Archive for the ‘Literary Criticism’ Category

We have a guest post today, submitted by Blue Francis Hastings, Earl of Huntingdon and narrator of Seduction of an Innocent, my second novel. Leave comments and questions for Blue below.


I was restless in Vegas. That’s why I started reading. I lifted a worn copy of Atlas Shrugged from under the bar at Sabrina’s. One of the customers saw me reading it and brought in a collection of critical essays on it. I was hooked.

After that, the same customer brought me syllabi from various English courses at UNLV and I read through the required work and the criticism. In the seven years we were in Vegas, I completed about forty English classes.

My favorite work was American Literature. I especially liked the Realism era beginning with Henry James and bleeding over into Stephen Crane. I was drawn to determinism. Sister Carrie moved me in a way I couldn’t really understand.

I knew that destiny and fate were romantic ideas. I knew they were consolation for the seemingly random pain and suffering of the human experience. They worked like religion: the concept of Heaven is merely a draught to help those in pain look beyond their current strife. Like spiritual opium.

Destiny told believers that there was some master plan of which they were simply a part. That the outcomes of their struggles were predetermined.

I didn’t believe that.

I couldn’t.

How could any rational being suggest that my extraordinary existence had been mapped out by anything other than chance? Who could think this shit up?

Car accident, rescued by a vampire morgue employee.

Living in Vegas as a bartender and hired killer.

Guardian over my vampire best friend’s human wife.

Meeting my true love in fucking Kansas of all places.

No, there was no such thing as destiny. There couldn’t be. If there had been, then all of those contracts, the planned termination of other people’s lives, were foretold. And the events leading to that necessary act had been planned by some great puppeteer as well.

What kind of monstrous supernatural being would allow the possession and abuse of young girls?

I killed those men for hurting the girls. That did not make me a sword of justice. I am still only a predator myself. I am survival of the fittest.

There can be no being in charge of all this chaos. If there were, that being is most certainly not worthy of praise or commendation.

Still, fate is a cruel sprite. She encourages fantasy and romanticism. She teases with signs and coincidence.

I read Dreiser and thought about determinism as the sad sister of fate and destiny. While the latter encouraged hope and purpose, the former doomed all beings to clawing at the stone walls of our own dark wells.

To reject destiny and determinism, though, is to become comfortable with chaos. I was not only comfortable with chaos – I didn’t question it, didn’t wonder about it, didn’t reject it – I was an agent of chaos. I encouraged it and perpetuated it. Raven taught me how.

The only regret I have is that I didn’t know I was that – the catalyst for chaos – for a very long time. And that when I did learn, that I experienced for the first time the shame Sara had described to me. Not because of killing people, I’ve already explained that. This shame was over my intentional disruption of other people’s carefully organized lives.

Disruption of Asta’s life. Of Byron’s.

My influence was brutal and had I known, at the time, I might have held back. But I didn’t.

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This is one of two posts about a work in progress. See related posts here and here.

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So much of what is written these days is simply production. I am particularly annoyed by SEO and the idea of diluting language to the 100 most commonly used search terms to improve the likelihood of discovery. As if discovery in and of itself has value and the message is secondary.

Say what you need to say.

If what is being written is production then what is being consumed is also production and this is a downward spiral into the degradation not only of language but also of the most important reason for language: to communicate the human experience.

Empathy is being so much aware of someone else’s experience that one understands both the feelings and actions of that other person. It is sharing the human experience with other humans and connecting with them through that sharing.

Empathy is a connection. But, really, connections are made all the time.

With so much exposure to the experiences of others, are we not hyper-empathetic? You can almost hear the music, the language, the expressions mapped together in order to elicit empathy. Empathy keeps us tuned in. Just ask all those reality-TV producers that urge us to care about total strangers.

So should high art rely upon empathy to engage people?

Readers of high art should be invited to an unusual experience: a collective narrator like the neighborhood boys observing The Virgin Suicides or the multiple-narrator, multiple-era, multiple-style conglomeration of Cloud Atlas.

Readers should be expected to empathize with people not like them and by doing so be opened, honestly, to the vulnerability of their own constructs. They should think: one bad decision, one series of unfortunate events and I could be other. Less fortunate. Less.

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