Canon & Fugue (Hyperpost 11) (The End Of The Road)

A revised and improved version of this essay is in my book Sci-Ence! Justice Leak! – hardback, paperback, PDF Kindle (US), Kindle (UK), all other ebook formats

Liberation, by Escher

Liberation, by Escher

‘Oh?’ asked the dog, sounding rather withering. ‘Listen, Fitz. Learn to think of all these things as stories. And stories can’t contradict each other because, in the end, they’re all made up. Nothing can take precedence then. All right?’
‘I’m not sure I know what you’re on about.’
‘Well, you reckon the world you live in takes precedence over the world you’re reading about. So you’ve established a hierarchy, yeah?’
‘Of course! I’d be out of my tree not to!’
The dog was looking sceptical again. He gave a kind of shrug and started nibbling the herbs once more. ‘Maybe. But think how happy you might be if you didn’t have to make those choices about what you should invest belief in. Here in the Obverse you can think of it all as a kind of fugue.’
‘Fugue?’
‘Hmm,’ said the dog, chewing. ‘No contradictions anymore. Every story holding equal sway. It means there are always alternatives. And it means no natural ending.’
Fitz took his last drag on his cigarette and ground it out on the window sill.
‘I don’t believe it.’
‘No?’ asked the dog.
‘No. One reality has to be more valid than the other. It has to be realer.’
The little dog laughed and said, ‘Well… what if you found out that the one you’re in was the less real one? What if you found out that you yourself are less than real?’
Fitz laughed and looked at the moon.
‘You’re one hell of a dog. Do you know that?’
‘Oh, yes,’ said Canine primly.
Doctor Who: The Blue Angel by Paul Magrs and Jeremy Hoad

So we’ve finally come pretty much to the end of the hyperposts. I’ve created a page, which is linked from the sidebar as well as here, where I’ve linked all these posts, plus a bibliography of sorts and links to the responses I’ve had. If anyone wants to do a response post to these, as a couple of people have said they will, I’ll link it from there. There are quite a few bits I’ve not got to and won’t now – the plot of my fanfic novel (which I think I’ve managed to turn into a non-fanfic novel in my head), where The Flash fits into all of this, and I wanted to do more about Doctor Who, as well as wanting to bring in the Beach Boys’ Smile into the discussion.

Basically, I wanted to do a book. But it’d be a book *nobody* would read, so these posts were self-defeating from the start.

Maybe I’ll write those posts at some point in the future, but there was the severe danger that if I didn’t keep to some sort of structure this would go on forever, so for now I’m declaring this series closed.

So what was the point?

Well, there were many, as the responses I’ve had show – not having a single point was, among other things, one of the points. But I suppose the point that started this is the idea of ‘canon’ and ‘continuity’.

A lack of agreement among creators about what stories ‘count’ can, as Millennium pointed out, lead to the kind of confusion that happened with Doctor Who in the late 90s/early 2000s, where even attempts to deal with it like the ‘fugue’ quoted above (very much the Doctor Who equivalent of Hypertime, and possibly a better name, being a pun on ‘canon’ in case you hadn’t noticed) immediately became ‘canon’ and had ‘rules’ placed around them – just another way for one group to assert dominance over another.

Because the need for a single, linear, tidy continuity for your fiction to take place in is not only unrealistic and unscientific – the world doesn’t work like that – and not only *no fun at all* – why tie yourself down to one story when you can have more – it also seems to me to come from a profoundly illiberal viewpoint.

The craving for order, for simplicity, to get everything in little boxes, is a very, very, very dangerous one, because sometimes – often – the things you want to put in those little boxes are people, and then you have to cut parts off them to fit, and saying sorry afterward doesn’t really help…

I’m not saying that retconning away Superman’s time as Superboy, or not counting both versions of Shada, are motivated by fascism – that would be a reductio ad absurdem of my argument. What I *AM* saying is that the world itself is a miraculous, complex, multiplex place, and none of us little monkeys really have a clue how it really works. We should expect nothing less from the stories we tell each other – be they stories about Superman, or stories about how the economy responds to an increase in lending to the banks.

Unless one of you has a working model of the entire universe in your head that you’ve not told me about (if you do, can I have a look?) then the chances are you’re as confused, bemused and befuddled by the world around you as I am. Stories are one of the tools we have for making sense of the universe, and I at least want as many of those tools as I can have. Throwing away stories – for any other reason than ‘it’s not a good story’ – seems a real waste to me.

