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Showing posts from 2011

How to Respond to a Critic

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Posting will be light-to-nonexistent here until after the new year, but I want to put this up before I forget it.

I've been bingeing on Tim Minchin over the holidays, mostly because I've been very busy with grading, writing, wrapping, cleaning, etc. and needed something amusing and profane in the background of these activities. Minchin's "Song for Phil Daoust" is a heartfelt, soul-searching, and genuinely touching example of something artists should really never, ever do, despite the temptation: respond to a negative review. (Note: despite being heartfelt, soul-searching, and genuinely touching, this is not a song you will want to play anywhere where colorful words might singe sensitive sensibilities.)


A Promise Kept

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In my latest Sandman Meditations piece, I discussed the unconscious shame of reading comics in certain settings, and at the end I promised I would read some old G.I. Joe comics while my students worked on their final exam activities.



I have kept my promise -- and gone beyond it. Since today's class was called Media as Popular Culture, I thought we should all enjoy some popular culture for a moment, so I loaned everyone in the class a G.I. Joe comic....

Site Note

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I was bored with the old look of this site, so decided to change things around a bit. (If you're reading this via RSS or a mobile device or something, check out the actual website to see.) There may be some adjustments as I try it out on other computers and browsers, but for now this will do.

Until I decide to go all neon green.

Because clearly the internet needs more neon green.


Canonical Nationalism

Questions of literary canonicity have been stalking me for the past few months, mostly in relation to teaching. Some I began thinking about because I was designing a course called Currents in Global Literature, and when faced with giving English majors perhaps their only taste of writings from beyond the U.S. and U.K., I had to figure out my priorities.

One of the things I decided to do was try to provoke the students to think about why they have read what they have in school, why they have the assumptions they do about books and writers, and how they can learn more. So I had them watch TED Talks by Chris Abani and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, listen to Stephen Snyder on "The Business of International Literature", and read Dan Edelstein on "Gerrymandering the Canon", Binyavanga Wainaina on "How to Write About Africa", and Manijeh Nasrabadi on her experiences trying to write and publish a memoir. Additionally, our poetry textbook challenged the templates of R…

Notes on Petals of Blood by Ngugi wa Thiong'o

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In the introduction to the Penguin Classics edition of Petals of Blood, Moses Isegawa calls the novel "the definitive African book of the twentieth century". I would only disagree because I do not think there is any one definitive African book, nor should there be -- one of the problems African literatures face when sampled here and there is the tendency for one or two books to be seen as giving some sort of definitive portrait of a continent of over 50 countries, a billion people, and thousands of languages. Petals of Blood is capacious and brilliant, but it's not definitive.

A lot has been written aboutPetals of Blood since its publication, and it continues to incite interest both in its portrait of Kenya in the early years of independence and its (and its author's) politics. This was especially true at the time of its release, because it was difficult then to see beyond the novel's critique of Kenya's ruling class to its subtler aspects, and the fact that…

Back in the Saddle

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Things have been mostly quiet here for a few months because of general busy-ness on my part since September. Not just with teaching, though that has eaten up more time than usual, but also with my membership on the jury of the Shirley Jackson Awards and the board of our local domestic violence shelter and resource center, Voices Against Violence. (Operating a domestic violence shelter and resource center that offers entirely free services in these economic times in a state where the legislature is full of anti-government, anti-spending fanatics is not the easiest job on Earth.) Free time and sleep have not been things I've experienced much for the past few months, and that took a toll as well, since I'm now recovering from a rather nasty virus. But we soldier on!

And there should be a bit more time for blogging in the coming months, so I've begun to make some plans. First, the usual reflection on the term's classes, which even if it ends up being terribly boring for m…

Profane Love: Derek Jarman and Caravaggio

I created the above video after failing at writing about Caravaggio for The House Next Door and the Summer of '86 series. I had a pile of fragments, quotes, scenes I wanted to somehow refer to, but couldn't make any of it cohere. A month or two ago, I thought about trying again by creating a sort of collage, and figured if it was too weird or unfinished for The House, I could at least post it here and be done with it. But as I looked over the collage, it felt more like some sort of script to me. "Wouldn't it be nice," I thought, "to make a film about Caravaggio?" In all my copious spare time. But the idea nagged at me, and finally I sat down to see what such a thing might look like. I transformed the essay-collage into a script-blueprint, recorded the narration, and then tried to fit images to it. I thought it would take an afternoon. It took substantially longer, and involved various software failures, lots of thinking and rethinking, a willingness to…

Buy Yourself a Holiday Gift! And Something for Everybody Else You Know, Too!

