Jasmine: Let's start with saying who we are.
Paul: Paul Di Filippo, writer and reviewer. You're only allowed 2 terms to define yourself.
Lance: Lance Olsen, writer and blonde [laughter].
Jasmine: Jasmine Sailing, editor and writer.
Joey: Artist and the guy who listened to Paul Di Filippo who said "Joey, ask for review copies, and they will send them to you" and... it works, it works!
Jasmine: Let's begin with saying whether or not we think subversive views can or should be implanted throughout literature.
Paul: Last ReaderCon we actually had a panel that went off -- it was my favorite of the convention. The Science Fiction Underground; which I think is tangential to this, it s definitely a valid topic. We came up with a lot of examples last year so I hope we can do it again this year, and maybe approach it from some different angles. But, yeah, I think science fiction certainly has potential for being subversive. I should probably stop there [laughter].
Lance: Um... I agree [laughter]. When Jasmine and I were talking about this over the phone, she mentioned paranoia in literature and I was thinking of the why of it. Of this blooming of paranoia that we've seen in literature since probably the late 50s and 60s; you start thinking of people like Burroughs and Pynchon and more. Today you can name 50,000 things going on and say "Why can that be?". Part of it may be that if you think of 50s paranoia vs. 60s paranoia, you think of 50s as McCarthyism and then you think of 60s paranoia as your basic Viet Nam, Laos, Cambodia, Nixon, and what we'll learn later on are all sorts of radiation tests on populations... And what turns out in the 50s is that the paranoia was unfounded, right, that McCarthy was looking for stuff that didn't exist. What you find in the 60s is that our worst nightmares are true, and the generation that grew up after the 60s can't help but be infused by this sense of paranoia.
Joey: Also tied in with that is the idea that you have the 50s and the 60s but then you have, in the 80s and the 90s, at least around where we live [northeast Connecticut], an even worse nightmare: "Yes, the nightmare is true, but people don't give a shit."
Jasmine: That's when the subversion factor starts coming in. Theoretically [laughs].
Paul: Let me toss out a topic from the on-line Thomas Pynchon discussion group. Obviously Pynchon is an artist who works deeply with conspiracies and is subversive in his own way -- but I mentioned, and heard some seconds from this on the Pynchon list, that reading itself, the simple act of reading, is rapidly becoming a prime subversive activity just as it was predicted to become in 1984 or any of the other distopias. There's a panel later in this convention, "The Declining SF Readership," and to me this relates to the exact Pynchon angle of it again. We were saying to sit down with this mammoth new book of his, Mason & Dixon, 700+ pages, and absent yourself from the mainstream media influx. Just to sit alone in a room and read this thing is subversive in a way; you're not out at the playoff games, you're not watching your favorite channel. Obviously the subject matter of the book also comes into play; I don't know if reading the latest Star Trek novelization is subversive [laughter], but reading itself is.
Joey: It's like the living books at the end of Fahrenheit 451, where you're just ingesting this stuff. There is a big difference in what you're reading and whether it's a subversive act. A friend of mine, Paul Lappen, who does a zine called Dead Tree Review, and I were talking about how, in the Readercon dealers' room, there should be a whole table of Noam Chomsky, there should be one of Cleis Press, there should be one of non-fiction stuff -- which would blow most of the concepts in the fiction books off the map.
Paul: Well, even Popular Science. Science fiction cannot feed on itself exclusively, or it just becomes the snake that swallowed its own tail; it has to have outside input.
Joey: Yeah, exactly. A lot of so-called "hard science" or some of these other things; you're like, *sigh*, and you read it. You can read something that's okay, it's not proven yet, but it's like "Why would I want to read an article of hard science when I could read some psychology magazine -- or just read some rants in a magazine like Q zine and have my mind expanded by that." [laughter]
Jasmine: Reverting back to an earlier topic... I think with more paranoia growing and with only being able to aire it in literature for the most part (like with anything from handing out a blatant little tract, to a novel with little tiny bits and pieces worked in throughout it), you wind up with the more paranoid generations of writers who therefore feel the need to do it that way -- to hide things a bit. A lot of the problem with this is that most of the people who are going to be reading it are pretty much going to say, "Well, yeah." So you're not exactly reaching out much with it. Any thoughts on this?
