terça-feira, fevereiro 28, 1995

Not About Free Love: "Stranger in a Strange Land" by Robert A. Heinlein

(My first two copies of "Stranger in a Strange Land" in English; I can't seem to find my Portuguese version, the first edition I ever read of Stranger)

“Dr. Jubal Harshaw, professional clown, amateur subversive, and parasite by choice, had long attempted to eliminate “hurry” and all related emotions from his pattern. Being aware that he had but a short time left to live and having neither Martian nor Kansan faith in his own immortality, it was his purpose to live each golden moment as if it were eternity—without fear, without hope, but with sybaritic gusto.” 

In "Stranger in a Strange Land" by Robert A. Heinlein


I believe it was Spider Robinson who once wrote "There's a special word that authors use to describe someone who thinks that every character is speaking for the author himself. That word is 'idiot'. " An actor isn't the role he plays. Most people understand that. Why do they assume an author necessarily agrees with everything his characters say in his books? The trouble with trying to nail down the politics of a prolific writer of fiction is the tendency to forget that writers of fiction explore themes, not necessarily manifestos. What Heinlein set forth in any one book would have been an exploration  of one of a variety of ideas that would have informed his entire philosophy. What some critics get wrong is in forgetting that a man who writes convoluted murder plots is not in favor of murder. The great writers get out of their own heads and into someone else's. I never ascribed any particular belief to Heinlein, just as I do not ascribe any character in a movie to the actor who plays the role. It's make-believe. It's not real. Heinlein was simply a great story-teller. And he wasn't even trained as a writer. He was just trying to make some extra money. When he quit one publishing house for another, I don't think it was about standing up for what was right. He just wanted the freedom to write his books his way, without the damned censorship. What writer wants to be trapped into hackneyed themes and plots? Anyone who took or takes "Stranger in a Strange Land" to be a paean about free love doesn't really understand the written word and projected their own desires onto the page. "Thou art God" was the ultimate message and the ultimate levying of personal responsibility. And what was "Starship Troopers" but another message of being personally responsible? "Stranger in a Strange Land" is not a hippie free love "Tune in, turn on, drop out" novel. It is an examination of American culture from an alien viewpoint à la "Gulliver's travels". As such it presents important and insightful criticism of our institutions and mores. The headlines alone are worth the price of the book! People who knew Heinlein personally have stated that he was dismayed by the adoration of the hippies. But I'm not aware of a single instance where hippies got anything right. I'm not sure there's anything to "get" politically about Heinlein. His claim to fame rests on his artistry, especially in his short-fiction, not analogies to real world politics in his stories. As intriguing backdrops to his stories his governmental systems are fun but ultimately it's his ability as a story-teller in the context of speculative fiction that works. The guy had a very active and aggressive mind and that type of authority and confidence goes a long ways in fiction, especially when you can seemingly effortlessly back it up time and again. If we truly understood what makes Heinlein tick we could duplicate it, and we can't. Burroughs is the same way. For all the talk about his lack of writing skills, no one ever successfully duplicated what he did, and a lot of people tried. Heinlein was an unabashed patriot, both of the founding precepts of the United States and of the right of human beings to a Manifest Destiny among the stars. He is unapologetic about the primacy of the human species and would proudly go down fighting for it. Saving the snail darter? Not so much. And for that he will always be hated and despised. And anything taught about him must be in the worse possible light. And the thing about "Stranger In A Strange Land" is that it really shows how hard it is for people to 're-map' their language when their environment changes. "Stranger In A Strange Land" was an exploration of the issues that might arise if "the soul" was not only known to exist, but that existence was as commonplace and mundane as groceries. What happens to religion? What happens to politics, the economy, relationships and so on, when people find out 'they' are immortal, and their bodies are merely vehicles they ride in? But since he used the words church and spirit, and talked about life after 'death' people forgot that he wrote Speculative Fiction, and used his musings to justify the discarding of the morality they were raised in. Some self-professed intellectuals, standing atop the molehills of their insular knowledge, critique the world they view below them after analyzing it with less mental rigor than that employed by someone flipping through a Sears catalog while in the bathroom. It never occurs to them to look upward. If they did, they would be dismayed to learn that they in fact are far below the summit of the mountain of Philosophy. Their feelings would be further hurt to see that Heinlein is much closer to that summit. No. It's far better to preserve their sense of superiority and to be content with shooting fish in a barrel, ridiculing Southerners, Fundamentalist Christians, the Military, etc., for being "stupid" for not embracing the said self-professed intellectuals unquestioned assumptions. They dismiss (and hate) Heinlein because THEY cannot reconcile all of his ideas into a consistent whole without FIRST abandoning their own cherished mental trinkets. Thus he is (to them) "illogical". I'd say they don't grok Heinlein. I'm also not sure the Millenniums are equipped to understand "Stranger in a Strange Land" in this day and age (I might be wrong; no data to decide on it). Or maybe that's just me being my usual obnoxious self. I think they are too distant from the formative conflicts in life that were taking place at the time to have a points of reference to hang their ideas on (e.g., NASA, WW2, The Moonshots, and a world  that still contained some vestiges of hope for the future – not the belly-button-gazing, self-introspective, better-now-than-later debauchery of our current society.)