Showing posts from April, 2010

The Story of an African Farm by Olive Schreiner

In fact, in the spiritual world, we change sexes every moment. --Ralph Waldo Emerson, Representative Men I object to anything that divides the two sexes ... human development has now reached a point at which sexual difference has become a thing of altogether minor importance.  We make too much of it; we are men and women in the second place, human beings in the first. --Olive Schreiner to Havelock Ellis, 19 Dec 1884 [quoted in Monsman] I first tried to read The Story of an African Farm some years ago when I went on a Doris Lessing binge; I hadn't heard of the novel before reading Lessing's praise of it, and what she said intrigued me.  But I went into The Story of an African Farm expecting it to be, well, a story , and it was soon apparent that, for all the book is, it is only "a story" in the loosest sense -- indeed, it's more accurate to say it is a book containing a lot of stories, but even that misses much of what is wonderful and unique in Olive Schrei

Guns, Feminism, Patriarchy, and Me

I have a new column up at Strange Horizons, "Patriarchy Studies" . There was a bunch of stuff I wanted to put into the column, but decided to save most of it for future ones, since this one was having a hard enough time cohering as it was.  And some things might have been good to have there, but seemed distracting -- for instance, I had a long footnote about the complex relationship of Isaac Asimov and feminism, but cut it out because it was tangential to the direction I was trying to go in (suffice it to say, if you're curious about the complexities, be sure to read The Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction and The Secret Feminist Cabal ). Mostly, I just wanted to bring Sally Boland's name out to the public beyond our university, because she was awesome.  I knew her at the end of her life, but her influence on me was primarily through the people for whom she was a colleague and mentor, many of whom became my mentors and colleagues.  I have Sally's copy of

The Outsider and the Idea of Africa

[This is part of a continuing series of posts on a class I teach at Plymouth State University , "The Outsider".  I am one of many people who teach the course, and each instructor fits their own ideas and interests into a fairly general catalogue description .  All the posts related to this one can be found via the Outsider label.  Eventually, I'll even update the course's website , since it's now completely out of date.] The last time I blathered on about my ideas for The Outsider, I was still a few weeks away from having to order the books for the class, and so the syllabus was still very much in flux. I hadn't even plotted it out day by day, so I didn't know if I could fit in all the various books I was thinking about fitting in. After reading my post, the great and glorious Aaron Bady sent me a note, since much of what I was thinking about -- representations of the idea of "Africa" in colonial and then post-colonial fiction -- was stu

Happy Birthday, Tor!

Yesterday -- Friday, April 23, 2010 -- Tor Books turned 30.  Irene Gallo celebrated at with a marvelous photo gallery of the Tor folks . On my last visit to New York, Tor editor Liz Gorinsky gave me a tour, which was great fun -- not only because I got to say hi to lots of great people, some of whom I'd only ever met via email or press release, but also because Tor is housed in the Flatiron Building , and the view from some of the offices (and especially the conference room/library) is fabulous. Tor has published plenty of books by people who've become friends of mine over the years, and the only two professional fiction writers I knew when I was young, Jim Kelly and L.E. Modesitt , were both published by Tor when I first met them. It seems appropriate, then, that on Monday I'll be discussing a Tor novel with one of my classes -- Brian Slattery's Liberation  (in a class that also used another Tor book, The Dark Descent edited by David Hartwell), and so

Books I'd Be Reading If I Had the Time

I'd intended to read a bunch of new fiction this spring, but then decided to reconfigure some of the classes I'll be teaching in the fall, which meant having to plunge into all sorts of other books (about which I'll be writing here soon, I expect).  I'm loving the research, since it appeals to a bunch of my various obsessions (e.g. how white people represent whiteness and non-whiteness), but it's left me with exactly no time for other reading.  By the summer, I'm hoping to have the research mostly done, and thus expect to be able to freely read all sorts of things, but until then, here are some of the books I'd be reading if I weren't reading other books...*   A Book of Endings by Deborah Biancotti.  Deb very kindly sent me a copy of this collection of her short stories, and I've only had a chance to read a couple so far, which makes me sad, because I very much want to read them all -- not just because I've enjoyed what I've read so far, b