Paul: Well, do you think that too much cheap paranoia can be almost like the boy who cried wolf? Like after you see umpteen episodes of The X-Files [laughter] you're going to start to say "Well, y'know, this is all a nice intellectual game but I know it's just a game; it doesn't have any bearing on real power structures and stuff." So I don't know if that's a problem, that maybe you can cheapen... Subversion can be co-opted, is what I'm trying to say.
Joey: The good example of that is the whole Independence Day parade at Roswell. The winning float was this big flying saucer that said "Hale-Bopp or Bust." [laughter] You had all these people dressed as Heaven's Gate cultists walking behind it. When it got to the reviewers' stand, a little tiny flying saucer popped out and then exploded. But it wasn't a mistake. It fell to the ground in front of the reviewing stand; these guys come out in Army fatigues, throw a tarp over it, and scurry away. All the cultists hold up signs that say, "What You See Is Not Really Happening, [knowing laughter] It Was All a Weather Balloon."
Paul: How about the point of subversion? Is it to be subversive just for the sake of being subversive, or do we have ultimate changes in mind, or would it be enough if a certain novel transformed your consciousness and you regarded the world differently?
Jasmine: I often see people saying that there's no point in doing this because you're not going to change anyone. But I used to do a lot of public debating and what I noticed from it was you could be yelling until you were blue at this large crowd of people and most of them would think "Oh, you just bitch about everything too much". Then a little tiny handful of people would actually care and start talking about it and start thinking and then you've got those extra few people who are thinking next time and actually trying to process it. So if it can even have a slight ripple effect...
Lance: One of the dangers (going back to what Paul said earlier) is -- this late in the millennium when everything is becoming co-opted, right, think about what happened to grunge or punk, is the act of subversion in literature even possible? You have to keep ratcheting up the volume to get peoples' attention, and there comes this point; as soon as the volume's like this high, in come the co-opters -- wham! It's gone. Is there going to be a point where you can't subvert anymore, or will there be a point where it's a useless endeavor?
Jasmine: I think the difference is that, when they co-opt things, they only take the superficial surface of what it's touching on -- and then what's left by them is everything that actually matters underneath it. So you don't really need to keep getting weirder and weirder and louder and louder, you just keep taking the elements that got forgotten: the good ones.
Paul: That's a very good point, Jasmine, 'cuz that ties in with what I was going to posit as a lineage of subversion. What we need maybe is not to codify it 'til we kill it, but if you have this chart or family tree of the ancestors and you say "Yeah, Thoreau, man, he's up at the top" and then you chart your lineage of subversion You can go back anywhere along that family tree and find stuff that's still really relevant. Somebody could be sitting down right now with a copy of Walden and having their mind blown, like some 15 year-old kid, and 20 years from now they engineer the next socio-technological revolution. So it's possible to go back to stuff that might even have been co-opted. People are reissuing Abbie Hoffman books, and you re-read them after a 30 year perspective and say "Well, he was wrong here or right here, and here's stuff that we can utilize nowadays." So maybe we do need a bit of an "honor our ancestors" type thing in the subversive movement; to establish this sense of pride and lineage like this is an ongoing tradition, you win some battles and lose some, and you can go back and use stuff from the past.
Jasmine: Sure, like I would still recommend The Prisoner as a good TV series [yeah, yeahs]. And a lot of the good books, even just going back as recently as the 70s -- The Sheep Look Up by John Brunner...
Paul: Sure, sure! Brunner was totally subversive in his own way, in terms of undermining the current SF scene to a certain extent when he was writing those books -- also larger cultural perspectives and stuff...
Joey: The other thing is that, as far as subversion goes, talking about going back and re-mining stuff, it's also what each individual brings to the work. And another thing to remember is that what we've talked about mostly is subversion on a broad political or maybe an intellectual level, and not necessarily subversion on a personal level. We've also been mentioning a lot of guy writers -- white male writers [laughter]. Someone could read something from, say, Rita Mae Brown's Rubyfruit Jungle.