About H.R.3 the “Hyde Amendment”

February 1, 2011 1 comment

This post refers to the following: http://www.opencongress.org/bill/112-h3/text

H.R.3, or the “Hyde Amendment”, is a legal measure designed to cut federal funding for abortion through federal service providers like Medicaid. Commentaries on this bill have ranged from attempts to demonstrate that the bill unfairly targets lower income, typically minority, women who rely on the Medicaid system to provide for their health benefits.

The measure, argued as a cost cutting method for an already bloated federal health insurance system, has been branded as an attempt by right wing, anti-abortion pundits to deny abortion rights to a subset of the population. It has been touted as a shot across the bow to pro-choice activists, and as a sort of “fuck you” to Row v. Wade.

The bill, however, did not limit coverage to victims of rape, incest, or other sexual assault through language that was unambiguous. This was seen as a concession to a number of signatories that would have otherwise questioned the bill proper. Now, the bill is making waves as republicans (and some democrats) are making an attempt to redefine the rape wording in the bill itself. The new wording is printed as follows:

“‘The limitations established in sections 301, 302, 303, and 304 shall not apply to an abortion–

‘(1) if the pregnancy occurred because the pregnant female was the subject of an act of forcible rape or, if a minor, an act of incest;

‘(2) in the case where the pregnant female suffers from a physical disorder, physical injury, or physical illness that would, as certified by a physician, place the pregnant female in danger of death unless an abortion is performed, including a life-endangering physical condition caused by or arising from the pregnancy itself.”

Liberal pundits are arguing that the redefinition of “rape” to “forcible rape” has changed who can and cannot be covered under the federal funding for abortion. What remains unchanged (in so far as I can tell) is the provision for incest for a minor and risk to the mother. That being said, the primary argument sourced from a variety of liberal publications is that the redefinition would deny women who have been raped and are covered by federal insurance abortions in their situation.

Granted, the change in language is interesting, but is it inherently wrong? I am not entirely convinced. Foremost, under the Uniform Crime Reports, to later be folded into the National Incident Based Reporting, System, the term “forcible rape” is included under the list of violent crimes. The definition provided by the UCR Handbook is as follows:

“The carnal knowledge of a person, forcibly and/or against that persons will; or not forcibly or against that persons will where the victim is incapable of giving consent because of his/her temporary or permanent mental or physical incapacity (or because of his/her youth).”

Before continuing, a little background on the UCR. The UCR is a voluntary reporting service that provides indexed crime data to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which then provides statistics for a statewide and nationwide average. As UCRs are not federally mandated, but federally regulated, they require operational definitions that can be used by all branches of law enforcement officers.

The current collection of criminal offenses was created in the 1930s from the Committee on Uniform Crime Reporting, and were later folded into the Incident Based Reporting System that is intended to supplant the UCR system. Where UCR has only eight Part I offenses (assault offenses) IBRS has 46 Group A offenses (assault offenses). Despite the greater number of classified assault offenses, the IBRS still relies upon the UCR definition for “forcible rape”.

The reasoning for this may be assumed to be due to the presence of a “non-forcible” sexual assault category, which includes incest and statutory rape. For the purposes of discussing H.R.3, incest should not be considered because the wording of the bill already provides provisions for abortions due to incest where a minor is involved. I believe it is the assumption of the legal system (and IBRS) that non-minor cases of incest should not be considered, due to the age of consent.

With the wording of “forcible rape”, the bill could potentially deny coverage to women who have suffered from a statutory rape. For those who do not understand, statutory rape generally refers to sex with a minor who is past the age of puberty, but below the age of consent. Generally, statutory rape differs from forcible rape in that the use of force is not required: extant laws presume that the minor is coerced because they are legally incapable of giving consent. Additional legal terminology defines rape as statutory if one of the participants is mentally unable to consent, either due to a developmental disability or a form of social conditioning, though the latter is less often covered under statutory rape due to child abuse laws.

Moving away from the legal wrangling and back to the UCR/IBRS definition, forcible rape seems to cover all the situations outlined in the statutory rape laws, yet the IBRS provides a secondary category for statutory rape, listed with incest. With regards to the IBRS as a system of reporting, this makes sense, as national databases need to divide the amount of violent sexual assaults from those that were coerced.

With regards to the wording of H.R.3, the definition of forcible rape, which includes the wording “the victim is incapable of giving consent because of his/her temporary or permanent mental or physical incapacity (or because of his/her youth)”, also makes sense. As it stands, the wording covers the legal definition of statutory rape, while providing a provision for all other kinds of rape.

However, it may be argued that, under the IBRS/UCR system, statutory rape is classified as something other than forcible rape and thus not covered under the bill. That is to say that, if it were to come down to a conflict between the IBRS/UCR wording and the wording of the bill, it is unclear which definition would be upheld.

The IBRS/UCR systems are systems of reporting crimes to a larger database, and do not reflect the legal system, except as a method of classification. Bearing this in mind, legal definitions of rape would supplant the wording and thus allow for the coverage of all forms of rape under the new wording. That being said, it might have been simpler for the republicans (and liberals) if they had used the legal wording of statutory rape and rape itself.

