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Showing posts from 2010

How to Defeat These Thoughts: The Questions of Wallace Shawn

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[This essay originally appeared in the Winter 2009/2010 issue of Rain Taxi Review of Books. The Winter 2010/2011 issue has been published, so I'm now free to reprint this essay, and I'll also recommend the new issue to you, because in addition to the wide-ranging reviews of books, there are also good interviews with William Gibson and Lewis Hyde.]



ANDRE: Well, Wally, how do you think it affects an audience to put on one of these plays in which you show that people are totally isolated now, and they can't reach each other, and their lives are obsessive and driven and desperate?  Or how does it affect them to see a play that shows that our world is full of nothing but shocking sexual events and violence and terror?  Does that help to wake up a sleeping audience?  —Wallace Shawn & André Gregory, My Dinner with André

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Wallace Shawn's most recent play, Grasses of a Thousand Colors, is a dream and a provocation and a conundrum, but most of all, it is a culmination: if a…

The Length of the Gimmick

J. Robert Lennon points to an essay by Ed Park in the NY Times from a couple days ago, "One Sentence Says It All", which I missed until now, but which obviously appealed to me, an avowed lover of long sentences, because it concerns books that are written as a single sentence.

Park's focus is primarily on what "really" makes something a one-sentence novel, a kind of purity test, while Lennon mostly just seems grumpy, declaring the whole idea to be "the kind of fake formal experimentation that a writer is more likely to use as cover for his incompetence than for any kind of genuine insight into character, situation, or language".

I think Lennon's opinion is noxious, and I'm skeptical of any use of the word "gimmick" for a writing technique, because it seems to me a particularly prejudicial and generally inaccurate term -- in a broad sense, any literary (as opposed to purely pragmatic) way of writing is gimmicky, because any writing tha…

Some Books

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My brain doesn't seem to want to participate in year-end roundups this year, as every time I try to think about what books or films or music or legumes I've encountered, I mostly go blank. I seem to have lost the capacity to link such experiences to the experience of time in annual chunks. I wouldn't in any case be able to write a "best of the year" post because I've spent a lot of this year catching up with stuff from other years (well, no old legumes -- that would be gross...). Probably still a hangover effect from my years as series editor for Best American Fantasy.

However, some books, at least, do come to mind as things I haven't posted enough about here, and which I would like to recommend. So if you get some good giftcards or something during the holidays and feel impelled to buy something; or if you happen to want some stuff to look for in the library, here are a few titles (arranged alphabetically by author) I've thought rewarded the time I s…

Third Bear Carnival: The E-Book

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Remember the Third Bear Carnival? Of course you do.

Well, after a lot of hard work from various folks, we now can offer all of the Carnival posts, plus some new content, as a free, downloadable e-book.

Thanks to the contributors, to Matt Staggs for doing the initial compilation, and to Jill Roberts and Elizabeth Story at Tachyon for making it all look great. And thanks to Wired.com for hosting the file!

And don't forget -- The Third Bear is always happy to go home with you...

Requiem // 102: 32

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[This post is a contribution to the Requiem // 102 project created by Nicholas Rombes. The gist: Requiem for a Dream, isolating one frame from each minute of the film. For more on the concept, see the About page at the project home. This post concerns frame 32:]



We are following the back of a little boy.

The past and future are familiar countries. They do things similarly there.
The main characters of Requiem for a Dream spend all their energy and money and passion on trying to escape the present. They retreat into memories, they pin their hopes on a tale of the future. Now is always terrible and terrifying and terrorizing; then was wonderful, and soon will be bliss.


Requiem.
A mass for the repose of a soul into death. The OED describes an obsolete meaning: An invitation to one's soul to take the peaceful rest one has hoped for or earned. The earliest citation is from 1607: "Every man sings a requiem to his own heart."

A requiem is also a family of sharks.