The Uncanny Familiarity of Mr. Disch

David Auerbach on Thomas M. Disch: Look at the big social novels of the 1960s. You find conspiracy theories in Pynchon and Mailer, suburban hells in Cheever and Yates and (in its apotheosis) Heller, solipsistic nihilism and self-indulgence in Barth and Wurlitzer, beatnik dropout fantasies in countless other authors. Even Gore Vidal was writing historical novels rather than anything set in the present day. Disch, though, was ahead of his time. The American heartland of his novels, contemporary or future, now seems eerily prescient. It’s not that these trends weren’t visible in the 60s and 70s, but Disch foresaw their eventual impact in the post-Cold War age that his peers mostly did not. Frequently evoking the American grotesques of Poe and Lovecraft, he brought out the ghastly ignorance that increasingly defines American political life. He exaggerates, but the uncanny familiarity of the caricature is scary. And some of what got left on the cutting room floor... I rate Disch above

Origin Story

Ed left Sears, Roebuck in August 1908, and the card he sent to Emma from South Bend, Indiana, shortly afterward indicates that he was preparing for some new enterprise or engaged in making contacts or purchases for his partnership with Dentzer. Dated September 15, 1908, the card was addressed to Emma at 197 Park Avenue. It reads: "This isn't a half bad little town. Haven't accomplished much yet. Not even my lunch -- 12:15 p.m." On the same date he sent little Joan a card containing one word: "Google." -- Edgar Rice Burroughs: The Man Who Invented Tarzan by Irwin Porges, Brigham Young University Press, 1975, page 104

The Naked Prey

Actor, director, and producer Cornel Wilde seems mostly to have been forgotten these days -- indeed, a variation on that statement can be found in most of the notices and reviews of the Criterion Collection DVD of Wilde's 1965 film The Naked Prey , but though that disc was released in 2008, the movie's profile still seems astoundingly, and unjustifiably, low. Some of the reviews I've glanced at also state that the film is good but "not politically correct", which is at best a lazy thing to say about it. Part of what makes The Naked Prey interesting is that it struggles with conflicting meanings and implications within its representation of colonial and native encounters in 19th century southern Africa. It dutifully includes a checklist of Hollywood clichés about safaris and hunting and "man in the state of nature" (literally, in this case, as the protagonist is known only as Man) and a mythical "Africa" full of "savages". (The


Anthony DiBlasi's movie Dread may be compelling for folks who haven't read the Clive Barker story that inspired it, but anyone who admires the grand guignol audacity of that story will likely be disappointed by the film. There's plenty to praise in the movie, though, and before I detail why I think Diblasi's screenplay tames the story and saps it of any interesting meaning, I do want to make it clear that my objection is primarily to the screenplay. The cinematography and production design are often excellent, sometimes strikingly so -- every wall in this film seems rich with texture, the colors and lighting are frequently more evocative than anything going on in the plot, and some of the framing of shots is gorgeous (what's in the frame is often grimy or grotesque, fitting the events of the story, but the image composition is nonetheless beautiful). And there's some good gore, too. The acting isn't as bad as it could be, either, especially given

New Hampshire to Become Rap Mecca

In an attempt to promote racial, ethnic, generational, and aesthetic diversity in a state best known for its rock, the New Hampshire Department of Cultural Resources is devoting $7.50 (half its budget) to an effort that encourages the Granite State's citizens to create what Governor John Lynch called, "That hipping-hopping music, so popular with the young folks nowadays." Because the indigenous music of New Hampshire is something akin to sea shanties played on kazoos and small accordions, there will be a steep learning curve. But the state's commitment is strong. Van McLeod, Commissioner of Cultural Resources, said, "In honor of the great strides New Hampshire is making toward becoming one of the big playas, I'm officially changing my name to MC Loud, at least for today." The first product of the state's new initiative takes up the gauntlet thrown down by Jay-Z and Alicia Keys: