|Zero for Conduct|
I'm teaching three classes, one of which I've never taught before. They are Currents in Global Literature, Introduction to Film, and Outlaws, Delinquents, and Other "Deviants" in Film & Society. Let's look at them one by one...
|Zero for Conduct|
I may be overly optimistic or utterly blind, but my view of contemporary American fiction is that it is as rich as ever. Some of the best work is being written in what until recently was considered, at least among the conventional literati, genre fiction. Horror, gothic, mystery, fantasy, fabulism. There are so many stunningly original and serious writers working these fields. I have to think that anybody reading this interview would agree. Just one example, though there are many, would be Elizabeth Hand. She composes sentences of ravishing beauty. She is capable of creating metaphor systems that are so dynamic and provocative. She can turn a fictive moment that seems deeply rooted in the everyday into something that, in fact, touches upon the sublime, the miraculous. Just read her novella Cleopatra Brimstone and tell me that American fiction isn’t pulsing with life. Like I say, I could list dozens of authors here whose work I admire and follow with care and excitement. That said, I do think that much contemporary criticism is stuck in the past and that too many reviewers want those who are exploring ways to revolutionize genre to stick to the rules. I think of them as genre police. They make too many false arrests and lead potential readers astray, keep them caged away from renegades whose work they might well dig reading.
Over the past 15 years and more specifically the past ten years or so, Kenyan writing has been shaped by NGO demands: the “report” has become the dominant aesthetic foundation. Whether personal and confessional or empirical and factual or creative and imaginative, report-based writing privileges donors’ desires: to help, but not too much; to save, but not too fast; to uplift, but never to foster equality. One can imagine how these aims meld with traditional modes of realism and naturalism and also speak to modernist truncations and postmodern undecidability. However, report realism names a more historically accurate way to name a genre indebted (very literally) to NGOS in Kenya.I cannot comment on the specific accuracy of Keguro's observations, because I'm not in Kenya reading aspiring writers' work. But I was interested in the observations because when I was in Kenya (over five years ago, now) and talked with some young writers there, the sorts of contemporary writers they cited as inspiring them were people like Stephen King and J.K. Rowling. Indeed, that's mostly what was available for fiction in the bookstores, with most stores putting Kenyan and African fiction, if they stocked it at all, in dusty corners. Yet the writers who cited these inspirations to me were, with one exception that I can think of (someone who'd spent quite a bit of time in the U.S., in fact), writing in a very realistic, documentary manner. That can happen anywhere, though, if you only talk to a limited sample of people; I hoped (and assumed) that there were other writers out there aspiring to different sorts of writing, whether fantastical in its content or experimental in its form, because aesthetic diversity makes for healthy reading-writing ecosystems. And there is some such work being written (heck, Ngugi's Wizard of the Crow is a good example); it just seems hard for it to get attention or to be celebrated in the way documentary realism is.
The report aesthetic goes beyond citing NGO facts and figures. It is concerned, above all, with a search for truth and accuracy and is threatened by imaginative labor.
The 21 stories that made it to the final round this year are of a generally higher standard than the finalists for the last award, which suggests that the standard of entries as a whole may be higher. If so, this is a promising development. On the other hand, the kind of short-story writer we are all hoping that an award of this magnitude will attract, recognize, reward, foster, and perhaps even launch into the wider world — the newcomer with naked talent, a feel for language, and a fresh vision of the world —stubbornly fails to arive.Ouch.
I want to advocate for wild imaginations—wild forms of writing, non-linear narratives, an obsessive attention to detail, writing that strains at the edges, reaches beyond itself. I’m interested in writing that lives in secret folders on computers, scurries under beds and into drawers when friends visit, worries that it will be deemed obscene, crazy, impossible. I’m interested in writing that dares truth-the truth of feeling, the truth of form, the truth of seeking, the truth of language seeking byways and creating paths. I’m interested in writing beyond report realism.
We are united in our hatred of war and our abhorrence of violence. But a hatred of war is not enough, and when employed to conjure away history, it is a cynical vanity which posits that one is, somehow, in possession of a prophetic insight and supernatural morality which evaded our forefathers. It is all fine to speak of how history "should have been." It takes something more to ask why it wasn't, and then to confront what it actually was.For more, see his first post in this series.