Fluidity in Vignet…

Borges y Boucher, Yo

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In my latest Sandman Meditations column, I tackled the prologue of Season of Mists, and ended up spending a lot of time talking about Jorge Luis Borges and his first appearance in English: "The Garden of Forking Paths" in the August 1948 issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine:
The EQMM “Garden of Forking Paths” appeared in a translation by Anthony Boucher, which means that Boucher was not only a well-respected writer of mysteries and science fiction, not only an important and influential reviewer of mystery fiction, not only the man whose name is honored by the annual World Mystery Convention (Bouchercon) and its awards (the Anthonies), not only the man who co-founded The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, not only an important mentor to many writers, including Philip K. Dick — he was also the man who first brought Borges’s work to the United States. Later translations would become the standard ones (as far as I know, Boucher’s has rarely been reprinted), but Bou…

Icarus on the Lonesome Road

News from Lethe Press that the new issue of Icarus is almost ready. It includes a new story of mine, "Lonesome Road", which I think they quite aptly describe as "almost a literary version of hauntology, a different kind of ghost story -- postmodern, but chilling all the same."

The same issue includes an interview with THE ... SodomiteHal Duncan, plus stories by Sunny Morvaine and Alejandro Omidsalar. And more! Single copies will be available for purchase via this link, and subscriptions are available here.

Elements of "Lonesome Road" were inspired by one of my favorite recordings, Sam Collins singing "Lonesome Road Blues", available freely and legally via Archive.org:

Everything They Say We Are

I want to have adventures and take enormous risks and be everything they say we are.

--Dorothy AllisonThat quote comes from a post at Shiri Eisner's Bi Radical blog called "The myth of myth-busting: normalcy discourse and bisexual politics", a post I discovered via a friend's link on Facebook. The post questions and challenges the assumptions of another blogger's post called "Mad, Bad & Dangerous to Know, or: 'how I came to stop worrying and like the word bisexual’, Part 2", which sought to counter some "myths" about bisexuality, namely:


Existence. Yes – we do.Monogamy. Yes – we can.Fidelity. Yes – we can. And – we do.HIV & AIDS. No – it’s not all our fault.Confusion. No – we’re really not.Indecision. No – that’s not what fluidity means.Greed. Yes, we can have just one piece of cake.Pants. Yes – we’re as capable as anyone else of keeping our various bits in them.Choice. No – we cannot choose to be straight; we cannot choose to be ga…

From the Streaming

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I've been a subscriber of Netflix for quite a few years, and because I've mostly lived in the rural part of a small state where all the cinemas get the same 8-10 major studio movies and the (now rare) video stores don't have particularly rich selections, Netflix has really been an extraordinary addition to my life. This summer, I bought a very cheap, very entry-level Blu-Ray player that allows Netflix's streaming video, and have been enjoying discovering what's available there, because it includes many titles not available on DVD. Through the last few months, the selection has grown significantly, and with the company's recent announcement that they plan to focus their efforts on streaming, it's fun to see all the new things popping up. I'm not convinced Netflix can continue to keep their prices relatively low for unlimited streaming forever, so we might as well enjoy it while it lasts...

Dennis Cozalio at Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule (one of …

Best American Rich White People

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Roxane Gay at HTML Giant:
I recently read Best American Short Stories 2010, edited this year by Richard Russo who is one of my favorite writers. Straight Man? Amazing. Empire Falls? Amazing. My expectations were high. I generally enjoy reading BASS because it gives me a sense of what the literary establishment considers “the best” from year to year. I may not enjoy all the stories in a given year’s anthology but I am always impressed by the overall competence in each chosen story. I don’t think I’ve ever read a story in BASS and thought, “How did that get in there?” At the same time, I often find the BASS offerings to be shamefully predictable. The stories are often sedate and well-mannered even when they are supposedly not. I don’t see a lot of risk taking and more than anything else, I don’t see a lot of diversity in the stories being told. This year, though, BASS really outdid itself. Almost every story in the anthology was about rich or nearly rich white people to the point where, …

John Coulthart on the Hide/Seek Controversy

If you haven't read John Coulthart's commentary on the recent controversy over an exhibit at the Smithsonian, do.  It's called "Ecce Homo Redux".  Here's the first paragraph:
If the news of the past few weeks has felt like a re-run of the 1980s—ongoing recession, government cuts, riots in London, Tories casting aspersions on the undeserving poor, the threat of another royal wedding—then add to the list ofdéjà vu moments a flurry of outrage concerning art and religion in America that’s like a recapitulation of the Helms vs. NEA spats of 1989. On that occasion Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ was in the firing line, accused of being a blasphemous portrayal. This week it’s been the turn of a video installation of a short film made the same year, A Fire in My Belly, by David Wojnarowicz, a work featured in an exhibition I linked to a couple of weeks ago, Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington DC. Los Ang…