Unfortunately, as states classify rape as “rape” and “first-degree sexual assault”, and there does not appear to be a uniform law that defines rape, I can only assume the republicans went with the most readily available definition of rape, and chose the IBRS/UCR definition.

With regards to the punditry aroused in the wake of the redefinition, I can only assume that those protesting the rewording have not taken the time to discern where the definition itself was sourced nor speculated on why the definition was used in the way that it was. In my view, the assumption that the changed wording denies federal insurance recipients coverage in the event of rape is hyperbole at best, and deliberate legal misinformation at worse.


Categories: Culture, Journalism, Men, Politics, Sex, Women Tags:

Buddhism: Religion or Philosophy

January 12, 2011 Leave a comment

Well, first I would like to amend my “definition” of religion from “a set of beliefs that require the veneration of a god” to the following: a set of beliefs concerning the nature of the universe where the universe is considered the creation of a supernatural being or agency, i.e. God.

This avoids the problematic conception of religion as requiring god as a necessary condition for it’s formulation as some religions do not have a lone god for veneration, rather, they rely upon the concept of an agency for the creation of the universe.

To address one of the more problematic portions of the religion or philosophy debate, that is regarding the veneration of bodhisattvas or the buddha himself, I might cite the zen proverb “if you see the buddha on the road, kill him.” This statement refers to the desire to avoid venerating idols or objects like the buddha as this can distract fully from the path to enlightenment. In essence, once you attach yourself to the concept of buddha (amida, fudo, jizo) as a god, you have strayed from the true path of buddhism.

Now, taking the Shingon example, the buddha, in this example, is not being venerated as a god, but rather it’s expression, Dainichi Nyorai, is the representation of the formless true nature of all things. It is a allegorical distillation of the essence of buddhist practice (in this case esoteric) and the repetition of the name takes the place of the recitation of sutras. That being said, Buddha in Shingon (same with Fudo Myoo and Jizo) should not be treated as a diety, but as an allegorical representation of the philosophical values of Buddhism.

But there in lies a secondary problem: the establishment of monasteries, the codification of a monastic system, and the sangha itself. To answer this question, I might turn back to the origins of Mahayana buddhism where in the Sangha was merely a community (as per the sanskrit translation) for full time study of buddhism, and thus possessed codification with the thought of eliminating distractions to this training.

The same kind of organization may be found in schools of military instruction, martial arts communities, artistic communities, and any other community dedicated to the perfection of a (and this may be problematic) singular skill or talent. It may be argued that the association of the Sangha with a purely religious institution, an codification of lifestyle with religious study, is an importation of a western ideal. In so far as I can tell, the culture in which the sangha was developed had multiple sanghas for multiple objectives: a sangha for fulltime contemplation would not be a uniquely religious thing.

Returning to the question of the division of the sacred and the secular, this too is a problematic distinction to be made particularly with the discussion of Mahayana, Zen, and perhaps Shingon buddhism. Mahayana makes a distinction between Laypeople and Monks, but provides the caveat that there is no intrinsic difference between the two and one cannot exist without the other. That is to say that the layperson may do the same things that the monk does with the caveat that they must support the sangha, and the monk performs the same rite s as the layperson, with the caveat that htey are responsible for contemplation.

With Zen, particularly Dogen, we find the concept that any action can be done as meditation if performed in the right mindset. As Dogen’s zen (and most zen) places the emphasis on the contemplation of koan and seated meditation, the concept that going to work can count as meditation if done in the right mindset obliterates most of the distinction between what may or may not be counted as a secular act. True, there are some acts that are exclusively banned by buddhist thought (i.e. killing when not in the defense of the dharma), however I would not go so far as to assume that these things constitute a divide between the secular and the sacred in buddhism. More thought would have to be done on this part, I think.

I’d like to make this my final point: buddhism is neither religion nor philosophy, but both, especially when considered from within the framework of Buddhist thought. the emphasis on neither this nor that, but also this and that, or non-duality, forces one to realize that philosophy and religion are not appropriate labels… More specifically, that as labels, they have no intrinsic values and are thus inappropriate ways of describing buddhism. The definition of buddhism is found in practice, and practice is the definition of buddhism.

Categories: Culture, Philosophy

In response to the NYT article “The right to bear Glocks?”

January 10, 2011 Leave a comment
I have a lot of issues with this article, starting with the following quote:
“Loughner’s gun, a 9-millimeter Glock, is extremely easy to fire over and over, and it can carry a 30-bullet clip. It is “not suited for hunting or personal protection,” said Paul Helmke, the president of the Brady Campaign. “What it’s good for is killing and injuring a lot of people quickly.””
The G-19, the pistol used in the shooting, is a recoil operated, double action, semi-automatic pistol. That is a lot of jargon for saying when the trigger is pulled, th…e recoil of the weapon pushes the slide back and loads a second round into the chamber while cocking the weapon for firing again.

