Michael B. Duff

Lubbock's answer to a question no one asked

Mass Effect and the Objectivity of Cricket Bats

This lovely bit of dialog has been floating around my circle today, originally posted by resipisco.

It's not about the Internet, it's about writing and politics and our perceptions of both. If you're interested in writing or punditry, keep reading, and if you're not, go check out this Mass Effect trailer. It's bloody awesome.

HENRY: You're all bent.

ANNIE: You're jealous.

HENRY: Of Brodie?

ANNIE: You're jealous of the idea of the writer. You want to keep it sacred, special, not something anybody can do. Some of us have it, some of us don't. We write, you get written about. What gets you about Brodie is he doesn't know his place. You say he can't write like a head waiter saying you can't come in here without a tie. Because he can't put words together. What's so good about putting words together?

HENRY: It's traditionally considered advantageous for a writer.

ANNIE: He's not a writer. He's a convict. You're a writer. You write because you're a writer. Even you write about something, you have to think up something to write about just so you can keep writing. More well chosen words nicely put together. So what? Why should that be it? Who says?

HENRY: Nobody says. It just works best.

ANNIE: Of course it works. You teach a lot of people what to expect from good writing, and you end up with a lot of people saying you write well. Then somebody who isn't in on the game comes along, like Brodie, who really has something to write about, something real, and you can't get through it. Well, he couldn't get through yours, so where are you? To you, he can't write. To him, write is all you can do.

HENRY: Jesus, Annie, you're beginning to appall me. There's something scary about stupidity made coherent. I can deal with idiots, and I can deal with sensible argument, but I don't know how to deal with you. Where's my cricket bat?

ANNIE: Your cricket bat?

HENRY: Yes. It's a new approach. (He heads out into the hall.)

ANNIE: Are you trying to be funny?

HENRY: No, I'm serious. (He goes out while she watches in wary disbelief. He returns with an old cricket bat.)

ANNIE: You better not be.

HENRY: Right, you silly cow-

ANNIE: Don't you bloody dare-

HENRY: Shut up and listen. This thing here, which looks like a wooden club, is actually several pieces of particular wood cunningly put together in a certain way so that the whole thing is sprung, like a dance floor. It's for hitting cricket balls with. If you get it right, the cricket ball will travel two hundred yards in four seconds, and all you've done is give it a knock like knocking the top off a bottle of stout, and it makes a noise like a trout taking a fly… (He clucks his tongue to make the noise.) What we're trying to do is to write cricket bats, so that when we throw up an idea and give it a little knock, it might … travel … (He clucks his tongue again and picks up the script.) Now, what we've got here is a lump of wood of roughly the same shape trying to be a cricket bat, and if you hit a ball with it, the ball will travel about ten feet and you will drop the bat and dance about shouting 'Ouch!' with your hands stuck into your armpits. (Indicating the cricket bat.) This isn't better because someone says it's better, or because there's a conspiracy by the MCC to keep cudgels out of Lords. It's better because it's better. You don't believe me, so I suggest you go out to bat with this and see how you get on. [quoting from the play] `You're a strange boy, Billy, how old are you?'`Twenty, but I've lived more than you'll ever live.' Ooh, ouch! (He drops the script and hops about with his hands in his armpits, going `Ouch!' ANNIE watches him expressionlessly until he desists.)

ANNIE: I hate you.

HENRY: I love you. I'm your pal. I'm your best mate. I look after you. You're the only chap.

ANNIE: Oh, Hen… Can't you help?

HENRY: What did you expect me to do?

ANNIE: Well…cut it and shape it…

HENRY: Cut it and shape it. Henry of Mayfair. Look – he can't write. I would have to write it for him.

ANNIE: Well, write it for him.

HENRY: I can't.

ANNIE: Why?

HENRY: Because it's balls. Mary's part is the least of it – it's merely ham-fisted. But when he gets into his stride, or rather his lurch, announcing every stale revelation of the newly enlightened, like stout Cortez coming upon the Pacific – war is profits, politicians are puppets, Parliament is a farce, justice is a fraud, property is theft… It's all here: the Stock Exchange, the arms dealers, the press barons… You can't fool Brodie – patriotism is propaganda, religion is a con trick, royalty is an anachronism… Pages and pages of it. It's like being run over very slowly by a travelling freak show of favourite simpletons, the india rubber pedagogue, the midget intellectual, the human panacea…

ANNIE: It's his view of the world. Perhaps from where he's standing you'd see it the same way.

HENRY: Or perhaps I'd realize where I'm standing. Or at least that I'm standing somewhere. There is, I suppose, a world of objects which have a certain form, like this coffee mug. I turn it, and it has no handle. I tilt it, and it has no cavity. But there is something real here which is always a mug with a handle. I suppose. But politics, justice, patriotism – they aren't even like coffee mugs. There's nothing real there separate from our perception of them. So if you try to change them as though there were something there to change, you'll get frustrated, and frustration will finally make you violent. If you know this and proceed with humility, you may perhaps alter people's perceptions so that they behave a little differently at that axis of behaviour where we locate politics or justice; but if you don't know this, then you're acting on a mistake. Prejudice is the expression of this mistake.

ANNIE: Or such is your perception.

HENRY: All right.

ANNIE: And who wrote it, why he wrote it, where he wrote it – none of these things count with you?

HENRY: Leave me out of it. They don't count. Maybe Brodie got a raw deal, maybe he didn't. I don't know. It doesn't count. He's a lout with language. I can't help somebody who thinks, or thinks he thinks, that editing a newspaper is censorship, or that throwing bricks is a demonstration while building tower blocks is social violence, or that unpalatable statement is provocation while disrupting the speaker is the exercise of free speech… Words don't deserve that kind of malarkey. They're innocent, neutral, precise, standing for this, describing that, meaning the other, so if you look after them you can build bridges across incomprehension and chaos. But when they get their corners knocked off, they're no good any more, and Brodie knocks corners off without knowing he's doing it. So everything he builds is jerry-built. It's rubbish. An intelligent child could push it over. I don't think writers are sacred, but words are. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones in the right order, you can nudge the world a little or make a poem which children will speak for you when you're dead.

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Written by Michael B. Duff

August 2, 2007 at 10:39

Posted in Books, Games

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