Sunday, October 21, 2007

So, we got into a discussion about whether or not Dumbledore is gay last night. My sister-in-law, the German lit professor, doesn't think it's 'textually supported.' Which I think is a load of hooey. Speaking as a writer (albeit a so-far unpublished writer, but a writer nonetheless), my point of view is that Mrs. Rowling, as the author, knows far more about the universe that she's created than anyone else. And just because there was no reason inherent in Harry Potter's story to reveal Dumbledore's sexuality, that doesn't mean that that's not a part of that character's makeup or background. Writers write all sorts of backstories all the time that don't end up in the actual story, for whatever reason. Most often because the backstory they write is irrelevant to the story they're trying to tell. But that doesn't mean that backstory doesn't exist or might somehow be relevant to the story of that character. In Harry Potter, obviously, no matter how important Dumbledore was, it was not the story of Dumbledore. It was the story of Harry Potter. I'm sure there's loads more about other characters that we don't know, simply because it wasn't important to telling Harry's story.

Anyway, my two cents worth, as an unpublished author. It's Mrs. Rowling's world, and whatever she says, goes. Also, she's not dead yet, and I'm sure we're not done reading stories set in that world.

In other news, and this is probably only of real interest to Mike (Hey, Mike, remember our Phonon Sounds idea? How about mailing each other a portable hard drive back and forth to each other? We could come up with some crazy sounds in no time, a few months tops. Let me know what you think.) and a few others, I've been producing (or attempting to) some psytrance, after seeing Goa Gil the other weekend. One of the techniques I've hit upon for making some very cool glitchy textures is to take an analoguish synth lead, any source, could be a VSTi, could be my Roland Juno 6, and then running it through 2 instances of Glitch, set to random, and then through some modulations/phasing/flanging and some delays. The result is always interesting.

Oh yeah, Phil Fucking Collins. This is some music made by taking Phil Collins songs and sonically deconstructing them. Very interesting. Compelling, in fact.

Playing with Jack this morning:

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Blogger jjm said...

He is such a doll! It's amazing how one person can look so much like two others, I know, I know... genetics... but it's still cool. Hope to see all of you soon!

9:16 AM  
Blogger Melissa said...

Cutie patootie

10:11 AM  
Blogger The Duke of Arkansas said...

Peter, I've not read the Potter books, nor seen most of the movies so I have no say (or interest) in the Dumbledore matter, but I find it somewhat amusing that you're arguing for the importance of the creator's intent given some of the discussions that we've had on Mike's blog, such as your comment:
"Art is a perceptual/aeshtetic shift that can and often does exist apart from intent, object, place, social context or economic context. Which makes it so much more than merely crafting possibly aesthetically pleasing objects with learned skill."

11:38 AM  
Blogger Peter said...

Wes, I think both statements are true. Interpretation is open to... well... interpretation. I'll give you that.

But when we're talking about a written work of art, especially a novel, things have much less ambiguity than a piece of music or a work of modern sculpture or painting, just by its very nature. And therefore there is much less room to craft your own interpretation.

I think, though the novel is an artform, it's profoundly different from, say, the sculptural assemblages of the artist Sarah Sze, or the abstract expressionist works of Jackson Pollock. Apples and oranges.

A narrative form, such as a story, is an exercise in world building not unlike, in some ways, GMing a roleplaying game. The author may require certain things to exist to get to the story they have to tell, certain things that the reader may not be made aware of. Of course, some of those decisions could be arbitrary.

Of course, someone could choose to interpret Harry Potter in such a way that JK Rowling's pronouncements about Dumbledore could be ignored. In that reader's imagination (you could call them a 'strict reader', if you want) the only source for interpreting the narrative would be the books themselves. I'm not saying they're wrong. I'm just saying that maybe they're missing something by not paying attention to what the author is saying about a character.

Of course, the works of Rowling exist apart from her own intent. But the author's intent can't simply be ignored. It has to be balanced in any reading of her works.

4:52 PM  
Blogger Peter said...

And you should read the books.

4:53 PM  
Blogger Peter said...

Jessica and Melissa:

He is cute, isn't he? He's been laughing at pictures of Kathleen and Collin and Sophia and his Gramma and Grampa. It's so sweet. He sees pictures of them in the living room and he smiles and laughs this really cute laugh.

5:22 PM  
Blogger The Duke of Arkansas said...

Peter, so as to the argument that it is not "textually supported" that Dumbledore is gay, do you think it's "a load of hooey" because it IS textually supported that Dumbledore is gay? Or is it that you think that looking to the text itself is bunk? If the latter is the case then is there no point to looking at fiction with a critical eye? If the former is the case then you and your sister-in-law can have a back and forth as to how to read the text. Though I've never read the books, I haven't heard anyone say anything along the lines of "Well, it's clear that Dumbledore is gay because in the books he..." My impression is that the books pretty much ignored the sexuality of most characters as most fantasy novels do.