A similar action is used in double action revolvers: pulling the trigger cycles the cylinder and cocks the hammer for firing so that the shooter need not pull back the hammer for every shot.

Putting aside the ergonomics of the Glock 19, the double action and large clip size is what makes the weapon so effective at killing people. Because the user does not need to recock the weapon, and each trigger pull has a consistent weight, the Glock (and most modern semi-automatic weapons) can fire several times in succession and put rounds downrange with very little degradation in accuracy.

The first objection I have with this article is with the usage of the Assault Weapons Ban of 1997 as the obstacle to the acquisition of the Glock 19. The Assault Weapons Ban would only prevent Loughner from acquiring the Glock-19 if the following provisions were met:

Magazine that attaches outside the pistol grip
Threaded barrel to attach barrel extender, flash suppressor, handgrip, or suppressor
Barrel shroud that can be used as a hand-hold
Unloaded weight of 50 oz (1.4 kg) or more
A semi-automatic version of an automatic firearm

The Glock-19 meets none of these provisions and thus could be purchased and owned by a civilian, however, the extended capacity magazine (a “clip” is a different kind of loading device) used on his Glock-19 could not be purchased while the ban was in place. This would effectively limit the number of rounds he could fire to 10 before requiring a reload, that is, four less than the average revolver.

That being said, the article lists six victims, not including Gifford herself, which would make seven. The magazines allowed under the assault weapons ban of 1997 would have allowed Loughner to complete his shooting with an excess of two rounds at the maximum allowed clip size, there by negating the argument that the assault weapons ban would have prevented Loughner from having as many victims as he did.

Now, context is important here: the Glock-19 is a purpose built, personal defense/law enforcement firearm chambered in 9mm with an extended clip to reduce reloading. If we are to take the quotation seriously, this kind of weapon should be restricted to law enforcement and military personnel, while leaving sporting weapons available to civilians.

Taking a mainstream example, most handgun hunters use revolvers chambered in .44 magnum to bring down deer and other game because a weapon, like the Glock-19, chambered in 9mm lacks the power to stop most game. That being said, most revolvers sold as hunting weapons have a double action, which allows for the aforementioned semi-automatic fire.That would mean that a shooter could conceivably put six rounds down range in a matter of seconds.

To put this in perspective: a .44 magnum round (fired from a S&W model 29 revolver) could crack the engine block of a truck with little effort where as the 9mm round would be ineffective against such targets. That being said, Loughner would have killed almost every target he hit, rather than wounding some of them, had he been restricted to game hunting weapons.

Second, the author does not define what a “regular” pistol is for the american public. A “regular pistol” could be any number of things from the 1911 pattern weapons like the Beretta 92 and HK USP, to Colt pattern revolvers, or even the single action revolvers of the bygone era.

What each of the mentioned weapons have in common is a magazine capacity of 6 to 8 rounds, double action functionality (absent from the single action revolvers) and high stopping power. Collins’ “regular pistol” could have just as easily wounded these people as any other firearm, especially given the shock factor of someone firing in a crowded place.

Given that the assault weapons ban does not restrict the magazine size of the semi-automatic weapons that I mentioned, a similar result would have occurred.

Third, there is a mention of two assassinations in the article: the first of Robert Kennedy with .22 and the second of George Wallace with a .38. Both of the assassinations were perpetrated with, for their time, relatively modern weapons. The man interviewed, Paul Helmke, stated that only one or two people would have been injured had the Loughner been using the modern equivalent of those firearms. I believe this statement is incorrect.

There are many double action, semi-automatic pistols that are chambered for .38 and .22 which could have done comparable damage given that they have magazine sizes of between 6 and 8 rounds and are generally more accurate due to the low recoil of the weapon.

Furthermore, had Loughner used a weapon chambered for .38 or .22, I doubt that the good senator would have made it to the hospital given the capacity for a .22 chambered automatic to accurately put rounds down range and the fact that she was a stationary target. Concievably, he could have shot her three times, and then used the rest of his ammunition to shoot other targets.

I suppose my biggest problem with this article is that it smacks of anti-gun rhetoric without doing any of the hard research. I am all for firearm control in the form of education about firearms, limitations on the kinds of firearms that can be purchased. Education combined with limited regulation is the key to effective gun control. Once you know something about the weapon, or have at least used the weapon, fear about the weapon becomes less of an issue.

Furthermore, stricter screenings on who can and cannot purchase a firearm, like required classes, checks, psychological screenings and so on may help with the regulation of people who can and cannot purchase firearms. Even then, all it takes is one really, really bad day to make someone snap enough to use a weapon (martial art, sword, baseball bat) in a way that it is not intended.

I guess my point is that regulating a gun will not keep someone from misusing the weapon. It is, after all, a weapon and weapons only follow the instructions of the wielder.

