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Allegory VS Interpretation


Thanks to Mercurius for the link.


If you read this articles, you can understand what can happen and unfortunately happens when, instead of leaving artist free to express themselves and judge their work with your own personal sensitivity, we try to codify what must be written and what not, using a unit of measurement that it is impossible to define in exact ways.
Worst, what happens when this code of conduct is put in the hands of editors that can be easily become paranoid about a probable rush of reproach in social media.

With this post I'd like to promote a collective reflection about this issue and hope that this trying is done in an acceptable mean by forum admin and staff.

I know that the topic is sensitive, many times has happened that trying to promote this reflection in another threads I end up with a warning, so I trust in your intelligence to avoid provocations or blatant trolling.

My two cent about the whole "sensitive code" issue is that is intrinsically flawed because it aims to prevent the interpretation of writings. Unlike allegory, which is in the intentions of an author, interpretation is in the mind of the reader. Too many times people assume that their interpretation of writings is a voluntarly allegory done by the author.

Let me give you an example: Lord of The Rings in the '70 in Italy was simultaneously the manifesto of extreme right and extreme left political movement. What if an editor, worried about possible interpretation of the readers, had tryied to prevent both tendencies at the same time? He would ultimately end up with a tremendous headache, at least.

Who can onestly proclaim to be able to pose a limit or express a code of conduct about that? How to avoid drifting toward editorial paranoia?
 
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You're worried about this in terms of moderation of posts on EN World? Or literary critique of fiction?
Is a fact that is very easy to slip into warnings talking about this. And maybe for my bad english (I have to go to online translators a lot to barely touch what I really want to say in Italian) it is extremely difficult to me to not being misunderstood. Moreover, there are cultural difference between the way we write: we are very crude and direct in respect to you english or americans.
I'm really sorry because is frustrating not to be able to put in words what one is thinking.
Given that, I'm really concerned about the whole sensitive writing issue. And more I'm concerned about the easyness by which it is taken as an obviously and desiderable thing to do with even feel the big side effects and implications.
And I feel that in the shoes of a father of two sons, voracious book reader, without any interest to pass my time trolling on internet.
 

Ryujin

Adventurer
The written word, and even films, will always be seen through the lens of the person consuming the media. Authors/writers may put many layers into their works, shadowing history or current events, or they may simply provide scenes to be viewed as they're written, with the consumer reading into them things that were never intended. Which brings to mind:

 

In relation to other topics we've discussed in the forums on the topic of 'sensitivity' and being 'censored', one thing I would like to point out is there are many ways and places to publish. If I recall correctly, Henry David Thoreau self-published back in his Walden days - and immediately tried to get as many copies back as he could. In America, it is easy (relatively) to get published. What is NOT easy is to get distribution and be a best-seller.

I apologize if this isn't helping you understand. I am trying to remember you're not a native-English speaker, and things can be lost in translation.

Let's say I want to write a book for tabletop RPGs. Let's say I don't want to use a system - I want to write just a generic world setting. I have options.

If I self-publish, with no mechanics, I can write anything I want, regardless if it's a 'sensitive topic'. The consumer gets to decide if they want to buy it.

If I am writing for a company, it depends on my contract with that company. (Not a lawyer, so I think I'm generally correct) I submit my work, and they read it and suggest any changes. If they like it, they publish it and make most of the money. If they don't like it and don't like my rewrites for any reason, they don't publish it.
 

The written word, and even films, will always be seen through the lens of the person consuming the media. Authors/writers may put many layers into their works, shadowing history or current events, or they may simply provide scenes to be viewed as they're written, with the consumer reading into them things that were never intended. Which brings to mind:

Benny Hill! The best.

One of the most quoted semiotics, Umberto Eco, said that bestsellers are bestsellers because they are "ramshackable". He means that the story has many level of interpretation and all written in a proper way, those ending in embrace a very large part of the public taste and cultural levels.
He was so confident and skilled in writing structures to prove his theory writing down "The Name of the Rose". A book written exactly with this theory in mind, that can be red by all sort of people despite their cultural level and social extraction without being boring. This is a feature of all classic books and multilayer texts are the key to success.
Now, keeping on pushing to avoid (bad) interpretation, the texts risk to become flat.
Back to your video, there is a difference: benny hill seems to give more value to the Chabrol opus than what the same Chabrol admit. This is a case that make us laugh because the inversion is unharmful. At least benny will be a little disappointed but nothing more than this.
But what starts the editor wild scissors is the negative interpretation, that is as arbitrary as the good can be, or even more.
Finally, the scissors starts before the bad interpretation come out, so are predictive scissors... even more wild.
Don't you feel a subtle feel of intellectual mortification in all this? For writers, blocked. For readers, deprived by the freedom of interpretation because feeded with defused writings, without any depth.
The only visible result for me from using "sensitive advisor" in all this years is simply to have seen a lot of gay people and minorities people placed in stories "just because".
I find it more humiliating than not to be present at all.
But I have also to be honest and say that in 25 years the behaviour toward gay is changed in Italy. Not so changed to see a man hand in hand with another on the street, but less prejudice is showed. And I'm sure a part of this is due to including gay in films and talk openly about. What I found wrong is the attitude to include these themes without nothing in the economy of the story that requested it. This stinks a lot.
 