The universe, as far as I can tell from quantum physics, keeps its options open – there doesn’t appear to be one singular solid universe with only one option. Species that diversify survive better than those that don’t. And in politics, keeping your options open works better than closing them off. Being able to respond to new possibilities is, as far as I can tell, as good a definition of ‘intelligence’ as there is.

So don’t let the bullies who want to say a story is ‘non-canonical’ and less ‘real’ influence your thinking, any more than you should let the bullies who want you to have an ID card and be assumed to be a child molester unless proven guilty influence you. And if you do start wondering if the story you’re reading is canon, just say to yourself:
This is an imaginary story… AREN’T THEY ALL?

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24 Responses to Canon & Fugue (Hyperpost 11) (The End Of The Road)

  1. sean witzke says:

    Didn’t comment much, but I enjoyed reading these a whole hell of a lot. And I would buy that book.

  2. Marc Burkhardt says:

    Brilliantly put. Thanks for all the effort you put into this project. I wish I had something more substantive to say but words fail me. Perhaps Pillock? :)

  3. pillock says:

    Not only would I read that book, but I know a reason why lots of other people would as well: the discipline called “Philosophy of Fiction”, which they teach classes in — not as glib and unfocussed as “Pop Culture Studies”, nor yet as crucially concerned with how fiction makes communities as we are on the web (I think we may be a bit ahead of the curve on that one, so yay us!), but one in which questions of canonicity refreshingly take a back seat to the matter of how fiction connects to the real world.

    Also, I think it would be amusing for people who’ve never heard of such nerdy preoccupations as Flash’s role in CoIE, the Expanded Universe, and Doctor Who audio to be exposed to a survey of that world written in your style, and stemming from your multidisciplinary perspective.

    Nice one, Andrew!

    (Finding a publisher, on the other hand, might be a bit trickier than finding an audience…)

    • Holly says:

      Andrew: Pillock told me I should write that book, as a textbook on the philosophy of fiction.
      Me: See I told you you should write that book! Tell him I already told you that.
      Andrew: You didn’t say I should write it to be a textbook on the philosophy of fiction, though, did you.
      Me: Would it have helped?
      Andrew: No!

  4. Now I’ve read this post I can see that postmodern history *is* relevant to what you’re on about. The old grand/master/meta/whatever narratives of history attempted to reduce history to one true story, which excluded lots of groups and closed down lots of possibilities. “Proper” history was written by, for and about privileged white men. It wasn’t just minorities who were excluded: women suffered terribly as well. You don’t have to be postmodern to find this wrong – it’s also been attacked by feminist empirical social/economic historians, most notably Judith Benett, and also by conservative revisionists – but postmodernism certainly isn’t doing any harm on that score (epistemology is another matter, where Bennett and postmodernism strongly disagree). Ironically, the main offenders include the Whig historians, who are kind of distantly related to modern liberals, whereas Conrad Russell, a Lib Dem spokesman in real life, was one of the revisionists who helped to destroy them.

    I used to think that spurious narratives of progress showed that liberalism was ideologically suspect, but since reading your cybernetic version of liberalism I’ve started to think that maybe the Whig historians (and perhaps quite a few present day liberals) are not really all that liberal. This could be analogous to our views on science: the scientific method itself is a very good thing but we still need to be suspicious of people who don’t use it properly (especially when they falsely claim that they are using it properly).

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      Exactly. If you *are* going to choose a single narrative, then I’d like it to be one of progress, but all historical narratives are imposed by humans post-facto, not really anything to do with the way things actually happened.

      And liberalism definitely *is* ideologically suspect – as all ideologies are. I’m certainly far from a pure, unadulterated liberal myself, but I find liberalism the most compatible holder for my various political ideas, IYKWIM. (For example within liberalism there’s a *huge* debate about whether redistribution can be liberal – I stand on the side who say it can be, and indeed is necessary for maximal overall freedom, but that if possible taxation should be moved away from income from productive work and towards unearned wealth…)

      And yes, one can definitely draw links between people claiming to be liberal and not being and people who claim to follow the scientific method but really don’t – they’re often the same people. To a large extent, ‘proper’ liberalism is the political equivalent of the scientific method – you’re trying a variety of different solutions, seeing what works, and then iterating from that – maximal freedom of both action and speech helps people find the optimal solutions.

      • The main problem I have with liberalism is that I think gradual progress, “reasonable” compromise, moderation and balance tend to benefit conservatism more than liberalism (although it’s important to note that your cybernetic liberalism doesn’t seem to depend on any of those things and could potentially be much more radical). Liberals might use those things as tactical ploys to get things moving in the right direction, but they also necessarily deny the possibility of freedom and equality for everyone right now. When we’re thinking about what we want to happen in the future, progress doesn’t necessarily have to be gradual – it might be fast and radical. But once we use progress as the main theme of a historical narrative over a long period it pretty much has to be slow and steady, and then progress obstructs radical transformation and leads people to accept oppression and inequality in the past because “that’s just how it was”. There was a great discussion at Historiann about how history as progress disadvantages women and contributes to patriarchal equilibrium. Then we got onto how it disadvantages black people too.