Categories: Culture, Politics

Courage Wolf’s Bitch

December 9, 2010 Leave a comment

I wrote this as a reply on face book to some of my friends who commented on Courage Wolf’s usage of the word bitch. The original statement by Courage Wolf is that “Life’s a bitch. Fuck it like one” which carried with it all kinds of loaded social meanings. Ultimately, I have no solution for the troubles raised, only  that I know of them.

Mr. Wolf tends towards expressions of feral, animalistic nature in line with his …assumption that it is a dog-eat-dog world, or, in his case, “wolf eat wolf”. Keeping that in mind, if we’re going to contextualize everything that Courage Wolf says, we’re going to run into a problem.

Generally, Mr. Wolf advocates solutions to problems that involve violence and a reversion to a hobbesian state of man where in there is naught but conflict and war: share pain with your enemies; leave doors unlocked, accept all challengers and other expressions that the usage of force is the preferred solution.

Granted that Mr. Wolf’s conception is one of primitive constant conflict, any interpersonal relationship, and the search for a viable mate, should be considered to be akin to a field of conflict: not only does Mr. Wolf have to contend with other wolves, but he may also have to contend with the mate herself.

The picture being painted here is not one of a commingling of interests to form relationships, but rather, relationships born of force against force where the weaker force yields to the stronger. This nexus of competing forces is troubling, to say the least, when considering things like ethics and gender relations: if you can force someone into doing something, in this system, that thing is automatically just.

Let us now return to Mr. Wolf’s statement: “Life’s a bitch. Fuck it like one”. Wolf, based on previous statements, clearly has no middle ground for equals: any mate that Mr. Wolf takes is de-facto weaker than he himself, which in turn dehumanizes them. This tends to, more than anything else, objectify the mate into something for Mr. Wolf’s use and little more than that.

Mr. Wolf’s statement, then, reads as an argument for using overwhelming force to get what you want from life. That is to say that one should always put forth their maximum effort to subdue life and therefore achieve their full actualization of self. One might say this is an almost Aristotelian goal, were we to overlook the troubling world view that generated this sentiment.

Now, to place this in real world modalities. Bitch, became a pejorative in the fourteenth century as a way to refer to a woman of licentious sexual behavior. The implication was that, like a dog in heat, said woman would sleep with any who accepted her. That is to say that it was an allegorical or metaphorical reference to a woman who debased herself to the level of a rutting animal.

In non allegorical speech, the statement reads as follows: “Life is a sexually licentious woman. Have sex with her for the sake of your own pleasure.” I feel that Mr. Wolf would require a monocle and a top hat to express his sentiment in that manner.

Modern parlance has hijacked the word to refer to a woman who is unusually impulsive or assertive, a subordinate male, or something that is hard to handle in which it is synonymous with “bear”. Typically, all references to a “bitch” are derogatory, with exception to personal usage by (typically) female speakers to indicate their tough or otherwise capable status. In this, it falls under reappropriated words like “nigger”.

Given Courage Wolf’s usage of extreme and often vulgar language or literary devices, it should be assumed that this example is a tongue in cheek way of expressing that life may be troublesome, but you should not cower from those troubles. Other similar Courage Wolf expressions are “Life’s a bitch. Your bitch.” which implies that Life itself is yours to do with what you please.

Bearing in mind the manner of literary allusions that Courage Wolf tends to use, both statements are in line with the consistent usage of vulgarities on behalf of courage wolf and are intended to continue in this vein. Socially, this statement is troubling due to the fact that the outside observer cannot help but read into the statement the unfortunate connotations of bitch = loose woman, which is reinforced by the statement immediately following it.

This brings to mind a whole host of questions, for example, is the English language inherently misogynistic? There is also the thought that if language is a social construction, what does it say about our society that a word used to refer to an unruly woman is also used to refer to troubling situations?

To this, I have no answer, save that, in this case, the usage of vulgarity is only peripherally misogynistic: the intention here is to express a positive message in the most vulgar and straight forwards methodology possible and that, essentially, involves the usage of offensive words. I might look, with amusement, upon a courage wolf statement that says “You are life’s master. Beat it like a field nigger”, as it would be so charged with socially construed meaning as to loose all of it’s potential literary value.

Which, actually, may become a growing problem: I point to the issues with Heidegger and Nazis, Danto and developing cultures, and any other anglo-centric philosopher. When we attempt to apply our own context to the work, we inevitably find the social problems to be more prominent than the message itself. That is not to say that we should excise the social problems, but recall that we are looking upon the work from an enlightened perspective, which tints everything rose colored.

So then, I identify the problem with the usage of the word “bitch” in general language, however, the increased loading of terminology with socially construed meanings is in itself a potential problem. Should the trend continue there will be, I think, a point at which all of our statements need to be so carefully moderated as to not refer to any potentially insulting definition, that it will be far more difficult to communicate.

I am, however, not in favor of eliminating these words altogether, but rather, educating people in the “proper” usage of them. Bitch can be used without the unfortunate social connotations, but it is increasingly difficult.

So, the point here is that all of our words have a social connotation that is, in fact, offensive in some way. Especially ones used to refer to troubling or problematic things. E.g:

“This post was a bastard to write.”

