Author and Icon

I recently got the time to read the interviews Margaret Atwood had about her new novel MaddAddam that her page on Facebook added. The one that stood out for me as a rather poignant note was this article from The Guardian. Atwood says that the word ‘icon’ strikes terror; that once people put you up on some high pedestal you must then keep to their expectations.

The same could be said really, about most creative expression. How disappointed I was in the second and third Matrix films when the first was so promising. How disappointed I was in many, many squeals to excellent films and thus ruining the entire franchise for me. There are a few exceptions; The Lord of the Rings trilogy for example, was filmed simultaneously and not chronologically which may have contributed to each separate film being just as fantastic as the next. Or with Fast & Furious franchise, they lost it as soon as the producers put a second movie on the cutting room floor, yet somehow managed to pick it up and enhance it with a fourth, fifth and sixth film. Yet some films are wheedled out in such a way, by the time the fourth or fifth installment arrives, we’ve often forgot what it was that enticed us into the film to begin with (the Saw movies, really? I’m sure by now someone will have figured it out. Hint: don’t do stupid stuff).

The point I’m making is, be it your first, fourth or fortieth piece of work, your best work is  what you must live up to. Anything less than your best work could be seen as faulty, horrid, you’re losing your touch. Or so the public, critics and fans would have you believe. What else could happen in this instance? Create work that steadily improves until your very last piece which would win awards and then that’s it? Time to hang your creative hat? Can’t do any more, can’t do any less? The professional creative world doesn’t work like that. We’re not successful like children – there is always room to progress, but you won’t lose that “gold star” if you should ever do your worst. Academia is about progress, improvement and accomplishment and doing anything less than what you achieved before is treated as a step backwards – and in most cases, perhaps this is correct.

Creative professionals aren’t robots. Writer’s won’t always write their best every time – as I mention in a previous post, writing is extremely subjective and so what one person sees as great work, another might not. So why, then do we insist on putting our favourite writers, directors and artists on the proverbial pedestal, dooming them to failure should they ever step off a little – and while they desperately attempt to continue their work and experiment, we cruelly poke them with a stick and hurl questions their way: when is your next book/film out? Why haven’t you created anything in a while? Your last/best work was obviously amazing – can we expect more of the same?

Questions we all ask, and so we probably should. But our expectations shouldn’t be based on a comparative scale of their new work to their best work, but on what you know about the creator. There is no point in me recommending Alias Grace to somebody who enjoys the dystopian world in The Year of the Flood because they are completely different novels, even if by the same author. However I could, just like I found, recommend anything by Atwood to readers who understand her, the values and writing and issues she approaches in each novel, and not just the superfluous surface of a seemingly “sci-fi” based novel (the MaddAddam trilogy, as I wholeheartedly agree, is not actually science fiction but speculative fiction).

When I come to read MaddAddam as I expect to around November time after finishing The Year of the Flood I will open it with an open mind. I expect to see some cross-referencing, maybe similar or the same characters revisited. I will expect a present form of the main ideals of the trilogy, yet I also expect that I won’t see these until I finish the novel; that these ideologies will present themselves absently – hidden in subtext. I don’t however, expect to read it exactly as I read the previous two books because even though it is written by the same author they are written in a separate time, a separate space and created with separate experimentation. I know myself when I write, a month later is all the difference between two stories – not that one would be worse than the other, only different.

The creative world is full of difference. Difference is the driving force behind great literary artists, it is the catalyst for a great movie. Difference is why we are here, why we question, why we are curious. Why then, do we expect similarity in the artists we follow? Why do we expect familiarity in their work, that one novel or film is along the same lines as one we are comfortable with, one that we know well? What are the elements of great literary writing that we insist be in all works of the written page?

We all have friends or a friend that will suddenly seem to change – maybe they aren’t wanting to hang out as much, maybe they become a little angrier, a little happier, a little more or less independent. Some people adapt to this change – in fact some are there for their friend when things seem down, and congratulate them when things get better. But most people don’t. Most people dislike change; a trait that is a stranger to them, an imposter in something they relate to so well. Most people don’t accept the things that are different to their routine, however positive the change might be in their life. Most people reject this change, and so they reject people and things which do not suit what they have come to know.

But we cannot treat our artists this way. We cannot expect our favourite writers to keep being who they are, never adapting with the changing times, never voicing an opinion, never having a slip-up or mistake or mishap. Icons are still people, and should we force this title on them, it only forces us to become disappointed in what they fail to adhere to – our own bizarre and cruel rules, hopes and dreams.

Expecting an author to always come out on top is like betting on horses or taking part in the lottery – unattainable and disappointing – but occasionally someone will get what they want; what they bet would happen. Still, there is pressure to do well. Once you get that first ‘A’ in highschool everything else is a bitter disappointment, that you could have done better, should have done better because look, ma – here’s the proof!

The better expectation is only in hope – a hope that things will be great, that a novel will not disappoint – but also a realistic optimism. That sometimes, authors don’t get it right. That sometimes, what they do write won’t be something that suits you. Author’s make mistakes, but it’s our job as the readers to strip away the title of ‘icon’ and replace it with positive encouragement – that it’s okay to fail, even if you’re not supposed to.



Snippet: I will be reviewing each book in Maragert Atwood’s trilogy MaddAddam in due course. Watch this blog! (And please follow for updates! ^_^)


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