Feel the Meh

Lev Grossman wrote about fantasy on his blog last week, suggesting that fantasy addresses our longing for one thing in particular:

A different kind of world. A world that makes more sense – not logical sense, but psychological sense…

To be sure, fantasy worlds are often animated by weird mysterious forces – like magic – but even those forces on some level come from inside us. They’re not made in China. They express deep human wishes and primal emotions. Likewise the worlds of fantasy are inhabited by demons and monsters, but only because we’re inhabited by monsters, the ones that live in our subconsciouses (subconsci?) Those monsters are grotesque and not-human, and sometimes they even destroy us, but we recognize them instinctively.

I think it’s true that people who want this world to make sense will want fantasy to make sense. But I don’t think all people want this world, or any world, to make sense.

Take me, for example: there was a time in my life when I wanted every world I spent time in to make sense. Then I gradually found myself becoming more and more disenchanted with the whole project.

This was during the science wars, and I was teaching philosophy of science, which I entered as a complete realist and positivist. But one has to read one’s opponents, and my opponents were so difficult that they took a lot of reading; in the summers we went through Rorty and Latour, debating them as well as we could in their absence, and at some point I realized I was just too frivolous for any of this stuff. By which I mean: the fact that we were certain of nothing became so obvious to me that I stopped minding it. I was more irritated with earnest people on both sides, who claimed the world made sense from inside their rickety theoretical structures, than I was with people who said ‘meh’ and ordered another cup of coffee.

It’s been a long time now since the science wars died down, yet I remain in a state of Meh. Living in the world keeps me busy enough, without making up a meaning for it.

My characters do not all agree with this.  As researchers, they are pretty invested in creating theoretical structures that let them predict the movements of elementals or deter incubi.

Neil Torecki, in particular, wants a sense of meaning in his personal life. I think Rho does as well. Bill Navanax refuses to ferret out any meaning in his life, because he’s sure it would be unpleasant. Teddy Whin has a penchant for conspiracy theories.

Strangely enough, I get the most unambiguous support in my worldview from the character I like least, Linus Ukadnian. Linus prides himself on identifying nonsense when he sees it, and he sees that it is everywhere. Unfortunately, his response to the world’s nonsense is to establish his own standards and fight tooth and nail to make others live by them. I have tried to reform him, but it’s not going to happen.


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