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Showing posts from January, 2012

Spring Classes

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Tomorrow morning marks the start of our spring semester, and so I thought tonight I'd do my regular pre-term post about what I've got planned.

I'm teaching three classes, one of which I've never taught before. They are Currents in Global Literature, Introduction to Film, and Outlaws, Delinquents, and Other "Deviants" in Film & Society. Let's look at them one by one...

Metaphor Systems, Fictive Moments, and False Arrests

Bradford Morrow, editor of Conjunctions and writer of The Diviner's Tale and The Uninnocent, in an interview conducted by Edie Meidav at The Millions:
I may be overly optimistic or utterly blind, but my view of contemporary American fiction is that it is as rich as ever. Some of the best work is being written in what until recently was considered, at least among the conventional literati, genre fiction. Horror, gothic, mystery, fantasy, fabulism. There are so many stunningly original and serious writers working these fields. I have to think that anybody reading this interview would agree. Just one example, though there are many, would be Elizabeth Hand. She composes sentences of ravishing beauty. She is capable of creating metaphor systems that are so dynamic and provocative. She can turn a fictive moment that seems deeply rooted in the everyday into something that, in fact, touches upon the sublime, the miraculous. Just read her novella Cleopatra Brimstone and tell me that Americ…

Report Realism

At Gukira, Keguro has posted some provocative thoughts on "report realism" in Kenyan fiction:
Over the past 15 years and more specifically the past ten years or so, Kenyan writing has been shaped by NGO demands: the “report” has become the dominant aesthetic foundation. Whether personal and confessional or empirical and factual or creative and imaginative, report-based writing privileges donors’ desires: to help, but not too much; to save, but not too fast; to uplift, but never to foster equality. One can imagine how these aims meld with traditional modes of realism and naturalism and also speak to modernist truncations and postmodern undecidability. However, report realism names a more historically accurate way to name a genre indebted (very literally) to NGOS in Kenya.

The report aesthetic goes beyond citing NGO facts and figures. It is concerned, above all, with a search for truth and accuracy and is threatened by imaginative labor. I cannot comment on the specific accura…

Alternate History

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Ta-Nehisi Coates on Ron Paul's insistence that "compensated emancipation" would have prevented the Civil War:
We are united in our hatred of war and our abhorrence of violence. But a hatred of war is not enough, and when employed to conjure away history, it is a cynical vanity which posits that one is, somehow, in possession of a prophetic insight and supernatural morality which evaded our forefathers. It is all fine to speak of how history "should have been." It takes something more to ask why it wasn't, and then to confront what it actually was.  For more, see his first post in this series.

"Peter Torrelli, Falling Apart" by Rebecca Makkai

I've been reading through this year's Best American Short Stories, edited by Geraldine Brooks, little by little, almost randomly, not quickly, and mostly as a reward to myself when I get other work done. I got it as an ebook, because that's a nicely convenient way to read it. What ultimately attracted me to it was that this year's table of contents is more interesting to me than any in the last few years. (Finally, a BASS that isn't a Best American Rich White People!) My favorite story so far is Rebecca Makkai's "Peter Torrelli, Falling Apart", originally published in Tin House. For me this story alone is easily worth what I paid for the book.

Amigo

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When I was younger, I thought John Sayles was one of the greatest living filmmakers. I unhesitatingly said Matewan was among my favorite five movies (yes, I had a favorite five movies, something that seemed immensely important to me at the time). I made a special trip to see Men with Guns when it was first released — I saw it during a matinee in West Newton, Massachusetts, and I was the only person in the theatre. It was a glorious experience.

But somewhere along the line, I began to re-evaluate Sayles's work. I saw all of his pre-Matewan movies, and they didn't really do much for me — I admired their intentions more than their results. I didn't quite know what to make of 1999's Limbo; I felt myself trying very hard to like it, because it was Sayles, but it took a lot of work to summon much enthusiasm for it. Then Sunshine State I thought was just terrible: flat, schematic, obvious, dreadful. Silver City was worse. Casa de los Babys I sort of liked, and certainly admi…

The Worst Years of the Book as an Object

A fascinating interview at Boston Review with the always-already-fascinating Richard Nash:
...I’m tremendously optimistic about the future of the book as an object. I think the worst years of the book as an object have been the last 50 years. [...]

