Fun Stuff From Wright’s Blog [UPDATE – Skip to Bottom of Post]

This is a long post with lots of quotes. I’d do a TL;DR but the quotes are important. I’ll try and bold the most important bits.

I have a feeling I may have done enough to get a ban from Mr. Wright’s blog.. Instead of telling you why, I’ll quote the discussion directly and let you all decide. Hey, Wright is clearly smarter and more educated than me. Maybe I really do owe him a sincere apology. I’ll offer my own thoughts at the end of it.

The original thing I responded to:

The second assumption, harder to defend and harder to swallow, is that mainstream Hollywood movies are artsy, trivial, greasy, and bad…I am thinking of movies critics and Hollywood insiders like, flicks such as FULL METAL JACKET, RAIN MAN, DANCES WITH WOLVES, THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, THE ENGLISH PATIENT, AMERICAN BEAUTY, CHICAGO, MILLION DOLLAR BABY, CRASH, THE DEPARTED, THE HURT LOCKER.

My original response:

“Silence of the Lambs” WAS based on a popular book, though.

Nitpick, I know, but man, that’s a great movie.

Mr. Wright:

Yours tastes and mine differ. When the movie that made the cannibal murderer, a man who hunts and eats men like beasts, into the most admirable figure in the story won the Oscar award as opposed to BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, which is perhaps Disney’s best movie of all time, with the most striking and vivid characters, a story about redemption, a story about a beast turning into a man through love, I knew that I would never trust the Motion Picture Academy again.

Me:

Hannibal Lecter as the most admirable person in the story? I don’t know what movie you were watching. The most admirable character was Clarice. Lecter was the most fascinating. Hopkins gave us all an insight into the mind of a maniac, and it was compelling because normally we can’t really understand these people, and then there’s this movie and this actor that made their mind and motivations so believable. It was fascinating….But yeah, I have more of an appetite for the grotesque than you and am less of a romantic, as my username would seem to assert.

Mr. Wright:

The portrayal [of Lecter] was indeed positive, or, more to the point nihilistic. Lector is portrayed as courageous, cunning, possessed of immense self control, and as an avenger who preys only on offensive and unpleasant folk whom we secretly wish dead anyway. So he has three out of the four classical virtues, and justice he lacks only because he is draconian.

There was not a single line in the film, a single camera shot, showing the victims of his crimes in a sympathetic way: no windows shown sobbing at a funeral, nothing.

And me:

No, what’s missing is the performance of Anthony Hopkins. That’s like saying “The Dark Knight” wouldn’t have been as good without Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker…

[Quoting Wright]There was not a single line in the film, a single camera shot, showing the victims of his crimes in a sympathetic way: no windows shown sobbing at a funeral, nothing.

Why is this a requirement? It’s universally agreed in the movie that Lecter deserves to be there.

Mr. Wright:

Here we have a film which portrays the good side of a cannibal murdering psychopath, showing his wisdom, ingenuity, and animal magnetism, while scrupulously not portraying the bad side, that is, scrupulously avoiding showing any suffering by the victims, or, at least, any victims we care about. You are in effect asking why a negative portrayal of a horrific criminal murderer’s crimes is a requirement to avoid a positive portrayal.

The sheer nihilistic effrontery of the question is astonishing…Do you honestly expect me to debate whether or not offering flattering portrayals to pure evil is a good thing? That such portrayals are allowed under the rubric of art for art’s sake if the villain’s unrealistically superhuman role is sufficiently well-acted?

Author note: I will admit that this was the point in the conversation that first irked me. I had disagreed with Mr. Wright thus far what I think was fairly politely. I was perhaps a bit dismissive at one point when I said “what movie were you watching?”, but I figured this was a casual discussion about taste, so didn’t really mean anything by the remark except as a way to say “I disagree”. So I responded with this:

1) Yes, I’m asking [why a negative portrayal of a horrific criminal murderer’s crimes is a requirement to avoid a positive portrayal.] We all KNOW why eating people is bad. He starts the movie in a freaking insane asylum. Perhaps you’ll disagree, but I do indeed trust the viewing public enough to understand and agree with the fact that Lecter belongs in an insane asylum because he is a violent murdering psychopath. The INTERESTING things to portray about Lecter are his positive qualities, because the fact that a human being so revolting has these positive qualities is compelling.

2) Okay, you’re astonished. Let’s move on.

Do you honestly expect me to debate whether or not offering flattering portrayals to pure evil is a good thing? That such portrayals are allowed under the rubric of art for art’s sake if the villain’s unrealistically superhuman role is sufficiently well-acted?

And here we reach the problem: The conclusion YOU have reached is so obvious, that we can’t even debate it.

All right then, Mr. Wright. You win. I’m out of this thread.

Mr. Wright wrote this:

“We all KNOW why eating people is bad.”

Do we? If you keep up your work, it will not always be so.

It is not because my conclusion is too obvious that I wish not to debate it with you, but because it is too good. What fashion of honor or integrity should I appeal to, to a man who enjoys darkness, and shrugs and plays nonchalant when asked whether it is right to praise darkness?