Last Year's Links

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I've been sharing items via Google Reader's sidebar widget on this site for quite a while, calling it "Fresh Links".  Whenever I see something in the RSS feed that seems interesting, I click the little share button, and voila, y'all get to see it.  It's increased my laziness, causing me not to create linkdumps much any more.  If there's something I am especially impressed with, interested in, or challenged by, I'll incorporate it into a post somehow; stuff in the Fresh Links section is stuff that seemed to me worth the time I put into reading it.

One of the things it allows me to do, if I choose, is see all I've shared.  I haven't done this before, but today I wondered what, for instance, I had noticed at this time last year.  Here's what was there:

December 3, 2009
Anne Fernald on Girls Write Now
December 4, 2009
Claire Dudman on Herta Müller's The PassportChad Post with some Bolaño linksJohn Williams on Carol Sklenicka's biography…

Spectacle and Antinomianism

Many on the left worry about being "offensive" and indeed worry even more when other people are being "offensive." Many on the right -- conservatism being a sort of machismo these days -- are pleased to offend, of course. This doesn't make them any good as readers or writers. I'm always amused when I run into a young conservative fellow who signed up for a class or writing program after reading a left-wing and homoerotic book like Fight Club. It touched them somehow, but not in any way they could understand, so they just take the stuff Groundlings always take away from some piece of art: spectacle and antinomianism. Antinomianism is part of why so many middle-class white dudes see themselves as victims; they can't be tough rebels if they acknowledged that they're actually already Empire.

--Nick Mamatas

Fallen Books

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I was upstairs and heard a crash.

I came down and discovered some of my ever-precarious piles of books had fallen.


Had I let the piles grow too large?  Had one of the many books I'm in the midst of reading been placed unartfully on the pile?  Had a small earthquake rustled the house?  Had gravity changed?

No, none of those were the reasons that multiple piles fell at once.

Ways of Reading

Ron Silliman has written an interesting post about, among other things, how he reads:
I’m always reading a dozen books at once, sometimes twice that many. [...] In part, this reading style is because I have an aversion to the immersive experience that is possible with literature. Sometimes, especially if I’m "away" on vacation, I’ll plop down in a deck chair on a porch somewhere with a big stack of books of poetry, ten or twelve at a time, reading maybe up to ten pages in a book, then moving it to a growing stack on the far side of the chair until I’ve gone through the entire pile. Then I start over in the other direction. I can keep myself entertained like this for hours. That is pretty close to my idea of the perfect vacation.I’ve had this style of reading now for some 50 years – it’s not something I’m too likely to change – but I’ve long realized that this is profoundly not what some people want from their literature, and it’s the polar opposite of the experience of "…

A Thousand Cats

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My latest Sandman Meditations column was posted earlier this week.  This one is about "A Dream of a Thousand Cats".

In the column, I mention my new cats, Alex and Oliver.  As an added bonus to all that, here's a picture of them dreaming...

New Site Design

It's long been time for this site to get a facelift.  Well, now it has one.  I've not only changed some of the formatting and colors (yes, I'm fond of purples; it's my site, it will have lots of purple!), but also taken advantage of Blogger's new Pages feature, familiar to anybody who's used Wordpress.  The pages are listed up there beneath the site header.

The About and Fiction pages are self-explanatory, but the Selections page probably needs a few words of introduction.

For a couple years now, I've wanted to put together a collection of the nonfiction I've written over the last seven years or so (since a piece of mine about George Saunders appeared in English Journal in May 2003), but I've struggled to come up with a book-length manuscript that is more than just a collection of miscellanea.  I could easily put together a collection just of my writings on science fiction, or on film, or general book reviews, or extended essays on writers such as J…

The Horror! The Comics!

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The Center for Cartoon Studies' Schulz Library has a great blog, which, if you're at all interested in comics or graphic novels, provides wonderful reading.

Today, for instance, they posted a marvelous piece by S.R. Bissette about a new anthology of 1950s horror comics.  This is part one of what looks to be a three-part series.