Basically, when you’ve got an industry that is pushing out $25 billion worth of physical products into a supply chain, the vast majority of businesses are going to try to cut costs and increase revenues. And the simplest way to cut costs is going to be on the production side. So if the core of the business is no longer a supply chain, but rather the orchestration of writing and reading communities, the book is freed of its obligation to be the sole means for the broad mass dissemination of the word, and instead become a thing where the intrinsic qualities of the book itself can be explored. And much more about publishing, reading, Cursor, communities, etc.

"Why We Oppose Pockets for Women"

Here's a fabulous article by Lili Loofbourow from The Hairpin that presents excerpts from a book she discovered on Project Gutenberg, Are Women People?It's full of awesomeness, but the Delany-ologist in me particularly liked this bit about pockets:

Why We Oppose Pockets for Women
by Alice Duer Miller

1. Because pockets are not a natural right.

2. Because the great majority of women do not want pockets. If they did they would have them.

3. Because whenever women have had pockets they have not used them.

4. Because women are required to carry enough things as it is, without the additional burden of pockets.

5. Because it would make dissension between husband and wife as to whose pockets were to be filled.

6. Because it would destroy man's chivalry toward woman, if he did not have to carry all her things in his pockets.

7. Because men are men, and women are women. We must not fly in the face of nature.

8. Because pockets have been used by men to carry tobacco, pipes, whiskey fl…

blackout

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I think the SOPA/PIPAinternetblackout protest is a useful way to increase the public's awareness of legislation that has a potential to really affect the way the internet is structured. It's a "publicity stunt", indeed, because one of the goals of most protest actions is to increase public awareness of the protestors' point of view. Inconveniencing folks is a good way to do that.

Pure inconvenience is counterproductive, though. The inconvenience has to be mixed with informing the inconvenienced people about your point of view. That's why the various sites blacking themselves out are also providing links to information and ways for folks in the U.S. to contact their legislators.

I find the arguments against SOPA/PIPA convincing, and though some good and powerful people have come out against these specific bills, that doesn't mean the bills are dead, and even if it did, a show of solidarity against such bills can't be a bad thing. There are strong and …

Oneiric Realism

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From a recently-unearthed interview with Pier Paolo Pasolini, conducted three days before he was murdered:
Have you bid farewell to the realism of your first features for good?

I don't agree with this. After 15 years in Italy, they finally showed Accattone on TV. We realized it is not a realist film at all. It's a dream, it's an oneiric movie.

Didn't they consider it a realistic film in Italy?

Yes, but it was a misunderstanding. When I made it, I knew I was doing a very lyrical film, not oneiric as it now seems, but deeply lyrical. I used that soundtrack and shot it in a certain way for a reason. Then what happened was that the realistic world I drew inspiration from for Accattone disappeared; it is no longer there, so the film is a dream of that world.

Mamma Roma is realist…

Mamma Roma is more realistic than Accattone, maybe. I should watch it again. It is less accomplished, less beautiful and that's because it is less dream-like.

"Walk in the Light..." Part 2

The second half of my story "Walk in the Light While There Is Light" is now up at Failbetter.com, so the story is complete. It's probably best to read it from beginning to end, but if you want to go straight to the second part, here's the link.

Exercises in Procrastinatory Videography

Having plenty of other things to do always tempts me to take on Projects That Are Not The Things I Should Be Doing.

Thus, I've been making strange videos.

One didn't take long at all because it was just a mash-up for Press Play's Vertigo contest, a contest designed to find all the varieties of movies that Bernard Herrmann's "Scene d'Amour" music can fit into, now that Kim Novak has expressed her horror that it was used in The Artist. (For more on that, see Press Play.) I decided to go with a relatively obscure film, 1931's lesbian classic Mädchen in Uniform, mostly because I happened to have it on my computer, so it was easy to manipulate.