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Terri Windling is facing health and financial problems right now, and so a bunch of folks have banded together to create a giant auction of stuffs to raise money for her. If her name is unfamiliar to you, check out her Wikipedia page for a quick summary.

I don't know Terri Windling, but she has been a great help to many of my friends in their lives and careers, so I am distressed to hear of her distress. I've got dozens of books in the house with her name on them, and far more with her name on the acknowledgments page.

Therefore, I decided to contribute an item to the auction, something I've had for a while and have been looking for a good cause to which to donate it. This seems perfect.



Thus, if you would like to bid on a copy of Startling Mystery Stories with Stephen King's second professionally-published story in it, follow this link. This issue of Startling Mystery was the first magazine where King's name appeared on the cover.

There are all sorts of other item…

World on a Wire Update, Plus Vanya

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Consumer-citizens of the United States, rejoice! Criterion has announced that they will be releasing Rainer Werner Fassbinder's wonderful science fiction epic World on a Wire in February. Diligent and obsessive readers of this here blog may remember that I swooned over World on a Wire both here and at Strange Horizons back in September, and I remain as swoonful toward it as before. The DVD/Blu-ray will include a 50-minute documentary about the film by Juliane Lorenz, one of Fassbinder's most frequent collaborators and the head of the Fassbinder Foundation. Lorenz has created documentaries for some of the other DVD releases of Fassbinder's films in the U.S. and elsewhere, and I've enjoyed all of the ones I've seen, so am looking forward to this one quite a bit.



And in equally magnificent — indeed, perhaps even more magnificent — news, Criterion will also be releasing Louis Malle's final film, Vanya on 42nd Street. It's one of my favorites, a movie that has …

Epigraphs for an Imaginary Novel

Going through notes for old pieces of writing, I discovered this collection of quotations I hoped to sprinkle through a piece of long fiction I was outlining ten years ago. The story itself never came to anything, but some shadowy traces of it remain in the collage...



If the New World fed dreams, what was the Old World reality that whetted the appetite for them?  And how did that reality caress and grip the shaping of a new one? —Toni Morrison, Playing in the Dark

Why is it so inconceivable to our dramatists that some people do not know, or care, how they feel all the time?  That some people act with a detachable motive, or from a myriad of contradictory ones?  Why is life itself less interesting per se than explanations of life? —Mac Wellman, “The Theater of Good Intentions”

There is a wisdom that is woe; but there is a woe that is madness.  And there is a Catskill eagle in some souls that can alike dive down into the blackest gorges, and soar out of them again and become invisible i…

Fresh Links

Just an addendum to my previous post, in which I lamented the breaking of Google Reader's share function, which enabled the "Fresh Links" widget over on the sidebar—

I have created a near fix, as you'll see if you look over on the side. I'm using the RSS feed from my Delicious account for this, since it was sitting dormant. (Thus some of those links are very much not fresh right now!)

Stuffs

Google has done gone and brokeGoogle Reader, removing the sharing function to encourage people to use Google Plus instead. This means the "Fresh Links" section over on the sidebar is no longer able to be refreshed, and I'll probably go back to occasionally doing linkdump posts. Here, for instance, are some links:


My latest Strange Horizons column, "Reading Systems", has been posted, as has my latest Sandman Meditations piece. (The Sandman pieces are going to be biweekly for the rest of the year rather than the regular weekly schedule because I'm just too busy to keep up with a weekly schedule right now, and I was getting really frazzled.)Team VanderMeer has launched The Weird Fiction Review, an online journal about kumquats. Famed kumquat collected Neil Gaiman is interviewed, and there's an interesting selection of nonfiction, art, and fiction about kumquats. Don't believe me? Well, go over there and see for yourself!In publishing news, it turns out …

Kael Days

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Seventeen years after her last book and ten years after her death, Pauline Kael's name is hard to avoid right now if you read culture magazines or blogs. That's because of three books that came out in October: The Age of Movies: Selected Writings of Pauline Kael, edited by Sanford Schwartz and published by The Library of America; Brian Kellow's biography Pauline Kael: A Life in the Dark; and James Wolcott's memoir Lucking Out: My Life Getting Down and Semi-Dirty in Seventies New York, which includes, apparently, lots of material about his friendship with Kael (before they had a falling-out after he published a sharply critical, even vicious, essay on Kael's acolytes in Vanity Fair in 1997).