I've been holding off on reading the books until they were all done and I got feedback as to whether the series ended with a similar level of quality that they started with. I'm not going to get myself in another Dark Tower situation of getting five books into a story arc to realize that the author really has no idea of what he's doing anymore. ($%#! you, Stephen King!) I'm not meaning to really argue as to Dumbledore's sexuality, but to discuss interpretation. I have gleaned enough from the movies (turns out I've seen 3 of them when I got to thinking about it), and the world's constant talking about Harry Potter that I think I got the basics down.

I do think that the author's intent can't really matter to the story if the author never put their intent into the story. If the author did want for the readers to know of their intent, but most or all of the readers fail to understand the intent, then I'd say that the author failed in their goal of expressing their intent. If Rowling always thought of Dumbledore as gay she may have found that useful to herself as she wrote the story, but if it's not actually part of the story, if it's not something in the pages of the story that the readers can discover is that really anything more than mental self-gratification on the part of the author? Dumbledore may have lacked an opposite sex love interest in the books, but if those are the grounds to declare a character's sexuality then I guess most characters are gay. From what I understand there is nothing in the books that would conflict with Rowling wanting to write another series of books about Dumbledore's gay love from the days of yore, and then Dumbledore's sexuality would be part of the story. Given that such a story would probably be bought up quickly by some I wouldn't be surprised if she did write some Dumbledore books where his sexuality came into the story. She basically gets to print money for herself these days so why not?

Rowling said recently that Dumbledore is gay, but is the Dumbledore of the books to be thought of as gay just because the author just said he was? If she had kept Dumbledore's sexuality to herself does that mean that "book Dumbledore's" character should be interpreted differently? Who knows how many other thoughts Rowling not yet expressed? What if Rowling later changes her mind? It's not uncommon for an author's intent to change during, and sometimes even after a story is written. What if while writing some books about Dumbledore she decides that her conception of him has changed to him being straight?

Tolkien thought of the orcs as descending from corrupted elves as he wrote LOTR, but later in his life decided that the orcs absolutely did not come from the elves. The text of LOTR gives some hints (and/or red herrings) as to what Tolkien was thinking at the time regarding the birth of orcs, but it is never definitive. It certainly can be interesting to know an author's thoughts as they were writing, but if they never make an impact on the story then is it really a part of the story? Rowling's conception of Dumbledore as gay may have kept him a bachelor in the books, but does that really point him out as being a gay character within the books?

To clarify, when you say " I'm not saying they're wrong." you mean that does not conflict with "Which I think is a load of hooey."? So something could be a "load of hooey" and still be right?

We should get Mike over here so that he can tell us what a load of hooey we're all full his humble opinion, of course.

11:45 AM  
Blogger Peter said...

Well, Wes, I may have overstated the load of hooie comment. I just disagree with people who don't see that Dumbledore _could_ be gay. I think if the author says a background, supporting character is really something or other, then, unless the author is messing with us, that character probably is what the author says.

Sure intent could change. Totally. But it's still important.

Also, there are plenty of other side/supporting works besides just the books themselves in the Harry Potter universe. There are two other works that are basically written as guides to magical creatures for young students at Hogwarts, and such. To basically fill in background on the world. Also, the movies.

I guess what I'm saying is there is no one way to interact with an author's world.

In fact, you're right. The books pretty much DO ignore the sexuality of all the characters, except for Harry and his immediate friends, when it impacts the story. As it probably should be.

If JK Rowling comes out and says that Cornelius Fudge, Minister of Magic, in his spare time likes to collect stamps, even though this is nowhere supported in the text, then I think that probably, in fact, at least in JK Rowling's mind and in the mind of those who listen to her own interpretation of her own works, then yes, Cornelius Fudge probably does indeed collect stamps.

I love it when an author enriches their works with more background information on characters and so on. Half the fun of a really good fantasy/sci fi series to me is the world exploration. I'm all down with irrelevant details.

2:23 PM  
Blogger mike said...

Pete, yes, I still have a Phonon directory on my computer. We definitely need to make that project work. The internet needs this thing. DJ's and producers need this thing.

As for the Rowling thing, here's what I'll say. Firstly, gotta agree with Wes, it's kinda nice to see you thinking that maybe there might be an instance where the artist's intentions supercede the audience's conclusions. Secondly, I do agree that if Rowling says he's gay then he's freaking gay. Like you say, Pete, backstory is part of a well developed world.

