Posts

John Keene's Sentences

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  This short essay about John Keene's story collection Counternarratives was first published at the Emerging Writers Network site in May 2017. That site seems a little buggy these days, so for the sake of archiving the essay, I am copying it here. Counternarratives remains for me the most impressive story collection by an American writer published in the 21st century.   KEENE SENTENCES   The stories of John Keene provide an aesthetic to push against the power of the cultural forces that venerate quick, easy thinking; forces that reduce knowledge to soundbites and hottakes and quick! mustread! breaking! stories, enforcing a compulsory presentism that is little more than mass amnesia — and self-aggrandizing mass amnesia at that. It’s a prose aesthetic to fight against any impulse insisting life here and life now is the most, the best, the worst, the only. His 2015 collection Counternarratives — easily one of the most invigorating English-language story colle

The Rats in Our Walls

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  It began as a blog post. I was just going to write here some quick thoughts about H.P. Lovecraft's 1924 story "The Rats in the Walls" and how the narrator made me think about people who've lost their brains to QAnon conspiracies.  Then I couldn't help thinking about the concept of degeneracy, and of eugenics, and of Madison Grant, a name once famous and now forgotten, literally erased from the archives. I returned to a book I had read a decade or more ago, Jonathan Spiro's excellent Defending the Master Race: Conservation, Eugenics, and the Legacy of Madison Grant , a book that explains so much about the United States, popular ideas of science, the troubled history of environmentalism, and, in its own way, people like H.P. Lovecraft.  And then I wondered if maybe we ought to see Lovecraft's narrators as deeply unreliable rather than as visionaries. What if Lovecraft's fiction is a testimony to yearning as much as to horror, and what if the yearnin

Gastronomic Gorefests: Fresh and The Feast

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By chance, because they're both available on Hulu right now, I treated myself to a double feature of horror movies that both use food, eating, and consumption in entertaining — if repulsive — ways: Fresh ,  directed by Mimi Cave, and The Feast , directed by Roger Williams. Fresh  is the most fun, The Feast  the most satisfying, so I very much enjoyed watching them in that order, with Fresh  as a kind of appetizer. (If you prefer some time to digest the richer parts of your meals, you might want to watch The Feast  first.) Had I world enough and time, I might have gone for a dessert course of The Exterminating Angel  ... or maybe just the Mr. Creosote scene from Monty Python's The Meaning of Life . Food as fuel for horror is as old as fairy tales and hungry ghosts. As one of the essential elements of life, its deprivation of course leads to anxiety and terror, but there is also plenty of nightmare to be found in the ways food is harvested and consumed. Indeed, food is one of th

The Folk Horror Moment

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photo by Christian Papaux via  Unsplash In recent years (and accelerating in the last six months) the term folk horror has become inescapable in discussions of the horror genre generally and horror movies in particular. The release of producer-director Kier-La Janisse's excellent documentary Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched and the astonishing Blu-ray boxed set from Severin Films, All the Haunts Be Ours , accelerated discussion to the point where even people who aren't really into horror feel compelled to offer opinions about folk horror's importance. While I fear this will inevitably lead to over-commodification and dilusion, until the term means nothing other than "creepy stuff with mention of a tree", the present enthusiasm feels truly enthusiastic. There is a there there.  What gets identified as folk horror is speaking to emotions and ideas important to people's experience of now. These emotions and ideas arise from profoundly unsettling fears (rela

The Strength of Kindness

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  Over at my academic blog, I have written a post about ideas of strength and kindness . Part of it is about teaching (hence the reason it is at the academic blog), but a lot of it is also about reading and writing, and it ends with a poem by Liu Tsung-Yuan, so it may be of interest to a more general audience as well. Here is how the post begins: Take a moment, settle yourself, and note your immediate emotional response to these words: kindness joy contemplation generosity love peace Now think about them in the context of your work. Would your work be better if there were more of these things? Do you feel that they are relevant to what you do every day? I’ll be honest: a deep part of myself resists these words. On one hand, this makes no sense. Since adolescence, I have described myself as a pacifist (or aspiring pacifist); I don’t have many heroes (I’m skeptical of the whole concept) but if I have any they are people who in one way or another devoted themselves to