I haven't read Wolcott's memoir, but I've been reading around in Kellow's biography and I'm familiar with almost everything in The Age of Movies. It was Kael's 1,291-page retrospective collection For Keeps from 1994 that made me into a fan of her writing…

About (Experimental) Writing

...having the entire intellectual armamentarium of rhetorical devices at your beck and call is far preferable to having to limit yourself to tradititional narrative tropes, when writing about truly important matters. To me, that's just simple logic. —Samuel R. Delany
(see also, here)

Film Textbooks, Take 2

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On the last day of 2009, I wrote a post about choosing a textbook for the Introduction to Film class that I was then designing. I'll be teaching that course again next term, along with another film class: Outlaws, Delinquents, and "Deviants" in Film and Society. Book orders were due at the beginning of this week, so I've been looking through film textbooks a lot over the last couple of months, and especially the last two weeks.

A Contribution to Schaller-VanderMeer Studies

After my own previous contribution to the burgeoning academic field of VanderMeer Studies, I am happy to christen yet another field: Schaller-VanderMeer Studies, a discipline inaugurated in ivy-covered halls with the Illustrating VanderMeer exhibit. True (Schaller-)VanderMeer Studies scholars do not limit themselves to the study of half a VanderMeer, however, and so I am happy to present here a monograph by Eric Schaller about the woman who was described by Xaver Daffed as "the better half of VanderMeer" (325).

This monograph was originally published in the Fogcon program book, March 2011.



ANN VANDERMEER by Eric Schaller


Something was happening back there at the tail end of the last millennium. And I’m not talking about The Gulf War, McDonald’s opening a franchise in Moscow, the cloning of Dolly the sheep, the Spice Girls, or even Bill Clinton demonstrating new uses for a cigar. Although all these probably figure in there somewhere. What I am talking about are THE SILVER WEB (1…

A Contribution to VanderMeer Studies

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My previous post about The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction noted that it is in beta-text mode and so quite obviously incomplete. Among the lacks are entries on either Jeff or Ann VanderMeer. I am not a contributor to the encyclopedia nor am I in any way affiliated with it, but I do have a great interest in all things VanderMeer.

Earlier this year, I wrote a biography of Jeff for Fogcon, where he and Ann were honored guests. (Eric Schaller wrote the biography of Ann, which I hope he will allow me to reprint here, but he's not returning my calls or email at the moment, probably because I suggested that for Halloween he should dress his dog as a character from Twilight.)

I hope the information provided below will prove useful to the encyclopedists and any future scholars. My only goal in life is to be helpful. Jeff VanderMeer will, I expect, deny the accuracy of some of it, but I believe such denials only confirm the truths I am here able to provide to the world...



THE HOEGBOTTON GUI…

The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction

The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (3rd edition) is now in beta-text mode online for free, and even in this obviously incomplete form it's remarkable and fascinating. At Readercon this summer, in answer to the question of what works of SF criticism have been as influential as some of the seminal works of the 1970s and early '80s, I proposed the second edition of The Encyclopedia, a book that was not merely a collection of facts, but an argument about how to categorize the world and our imaginings of it. As such, it reduced even someone as taxonomy-averse as I to awe, and the influence of a lot of its idiosyncratic terms and templates on how people write about SF is undeniable.

I haven't had a chance to read a lot of the new material in the online 3rd edition, and have really only spent time with the Delany entry and the entry on Feminism. The Delany entry is basically the old entry plus some apparently quick updating -- its coverage of material by and about Delany after t…

Silly (Awards) Season

I'm a juror for the Shirley Jackson Awards this year, so perhaps I'm more sensitive than normal to pundits carping about award results, but something about awards brings out people's desire to complain, and they don't usually come out looking very good by doing so.

The ones people always complain about get complaints again this year -- the Nobel and the National Book Awards. The two articles I've seen linked to most frequently are Tim Parks on the Nobel and Laura Miller on the National Book Awards.

