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Rhysling Award Discrimination - The Wordsmith's Forge — LiveJournal
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
ysabetwordsmith
ysabetwordsmith
Rhysling Award Discrimination
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ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: January 19th, 2017 09:08 pm (UTC) (Link)

Thoughts

1) Sophisticated and opaque are not necessarily the same. Some writers are very good at framing complex ideas in ways that most readers can understand, others less so. Some could write to be widely understood, but choose not to. The latter is even a hobby; druids used to sit around word-cracking until they had half a dozen or so metaphors stacked together, and you had to know all of those in order to derive the meaning.

2) In approaching the literature of another culture, it helps to work from the foundation up. That is, understand the land and its biosphere, because those form the basis of many metaphors. A kola nut reference will go right over someone's head unless they know it is small, brown, and sacred. Then it helps to know the history, because not only do writers often allude to that, it shapes many of the themes and conflicts in literature. You need familiarity with the culture in order to recognize subtle clues like how a character's clothes encode their class or other features. If you just come straight at the literature, you'll miss most or all of what gives it meaning. However, another option for understanding foreign literature is simply to look up the stuff you don't understand. You'll build up familiarity that way.

Just as one small example, hair is very political for African-American people. A character with straightened hair is probably more conventional and agreeable than someone in cornrows, and a person with natural curls or dreadlocks is considered "wild" so these styles are most often worn by the independent or rebellious personalities. Since I know this about black culture, I try to replicate the pattern in my character descriptions, without making it a direct correspondence to character traits because it isn't always. Even some black people think the arguments are stupid and say "It's just HAIR."

In Africa, of course, each tribe has its own particular styles, and these have evolved into patterns within (or across) contemporary nations. In some places a very close cap of curls is the norm; in others, more people let their hair grow out. Elaborate hairstyles -- and African hair is uniquely suited to sculpture -- are associated with high rank and/or special occasions. So that gets into the literature, and if you don't know it, you won't realize that such-and-such a style is traditionally Igbo or that seeing many women with fancy hairdos means either something is going on or you're in a place full of important people.

Hell, a lot of Americans can't wrap their heads around the fact that a dashiki isn't a dress.
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