...I’m tremendously optimistic about the future of the book as an object. I think the worst years of the book as an object have been the last 50 years. [...]And much more about publishing, reading, Cursor, communities, etc.
Basically, when you’ve got an industry that is pushing out $25 billion worth of physical products into a supply chain, the vast majority of businesses are going to try to cut costs and increase revenues. And the simplest way to cut costs is going to be on the production side. So if the core of the business is no longer a supply chain, but rather the orchestration of writing and reading communities, the book is freed of its obligation to be the sole means for the broad mass dissemination of the word, and instead become a thing where the intrinsic qualities of the book itself can be explored.
Why We Oppose Pockets for Women
by Alice Duer Miller
1. Because pockets are not a natural right.
2. Because the great majority of women do not want pockets. If they did they would have them.
3. Because whenever women have had pockets they have not used them.
4. Because women are required to carry enough things as it is, without the additional burden of pockets.
5. Because it would make dissension between husband and wife as to whose pockets were to be filled.
6. Because it would destroy man's chivalry toward woman, if he did not have to carry all her things in his pockets.
7. Because men are men, and women are women. We must not fly in the face of nature.
8. Because pockets have been used by men to carry tobacco, pipes, whiskey flasks, chewing gum and compromising letters. We see no reason to suppose that women would use them more wisely.
Often, whenever we point out flaws in the DMCA's safe harbor provisions, we hear a reluctance among those who rely upon it to "open it up" for amendment and improvement. The fear, apparently, is that engaging in that discussion will give the record labels and movie studios an opportunity to lobby for themselves and move the goalposts further. The problem with that caution is that those goalposts are being moved today. Even if section 512 of Title 17 doesn't feel Congress's red pen anytime soon, the actual conditions under which Internet companies and users will have to operate are being changed right now. The structure of the Internet itself, and the premises upon which it is based are being negotiated in Congress, and not by those bodies concerned with its structure as a whole, but by those that see the Internet as merely a means of serving up product, or stealing it.
But the Internet is more than just another TV channel or some sort of digital magazine. Not only in what it does—connecting individuals and communities across the world—but how it does it. It relies upon technological consensus among a wide variety of actors to remain a global, unified system, but we're seeing that consensus eroding rapidly as more and more political factions come to understand its power and where the levers are. And no matter how good the intentions of the United States government may be, they will be taken as a model for governments everywhere that seek to cut off from their citizens content and speech they'd rather not have available. This bill accelerates the Internet down that path.
Have you bid farewell to the realism of your first features for good?
I don't agree with this. After 15 years in Italy, they finally showed Accattone on TV. We realized it is not a realist film at all. It's a dream, it's an oneiric movie.
Didn't they consider it a realistic film in Italy?
Yes, but it was a misunderstanding. When I made it, I knew I was doing a very lyrical film, not oneiric as it now seems, but deeply lyrical. I used that soundtrack and shot it in a certain way for a reason. Then what happened was that the realistic world I drew inspiration from for Accattone disappeared; it is no longer there, so the film is a dream of that world.
Mamma Roma is realist…
Mamma Roma is more realistic than Accattone, maybe. I should watch it again. It is less accomplished, less beautiful and that's because it is less dream-like.
|Frankenstein by Lynd Ward|
Baskerville decided to become a monster because he had chewed his way far into the Earth, and he lived now in the space he had chewed for himself, a musty cavern beneath a knoll in an unnamed wilderness in northern Maine. He had been on vacation, alone, hiking and camping, trying to forget his latest failed encounter with something resembling love, when he was seized with the desire to devour some soil. His friend Cal the Freudian would have said this desire was fueled by a need to consume and obliterate his mother—the Earth, of course, being the biggest mother of them all—but Baskerville thought this was bullshit, because Freud was bullshit, and if Cal had been there with him, Baskerville would have accused him of being a coprophiliac for all the bullshit he ate, and that would have set Cal a-thinking for so long that he might have shut up for a while.The story was inspired by a few things -- some random passages from Frankenstein, The Hound of the Baskervilles, some stray bits of Kafka, original newspaper reports of Kaspar Hauser, and Tolstoy's essay "What is Art?" (Also, I stole the title from Tolstoy.) Some of those things I used directly, some I stuck into Microsoft Word and pureéd with the summarize feature, reducing, for instance, the entire text of The Hound of the Baskervilles to something like 250 words. The challenge then was to take all this random matter and try to weave a story between it.