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Ryujin

Adventurer
Benny Hill! The best.

One of the most quoted semiotics, Umberto Eco, said that bestsellers are bestsellers because they are "ramshackable". He means that the story has many level of interpretation and all written in a proper way, those ending in embrace a very large part of the public taste and cultural levels.
He was so confident and skilled in writing structures to prove his theory writing down "The Name of the Rose". A book written exactly with this theory in mind, that can be red by all sort of people despite their cultural level and social extraction without being boring. This is a feature of all classic books and multilayer texts are the key to success.
Now, keeping on pushing to avoid (bad) interpretation, the texts risk to become flat.
Back to your video, there is a difference: benny hill seems to give more value to the Chabrol opus than what the same Chabrol admit. This is a case that make us laugh because the inversion is unharmful. At least benny will be a little disappointed but nothing more than this.
But what starts the editor wild scissors is the negative interpretation, that is as arbitrary as the good can be, or even more.
Finally, the scissors starts before the bad interpretation come out, so are predictive scissors... even more wild.
Don't you feel a subtle feel of intellectual mortification in all this? For writers, blocked. For readers, deprived by the freedom of interpretation because feeded with defused writings, without any depth.
The only visible result for me from using "sensitive advisor" in all this years is simply to have seen a lot of gay people and minorities people placed in stories "just because".
I find it more humiliating than not to be present at all.
But I have also to be honest and say that in 25 years the behaviour toward gay is changed in Italy. Not so changed to see a man hand in hand with another on the street, but less prejudice is showed. And I'm sure a part of this is due to including gay in films and talk openly about. What I found wrong is the attitude to include these themes without nothing in the economy of the story that requested it. This stinks a lot.
Or hiring Sensitive Readers can assist you with including people, in your story, who are different to yourself without falling into tropes and stereotypes of the people depicted. I may know people who have different national origins, cultural backgrounds, or sexuality than myself, but I don't know how to depict those people properly, because I don't have the necessary depth of understanding of their lives. If I want to depict such people well, then the assistance of those with such world experience is a necessary thing. I can either spend days, months, years gaining that knowledge, which may still be imperfect, or I can ask. It can add a great deal of depth to literature, rather than subtracting from it.

And, ultimately, the creator doesn't have to take that advice if they don't want to. I don't know why they wouldn't want to at least consider assistance from a subject matter expert, but they can choose not to. The authors I know choose to employ such readers/editors, in addition to simple proof readers, and I see nothing in their works suffering from the practice.
 

Zardnaar

Legend
Gonna be boring if it keeps up. Some things are deliberately offensive such as satire.

Otherwise it depends on what you're writing and why I suppose. A lot of books are going to fail all sorts of purity tests.

I don't think most people care anyway really bigger things to worry about.

In Lots of things to consider as well such as nuance.

If it keeps up I think you'll just get less variety as people will just draw in their own back grounds rather than risk getting ripped apart on social media.
 

Or hiring Sensitive Readers can assist you with including people, in your story, who are different to yourself without falling into tropes and stereotypes of the people depicted. I may know people who have different national origins, cultural backgrounds, or sexuality than myself, but I don't know how to depict those people properly, because I don't have the necessary depth of understanding of their lives. If I want to depict such people well, then the assistance of those with such world experience is a necessary thing. I can either spend days, months, years gaining that knowledge, which may still be imperfect, or I can ask. It can add a great deal of depth to literature, rather than subtracting from it.

This is indeed the perfect case. Every tool is very good in doing one job, if used in the correct way. Thought, in last instance, I definitely prefer to read what the author wants to write, without mediation. I can accept it if the need of SR is an author instance, not an editorial one.

And, ultimately, the creator doesn't have to take that advice if they don't want to. I don't know why they wouldn't want to at least consider assistance from a subject matter expert, but they can choose not to. The authors I know choose to employ such readers/editors, in addition to simple proof readers, and I see nothing in their works suffering from the practice.

