéville’s waste books.

Skeptical of online presence and flame wars, his current domain name was actually bought by somebody who gave it to him with the password and a dictum ‘Put something up. You are a disgrace’. Further relevant questions on fantasy writing reveal how Miéville
considers reading science fiction as prophecy and calling J G Ballard’s Drowned World as prescient meditation on climate change as highly reductive. To this award-winning author, narrative and epic come with problematic but unequal baggage where the latter lends itself easily to kitsch and kitsch becomes the weapon of fascists.  

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