The Parks piece isn't terrible, but I'd agree with M.A. Orthofer at The Literary Saloon that it's "somewhat careless". (Parks has written a bit more thoughtfully about the Nobel in his essay "The Nobel Individual".) I certainly agree that the Nobel is inevitably in a tough position because it's supposed to be so international and definitive, and people give it almost mystical reverence, but its track record really isn't that bad. S…

Telluride at Dartmouth: Le Havre

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This post is the last in my chronicle of attending the Telluride at Dartmouth program at the Hopkins Center for the Arts. Days 1 & 2 (A Dangerous Method and Albert Nobbs) can be found here, Day 3 (We Need to Talk About Kevin) can be found here, and Day 4 (In Darkness)can be found here.

The final film of the six shown in the Telluride at Dartmouth program was Le Havre, written and directed by Aki Kaurismäki. (As I expected, I wasn't able to get over to Hanover for The Kid with the Bike, alas.) It was a good choice for a concluding film because the program had been, overall, rather bleak -- enjoyable, powerful, illuminating, but seldom uplifting. Le Havre is a fairy tale and a feel-good movie, one that tackles terrifying and complex subjects whimsically and is so determined to finish on a good note that everybody's ending is a happy one. It's naive to the point of being Panglossian, but so darn nice about it that it seems churlish to complain. It's a tremendously enj…

Strange Horizons Fund Drive

It's the final week of the Strange Horizons Fund Drive, and there are lots of fun prizes that have been donated by the various folks who support SH. But you shouldn't donate just to get a prize. You should donate because that's what keeps SH going, and has kept it going for 10 years now, long enough to make it venerable. Their staff is all volunteer, but they pay their writers good rates (think of it as the opposite of the Huffington Post that way).

Here's some useful info:


Where does my money go?Strange Horizons is staffed entirely by volunteers, so everything you donate goes towards the running of the magazine. At the moment, our costs break down something like this: Your $5 donation will cover our administrative overhead costs for one weekYour $20 donation pays for one poem or one reviewYour $50 donation pays for one articleYour $100 donation allows us to sponsor a convention eventYour $250 donation is the average amount we pay for a new storyYour $400 donation pays…

An Autobiography in Books

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Ray Russell of Tartarus Press has just put a lovely short film up on YouTube, a sort of autobiography via his book collection. Anyone who has ever felt the passions of bibliomania will find the film irresistible, and the shots of some of the rare books, especially by Arthur Machen and Sylvia Townsend Warner, are sensuous and gloriously bibliopornographic.


Telluride at Dartmouth: In Darkness

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This post continues to chronicle my attendance at the Telluride at Dartmouth program at the Hopkins Center for the Arts. Days 1 & 2 (A Dangerous Method and Albert Nobbs) can be found here, Day 3 (We Need to Talk About Kevin) can be found here.


I resisted In Darkness because it is a Holocaust film, and that is just about my least favorite movie genre. Nonetheless, it is a genre I'm deeply familiar with, and was the subject of the first serious film book I ever read, the original edition of Annette Insdorf's Indelible Shadows, which I discovered on my father's bookshelves when I was in high school. Soon after, I saw Schindler's List and found it deeply moving in a very adolescent way (on my part, at least, and maybe on Spielberg's). Later, I realized that Schindler's List had created a sort of emotional smugness in me -- it had made me feel good about feeling all the appropriate emotions. Spielberg is one of the greatest manipulators of emotion that the cinem…

In Praise of the Thesaurus

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Hearing the news that the latest issue of the Writer's Chronicle contains a statement from poet Mark Doty that, "If you write a poem with the aid of a thesaurus, you will almost inevitably look like a person wearing clothing chosen by someone else. I am not sure that a poet should even own one of the damn things," I was aghast.

Aghast, I say! Astounded! Appalled!

I have said before that my favorite reference book is a 1946 edition of Roget's International Thesaurus, and that remains true. I covet the Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary and continue to dream at night of figuring out a way to convince the good people at Oxford University Press to send me a copy (other than to pay them $500). (I do have The Oxford American Writer's Thesaurus, which is a delight. It includes a fun foreword by Rick Moody in which he notes that Donald Barthelme used a thesaurus, which should be enough to cause you to make sure you are never without one yourself.) (An…

Die, American Literature! Die! Die!