Because you are referring to authors that recognize the need to have SR near them. But devil is in the details: the problem is when an author doesn't have enough leverage to impose his view (not every author is ken follett or stephen king) against an editor choosen SR.
And you must consider that the more an issue (racial, gender, cultural and so on) is cogent in daily chronicles, the more editors will become paranoic to that issue, until the point to censor all text no matter how tangential they are to the issue.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Thought, in last instance, I definitely prefer to read what the author wants to write, without mediation

I spoke with a friend who is a professional editor before responding to this.

First off, authors who get printed without editing are rare. You don't see much professional writing without editorial input.

Editors typically give advice. The text typically goes from author, to editor, back to author, with several rounds of this, and then on to printing*. Generally, authors don't let editor's changes go to press without their permission and agreement.

A good editor has also discussed the piece with the author, so they have a feeling for the author's desires and goals. So, the result should still be what the author wants to write, but improved to meet the desired goals.

So, what you are getting isn't "mediation". It is "with expert advice."




*Editing in journalsm can be a bit different, as when timeliness matters they may not be able to have time-consuming back-and-forth, but that's a special case.
 

Mercurius

Legend
I think what Stefano is talking about is not the normal editorial process, which you describe accurately, but that extra layer of sensitivity reading.
 


Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
I think what Stefano is talking about is not the normal editorial process, which you describe accurately, but that extra layer of sensitivity reading.

Do you think the sensitivity reader gets to make changes to the text that won't be approved by the author?

If not, there's no real difference. The author gets to think about the proposed changes, and accept, reject, or otherwise rewrite to meet the same need. The result is still something that author wants to say.
 

Do you think the sensitivity reader gets to make changes to the text that won't be approved by the author?
No, I believe that an author can be forced to change the text. But worst, an author can be paralyzed by the fear of social media reproach, because even if he doesn't write an allegory, no matter the intentions, he can be targeted.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
No, I believe that an author can be forced to change the text.

Generally not. If the author really doesn't want to make a change, they cannot be forced to publish it.

An exception to this would be "work for hire", but then the author has willingly entered into an agreement in which they will relinquish rights to the work. Having relinquished the rights, they don't get to determine its ultimate fate, but they also don't bear much responsibility for it, either.

But worst, an author can be paralyzed by the fear of social media reproach, because even if he doesn't write an allegory, no matter the intentions, he can be targeted.

That is an entirely different subject. Ultimately, every right comes with responsibilities. Fail in your responsibilities, there may be consequences.
 
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Ryujin

Adventurer
Generally not. If the author really doesn't want to make a change, they cannot be forced to publish it.

An exception to this would be "work for hire", but then the author has willingly entered into an agreement in which they will relinquish rights to the work. Having relinquished the rights, they don't get to determine its ultimate fate, but they also don't bear much responsibility for it, either.



That is an entirely different subject. Ultimately, every right comes with responsibilities. Fail in your responsibilities, there may be consequences.
The "work for hire" thing is certainly one case in which an author could be forced to comply with such demands. An author who is trying to be published by one of the large publishing houses could refuse, with the penalty being not being published, but still has other options.

The second instance that comes to mind, with respect to being 'forced' to make such changes, would be when the author is playing in the 'sandbox' of someone else. For example; writing fiction set in one of the D&D universes, Shadowrun's setting, etc.. This would either be work for hire or, as in the case of the current lawsuit between WotC/Hasbro and the creators of the Dragonlance setting, by contractual agreement for licensing.

 

Mercurius

Legend
Do you think the sensitivity reader gets to make changes to the text that won't be approved by the author?

If not, there's no real difference. The author gets to think about the proposed changes, and accept, reject, or otherwise rewrite to meet the same need. The result is still something that author wants to say.
I think authors can face immense pressure, and there may even be cases where a publisher (or licenser, ahem) terminates a deal because the authors didn't make as many changes as asked. Or a person's livelihood is threatened or destroyed because of something they said or did, even if in the distant past.
No, I believe that an author can be forced to change the text. But worst, an author can be paralyzed by the fear of social media reproach, because even if he doesn't write an allegory, no matter the intentions, he can be targeted.
Yes, this is huge. Like the Zhao case. I can't imagine how awful that experience must have been, especially for a young person with her first book deal.
Generally not. If the author really doesn't want to make a change, they cannot be forced to publish it.

An exception to this would be "work for hire", but then the author has willingly entered into an agreement in which they will relinquish rights to the work.