Categories: Philosophy, Sex, Women

Black culture and homosexuality

October 29, 2010 Leave a comment

This is something that started as a series of replies to another  poster on Jezebel.com. I felt that it might be important to copy and paste it, format it, and repost it here on my personal blog in order to better articulate my thoughts. The replies and so on can be seen in their unaltered form at http://jezebel.com/comment/31532888/


To begin with, black men are typically born into a culture that is often times criticized for its rampant misogyny, violence, and general insensitivity. I, as a person, and a black man, have chosen to opt out of black culture. By that, I mean to say that I choose not to participate in the traditionally black media forms, art forms, sports, and social norms. How I opt out of the black culture, and how I define it, is a topic to be discussed later: this entry is on my observations as an outsider. In my experience as a black male, dealing with other black males and choosing to opt out of the “traditional” black culture, I have observed the following:

Black culture seems to place a high value on the appearance of strength, that is to say that black men must posture, demonstrate that they are the “alpha”, lest they are ostracized or placed at the bottom of the social pecking order. Typically, in my observation, this perception of strength incorporates strict adherence to hetero-normativity. This is not a problem exclusive to black culture’s discrimination against homosexuals, but black men’s general antipathy towards anything “weaker” than themselves, which may include the perception of being white, which is again, a topic for another time.

I point towards the communal reactions of black men against intellectual black men (in youth): that is to say that the norm in black culture is to antagonize those men who choose not to conform to a “thug” life, or black men shunning anything that is not within their “sphere” of black culture. It boils down to the closing ranks of black men about a core culture that, if you do not care about or have other opposing priorities, causes black men to ostracize anyone not within that group.

This is, I believe, the result of an “us vs. them” mentality that has been perpetuated as a result of years of struggle that has keyed black culture to “fight the system” in whatever way it can. That is to say that black culture is a culture of struggle: the minds and hearts of black youth are forged in conflict with one another, with a system that may discriminate against themselves, and (in my case) with their own racial identity.


Usually that manifests in a rejection of “white” values; every black male learns the following epithets for his peers : “race betrayer”, “oreo”, etc. People considered to be “whitewashed” are typically those that price an intellectual or academic pursuit over a black cultural pursuit: books over basketball, Bach over Bone Thugs n’ Harmony, Trigonometry over Tupac. That is not to say that academia has no place in black culture, but it must be a black specific academia, an academia that caters to the ideal of what a black male should be.

That being said, this ostracizing is a symptom of black culture as a whole and is not limited to the attack on homosexuality. Black men who engage in deviant sexual practices, and by “deviant” I mean to say that anything outside of conditioned missionary, doggy style, and male on female anal sex, are considered to be outside the norm of black culture and therefore something to be railed against. Ever hear a black man discuss bondage? Pegging?  I thought not.

Let me rephrase that, black men tend to be not able to discuss things that fall outside the black cultural norm in the same way that white men can. That is to say that a black male with the above interests will find little support within the black community to allow him a healthy expression of these interests. He must necessarily go outside of the black community to find people with whom he may find understanding. But even then, while he may be joined with these people by common interest, he will be an outsider due to the color of his skin.

By stating this I mean to say that black men are not as free as white men within their own culture to have conversations or to make revelations about themselves that are contra to the norm without being immediately ostracized.

A white man could come out as dom or sub, gay or bi, trans or anything else within the comfort of his culture: there are spaces created for men of this interest. Granted, there are elements of white culture that will reject him and decry him, but on the whole, a white man will generally find acceptance amongst his white peers, if not others who are open and willing to discuss their kinks as it were.

Black culture will refuse to do that, it will go out of its way to destroy that which does not conform. If it can’t destroy it, it will push it out of its cultural sphere and make sure it knows that it’s outside the cultural sphere. In my experience, there exists little in the way of an internal support mechanism for homosexual black men who, more than likely, are under fire from those who would be their peers.

Furthermore, the argument that “individual blacks” hate gay people is specious at best. It may be noted that black people do not control a majority in the government, so it is only natural that it would be the white majority who could band together at the government level and “deal” with the “gay problem”. That is to say that the majority of governmental opposition to homosexuality comes from predominantly white areas because of the predominantly white dominance within the American government.

Organized black homophobia is not something black people like to popularize because it portrays the culture in a hypocritical light. Who are blacks, as a group who fought for their rights, to deny others their rights? Most “organized” homophobic behavior form blacks is on the level of street violence, bullying in the halls of high schools, and a sort of closet discrimination that few repots. There is also the argument that the black community is so fractured that a cohesive “anti-gay” movement cannot arise in the same way that a cohesive movement for black advancement hasn’t arisen since the death of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Furthermore, there is the fact that black culture is a fundamentally religious culture: the church is often the center of black life for many black men and women, and that center is diametrically opposed to the inclusion or the support of homosexual community. An example from a 2006 article in the New York Times:


“When Dr. Samuel began to preach forcefully on the acceptance of gay men and lesbians two years ago to his mostly African-American congregation, 1,000 of his approximately 5,000 parishioners left in protest. Their departure dealt a blow to Victory Church’s finances, and for a time, its morale, but the church remains large by any standard. Pastors of smaller churches may be less inclined to preach tolerance in the face of such costs, ministers said.”