Am I supposed to appeal to your sense of that truth is better than falsehood? You have already, with a sneer, set that standard at naught. What standard should we use, then? Your sense of virtue and vice? You artistic judgment of beauty and ugly? But your argument is that an ugly portrayal of an appallingly vicious killer is attractive, and merits praise.

You see, you are have emptiness in your soul [sic]. You can mock and sneer at the judgements of other men, but there no common ground for a debate, no standard to use, no neutral place for a judge to stand in the debate between everything and nothing.

You have no grounds to ask for a debate when you side with nothing. It is like asking for a civilized debate about the merit of savagery, or a polite debate about the merit of rudeness, or a law-abiding debate about the merit of anarchy. Actually, it is all of these and more: you are asking for a philosophical debate on the merits of nihilism, which is the abolition of all philosophy.

So, I laugh at your pretensions and your childish tilt of your nose in the air at me. I am unwilling to exchange meaningless words an empty-headed idolator of nothingness.

I will not help your pretend your nothing is anything, certainly not anything worth talking about.

I responded one more time, in case you’re interested, but that response contains basically what I am writing here in different words. Here is my take on the incident, which given my last response will probably get me banned, and with few allies to boot because of Mr. Wright’s popularity. I know the game – if you and a more popular person get in a fight, and both sides claim different things, who will you believe? The person you trust more, of course. So I’m in a lose-lose here, and can only document my case.

I have reviewed “Awake in the Night”, “Awake in the Night Land”, “The Last Guardian of Everness, “City Beyond Time”, “Tales of Feasts and Seasons”, and “One Bright Star to Guide Them”. Mr. Wright actually posted my very positive review of “The Last Guardian of Everness” on his personal site. Vox Day posted a brief excerpt of an even more positive review I wrote for “The Book of Feasts and Seasons” on his. I compared “Awake in the Night” to the writing of J.R.R. Tolkien, and stand by that comment. I watched “Interstellar” entirely on his recommendation, even overriding the recommendation NOT to watch it by loved one, and loved it for pretty much all of the reasons he said.

And now, because I dared to disagree with him and say that “Silence of the Lambs” is a great movie worth watching, I:

  • “Enjoy darkness.” Um, okay? I’m not sure what that’s really supposed to mean, honestly, unless he’s trying to say that I seek out watching evil things?
  • “Side with nothing”. Incorrect. I side with the people who say that “Silence of the Lambs” is good. That’s what we were discussing, right? “Silence of the Lambs”?
  • Am pretentious and childishly tilted my nose in the air at Mr. Wright. I believe he’s referring to the point where I dismissed his condescension and then proceeded to call him out on the fact that he refuses to even discuss things with people who disagree.”

Now, the point about me having an “emptiness in the soul”. This is such a vile and uncalled for accusation I almost declined to comment, but feel I must. So I say this: I said I liked “Silence of the Lambs” and that it was fascinating to look into the mind of a maniac, and “Silence” was great because it offered us this glimpse into the psyche of something we can’t normally understand, and was written skillfully enough to make the character sympathetic without making him truly good. This is my argument. This is why I said “Silence of the Lambs” was an Oscar worthy movie.

And for THIS Mr. Wright is willing to say that I have an emptiness in my soul, and can only mock and sneer at the judgments of other men (by the way, I don’t even know what he’s referring to, unless he counts “disagreement” inside the ranks of “mocking and sneering”).

This is libel, and I hope for an apology from Mr. Wright. I doubt I’ll get one though.

I beseech all of my five to ten readers for a moment of honest opinion: Has anything I have written ever made you think, for the slightest moment, that I am a secret nihilist?

If so, I apologize for that impression, and will work to correct it in the future. I am not a nihilist. I would describe myself as a Thomistic natural law theorist with no philosophical training who rests mostly on the shoulders of smarter men to form his philosophy. But those men certainly do not include Nietzsche.

In the meantime, I will “keep up my work”, which includes such things as coming up with lesson plans to teach students Lewis and Tolkien, publishing a story about an atheist converting to Christianity, and running an anti-suicide charity. I’m sure that somewhere down that line, in between my glowing praise of “Awake in the Night” and my criticism of “The Walking Dead” as nihilistic, despairing and pointless, someone will get it in their head that I’m in favor of people eating other people.

My arrogance does me no credit. But neither does Mr. Wright’s self-righteousness.

If somebody thinks I’m out on a limb here, do say so.

UPDATE: Mr. Wright has offered an apology. The offer is gracious and unexpected, and I gratefully accept. In turn I apologize for the times I appeared overly glib or dismissive, as this was never my intent. I will be more careful of this in the future.

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14 Responses to Fun Stuff From Wright’s Blog [UPDATE – Skip to Bottom of Post]

  1. Crude says:

    I suspect Wright misfired on this one, and took you to be a type of person you simply are not.

    You were in the right here, based on what you’re pasting, and Wright overreacted badly. It happens. I hope you can pull back and say as much.

  2. John C Wright says:

    I have not banned you. I only ban people who break my rules against swearing.

