K: There are times when I'd really love to live in your world.
M: It's full of existential crises, but not a lot of headaches.
K: I've already got the existential crises, so it might be a nice change.
M: There's a reason the first album that ever made a strong impression on me was Stop Making Sense.
K: So that's your aesthetic credo?
M: No, I don't have a credo. It's just something I thought of and so I said it. It's probably not even true.
—"A Conversation After Miami Vice"
2006 seems to me an ideal year of The Mumpsimus, not because all of the posts are high quality (they aren't!) but because the diversity of posts covers just about everything I think of as Mumpsimusian. In other years, the balance has been in one particular direction or another, but if anyone were to ask me to sum up the most dominant ideas and concerns of this blog, I'd tell them to roam around in the 2006 archives.
I'm not one for taxonomy, but it's occasionally useful, so let's taxonomize.
Science fiction & fantasy
2006 began with a contest giveaway of Tim Pratt's first novel, The Strange Adventures of Rangergirl, and continued with at least a little something SFnal every month of the year. Some of the more substantial posts include:
- A look at Thomas Disch's collection of essays On SF and his classic story "Descending".
- A post on Alice Eleanor Jones's 1955 "housewife heroine" story "Created He Them".
- Fredric Jameson praised John Brunner's novel Total Eclipse, so I had to check it out.
- Two posts on sex and early science fiction: "Kinsey, Sturgeon, and 'The Sex Opposite'" and "The Gonads are the Very Citadels of Sex" (my single favorite title of all the posts I've written here).
Literary literature of literariness
Some of the writers I most deeply love are some of the highest of high Modernists: Kafka, Joyce, Faulkner, Woolf, Beckett. I don't write about them much, because the last thing the world needs is more writing about these writers. We should just read their works. Occasionally, though, in an attempt to convince people to read their works, I mention them.
2006 was Samuel Beckett's 100th birthday, so of course I had to take note of that auspicious day. (I had marked James Joyce's 124th birthday earlier in the year by quoting the perfect final paragraph of "The Dead", a paragraph I would merrily plagiarize for the ending of a story I wrote sometime around then, "The Lake", which was conceived, for reasons now long forgotten, as a mashup of Joyce and Ray Bradbury.)
I wrote a bit about Kafka and William Gass, a bit about the surrealist Claude Cahun, and a bit about the unclassifiable Bryher. I offered some notes on Nabokov's Invitation to a Beheading, a book I was using in a high school class, and which many of the students ended up loving.
I wrote about contemporary writers who, if not necessarily in the high Modernist ilk, seemed to me to be doing worthwhile, interesting work, particularly Rupert Thompson's Divided Kingdom and George Ilsley's ManBug, both for the LitBlog Co-op, and both books that I still hold fond memories of. I also wrote about Laird Hunt's The Exquisite and Laird allowed me to post here his talk on "Nonrealist Fiction" from that year's AWP conference.
Also, I wrote about M.T. Anderson's extraordinary novel Octavian Nothing: Traitor to the Nation; vol. 1: The Pox Party.
Movies & A Play
I wrote about a few movies in 2006: Wong Kar-Wai's 2046, Brokeback Mountain, The New World, Breakfast on Pluto, Cemetery Man, Miami Vice, Werner Herzog's The White Diamond. I also wrote about a play script: Martin McDonagh's The Pillowman. Except for Cemetery Man, I've watched all of those movies again (sometimes many times) since I wrote about them. Miami Vice and The New World would be on any list I made of my top ten films of the century so far. The White Diamond continues to seem to me to be among Herzog's best documentaries. 2046 isn't my favorite of Wong's movies, but I love its grand messiness. I've only watched Brokeback Mountain once since it was in theatres -- I find it so overwhelmingly sad that it's rare I want to watch it, but I also think it's interesting in terms of identity and masculinity. And Breakfast on Pluto continues to be a delight, a movie that, unlike Brokeback Mountain but very much like Mike Leigh's great Happy-Go-Lucky, I can always turn to for a pick-me-up.