This is ever so slightly ironic due to the fact that it was the church that created the civil-rights movement, and the majority of the great civil rights leaders in the black community came from within the church itself. The fact that the ground of the civil rights movement is now the ground to deny another group its civil rights points to something awful within the culture itself.
That being said, black people will also band together to deal with homosexuals in a discriminatory way, especially if it can improve their social status amongst their peers. That being said, my experience has been largely with southern blacks and northern urban blacks. Suburban blacks are slightly more accepting of their homosexual peers because more and more they are becoming acculturated with the acceptance.

Given this, black youth, and black culture as a whole, is still generally opposed to homosexual behavior in the same way it is opposed to a successful black man (read successful in the same way that one might read smart) dating a white woman. I point, again, to the whole “race betrayer” and “Oreo” phenomenon and ask the following question: if black men are criticized for dating outside of their race, what happens when one tries to date a man, or a white man?

On Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

October 29, 2010 Leave a comment

In less than a month, Brandon Sanderson’s continuation of Robert Jordan’s best selling Wheel of Time series will continue with the release of the next book in the series, Towers of Midnight. Before the release of the next novel, it must be asked whether or not Sanderson has succeeded in carrying on the literary legacy begun by Jordan and entrusted to Sanderson for completion.

An excellent writer in his own right, and admitted fan of the series, Sanderson is heir to a rich imaginative world that has often been compared favorably to Tolkien in scope, richness, and life. It is a world twenty two years in the making, forty-four thousand copies in the publishing, and revered the world over. But, most importantly, the world is made real. And therein lies the problem.

Robert Jordan was an author of incomparable skill: rather than bog down the narrative with the introspective musings of the characters, Jordan preferred action. To create his world, he relied upon the plot to create a frame in which he could paint, with exquisite detail, the elements of the worlds. It is this elaborate detail that forces the world into reality by halting our perspective on the plot and forcing a single scene into hyper-realism. One could say that the descriptions make the world more real than reality, transferring it from the novel and into the space of our minds.

Jordan’s world is brought to life through the unique perspectives of the characters that inhabit it, and by following these perspectives and narratives we cannot help being sucked into Jordan’s imaginative world: the actions of the characters carry a weight amplified by the descriptive nature of Jordan’s prose that reverberates through the space and, even as the frame shifts to another character, remains with the reader through it’s persuasive power.

The space of the world inhabited by the characters is painted in lavish detail through the usage of Jordan’s imagistic skill, rendering it brilliantly in the minds of the readers themselves: when Rand Al’Thor shatters the sky in his fight with Ishamael, we feel it through Jordan’s descriptive imagery; when Mat Cauthon blows the Horn of Valere to summon heroes past, we see them riding, we feel the supernatural reverberations in our bones.

What Jordan does with descriptive elements, he also manages to do with the temporal elements of the story, the virtual past created as the foundation for the present of the story proper. Gone are the meandering explications of the “how” and the “why” of the world’s magic or politics work as would be found in Tolkien-derivative works, only to be replaced with lavish descriptions of action, of movement.

The politics and, the plotting of the characters, take place in a space carved by the actions, determined by a history reported not through exposition, but by the characters themselves: the history of the world, the political motivations are not revealed in description, but rather in the understanding of the characters. That is, as the characters experience the past through the retelling, through discussion, we too experience the past as causally efficacious in the present.

In essence, by forcing us to learn the past as it affects the present, Jordan turns the history of his world not into apocrypha to be discovered in back notes, but into a character thrust into the midst of the narrative itself. The further into the future the present goes, the more actual the past of Jordan’s world becomes.

What Jordan does by combining a mastery of imagery, descriptive narrative, and temporal mechanics, is create a world that lives in reality, in the mind of the readers. To read one of Jordan’s books is to live the book through the space created within our own minds: it is a space of possibility, of content that exceeds the summation of it’s literary elements. Granted, this world is created through the use of those literary elements, but it is also more than those elements combined.

Sanderson, on the other hand, is a relatively new author. Readers of the Wheel of Time series did not have the backing of eleven novels worth of Sanderson’s narrative style or prose to fall back upon, yet they seemed to welcome him all the same. Part of this has to do with the way Sanderson integrates his voice into the literary style of Jordan’s novel by using some of the same tools in a subtly different way to maintain the integrity of Jordan’s world, and yet another part has to do with Sanderson the man, and not his capacity as an author.

Mistborn, the first series that I read by Sanderson, comprises only a fraction of the page count that Jordan’s own narrative opus does, yet it possesses the same emotional impact of Jordan’s work, which points toward a usage of similar tools yet in a different arrangement. Sanderson’s prose succeeds in creating an imaginative space that, while not identical to Jordan’s, bears striking similarities to the older author’s.