I also just discovered Bissette's own site, itself a marvel.  Don't miss his series of posts on LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka's Dutchman.

Security, Causality

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We make fiction for the same reason as we make buildings: security. Rigid notions of causality in fiction have developed as shelter from a fear of the unstructuredness of actual events. Few societies have been more afraid than ours of losing a status quo that was illusory in the first place.

--M. John Harrison

Worlds Apart

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I was writing a comment in reply to Ray Davis on a previous post, and realized it might be better as a post than a comment.

Here's Ray's original comment:
Huh. The "problem that had long puzzled" Josipovici was precisely -- like precisely, except for some name-swapping which sharpens the point, like Joyce for Mann and Beckett for Bernhard -- what led me to start looking into science fiction in 1976. (And eventually led me here, of course.)

From what I've read of Josipovici, I suspect he arrived at different answers than myself.My feelings are similar, and are one of the reasons that though my particular pleasures are different from Josipovici's, I'm sympathetic to his argument. Those feelings are also a reason why I have a knee-jerk negative reaction to arguments that pose science fiction (broadly defined) as the opposite of Modernism.  (Different, sure.  Opposite, nope.)  That's an interpretation that doesn't work for me because it contradicts my …

"You are Not I" Film Found

A fascinating story in the New York Times about Sarah Driver's1981 film of Paul Bowles's brilliant story "You are Not I" -- a film in which Luc Sante is an actor, and on which Jim Jarmusch served as cinematographer and co-writer.

I have no idea if the film is any good, but the Times story of its creation, loss, and discovery -- as well as the story of Bowles's archives -- is really amazing.

Never Let Me Reload

A couple quick notes...
Weeks ago, Mary Rickert emailed me to let me know about a lovely YouTube video created as a trailer for her forthcoming book Holiday.  I completely forgot to post it.  I haven't seen the book yet, but I know many of the stories in it, and I know Mary, so I have no hesitation in recommending it.I just received my contributor's copy of Steampunk II: Steampunk Reloaded, and even though it doesn't have a picture of a steampunk reloading press, it's still a good book.  The interior design is particulary striking, especially in the section to which I contributed some lesser-known information about an ancestor of mine, the "Secret History of Steampunk".  (Also, I would like to take this opportunity to publicly deny all knowledge of the Mecha-Ostrich, despite the vicious rumors circulating about some sort of illicit scholarship I am said to have engaged in.)  I thought the first Steampunk anthology was good fun, and I especially enjoyed Stepan …

Catching Up, Once Again

This semester of teaching (at two schools) has pretty well kept me away from the blog here, but things are beginning to even out, and I should be able to return to my regularly irregular posting in the next few weeks.  I will probably even soon be able to reply to that email you sent me.  For now, though, some quick notes...
Over at Gestalt Mash, my latest Sandman Meditations column finishes up The Doll's House. I've now finished reading Gabriel Josipovici's What Ever Happened to Modernism?, and will start writing a review of it for Rain Taxi very soon (I'm only about a month late on that...)  I found the book provocative, fascinating, and enlightening, but even if I hadn't, I think I'd be amazed at how stupid many of the reviews of it have been (the link is to The Complete Review's roundup; their own review is not one I agree with, but though I don't think it's up to their normal standard, it's not awful).  I won't address this in the review…

Strange Horizons, World Fantasy Award, and Susan

Yesterday, Susan Marie Groppi won a well-deserved World Fantasy Award as editor-in-chief of Strange Horizons.  I did a little dance for joy when I found out, because aside from this here blog, Strange Horizons is the publication I've had the longest ongoing relationship with as a writer.  It was just about six years ago, in fact, that Susan first asked if I'd be willing to write an occasional column, and the request just about knocked the wind out of me, because all the writing I'd done had been stuff I'd had to hustle myself -- nobody had ever asked me to write for them before.

I've had the pleasure of writing reviews and interviews for SH, too, and it really always has been a pleasure, because the community of staff is exemplary.  The magazine has lasted longer than most of its peers, and the quality of work has been astoundingly strong for a weekly website.

Susan's award was in the "non-professional" category (a category I have a certain fondness f…