This is the eighth, and final, segment in a series of articles in which author Steven Erikson deconstructs, paragraph by paragraph, an excerpt from his most recent novel Forge of Darkness.
Every artist was haunted by lies. Every artist fought to find truths. Every artist failed. Some turned back, embracing those comforting lies. Others took their own lives in despair. Still others drank themselves into the barrow, or poisoned everyone who drew near enough to touch, to wound. Some simply gave up, and wasted away in obscurity. A few discovered their own mediocrity, and this was the cruelest discovery of all. None found their way to the truths.
With these lines the artist (as artist) is described, and once again we can, if we choose, shift worlds, since all the examples noted can be found here, and in our history. This blurring is extended in the next paragraph.
If he lived a handful of breaths from this moment, or if he lived a hundred thousand years, he would fight – for something, a truth, that he could not even name. It was, perhaps, the god behind the gods of colour. The god that offered both creation and recognition, that set forth the laws of substance and comprehension, of outside and inside and the difference between the two.
Here I make the closest connection to our own, monotheistic, world.
He wanted to meet that god. He wanted a word or two with that god. He wanted, above all, to look into its eyes, and see in them the truth of madness.
As an artist, I am with K here, in every way.
With brush and desire, I will make a god.
This line foreshadows K’s reappearance in the ten-volume series, which temporally occurs thousands of years later.
But in this moment, as he rode through swords of light and shrouds of shadow, upon the trail of blind savagery, Kadaspala was himself like a man without eyes.
Third time we return to those shafts of light, but now their emotional context is stark: violence (swords) and grief (shroud).
The painted face was everywhere. His fingers could not stop painting it, in the air, like mystical conjurations, like evocations of unseen powers, like a warlock’s curse and a witch’s warding against evil.
Recall K’s belief that what his fingers describe defines and shapes reality.
Fingers that could close wounds at a stroke, that could unravel the bound knots of time and make anew a world still thriving with possibilities – that could do all these things (god-like power), yet tracked on in their small scribings, trapped by a face of death.
Yet, for all that power, he is a helpless creator, and why? Because he feels.
Because the god behind the gods was mad.
Direct and logical conclusion to his thesis. The proof is on the ground all around him.
I shall paint the face of darkness. I shall ride the dead down the throat of that damned god. I, Kadaspala, now avow this: world, I am at war with you. Outside – you, outside, hear me! The inside shall be unleashed. Unleashed.
I shall paint the face of darkness. And give it a dead child’s eyes.
Because in darkness, we see nothing.
In darkness, behold, there is peace.
The section closes with K’s avowal, a reaffirmation of his role as an artist, but drawn tightly back into his own world. There can be instances where it works to keep that metafictional blurring open to close a scene, but not here. The scene has to close with a firm re-anchoring in the fictional world, and this is why “darkness” is brought to the fore. The last line is delivered (in my mind) in the bitterest tones imaginable, with thudding emphasis on the word “peace.” Because by this point, isn’t “peace” synonymous with death? And doesn’t this echo back to his opening thoughts on the gods of colour and their absence? So, K continues on his journey, but it will be into a place devoid of all colour. This too is foreshadowing.
Now, as writers you must be wondering: to what extent is this guy aware of all this stuff? I assure you that one cannot deconstruct as part of the initial creative process. No, what I’m trying to show here is how you can (and, if you work hard at it, will) reach a place where you can do this with your own work. It’s down to discovering the potential of language, and the fullest extent of your control over it as writers, and this comes from practice and lots and lots of thinking – about your creative process, about what is possible and how it might be achieved, about the effects of what you put on the page. I emphasise this last bit because it is where you will find your revelation as an artist (in this case, as a writer), your blinding moment of realization and recognition. It is, to put it bluntly, fucking breathtaking what you can do with language, and the degree to which you can set forth a sequence of words to convey and trigger psychological effects in your reader. But bear in mind, you need to free yourself first: free yourself to feel those effects. A writer who has never shed tears would have a long way to go, not just as a writer, but as a person. We cannot create from an intellectual starting point: it must be an emotional one, beginning with the impulse to create in the first place. The only role of the intellectual perspective is in the structuring and ordering (the craft) of what you’re doing. The joy lies in fusing the emotional impulse with the intellectual craft, until they exist in a seamless state.
Deconstruction exercises like this one might suggest that instinct is suspect, or unimportant. Not so. Instincts are powerful forces of recognition and reason: they just fool you into thinking they come from some formless, emotional, state of the subconscious. I would suggest the opposite: instincts know what work. Now it’s down to you to look those instincts in the eye, and work out why they want what they want.
No writing course can give you the reason for writing – the reason you possess inside. Nor should it have any business telling you what to write, or what to write about. The only thing it can do is reveal to you the tools of the craft.
As an aside, I was being groomed to begin teaching a creative writing course at a Canadian university, wherein I would teach a workshop on writing in Science Fiction and Fantasy. But then we left the country. Thinking back on it, I would probably have been the worst choice possible, as not only does my work often subvert the tropes of my chosen genre, but I also see no real distinction, in terms of craft, between all forms of fiction, and would no doubt have argued from that position, which would have made a workshop in SF and Fantasy kinda pointless, huh?
Photograph published with permission of author
Recent Steven Erikson Articles:
- Deconstructing Fiction (For Writers and Readers): Excerpt Deconstructed (8)
- Deconstructing Fiction (For Writers and Readers): Excerpt Deconstructed (7)
- Deconstructing Fiction (For Writers and Readers): Excerpt Deconstructed (6)
- Deconstructing Fiction (For Writers and Readers): Excerpt Deconstructed (5)
- Deconstructing Fiction (For Writers and Readers): Excerpt Deconstructed (4)