Part of this difference has to do with the way that each of the authors creates the imaginary space. In Mistborn, Sanderson painted his world with equally as lavish details as Jordan’s, yet the details are arranged to be expository rather than purely motivational. The same forces that drew a reader into Jordan’s world, made it hyper-realistic without needing exposition are now turned inwards to create the exposition. While we can see the world that Sanderson has create with our mind’s eye, it’s vibrancy comes from our understanding of the world through the eyes of the character in addition to it’s imagistic quality.

In the exposition, Sanderson paints for us an image of the world, and then explains an element that then brings the world to life. He may present us with a bleak image of an ash covered sky, drudges sweeping ash from the streets, and squatters covered by that omnipresent ash, and then bring that world to life by explaining how the ash has choked the plants, robbing the world of color and brightness.

Exposition may not be the best way of describing Sanderson’s descriptive prose as it typically implies that the author is relying upon a “dump” of information within the prose to describe a situation, setting, or detail. This dump may be in the form of an all seeing eye, of an omniscient narrator, in the form of a character’s monologue, or in the form of information encountered by the character. Sanderson avoids all of these, and even inverts them: in Sanderson’s novel Elantris, the protagonist finds one of the typical sources of author exposition, a library, to be useless.

Sanderson, instead, relies upon descriptive elements as perceived by the character to bring the world into reality. As we follow a characters perspective, that character views the world and responds to it: the world we see is mediated through the views of the character’s perception, a perception that changes as the character grows and moves through the world. Because Sanderson chooses to make his characters actual by weaving their thoughts and actions into the narrative, their perspectives, the source of our conception of the world, are then brought into sharp focus. The individual character sees the surroundings, touches the walls, hears the screams of battle: we are not presented with the description of the world except by way of the character we are following.

What this allows for is a further deepening of the world. Like Jordan, Sanderson follows multiple perspectives in his works. However, unlike Jordan, the perspectives do not share in a common view. Sanderson’s multiple characters may all view the same event but each from a different descriptive standpoint: a character portrayed as nobility might view a battle using one descriptive style, while his groomsman’s view will be expressed in quite a different idiom. Each perspective, however, contributes to the overall reality of the world by forcing us to reconcile the incongruities in perspectives as elements of the characters (which lends them more reality) or as elements of the imaginative space which then comes alive because it has changed.

This approach, in turn, affects the temporality of the world. Like Jordan, Sanderson renders the past a living character in the world by presenting it through conversation and discourse on the past. However, Sanderson introduces a new element to Jordan’s mixture: the expectation of the future. Characters do not appear to be driven by the framework of the story, the plot, but by what they expect to happen in the future, either by recovering the past, preventing it from occurring, or changing what is to come.

This allows Sanderson’s virtual past not only to become operative in the same way that Jordan’s is, but also in the present narrative. Without positing an end point, Sanderson lets the characters determine what their future should be in reference to the past that is actually occurring to their present; that is, we become unaware of Sanderson’s frame because the characters are always racing toward a future that they are creating through their actions.

The similarity in styles of Sanderson and Jordan is not accidental: Sanderson was chosen by Jordan’s widow after reading his prose and reading the essay that Sanderson wrote upon Jordan’s death. In the essay, Sanderson details what, exactly, he took from Jordan’s legacy:

“I found myself reacting AGAINST Wheel of Time in my writing. Not because I disliked Jordan, but because I felt he’d captured the epic quest story so well that I wanted to explore new grounds. As his books chronicled sweeping scenes of motion set behind characters traveling all across his world, I started to set mine in single cities. As his stories focused on peasants who became kings, I began to tell stories about kings who became peasants.”

I did say that part of Sanderson’s ability to integrate his voice, his narrative style into the imaginative space created by Robert Jordan was due in part to Sanderson as a man, rather than Sanderson as an author: this quotation from “Goodbye Mr. Jordan” speaks clearly to why Sanderson was able to intimate himself with the imaginative space of Jordan’s world. He never left it.

Arthur Danto’s discussion of the metaphor in The Transfiguation of the Commonplace touched on the idea that the emotional content of the work of art is contained in the space of negation between the work of art and the material counterpart of that artwork. It follows that in understanding what is negated by that relationship, we can come to understand why we are moved by a work of art. In this case, Sanderson has done all the heavy lifting for me in explaining why his prose so easily slips into Jordan’s own: it is an imitation of Jordan’s prose.

I don’t mean to say that Jordan’s and Sanderson’s prose is identical, merely that they both possess the same kind of “lifeness,” to borrow a phrase from Susanne Langer, as well as possessing the same “aboutness,” to borrow a phrase from Arthur Danto. In Sanderson and Jordan’s cases, it has to do with the way in which they create the imaginative space with their prose; in terms of the aboutness, they both participate in the same quality of artform, yet Sanderson’s aboutness is doubled: as his style is partially a reaction to Jordan’s style, it participates in Jordan’s style as well as their common ground of the imagination, but sort of turns the space in on itself, now self-conscious and self-assessing.

