Dan Goodman's prediction and politics journal.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

There's been a multi-LiveJournal discussion of Fiction of Manners (including Fantasy of Manners). So far, there's agreement that some people like it, some people don't like it, and some people like some of it. And participants have been saying why they personally feel the way they do about it.

I have no idea whether this will be of any use to those in the discussion:

I think of human society and culture as being continually recreated by the way people act and speak -- and the way others interpret their acts and speech. (For "human" you can substitute "dragon" or whatever.) This can be seen as a marketplace of behavior, or as a dance of behavior. There are rules, which people often see as being immutable -- but the process of determining what the rules are, and how they're to be interpreted, is part of the negotiations/dance.

One book on American children's games discusses a difference between the way British and American children play. In Britain, the local rules have generations of tradition behind them; most of the children have grown up in that small area, and they accept the rules as being immutable -- or at least "How we've always done it here." (The rules do change, of course.)

In the US, many of the children in a neighborhood are likely to be from other places. Negotiation over the rules is an important part of the game.

(Knapp, Mary and Herbert. One Potato, Two Potato: The Secret Education of American Children. Norton, 274 pp., 1978.)

American adults often go through similar negotiations on the rules of the game. A current example is discussion of how debates between Presidential candidates should be run.

Fiction of Manners requires a social background closer to the British model of children's games. Most fictional backgrounds of this kind have pronounced class or even caste differences, but I don't think this is essential. Lois McMaster Bujold's sf universe includes Betan society -- egalitarian, but with firm notions of proper behavior. At least one attempt was made to overturn the rules: the introduction of hermaphrodites. It didn't work; the rules changed to allow for them, with minimal disturbance.

The dance of manners is formal, but the stakes are usually the same as in the least formal social dance. Some people will get rich, some will have enough to live on, some will end up with nothing.

I can't remember who said that American actors drink whiskey on stage, but you know it's really tea; British actors drink tea on stage, but you know it's really whiskey.

In Fiction of Manners, the characters are shown drinking tea. Some readers know (and enjoy knowing) that the characters are really drinking whiskey -- or blood, or the ichor of the Sons of the Bird. Some readers know this, but like their fiction to cut closer to the bone. Some don't see it at all.
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