I went to Kenya in 2006. I'd long been interested in Africa and African literatures, particularly works from South Africa, Kenya, and Nigeria, but this was my first trip to the continent itself. While I was gone, I had my friend Njihia Mbitiru blog here, and he wrote a wonderful post on Binyavanga Wainaina's marvelous short story "Ships in High Transit".
I sometimes write about writing. After all, I sometimes write, and I sometimes teach writing, so necessarily the topic of writing comes up here. Sometimes I just quote smart people, as in "The Commonplace of Everyday Thought". Sometimes I go out on a limb and pretend to be able to impart wisdom, as in "How to Write Dialogue?" Sometimes I just get all absurdist because I find prescriptive and proscriptive rules annoying, so I create posts like "Rules for Writing".
2006 was a good year for short stories for me, and I published one that remains my most successful and acclaimed: "Blood", which appeared in One Story in October 2006, went on to be honorably mentioned in Best American Short Stories, Best American Mystery Stories, and The Pushcart Prize, and is currently under film option in Switzerland. I hardly mentioned it here at the time, though I did praise One Story, put up a quick link to an interview with me at their website, and mention receiving contributor's copies. The story is one of the few I've written which is not currently available online anywhere, though I'm told One Story is working on making back issue available as e-books, so it's possible it will be more easily accessible soon.
In 2006, I also published a few stories I continue to find of some interest, which is not at all always the case with my fiction. My odd, illustrated tale "The Art of Comedy" appeared at Web Conjunctions. "In Exile", an anti-heroic fantasy story, appeared in Mythic. (It's a story I still very much like, but few other people ever have. Oh well. We all have to have our weird personal favorites.) And a story I wrote with Jeffrey Ford, "Quitting Dreams", was published by Electric Velocipede. It used to be available online, but doesn't seem to be anymore. I might be able to do something about that later this month...
In 2006, I began working on writing a master's thesis at Dartmouth College on Samuel R. Delany. (Parts of that thesis became the introductions to Wesleyan University's Press's reissues of The Jewel-Hinged Jaw and Starboard Wine, as well as an essay on Equinox and Nova for Strange Horizons. The remaining parts of the thesis are too rough and stumbling for general consumption.) The most substantial post is one on the delightful novella Empire Star. I also noted that Chip was interviewed for The Minnesota Review, and I wrote a post called "Loving Delany" that is kind of weird to me now, but also interesting. I wrote it before I knew Chip and before I had totally immersed myself in his work in the way that I have since 2006. Now, there are certainly pieces of his writing that I'd say I love, and the man himself is a person I adore. But I do think one of the reasons I have continued to study his work is that I am able to maintain a certain (fascinated) distance from it. This is something Delany has in common with Coetzee for me — I would unhesitatingly say that they are my two favorite living writers in English, but that just means they are the two writers whose entire body of work I find myself most drawn to think through, writers who offer perspectives quite different from my own, but in a way that is especially productive for my thoughts. There's certainly great pleasure in falling head-over-heels in love with a piece of writing, but for me the longest-lasting relationships with texts don't come from that sort of love — indeed, I grow afraid to revisit such texts because I don't want to diminish the memory of the original, unbridled joy. The writers I return to continually, the writers whose work I write about again and again, are writers toward whom I can maintain fierce interest coupled with a certain emotional autonomy. To me, that's a higher type of respect than sheer, unconditional love.
I hate it when people die. To overcome my sadness at the death of people important to my perception of the world, I sometimes write about them. In 2006, I wrote about Octavia Butler (hadn't read much of her work at the time; now I have; she is one of the Greats), I asked Eric Schaller to write about Stanislaw Lem, I quoted various passages by Gilbert Sorrentino to mark his death, and I was shocked by the death of one of my favorite filmmakers, Robert Altman.