Showing posts from 2019

Wrestling with the Devil by Ngugi wa Thiong'o

This review was first published in the Fall 2018 issue of Rain Taxi Review of Books. (I have kept the page references in that are provided for the Rain Taxi copyeditors, but which are cut from the printed version.)

At the end of December 1977, police arrived at the home of Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o in Limuru, Kenya. He was sent to the Kamĩtĩ Maximum Security Prison under a detention order signed by the Minister for Home Affairs, Daniel arap Moi. He had no right to a lawyer, there was no trial, there was no sentence. For two weeks, no-one outside the government and police forces, including his family, knew where he was, or even if he was still alive. (Later, family visits were occasionally permitted, but they were rare and extremely short.) He could be detained for a day or for the rest of his life, his access to any news of the outside world severely restricted, his recourse to anything resembling due process limited to brief appearances before biannual review tribunals that might as well have…

Rob Zombie and the Cinema of Cruelty

I have discovered that links to the video and text essays I created some years ago for Press Play and Indiewire no longer work, so I am going to begin archiving them here. Since it's October, I'll start with a couple of horror and Halloween-themed pieces. Since Rob Zombie has a new movie out this month, and Willow Catelyn Maclay has just published what seems to me a significant look at the attraction of Zombie's films (a better essay than my own work here), this seems like a good piece to start the archival process with...

Press Play, October 2013

The feature films that Rob Zombie has made between 2000 and 2013 create new styles of emotional and perceptual disturbance from the corpses of cultural products past. True to his name, Zombie reanimates dead tropes, turns, and troubles into powerful attacks on our expectations and desires.

By summoning the spirit of previous movies, particularly, Zombie encourages us to think we are watching a familiar pat…

The Narrative of Dead Narrative

Suddenly, it feels like post-war France again. Two essays were published within days of each other, both denouncing something they call narrative: "Narrative in the Anthropocene Is the Enemy" by Roy Scranton at LitHub and "Storytelling and Forgetfulness" by Amit Chaudhuri at LA Review of Books. Is the nouveau roman back in vogue?

Neither essay is especially illuminating or compelling, I don't think, but it's interesting that they both appeared so close together and from such different writers, with quite different purposes. That fact (their synchronicity) more than anything else is what caught my attention. What work, I wondered, is the concept they call narrative doing within these essays?

In his essay, Roy Scranton is doing what he's known for, a shtick that was provocative when Learning to Die in the Anthropocene was published and Scranton positioned himself as the Norman O. Brown of the anthropocene, but which now is getting a little bit thread…

The Flint Anchor by Sylvia Townsend Warner

For decades now, scholars and connoisseurs have declared Sylvia Townsend Warner to be an unjustly — even criminally — neglected writer. Every time it seems like she might gain the attention she deserves (at her death in 1978, with various posthumous collections of stories and letters, with the publication of biographies, with the reprinting of her books by Virago and then New York Review of Books), the attention doesn't seem to last. Appreciations appear (thoughtful, considered) ... and then Warner seems to return to obscurity. There's a Sylvia Townsend Warner Society, but as of this writing its website is unreachable.

While I hope the recent reissue of The Corner That Held Them by NYRB will spark an excited revival of interest in Warner's work — especially her short stories of the '50s and '60s, which show Warner at the height of her craft, unpredictable and frequently stunning — I know better than to hold my breath. Though her work offers many pleasures, much of…

Upcoming Publications

I haven't published a lot over the last few years, not from lack of writing, but, as I noted in June, more from working on longer projects. Thus, I'm pleased to be able to note here some upcoming publications.

The biggest is my book Modernist Crisis and the Pedagogy of Form: Woolf, Delany, and Coetzee at the Limits of Fiction. The (expensive) hardcover will be out in January, and a (less expensive) paperback will follow about a year later. I certainly wish that Bloomsbury did like other academic publishers and released the hardcover and paperback at the same time (and/or provided an inexpensive ebook), but so it goes. It will be available at academic libraries, and interlibrary loan is a godsend. (I expect my next academic book will be open access and openly licensed.)

I also have two new stories coming out this fall:
"A Liberation" in Conjunctions 73: Earth Elegies. This will be my second story in the print edition of Conjunctions (and I've had two stories on We…

Little Magazine, World Form and The World Broke in Two

The following two reviews first appeared in the Fall 2017 and Winter 2017/18 issues of Rain Taxi, respectively. I have grouped them together here because they quite coincidentally show two different approaches to modernist material: the academic approach of Little Magazine, World Form and the more general approach of The World Broke in Two. The reviews show the risks and benefits of such approaches. Putting the two together, I sound a bit like Goldilocks: the academic book is a little too academic, the general book is not academic enough. It's a difficult balance, I know.

Little Magazine, World Form

Eric Bulson
Columbia University Press
In recent decades, the academic study of literary modernism has broadened away from the canonical High Modernism of Pound, Joyce, Eliot, etc. and toward a more inclusive idea of small-m, plural modernisms. While this makes some scholars seemingly ready to declare anything and everything modernist, it has also led to thrilling new studies of litera…