Bagoum Literature Club

The Insulting Narcissism of Re:"Creators"

07 March, 2018 ~ ElDynamite ~ Anime

In seeking to discuss the way we as a society approach literature, Re:Creators chooses to emphasize the position of, as one may hazard to guess, the author. Yet this devolves quickly into a system of narcissitic self-flattery, in which singular authors conceptualize rich texts, and readers are left to passively consume them like feelies, without interaction or imagination. These outdated ideas were tossed aside early in the 20th century-- and it's a shame to see modern literature so confidently peddling them.

Ambiguity and Objectivity

A critical characteristic of language is that it is arbitrary. The meaning of any word is dependent only on social convention; words have meaning as they are used, and lack meaning as they are not used. As a result, communication also becomes arbitrary: the meaning of a phrase can only be understood in terms of social convention, rather than the metaphysical dictionary which objectively details the meaning of every phrase.

This acknowledgement is critical because it allows us to make better sense of literature. Specifically, it forces us to acknowledge that we cannot arrive at an objective reading of any literary work. How people read a work will invariably vary based on their experiences, circumstances, and differing conceptions of linguistic conventions.

Given that literature is simply a form of language, and linguistic meaning is dependent on social convention, it thus arises that literary meaning is dependent on how a work is read. Due to arbitrariness, the words on the page themselves have no meaning outside of their interaction with readers. What this most critically implies is that the author is not the ultimate arbitrator of the work-- it is everyone else, the societal body, the readers who analyze and imagine the literary world.

This fairly basic tenet of literary theory comes into radical conflict with Re:Creator's focus on the influence of authors. On a basic level, it conflicts with the obsessive focus on authors and their perfect conviction in their knowledge of the characters. Don't forget the diction involved-- authors are literally "gods" who give birth to alternate universes, whereas readers are opinion polls. Not once does the show deign to impute any imagination to the readers; rather, they are simply passive spectators. In Re:Creators, authors contrive the settings of the world and have absolute knowledge of the personalities of the characters within it, whether that come in the form of Suruga's manipulation of Blitz Talker which she describes as godlike, or Takarada's unshakeable conviction in the justness of Aliceteria despite all concurrent evidence to the contrary.

But what if they're wrong? What if the collective consciousness perceives those characters differently? These critical questions are never asked due to the show's axiomatic belief in the omniscience and omnipotence of the creator, the God, with regards to the literary world. A person who cannot even understand their own universe thinks to perfectly understand the actions of another! This attitude seems somewhat dated in an age of science where we can conclusively show there are things we cannot know-- whether it be in terms of uncertainty or incompleteness.

And the readers are your mindless believers.

Not Quite Accurate

This conflict also opens up glaring gaps in the story with regards to the key characters of Altair and the specter of Setsuna. Ironically so, for Altair is the only literary work in the story which one may argue has been redefined by the readership.

"Why is Altair resentful?" Altair's resent drives the entire plot, so it certainly must be well-founded. However, none of the online media containing Altair depicts her as particularly angry, nor do they contain any references to Setsuna. Thus, it makes utterly no sense that Altair would be resentful towards a world which was hostile to her author. (They also do not contain references to Souta, so she has no reason to recognize him either.) The spectre of Setsuna claimed that she wrote Altair with resentment-- but we have no reason to believe that anyone read Altair as resentful, and thus no reason to believe that an incarnation of Altair should be resentful. The only possible justification for this setup is that the collective perception of Altair is subservient to the metaphysical resentment imbued in her by a single dead person.

Likewise, the spectre of Setsuna has too many characteristics for a small and weakly defined character. I do not doubt that Souta may have conceived of her death and her feelings while writing his little pieces-- but with only a post hoc indication of what he did, and no information at all about how he did it, I wouldn't suppose that all that information was perceived by the collective readership, or even contained in his short omake. (This touches on a significant problem with the climax of the story-- none of the deus ex machinas at the end are explained, so one can only assume the laziest possible explanation.) The spectre of Setsuna thus relies once agian on the all-powerful hidden ideals of the author.

A Dictatorial Collective

This is not to say that the show is utterly ignorant of the author-reader dynamic. It makes some concessions-- for example, anyone may contribute to Altair's powers, and viewer approbation is the key to making changes to a work. Yet in a show which treats readers as little more than sheep waving glow sticks and authors as masterminds trying to change the world, this rings like a bread-and-circuses dynamic between a singular plutocracy and a vast array of stupid plebians. They even have live opinion polls to let them know when their superficial spin-off collection isn't working too well at placating the masses as they quietly spread their ingenious plan to save the world.

Fitting its title, in the world of Re:Creators, the authors are the only agents. They construct their works with certain settings, and then hand them down as incontrovertible laws of nature. The readers may accept or reject those works, as a kitten may accept or reject the cheap cat food you bought to cut costs this month.

Here is where the show fails: it is not the authors who create, and it is not their feelings that are important. Insofar as we discuss literary worlds as the product of a collective consciousness, they may exist only as dictated by that collective consciousness. For all its emphasis on collective approbation, the show completely misunderstands the meaning of "collective", choosing instead to frame the readership as ultimately subservient to the Platonic ideal of the author's thoughts.

Once again, consider all the people who added to Altair's abilities. None of them had any intention of imputing misanthropic resentment to Altair, and none of their depictions could be characterized as such. There is only one person who may have conceived of Altair as resentful-- that is the dead Setsuna. To erase the attitudes of all the readers and secondary authors who conceived of Altair in order to rather focus obsessively on the whims of the deceased is the very height of authorial narcissism.

"Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds."

Wrapping Up

We create words by ascribing them meaning, corrupting them, reviving them, and eventually leaving them to wither and die in a cycle much like life. We treat stories the same way: we retell them with different viewpoints, reread them with different attitudes, and create a vast web of signification that may span millenia before disappearing in the nights of time or the libraries of Babel.

In fact, many of our stories are at heart simply retellings of other stories. The universality of the hero's journey or the uncanny similarities between religious tales point to a system of literary worlds that is much more intertwined than an interfranchise battle royale would imply. And who may dictate the nature of the hero's journey? The neanderthal who "invented" it so many thousands of years ago, or the billions of us who reread and rewrite it every day with our own experiences in a changing world?

Re:Creators sets the discussion about literature off on the wrong foot. Its perspective of literary worlds as watches crafted by ingenious authors is not only incorrect, it's boring. "Ingest media as the author intends, give it a thumbs up or thumbs down, and know that if you ever make a derivative work, it'll only ever be a footnote on the glorious original." This is the insidious Brave New World conformity being peddled, a system where the dynamicism of literature only exists in the minds of the singularities. In the end, this show wants you to be nothing but an opinion poll or a power-up-- and I take that as an insult.