Last month I wrote about Joseph Epstein's hilariously grumbly screed against The Cambridge History of the American Novel, and now at Slate the editor of that volume writes a temperate, rational, and utterly ungrumbly response. I particularly liked this paragraph:
Simply recording our appreciation for the "high truth quotient" (the measure Epstein wants) of a stream of canonical novels won't do. It's not clear what that "quotient" is for Epstein, but anything that smacks of pop culture is by definition excluded. Yet novels were and remain a vital part of popular culture, and their emergence in the 18th and 19th centuries was greeted as an affront to the "centurions of high culture" who appointed themselves to guard the gates before Epstein nominated himself for the job. Only a tiny fraction of the hundreds of thousands of American novels published ever achieved—or even aspired to—the exalted status of high art.

Telluride at Dartmouth: We Need to Talk About Kevin

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This post continues to chronicle my attendance at the Telluride at Dartmouth program at the Hopkins Center for the Arts. Days 1 & 2 can be found here.
Lynne Ramsay is a director of exceptional visual and aural skill, as anyone who has seen her films Ratcatcher and Morvern Callar can attest. I adored Ratcatcher and found Morvern Caller rather a bore, which seems to be a somewhat idiosyncratic view, as lots of people who saw both loved the second film even more than they did the first. What we can all agree on, though, is that a new Lynne Ramsay movie is a cause for celebration. And when that new movie stars just about my favorite living film actor, Tilda Swinton, it becomes for me a great event.

I have not read the acclaimed novel by Lionel Shriver that We Need to Talk About Kevin is based on, and I was just about to read it when I heard about the film, so I decided to wait. I have seldom wished I had read a book before seeing a movie based on it, and so whenever possible, I don'…

Telluride at Dartmouth, Days 1 & 2

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Dartmouth College has a long-standing relationship with the Telluride Film Festival, and every year a group of films that premiered at Telluride are shown as part of the Telluride at Dartmouth program, a highlight of any northern New England cinephile's year. (It was at Telluride at Dartmouth last year that I saw Never Let Me Go.)

This year, I've decided to try to see as many of the films as I can, and unless exhaustion wears me down, I expect to see five of the six. (Unfortunately, The Kid with the Bike, the new movie from the Dardenne brothers, is playing on a day when I have a prior commitment.) I won't do in depth reports on the films here, I don't think, because of a lack of time, but I do want to record initial impressions.
The first film shown was A Dangerous Method, David Cronenberg's best comedy since Crash. Most people probably wouldn't classify A Dangerous Method as a comedy, and it's certainly not being sold as such, but I find it a helpful way…

The Revelator is Now Revealed!

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Eric Schaller and I have been working on creating an online version of a magazine some of our ancestors  were involved with in 1876, and after a long period of work, with the brilliant and invaluable help of Luís Rodrigues, THE REVELATOR can now be revealed.

In it you will find two new short stories, "Gaslight" by Jeffrey Ford and "Nick Kaufmann, Last of the Red-Hot Superwhores" by Nick Mamatas; an essay about the relationship between Salem, Massachusetts and witches by Robin DeRosa, poetry by Lillian Aujo and Beverly Nambozo, an interview with and comix by Edward Bolman, an account of The Spleen Brothers by Brian Francis Slattery, paintings by Michaela D'Angelo, and an eyewitness account of the James/Younger gang's raid on the bank in Northfield, Minnesota -- an account unlike any others, and till now lost in the archives of The Revelator!

A theme of twins, doubles, and doppelgangers runs lightly through this issue of the magazine. It's present in the…

Politics and Aesthetics, Part MCCCLV

My writing at this here blog has fallen off significantly since classes started, because I'm teaching six days a week (university classes during the week, a high school class in epistemology on Saturdays), and so my current schedule consists of prepping for classes, teaching classes, and then whatever errands, etc. I can fit into the occasional free minutes.
But still the internet provides interesting stuff, regardless of how much I am paying attention to it! Imagine that!
For instance, here's an advertisement from a 1968 issue of Galaxy that reveals which science fiction writers were in favor of the Vietnam War and which ones were not. I've seen the ad before (I have some Galaxy issues from 1968) but never paid much attention to it, really, until just now I noticed something odd.
On the list of writers who declared themselves in favor of remaining in Vietnam in 1968, there are very few whose writing I have much interest in -- R.A. Lafferty and Jack Vance are the only ones…

This Term's Courses

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I haven't done my usual blogging about teaching yet this term, mostly because I spent so much time trying to put a couple of new classes together that the idea of writing about it all wasn't very appealing. But now the classes are up and running, and so I can at least share some syllabi and thoughts with those of you who are curious.

