Line Edits and Cultural Appropriation

So, in September I managed to finish the chainsaw-hack phase of the drafting process, taking draft three down to 214,000 words, somewhere around 10% less than the first draft length. Either I’m starting to write tighter first drafts or I haven’t been viscous enough editing, I might know which in a month or two. Musical companions last month were a strange mix, I found myself looping Cherubini’s ‘Requiem’ and John Cougar Mellencamp’s (and his various incarnation’s) back catalogue; obviously early signs of mental illness.

Over 200,000 words is big for a novel I’m told, particularly a non-fantasy work. Perhaps, but I gave myself permission to go big with this one and to give it depth a shorter tome cannot deliver. On the other hand there are a large number of characters in Descent and – shock! horror! – there’s at least two more sequels in my mind, so where it lands will be interesting.

Now I’m into the line editing mode, a long and tortuous process that needs attention to detail. I always find it a painful trudge, and find I nearly have to whip myself along to get into it. Obviously worth it in the end, and in about six weeks it should be ready for the light. Aiming point is to lose another ten percent of its length, and to have it bundled up in thirty to thirty-six chapters.

In between it all I’ve been embroiled in rolling arguments over cultural appropriation; that is, the stealing or use of one culture’s symbols/icons/whatevers without their explicit permission. Came to a head with a local First Nations blow-up over someone using the patterns of dots and colors used in one particular group’s Dreaming.

Apart from copyright and IP issues (same as any artist in that respect), there’s an aspect of common courtesy that’s missing. Ask before you use I suppose. I don’t adhere to the old adage ‘imitation is the best form of flattery’, it seems to be imitation is simply ripping off someone else’s creativity or effort. But culture?

(and this is where the fighting started)

Where is the line between what’s a product of culture and what’s not? And to follow on, where’s the line that determines cultural appropriation is only an evil that gets visited on minority groups by majority groups? I admit I was feeling peevish that night, and the First Nations person on television making his argument was a slow moving target, but my difficulty remained. While he (rightly) complained of his Dreaming being co-opted, he did so wearing a rasta beanie and ankh cross. Isn’t that (I whined at the time) simply he culturally appropriating Jamaican and Ancient Egyptian culture? Did he throw a stone in a glass house? Fine, I was being a pedant, but the point is still valid. It can work both ways, so there is (as usual) no ivory tower for any of us to stand on and judge.

However, a little later on I stared wondering if cultural boundaries are actually real or imagined. As I understand it, everyone on this planet has common ancestors; and from what I’ve read the best minds on the subject consider we all came from a handful (perhaps as few as a dozen) located somewhere in the African Rift Valley. So if we’re all related, and we all have a common origin, surely culture(s) are common property; not to be abused, but to be cherished and shared as they are respected and preserved.

For me, personally, the whole argument is another reflection of the schisms and walls increasingly placed between people. Now, of all times, we should be trying to become more accepting and linked to each other, not finding ways to draw lines in the sand between us.