        • Andrew Hickey says:

          Oh, I agree totally – where ‘liberal’ is a synonym for ‘moderate’ I have no time for it whatsoever, but then nor do most of the true liberals I know (even the ones who are also right-libertarians, who I disagree with profoundly). I have no sympathy for that kind of thing whatsoever. I want to see radical changes to the very basis of our society, to make it more free (and I think in order to do so we also need a radical redistribution of wealth from the privileged to the unprivileged). I’m an idealist and not prepared to compromise at all on fundamental rights.

          Most liberals don’t care as much about ‘equality’ as ‘freedom’, incidentally, but some, myself included, see the one as a prerequisite to the other – economic power over others is just as pernicious as political power…

        • Andrew Hickey says:

          Have a look, for example, at Nick Clegg’s new thing – http://www.nickclegg.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/09/the-liberal-moment.pdf . His is a much more conservative ‘vision’ than mine, but still far from ‘moderate’, I would say…

          • I’ll try to read it properly when I get time, but a keyword search suggests a worrying trend. Just look at these word frequencies in a text of about 70 pages:

            women: 2
            woman: 1
            gender: 0
            sex: 0
            sexuality: 0
            patriarchy: 0
            gay: 0

            • Very good point.
              However, what he’s trying to do here is talk about economic/crime policies and ‘liberalism’ in general – it’s a paper designed to win over Labour voters, and so concentrates on a few specific areas. But you’re right, those things should be mentioned more.

              However, the Lib Dems *are* by far the strongest party on those issues (for example being the only one of the big three to have a commitment to gay marriage as opposed to civil partnerships – and I bet we’re the only party that has an organisation specifically for ‘gay action’ – http://www.delga.org.uk/pages/thenamedelga.html )

              You can see LD policies on gay rights at http://www.delga.org.uk/pages/our-record.html .

  5. malartart says:

    Superb column as is all of your blog. Fascinating through out and … yes I would read the book if you wrote it.

    malart

    http://malleableart.wordpress.com/

  6. Zom says:

    This is an imaginary story… AREN’T THEY ALL?

    I love that line so much that I think I need to write a post about it. Perhaps that can be my response to your hyperpost series…

    (I want to see you write that other stuff, by the way)

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      I almost certainly will write those other posts at some point. I could just seriously see myself doing literally thousands of hyperposts if I didn’t bring it to an end…

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      And I’d love to read your post about it – I do think that’s the single best line Moore’s ever written…

  7. Kieran says:

    Well, after 11 posts I guess we can’t complain this is coming to an end, but these have all been great, and I’d buy that book, though the form does match the content so well here.

  8. It kills me when people get mad at Moore for the “…aren’t they all?” line,
    interpreting it as some sort of sneering dismissal rather than a *celebration*.

    Anyway, just wanted to say I thought this was a brilliant endeavor. I didn’t reply much either, largely because the structure of the pieces had an assertive momentum to the point that I just wanted to see where it was going and didn’t want to get in the way. I’m a micro guy more than a macro guy, anyway, and these posts are about as macro as it gets.

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      Do people who can *READ* do that?! I mean, that story is as celebratory as you can possibly get…

      • And guess which ’80s superstar writer-artist it is who says that!

        I suppose he interprets that quote as somehow *diminishing* the magic of storytelling rather than elevating it. “Clearly this guy thinks he’s too cool for school!” or something. Some people perceive Grant Morrison, after all, as *hating* superheroes, and while it seems like an absolutely ridiculous notion to you and me (and Morrison, I can only imagine), maybe if you squinted and looked at it from a totally alien angle…

        It does not go unremarked by Morrison (and Kirby as well) that some people perceive capital-F Freedom as *terrifying* and therefore restrictive in its own way. The Invisibles is all about seeing unusual things and interpreting that same thing as either wonderful or horrible.

        • Andrew Hickey says:

          Well that explains it… as well of course as nicely tying in with the comments to the Crisis post…

  9. Holly says:

    Oh just write the damn book already. Don’t make me look over my glasses at you about this.

  10. Pingback: On Sentient Universes, The Problem Of Evil, Grant Morrison, Doctor Who and other such stuff « Sci-Ence! Justice Leak!

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