Which probably explains why he wrote this.
I was writing a piece about this generation gap thing and how it was affecting conventions, but Paul trumped that with his cri-de-coeur to the guttersnipes (all apparently eager to display their generational penchant for jumping on bandwagons and shouting ‘me too’, and all while probably having little or no idea what he was talking about; gotta get that E-egoboo, right?).
Let’s conveniently ignore the fact that every ‘old’ generation has lamented the existence of the ‘new’ generation ever since there has been more than one generation. Let’s get past the hurtful and completely ineffective shouts of “you’re old and slow” and “you’re young and ignorant” and drill right down into the heart of the matter.
Jessup is wrong and Ellison is right.
Ellison isn’t right because he’s old, successful and has three-quarters of a century of experience under his belt. Jessup isn’t wrong because he’s young, inexperienced and prone to unthinking youthful exuberance. Not at all. The merits of this argument rest on logic and not chronology.
Jessup starts his piece by saying he enjoys “reading some of the older books on SF, like Dangerous Visions, cause it talks about how the old guard back in the day welcomed the younger writers and their revolution, and even though they disagreed with them, still read them…”
Right there you know he’s off on the wrong foot – or didn’t read Harlan’s introduction carefully enough. Not surprising since lack of comprehension is one of those charges levelled at youth. If you look at the TOC of DV, all you’ll see are so-called ‘old guard’ authors. The old guard was at least half responsible for the new wave once Ellison (and Moorecock in the UK) opened up the door.
Del Rey, Silverberg, Pohl, Farmer, deFord, Bloch, Aldiss, Dick, Niven, Lieber, Anderson, Bunch, Emshwiller, Knight, Sturgeon, Slesar, Sladek, Neville, Lafferty, Ballard, Brunner, Laumer, Spinrad, Spinrad, Zelazny, Delany.
Hoary old goat-bearded men and women all.
That’s ok. Jessup wasn’t born until a decade after DV came out and the fact that it was written by a bunch of old fogies (Ellison and Asimov included) just damns the thing even more, dontchya know.
He then references Ellison’s recent comments in the Toronto Sun and says “I want to know-who are we talking about here? What, you’re mad that a classroom full of college graduates haven’t read a book of fairy tales? Oh gosh! Oh noes! Yet, I bet every one of them could tell you what a Foucault’s Pendulum is.”
Yes. I’m as mad as Ellison is about that because my generation of college students and Ellison’s generation of college students and his father’s generation of college students knew both the fable AND what the pendulum was all about. They also read Poe’s The Pit and the Pendulum, knew where Pitcairn Island is and could point it out on a map. They didn’t publicly express their joy of being ignorant but went to the Library and looked it up so they’d no longer be ignorant. (I’ll take that bet, btw. I bet that two-thirds or more of them never heard of Foucault and have never seen one knocking over little pins, unless it was on YouTube.)
And, before I forget (which I’m prone to do because, you know, I’m old), Ellison wasn’t attacking Science Fiction or Science Fiction writers with those comments, so much as he was attacking the audience – “So, for a writer, the problem becomes: Do you write at the peak of your abilities and the highest peak of good grammar, using the precise word, and lose half your audience, many of whom will say: ‘What a smartass, using all them big words!’?
“Or do you continue to lower the bar and continue to keep writing down to the level that you think is going to be receivable by your audience?”
– an audience that includes those college students who had no right to be in college, let alone be graduates and, no doubt, are as blissfully ignorant of Science Fiction as they are of fables.
Jessup then launches into an attack on Ellison’s writing and eventually Ellison’s entire career. This is, of course, a strawman argument because Ellison’s career has nothing whatsoever to do with the comments Ellison made about the current generation. (Other than the fact that Ellison’s success gives him a bully pulpit and gets him more attention from the press than most old fogies receive.)
Like Jessup wanted us to, we’ll ignore the glaring fact that Ellison’s work has remained ‘contemporary’ and has been embraced and sought after by many of ‘this generations’ ground breakers (Babylon 5, Masters of SF, Dream Corridor, adaptations to film and even electronic games), because otherwise we’d have the problem of explaining why someone who remains relevant 50 years after he started writing would say the things he does about the current generation.
Jessup then puts down the ‘new wave’ as mostly irrelevant, while saying this “I appreciate the New Wave, Dangerous Visions, and etc, for paving the way for what I write, but then again, at the same time, they like to toot their horn a little too much.”
Two things about this statement yank my chain. This is biting the hand that’s fed, clothed, housed and nurtured you before you were even walking the planet, have some respect.
And don’t you think it’s just a bit disingenuous to condemn the older generation for doing exactly the same thing you are? Isn’t this the age of electronic self-promotion? Aren’t we all supposed to be enabled and empowered these days? Or is Jessup saying that now is the time for a kiddie swim, all the adults out of the pool?
Jessup wants to have this argument with Ellison both ways – the old guard isn’t allowed to defend themselves because they’re the old guard.
But nothing he says can erase the monumental contributions those authors, including Ellison, have made in shaping the genre as it is today. You can ignore and belittle them as much as you want to, but the hard fact remains that what you are doing today is based, at least in part, on what they did yesterday (and in many cases they will still be doing tomorrow).
No surprise we’re hearing this kind of thing as the gen-gap wars heat up. After half a century or more you get used to listening to irrational exuberance from the kiddies. Funny thing is, they never seem to realize that all too soon, they’re going to find themselves on the other side of that divide.