That's good fun, but it didn't really achieve my procrastinatory goals, because it took longer to upload it to Vimeo than it did to create it. It also didn't let me achieve my lifelong goal of making a science fiction movie.

Double Feature: Beginners & Weekend

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Without any conscious decision to do so, I ended up watching two movies this week that make an excellent pair: Beginners and Weekend. Both have a lot to say about repression, shame, sex, and families, but they do so with a generally light touch. Beginners is the more comic of the two films, though its real triumph is its balance of humor and heartbreak, while Weekend is more subdued — a little bit verité, a little bit mumblecore — and far less likely than Beginners to attract Oscar votes or general viewers, which is a shame, because it's better than almost everything that will be nominated for all the awards.

Beginners is writer-director Mike Mills's semi-autobiographical story of a father's last few years of life and a son's attempt to find a romantic relationship that will last more than just a little while. The father, played by Christopher Plummer, announces that, now that his wife of 40+ years has died, he feels able to admit openly that he is gay, and he is on th…

Walk in the Light While There Is Light

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A new story of mine, "Walk in the Light While There Is Light", is being serialized in two parts at Failbetter.com, with the first part now posted. Here's the first paragraph, to tempt you:
Baskerville decided to become a monster because he had chewed his way far into the Earth, and he lived now in the space he had chewed for himself, a musty cavern beneath a knoll in an unnamed wilderness in northern Maine. He had been on vacation, alone, hiking and camping, trying to forget his latest failed encounter with something resembling love, when he was seized with the desire to devour some soil. His friend Cal the Freudian would have said this desire was fueled by a need to consume and obliterate his mother—the Earth, of course, being the biggest mother of them all—but Baskerville thought this was bullshit, because Freud was bullshit, and if Cal had been there with him, Baskerville would have accused him of being a coprophiliac for all the bullshit he ate, and that would have …

Desert Island DVDs

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It's a new year and a Saturday morning (as I type this), I have lots of stuff I should be doing, and this here thingamabob is a blog, which means -- time for a useless, ephemeral, and yet powerfully enticing internet meme (aka, tool of procrastination)!

At Salon, one of my favorite movie critics, Matt Zoller Seitz, created a slideshow of his picks for DVDs he'd want if stranded on a desert island (with, presumably, endless food and water and a great home/island video system). There are rules (1 short, 1 season of a TV show, etc.). Many people have left their own lists in the comments section of the slideshow, and critic Jim Emerson has also offered his own list, with further lists made by commenters at his site.

So, to keep the internet going, here is my contribution...


The Good Extra: A Movie Memoir

In the winter of 1993, I had the chance to be an extra in the movie The Good Son, starring Macauley Culkin and Elijah Wood. This is a video essay looking back on that experience.

On Kipple and 2011

I have a couple of things at Strange Horizons this week: a new Lexias column, "Kipple", and a contribution to the annual year-in-review article.

I hadn't thought I'd read much that was first published in 2011, but looking over other people's contributions, I see I've read more than I thought; I just forgot when it was published. (For instance, I would have mentioned Gwyneth Jones's The Universe of Things, but for some reason I had it in my mind as having been published in 2010. I'm terrible with dates.)

Blogroll

Ron Hogan has an interesting post over at Beatrice, updating a 2008 post called "What's Your Ultimate Blogroll?" for the new year. This reminded me of a discussion I had with a creative nonfiction class in early December, where I was one of a few folks invited in to talk about blogging. One of the things the students asked was, "What blogs do you recommend?" I said, "Well, I've got a blogroll on the sidebar of my site with some blogs listed in it..." The instructor for the course laughed and said, "And it's got something like 300 blogs on it!"

It does certainly list a lot of sites, some of which, I'm sure, are defunct. I keep up with them all via Google Reader, and, in fact, display the list via Google Reader -- if you wanted, you could subscribe to the list itself and see every post from everybody on it.

Not very practical, though, as a recommendation service. And though in some ways it does, in fact, represent some of what I…