|Ineke (tevere) wrote,|
Hmm. I find myself resisting the understanding that the situation is so either/or. I do indeed agree that the publishing industry pushes in a certain direction -- the white, Western understanding of the world, regardless of what the author's initial vision was (of which the whitewashed covers are an excellent example) -- but at the same time: is it not possible to write something that is 'entry-level' enough for the Western mainstream (and acceptable to publishers) and yet not offensive to those from the culture depicted? I mean, I honestly found myself-- hurt, I guess, when reading parts of those books. The part of me that rejoiced to see Chinese SFF protagonists was left disappointed and angry to see that those Chinese protagonists were not, in fact, Chinese at the core-- they were white. I felt erased, and I resented that the author apparently gets to write her version of our culture for her chosen audience. Isn't that the act of consuming our culture-- isn't that cultural appropriation? If someone is such a 'cabbage' that they're never willing enough to step outside their comfort zone, why should they get spoon-fed some version of my culture that suits them?
I feel that the people who read, say, 'Snake Agent' and are intrigued enough to learn more about the culture-- they would cope well enough with an 'entry-level' book (which for example explains terms and concepts a little more) that nevertheless remains true to the spirit of the culture it depicts. Qiu Xiaolong's series that I mentioned earlier: the books are clearly written for a Western audience -- but at the same time I felt that nothing regarding the culture itself had been compromised. The Western audience in question is understood as being not familiar with the culture, but also as being willing to learn.
I do agree that it's difficult to write about a culture that's not yours, for the mainstream audience. And I understand the additional problems that working within the American/British/Australian/etc publishing industries can cause. But I demand better than Liz Williams' efforts here. Isn't it white privilege that allows her to write a book and say, "Well, I tried-- but it's hard and the publishing industry demands a certain product. I can't please everyone"? She's writing my culture for the benefit of people in her culture, and gets to dismiss the hurt to me as unavoidable. So can we say that she's doing me a favour by broadening awareness of other cultures in the mind of the Western SFF reader -- or is she merely promoting and participating in the consumption of exoticism?
So I feel that my opinion on the question of: "Snake Agent: better than nothing?" might actually lean more towards the answer of, "No. Either try harder to find a way to present our culture to your audience in a way that is acceptable to both your publisher and to people from the culture which you are depicting, or stand aside and let someone else do it."