  3. John C Wright says:

    I apologize. I am too fearful of the justice of heaven not to ask for mercy here on Earth. Please forgive me; I was wrong.

    • Irony is a strange being, as a friend of mine angrily left a conversation after I picked a pointless fight with him. It would be petty indeed for me to refuse your offer, and I do not. Thank you, very much. I’m sorry if I came off at times as glib or dismissive, as this was not my intent, and if I could take such moments back I would.

      And now, I’m off to apologize to my friend.

  4. Ed says:

    I’m happy this has been resolved, and what follows is not any kind of attempt to dredge things up. More an attempt to process, and to hear your thoughts (Malcolm’s primarily, but I also appreciate Crude’s and JCW’s). Still, I understand if you’d rather just move on.

    One of the reasons I enjoy Mr. Wright’s blog is that he is so significantly different than anyone I know. As such, an issue will come up (say, a comment in the combox, or an e-mail he decides to address); I will begin to think how I would answer, and then I see him galloping off at full and glorious steam in another direction. My response, then, is to figure out why he would go riding over there, and why in that fashion.

    So I have commented only seldomly, because I don’t quite have my bearings. I admire you for pursuing the debate as you did.

    What I have gathered is that Mr. Wright is vociferous in his opposition to untruth. So is Crude. So you are also, I presume, but I haven’t been reading long enough.

    That seems unremarkable, but it is only from reading Mr. Wright (as a start – there are others) that I realized how comfortable I have been with untruths. I knew they were false, I knew that, because they were false, they were inherently wrong, even “a little bit” evil. But I was nevertheless comfortable with them, because it seemed like the thing I was supposed to be. The virtue was tolerance over truth. (You know the drill).

    Reading the debate as you relayed it, I was inclined to agree with you, but I’ve trained myself to keep reading and try to understand things from a different slant.

    Even within this context, I also thought it was an overreach, even if it was in earnest. I’m only a dozen or so posts in, but I don’t think anyone could honestly call you vacant in soul, and Mr. Wright would have to know that. Evidently, he does, and I really am glad for that.

    • Thank you for the compliments paid, and I hope you like what you read here.

    • As for SotL, I can honestly say this is the first time I’ve ever heard anybody talk about it the way Mr. Wright does, though he is obviously not alone. My impression upon watching it was “what a brilliant horror movie, tense, brilliantly acted, creepy as Hell, and clever”.

      Wright’s diagnosis of Lecter as a sort of Nietzschean Superman certainly makes sense to me. I just think that, you know, SotL is a horror movie. The worldview of the universe is meant to be horrifying. Lecter is meant to be horrifying. And honestly I find it WAY more frightening than Wright’s example of The Mummy. And the fact that it does such a superb job distilling nihilism down to its cold essence is brilliant and chilling.

      And it ties back into my previous post about why I’m not a superversive writer. I don’t think something needs to be superversive to be worth reading or watching or, yes, writing. I also don’t like a system that is pretty clear cut about leaving most of Shakespeare’s tragedies off of its list either.

      • Ed says:

        Yeah, about SotL, I agree with you, for the reasons you’ve stated. I think Mr. Wright has a point, insofar as anyone would want to glorify Lector, but I don’t think the filmmakers are on the hook for that.

        I found your post on [not] being superversive interesting, because I relayed Mr. Wright’s post to a friend with enthusiasm. To be honest, I understood them to mean that being superversive should be a primary thrust in one’s writing, that one should look to upset the current status quo by soaring above it.

        That is, I took it to be a principle, rather than a rule. It doesn’t strike me as contradictory or hypocritical that Mr. Wright would compose a story ending in despair or terror, because it might still be a good story.

        I myself have written stories with resolutions in despair, but I would still think them superversive, in a certain way. They were fundamentally hopeful, and fundamentally virtuous. I suppose – JCW could answer for himself – that Shakespeare’s works would qualify as superversive under like examination. (Though I will also say you seem far more familiar with Shakespeare than I am, to my shame).

      • Well, I’m sure Mr. Wright would say Shakespeare’s tragedies are superversive. But I think that the only way to say that is to directly contradict one of the tenets of the guidelines, which should tell us that something in those guidelines is off.

        The filmmakers are on the hook in the sense that they’ve made Lecter such an admirable character, but I honestly see this as something of an achievement. The reason it’s horror is that you KNOW he’s repulsive and yet you’re fascinated by him regardless. This mental strain *should* creep you the Hell out if it doesn’t.

        (I’m not what you would call a Shakespeare buff. I’ve seen a couple of productions from his shows and read a few plays, all in school, though I’ve started a couple of others outside of it. I DO consider myself a fan, though.)

  5. vishmehr24 says:

    Glad that it ended well but from my own experience at Wright’s blog, he is all too free with these denoucements. So one must not feel very bad.
    But “empty soul” is rather too much. This is precisely what he always complains when other infer something about him from what he wrote. Applied to him, the procedure is always rephensible- “who made you God” but he is very apt to engage in this himself.

  6. Res says:

    Would be their loss, perhaps they should rather ban themselves from posting.

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