But thirdly, I think it is supported in the text. Part of the reason literature is literature, as in art, instead of just a bunch of quick cliff notes dryly explaining a world is that you use imagry, metaphor and even simple social clues to fathom a lot of what goes into a story.

Did Dumbledorff ever have a wife or kids? No. Any romantic backstory at all? No. Hero worship of another guy who he was bossum buddies with? Yes. Good fashion sense? Yes. Inspection into what was told about him, as well as what wasn't, definitely points in a particular direction. These clues don't mean, "omg he MUST be gay!" but they do show that the potential was certainly supported in the writing.

3:35 PM  
Blogger The Duke of Arkansas said...

Mike, when you wrote:
"Firstly, gotta agree with Wes, it's kinda nice to see you thinking that maybe there might be an instance where the artist's intentions supercede the audience's conclusions."

I'm not sure that that was exactly what I was thinking. My view is more along the lines of the author needing to make their intentions known, rather than just bouncing around in their head. The author should throw me a bone of some sort if their intention is to be known by me. Rowling has now gone beyond Dumbledore's homosexuality just being an idea in her head by making a public statement as to her intent, but does that make it a part of the story, and if so how solidly does it? People who've read the books can go back and forth, but don't forget that authors can change their intentions, or even retcon their storyline. If a retcon does occur, how much it is accepted or not is somewhat up to the audience. For an example of this think George "%$#*ing Midichlorians" Lucas. I think it's valid to retain the mystical interpretation of the Force from the original Star Wars movies, and try desparately to forget the prequels ever happened even though it is certainly Lucas' intent to have the Force scientifically explained, and it is quite arguable that the Star Wars story works much better with a mystically based Force rather than being based on space bacteria. Of course in this case I'm choosing to try to forget the prequals, but the "text" of the prequals does state midichlorians are the basis of the Force. If I were to be asked to describe in detail the entire Star Wars story in good faith to a person who'd never seen it I think I would tell them about the midichlorians, while also giving my interpretation that it's best to forget about the midichlorians from an aesthetic point of view.

In regards to your last paragraph. I don't think a lack of text that would prohibit a character being gay is quite the same as saying "the potential was certainly supported in the writing." I guess I'd be more comfortable with "the potential was certainly available in the writing."

Now if an authoer develops a kind of literary shorthand in their writings by which most or all characters who exhibit certain traits are gay, then in their subsequent works it becomes reasonable to say that "character X is gay because this is how the author describes their gay characters" without us needing further information. (And this may be the beggining of Rowling establishing such a shorthand for her writings.)

4:56 PM  
Blogger Peter said...

Another thing to keep in mind. Harry Potter, while I would argue in the end is not a children's story, it did begin that way. So any references to Dumbledore possibly being gay would certainly not show up until near the end of the series, if at all.

Also, I certainly see that it's entirely possible that in creating Dumbledore's backstory, Rowling wrote him as gay, that he fell in love with whatsisface, etc. I could also see Rowling saying 'well, this is all neat and stuff, but it's not really helping me tell Harry's story.' So the gay stuff gets cut. Or never gets really written. Whatever.


5:14 PM  
Blogger The Duke of Arkansas said...

I found the following Salon story interesting regarding the Dumbledore happenings:

From it, it appears that in one of the books there were hints that could be picked up on, but from the examples given they seem rather tame hints that are perhaps more obvious now because the author has basically told people to go look for them.

5:57 PM  
Blogger Ben said...

Never thought I'd come here for a Dumbledore debate. I have to take issue with the idea that Rowling generally ignores the sexuality of her characters. I can hardly think of a character in the whole series who wasn't married, widowed, or crushing on someone at some point. Those all reflect someone's sexuality.

2:02 AM  
Blogger Peter said...

Well, I don't know. I mean, in a direct way, we get to see Harry crush on Cho, Ron and Hermione crush on each other, and in a low key way, Harry and Ron's sister (whaserface) crush on each other.

Everything else is just kind of background. Not really 'developed' as it were. Just kind of there. Tonks and Lupin getting together kind of threw me. I didn't see that coming.

Posit the idea that perhaps the Wizarding world is just as generally unaccepting of homosexuality as the Muggle world, and you could see why, if in fact Dumbledore was gay, perhaps he chose to kind of stay a closeted 'bachelor' headmaster. I dunno. Just a thought.

Insert jokes about the English school system here.

8:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous SIL here. I don't care if Dumbledore is gay or not. It's not textually supported, though. Neither is any *ahem* alleged stamp collecting. It's kinda like when my lovely dissertation advisor would try to lecture thirty minutes past the regular three hour seminar time...each time, I would think: if it was so darned important, say it in the main part of the message. Feel free to yell at me here, since I shan't check back for awhile, as I'm happily preparing for the Great Candy Eating Holiday.

7:02 PM  

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