The classes, with links to their syllabi, are:

Writing and the Creative Process (a general education, "intro to creative writing" sort of class)Currents in Global Literature (a required course for English majors)Media and Popular Culture (an upper-level Communications & Media Studies class)

Just Be Glad You're Not Trying to Sell a Poetry Book

I was working on a post about the BlazeVOX asking-writers-to-help-subsidize-poetry-publishing brouhaha, and its connections to the criminal idiocies of so much academic publishing, and what the idea of "legitimacy" in publishing does for us as writers and readers, but the post got long and banal and so boring that I started falling asleep while I wrote it, which is a bad sign, so I abandoned it, but I've still been keeping one eye on the discussion.

Today's post of note is from the blog of No Tell Books, a small, respected indie press:

No Tell Books' best selling title broke even after three years and is now earning a very modest profit. This is by an author whose work has appeared in places like Poetry and Best American Poetry. This title has been taught at universities. How many copies does one have to sell to be the best selling title at No Tell Books after four years? 228. That is not a typo. This number doesn't include what the author has sold herself, p…

World on a Wire

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My latest column is up at Strange Horizons, and this time it's about Rainer Werner Fassbinder's epic science fiction film World on a Wire (Welt am Draht).

If you want to see World on a Wire (and you should!), it's available on home video in the U.K. and Europe, and in the U.S. can be seen via Hulu if you subscribe to Hulu Plus (you can get a free trial subscription for a week, or if you have .edu email address, for a month). Rumor has it that Criterion will be releasing the film on DVD and Blu-ray in the U.S. at the end of this year or the beginning of next [update: the rumors were true]. It's also still touring various U.S. cities -- at the end of this week, it will be at the Harvard Film Archive in Cambridge, MA.

I'm a Fassbinder nut, so will passionately defend even his films that only lunatics defend, but you don't have to be as obsessed with Fassbinder as I to see get pleasure from World on a Wire. (Although if "efficient" plotting, suspenseful …

An Obstacle

The preconception, on the part of critics and actors alike, regarding cinematic theatricality as a marker of feeling—a prejudice in favor of one particular school and method of acting—remains as much an obstacle to creation as to appreciation.—Richard Brody 

Elsewhere

I've got a couple of pieces of writing floating around out in the internets this week—

A new Sandman Meditations piece has been posted at Gestalt Mash. This week, the penultimate chapter of Brief Lives. If my counting is correct, this is the 50th Sandman Meditation. (The 50th issue of Sandman was "Ramadan", but because I'm reading the stories in the order of the trade collections rather than the original publication, I wrote about that issue back in June when I read it in Fables and Reflections.)

Over at Strange Horizons, it's Pat Cadigan week, and I've contributed an essay about some of the 1980s short stories that helped make Cadigan famous. It's a somewhat odd essay. I expect the nice young men in their clean white coats to show up at my door any moment...

Also, it's Strange Horizons Fund Drive time! The site exists through contributions. The staff are not paid, but the writers are (the reverse of many publisher's policies). Except for a brief hi…

The Reign of Good Queen Anne Was Culture's Palmiest Day

I hadn't read an ill-tempered screed against all things contemporary and academic for at least a couple of days, so it was with delight that I happened upon Joseph Epstein's Wall Street Journal review of The Cambridge History of the American Novel. What a hoot!

Some sadistic editor at the WSJ assigned Epstein to read and review a book that was never intended for people to just sit down to read. It's a reference book, something for library shelves, a book to be cited, and, for its contributors, a credit for touting. That's not to say it's not useful -- were you doing some research on a particular phase of American lit, it might give good guidance, and I would find it especially useful with undergraduates to show them the wide range of topics that can be thought about, analyzed, studied. Like a 1,200 page collection of academic essays about American history. Useful for various purposes, but not really something to take to the beach or the bed.

Properly categorizing a…