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Topic: Um, what? (2nd attempt - heh)

From: patrick
Date: 07/09/2008

(How's this?)

"She pushed the argument aside, though she was glad that it never stopped nagging at her. When the means existed to transform yourself, instantly and effortlessly, into anything at all, the only way to maintain an identity was draw your own boundaries. But once you'd lost the urge to keep on asking whether or not you'd drawn them in the right place, you might as well have been born Homo Sapiens, with no real choices at all."

This is a passage from Greg Egan's SCHILD'S LADDER. I intended to contact him directly but there appears no such method through is website - so I'm posting it here - open for discussion of course.

The first part isn't true. One way to maintain (or invoke) identity is to do 'draw your own boundaries'. In fact, to 'draw one's own boundaries' is an exercise in subjectivity, arbitrariness, solipsism. People do this already. (I'm skipping the more fundamental determinism argument, here.)

For identity is ultimately in function. Not one's place in something, but how they operate. Actually, there is a rendering beyond a synthesis that is one's context in space-time. That is, identity is not 'your place in society', but your how you move through it, how you move through the cosmos really, which is also inclusive of 'where'. Of course humans are inherently endowed with gross or crude metaphorical tools, so 'place' is the general concern - vs 'state' (which is not a static quality). This all suggests discovering boundary conditions through some (at least somewhat) rigorous methodolgy. Works in science.

Then there's the second part of the quoted paragraph above, ending in the contrast to Homo sapiens. I'm curious what this means, as I didn't find it preluded to or elaborated on later in the chapter. However, some things to note:

- the tone of the paragraph

- the tone of the character's temperament with regard to the passage

What urge? Why? Why not just casually curious? People are generally concerned with (read: insecure about) their place, whether they're in the right place, are they doing the right things.....bleh.

Further, onward in the chapter, there is a meeting with the character and her potential benefactors in an experiment the character is intent on conducting. During this meeting, a final assessment to determine whether the experiment will be condoned, etc, she experiences quite human-like emotional reactions: incredulity, hubris, ambition, and most of all, novelty - novelty for the Earth she left some centuries prior, for the social environment she experienced there, etc. 'Evolved' creature, indeed.

Well, I just couldn't read any more of it. {In contrast to the human attributes described above} I have casual interest in everything. I'm quite capable of running with them provided the field...and if not, then I do something else...or I sit and watch the sky. This seems much more evolved to me.

Lest someone think this expression is based in frustration or what-have-you over the quoted text; rather it is merely a casual expression on an experience of discontinuity of function in the character portrayed in the text. I mean, if we're gonna set the SF stage, why not go all the way?

Re: Um, what? (2nd attempt - heh)

From: Greg Bear
Date: 07/11/2008

Interesting passage! Full of philosophical questions. My guess is it's also filled with what R.G. Collingwood called absolute presuppositions--axioms, as it were, related to culture and language. A full analysis would no doubt fill volumes. And so I intend to remain on the sidelines while you write!

Re: Um, what? (2nd attempt - heh)

From: patrick
Date: 07/12/2008

(Hm. There isn't a lot in the Wiki on Collingwood. Briefly, I agree art is essentially emotional expression....but so are lots of things. What distinguishes art? I assume this question would define art, as well. However, such an answer isn't necessary. Neither necessary is the question preceeding that. That below at least hints at why.)

Well, that's just it. An analysis is rather abstract, as well as abstracted from the context. And while in some cases this remove can bring a sort of perspective to things, I prefer a more integrated and dynamic approach. Hence, for me (in my process), the implied question is : is fiction useful in defining ourselves? If the answer is yes - which I think it very evidently is - then it defaults to a practice of (at least somewhat) rigorous methodology informed by vision. Or, expressed thusly: conservative in method, visionary* in outlook. Particularly here, the question then comes: where is the telling of stories in light of this?

*Visionary defined not by biological, egocentric, cultural, genderal, or any other anthropomorphic frames - but defined by the degree of emotional expansion an entity is capable. That is, the breadth of their emotional context: their degree of open-ness to experience, while being unattached to any portion of it. Of course, one could be concerned with the potential 'meta-layers' of attachment, and the answer there is to not ask the question, for it invokes what it seeks to rectify or prevent.

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