That is an entirely different subject. Ultimately, every right comes with responsibilities. Fail in your responsibilities, there may be consequences.
The last part is...odd. What is the author's responsibility to the twitter mob? Most of the offense taken is by a small group of people who complain loudly on social media. The vast majority of people, as far as I can tell, just want to read good stories (or hear jokes, look at art, etc).

And it isn't an entirely different subject - it is all under the purview of Stefano's original post, and questions around artistic freedom. Essentially we're in a situation where a group of people want to censor and cancel--or at least loudly complain about--art to a degree that can be prohibitive to free expression and enjoyment of artistic media. What I find worrisome is that it is based upon an ideological interpretation, and often assumptions about the artist's intention.

A rather silly example, but one that hopefully gets across the point, is let's say I am offended by the color red, whether due to a personal experience or some other reason. You own a shop and decorate it in red; I walk in and am triggered and complain. What to do? Should you re-decorate, even if red is crucial to the atmosphere you're trying to create? Or should I exercise my own freedom and simply not go to your shop? Or perhaps, even, come to terms with red and realize that it isn't a personal threat and I can enjoy your shop despite it?

Add in a sensitivity reader (or decorator!). Maybe you hire someone who says that a few people will be offended, but most won't mind. You have to make a choice - but it is your choice. Maybe it would be nice of you to try to find colors that don't offend anyone (although if there are people who have a problem with red, there are probably people who have a problem with blue). But at some point, shouldn't we protect your right to create the kind of atmosphere that you want, that fits your creative vision? People can complain, but should they have a say in whether you re-decorate or not? They don't have to go into the shop (or buy the book).

Of course there are cases where it isn't red but, let's say, pictures of mutilated animals in the window. A community has the right to complain (I think). So obviously there is a spectrum as to the nature of what "red" is. I don't think it should be decided by a relatively small group who happens to complain loudly, but unfortunately that seems to be what happens a lot of the time.

I personally am great concerned with artistic freedom. If we start censoring what our artists can say, we run the risk of a kind of fascism, even if the intentions are benign. Numerous authors and stories have warned us of such artistic censoring and ideological narrowing (e.g. Orwell's 1984 and Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451), but for whatever reason some aren't able to make the connection, perhaps because such fictional stories are far more extreme than the current reality. But the slope is slippery indeed (and please, don't cite The Slippery Slope Fallacy! I'm aware of it, but not only are slippery slopes a real phenomena, but citing fallacies don't always negate the point being made...that must be a fallacy of some kind, or should be! ;)).
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
The "work for hire" thing is certainly one case in which an author could be forced to comply with such demands. An author who is trying to be published by one of the large publishing houses could refuse, with the penalty being not being published, but still has other options.

Yep. The fact that you have written (or in general, created) a thing does not entitle you to use of any particular platform for its distribution.

The second instance that comes to mind, with respect to being 'forced' to make such changes, would be when the author is playing in the 'sandbox' of someone else. For example; writing fiction set in one of the D&D universes, Shadowrun's setting, etc.. This would either be work for hire or, as in the case of the current lawsuit between WotC/Hasbro and the creators of the Dragonlance setting, by contractual agreement for licensing.
Yes, fair point. But, again, the author has in this case willfully entered into this contractual agreement, which means you have responsibilities per that agreement. And you don't get to dodge the consequences should you fail in those responsibilities.

There seems to be a theme. :)
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
I think authors can face immense pressure, and there may even be cases where a publisher (or licenser, ahem) terminates a deal because the authors didn't make as many changes as asked.

Yeah. See above. The act of creation does not, in and of iself, entitle you to someone else's financial risk and/or investment to distribute the thing.

The last part is...odd. What is the author's responsibility to the twitter mob?

"The twitter mob," as you put it, is the public you were hoping would consume your content! They are your customers! You figure a producer does not have responsibilities to their customers? "I want your money and adulation, but no backtalk, you hear me!" is not a viable position.

In the US, you live with nearly 330 million other human beings. You don't get to reap the benefits of that, but not have responsibilities with respect to the others around you.
 

Ryujin

Adventurer
Yep. The fact that you have written (or in general, created) a thing does not entitle you to use of any particular platform for its distribution.


Yes, fair point. But, again, the author has in this case willfully entered into this contractual agreement, which means you have responsibilities per that agreement. And you don't get to dodge the consequences should you fail in those responsibilities.

There seems to be a theme. :)
Indeed. As I frequently like to say, "Freedom of expression is not freedom from consequence."
 

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