The essay, combined with the reading of one of Sanderson’s novel is what got him his position as Jordan’s heir, but it is the way Sanderson manages to “get it right” that will allow him to own the position as Jordan’s imaginative heir. That is to say, it is the way Sanderson maintains the integrity of Jordan’s imaginative world which allows Sanderson to continue to spin out Jordan’s legacy to it’s conclusion.

When Sanderson enters Jordan’s imaginative space, it becomes brighter, faster, and almost more real than the previous Jordan novels. Sanderson’s narrative style places the characters as the primary conveyers of information about the surroundings. When in his own imaginative space, Sanderson is required to paint the world, however, within Jordan’s narrative, he need not provide the same “world building” elements that would be required of his own novel. To put this in context, we must look at where the novel picks up.

The main character, Rand al’Thor is attempting to rally a dying world to fight an evil god, the Dark One, and his disciples, the Forsaken, in order to save humankind. Before he can unite the world and march to the Final Battle, Rand must defeat the invading Seanchan, overcome his own depression and looming insanity, and come to terms with the facts of his life.

Veterans of the series will note that these are issues that Rand has been struggling through the course of the series; however, we were not given the same insight into Rand’s inner conflict as we receive through Sanderson’s voice. That is to say that in as much as the insanity and depression that Rand faced were simple for Jordan, since they were causally efficacious in the world, they did not have the same sort of inner reality that Sanderson’s prose gives them.

The gift that Sanderson has for creating the past and making it a character is thus transferred to Rand’s emotional problems, rendering them as characters in their own right. While previously we only questioned Rand’s looming insanity and its origins, we were not given any further depths of the insanity, save that he heard voices constantly, and that Rand responded in predictable ways. Now, with Sanderson at the helm, Rand’s insanity comes to life. Through the inner narrative, a tool that Jordan eschewed or rarely used, we are brought face to face with Rand’s insanity as a character rather than as an element of a character. As Rand confronts his emotional problems, we are shown the shifts in his mental state as clearly as if we felt it ourselves, and, given that Sanderson is accustomed to using his characters as elements to define the world, it comes as no surprise that he should be equally adroit at using a character’s mental state to define it’s inner world.

This difference actually enlivens the character, his very actions: the reader begins to wonder if Rand is seeking to rush to the Final Battle so as to out run his madness, or if he is simply clinging to his sanity so that the world would have someone to see them through the battle. We begin to see Rand’s motivations in an entirely new light; his desperation becomes more palpable to the reader because it is suddenly a crucial element within the imaginative space, rather than a descriptive element of the character.

This is coupled with Sanderson’s usage of multiple character perspectives. While jarring at first, where Jordan would go for whole, lengthy chapters without a shift in perspective, Sanderson keeps the perspectives changing constantly. This, in turn, lends something of a sense of urgency to the whole of the novel as we flash between perspectives all of which show the Final Battle looming closer, many of which illustrate the desperation of Rand’s situation, while none provide the same experience. That is to say, the very structure of the novel, plot aside, creates the temporality of the world: this is the assembling of the players in the last grasp of humanity’s survival.

Where Jordan preferred to let the political plotting play out over the span of several chapters, and seemed to delight in the manipulations of his characters, Sanderson cuts through the lengthy exposition that Jordan favored in order to draw several plots to a close, some of which would be utterly abrupt if cast in Jordan’s prose. Sanderson’s brusque handling seems a natural element of the story: as we are pressed unrelentingly forward by the looming Final Battle, Sanderson’s usage of inner monologue puts us front and center for those decisions by placing the character’s urgency, not the plot’s, at the focal point.

Sanderson’s Rand is acutely aware of the coming Battle, his own madness, his own depression. His awareness of his crumbling state and the fact that humanity still isn’t united to face this threat is expertly captured by the inner monologue that seems to brighten the character from a brooding, tired leader on the outside, to a leader on the edge of desperation, as seen from within. Because we are made privy Rand’s awareness of his own desperate state, the reader is pulled in by the negation of an easy resolution.

It is exactly the fact that few of the characters are reluctant to allow for the previous lengthy solutions to problems that captures readers and sucks them into the imaginative space that Sanderson has created in lieu of Jordan’s own voice. By making us aware of the desperate times in which the characters have found themselves, Sanderson has allowed himself room to interject his own voice into the world that has been created by Jordan without disrupting the continuity.

As a final note, I believe that Sanderson’s success, where many others have failed is due to the fact that Sanderson, like many thousands of other fans of the series, has been a citizen of the world for over two decades. Unlike an author who studies the material and then resume the work based upon the notes left behind (as Frank Herbert’s successors attempted), Sanderson, as a member of Jordan’s imaginative world long before he was writing further on the Wheel of Time, is simply telling a story that he has already accepted as imaginatively real. He has accepted the truth of The Wheel of Time, and it’s his job just to tell the story.

Categories: Literature, Philosophy