Showing posts from 2013

Submergence by J.M. Ledgard

People ask, what kind of writer do you want to be. I say, I want to be like Brancusi . I want my writing to have that rigour, that beauty, and that ability to see the world in a new way. —J.M. Ledgard Coffee House Press is one of the very few publishers whose books I will buy simply because Coffee House published them (another, in case you're curious, is Small Beer Press . Apparently, I am partial to publishers with beverages in their names). At this year's AWP conference , I happened to pass the Coffee House booth, and I was curious to see what was new. On a table at the front of the booth, J.M. Ledgard's Submergence grabbed by eye: a novel partially about events in East Africa, with a cover blurb by Teju Cole , published by Coffee House ... how could I resist? I could not. Life caught up with me, though, and I didn't have time to read the book until this week. I begin by writing about where and why I bought the book because I'm trying to stay specific an

Reading In the Heart of the Country

I create myself in the words that create me. — In the Heart of the Country I've recently completed a draft of a paper on J.M. Coetzee's second novel, In the Heart of the Country , writing about the book and its contexts (with regard to trauma theory and Afrikaner Nationalism), but as I read various scholarly analyses of it, as well as reviews of the novel when it was first published, what struck me was the book's relative neglect compared to Coetzee's other novels, and the general lack of enthusiasm for it. When I first read it some years ago, I found it befuddling and often tedious. But it stuck with me, even haunted me, and that's why I decided to take some time digging into it. Older now, more experienced in reading Coetzee, I found it immensely rich and a powerful reading experience. Though I've spent a few months reading and re-reading it closely, I still feel like I'm only beginning to get a grasp of all it's up to. It is impossible to s


Over at Press Play, I have a new text essay to accompany Leigh Singer's video essay on dragons in movies. Here's a taste: In confronting dragons, humans confront an ancient, alien Nature. Unlike the other popular fantasy figures these days—vampires and zombies—dragons are not transmuted humans, but rather something beyond us, other than us. Often, they are represented as deeply greedy, and this is their fatal flaw (e.g. Smaug in The Hobbit ). They guard, hoard, and covet. Within most fantasy stories, they're part of a medieval environment and their greed stands in contrast to the commons. The triumph of the little human against the dragon is a heroic reappropriation of resources and a signal of the human ability to triumph over the hoard of Nature—the dragon must die for civilization to advance.  You can read the whole thing at Press Play .


11 February 1990 I was 14 years old on the day Nelson Mandela walked out of prison. I remember the television I watched it on, the room I was in, the couch I sat on. I was a white kid in rural New Hampshire, and I remember being overwhelmed with inexpressible hope, inchoate happiness. * I knew that there was widespread interest in the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa, in the United States of America, but to see that reflected in the conduct of the people when I arrivedd in New York was something very encouraging, very inspiring. The excitement of the people, the remarks they made which indivated unwavering solidarity with our struggle — in the street, in buildings, offices and resident ... flats — it was just amazing; it swept me from my feet completely ... To know that you are the object of such goodwill makes one humble indeed. And that is how I felt. —Nelson Mandela: Conversations with Myself p. 377 * Mandela's death yesterday was certainly no surprise —

Film Textbooks, Take 3

A solidly popular post here continues to be one I wrote in 2009 about textbooks for introduction to film courses . I updated it once , way back in 2011, but enough time has passed that it deserves a quick update again. First, I should say: Because I've started a Ph.D. at UNH , I'm not teaching film these days, except for a summer class online. So I haven't been thinking about film textbooks too much recently. But I do think about it, mostly because I really miss teaching film. It seeps into everything I do, though — this term, for instance, I'm taking a required course for all new grad students who are teaching First-Year Composition (yes, it's a little awkward having 15 years of teaching experience and taking a course like this...), and for my research project for the class I decided to research the use of film analysis in FYC classes. (If you're curious, you can see the results of all that research here . Creating a Weebly site was a class assignment, so

On 12 Years a Slave

Press Play has now posted an essay I wrote about 12 Years a Slave . It begins: 12 Years a Slave has arrived in theatres already barnacled with expectations. In its festival appearances, it met with critical acclaim, and Oscar odds-makers had already slated it for various awards. Viewers buy their tickets, sit down in their seats, wait for the lights to dim, and expect great things. But viewers also have other, deeper expectations. The dominant cinematic story of slavery has been the story of white redemption and white heroism against an unfortunate institution perpetuated only by the most sadistic of bad white men. Even today, it is exceedingly rare to find a story about slavery that doesn't emphasize how good-hearted white people can be and how inherently just, good, and equal America is. In American movies, black suffering redeems white characters and affirms white nobility.     12 Years a Slave tells a different story, but because the familiar narrative has conditio

Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics

Rain Taxi has posted my review of Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics . It's one of the best books I've read all year, certainly one of the best poetry anthologies I've read in a long time. Here's a sample of the review: Reading the book, with all its diversities, can be dizzying—and it’s a glorious feeling. Rarely do anthologies capture quite so much energy of expression. No reader is likely to find all of these poems to their taste, and that is part of the fun, because as we traverse the types and tones, we are challenged to define our own tastes, desires, and identities. Who am I when I read this book? we ask. And: Who might I be? Regardless of our own relationship to gender, to bodies, to love, lust, and loss, we will find ourselves somewhere within these pages, within these lines. Here are voices to hear—voices that, because of all their differences, are ineluctably human: our friends, family, neighbors, ancestors, lovers,

Rob Zombie and the Cinema of Cruelty

I have a new video essay and accompanying text essay up at Press Play. This one, in honor of Halloween, is about the work of one of my favorite living directors, Rob Zombie. In it, I relate some writings by Antonin Artaud to some of what it seems to me Zombie is up to in his work. One thing that struck me as I rewatched all of Zombie's movies over the space of just a couple days to create the essays was how very David Lynchian his last two films have become — Halloween II  and The Lords of Salem  both remind me of nothing so much as Lost Highway  and Mulholland Drive .


Other obligations have kept me away from blogging for a month, and though I fully intended to mark and celebrate the publication of Jeff VanderMeer's wondrous Wonderbook  last week, time was not on my side. I am biased toward Wonderbook  because Jeff is a close friend, I was a consultant on the text, and I wrote some stuff for it. But I don't think my biases warp my perception of the book in this case, because it is just undeniably beautiful. Simply as an object , it's magnificent. (And I had nothing to do with the design, layout, or production, so I think I can be at least partially objective about that.) After Jeff sent me an advance copy, I told him I just kept carrying it around with me wherever I went so I could leaf through it. I'd seen a lot of the book before, but there's a huge difference between looking at it as a series of draft PDFs and holding the whole thing in your hands. I think the text offers useful, new, and invigorating ideas about how to

You're Doing It Wrong in the Mirror

via Wikimedia Commons We can argue about whether Hamlet is right or not when he claims that art holds a mirror up to nature. But let’s just say he is. Here’s what Hamlet doesn’t say: that art is a mirror you choose to pick up to see yourself. Art shows you a mirror. That thing you see in there isn’t supposed to be your pre-conceived self-image. It’s something strange, and alien, and scary, or ridiculous, or dull. But it’s something that demands engagement. And sometimes, it becomes something that you realize is in fact you — but that’s not meant to be a happy realization. If the thing you see when you look into a book looks exactly like what you think you look like, you’re doing it wrong. —Holger Syme, "The Loneliness of the Old White Male"

Gun Culture, USA

Another mass shooting. And what comes then comes from my friends who love their guns? This, now making the rounds of the gun nut Facebook page nearest you: Welcome to the world the NRA has created. Sure, some people demand that we do something! , but it's theatre. Nothing gets done.  True, most of the proposals for what to do are hasty and only vaguely more informed than the above graphic. (I've long been skeptical that we can do much of anything about gun violence in the US, given the realities. Still, practical, reasonable measures could help — treat guns like cars, for instance. But such ideas are politically impossible.) The general lack of quality to our national conversation on guns is not some fluke. It was created and is sustained by wealthy interests. The NRA fundraises and fundraises, lobbies and lobbies. Their leaders will do their best to look sad and concerned and serious, but don't miss the dollar signs in their eyes. They've spent decades training

For a Trans-Inclusive Feminism & Womanism

We are committed to recognizing and respecting the complex construction of sexual/gender identity; to recognizing trans* women as women and including them in all women’s spaces; to recognizing trans* men as men and rejecting accounts of manhood that exclude them; to recognizing the existence of genderqueer, non-binary identifying people and accepting their humanity; to rigorous, thoughtful, nuanced research and analysis of gender, sex, and sexuality that accept trans* people as authorities on their own experiences and understands that the legitimacy of their lives is not up for debate; and to fighting the twin ideologies of transphobia and patriarchy in all their guises.  [read more] I agree with everything in the new "Statement of Trans-Inclusive Feminism and Womanism" , and so just sent my name in to be added to the list of signers. The statement is well-written and thoughtful, a nice counter to the reckless, hateful statements and actions of certain people who have taken

"Everything is contingent, of course, on what you take yourself to be."

From "James Baldwin, The Art of Fiction No. 78" at The Paris Review: INTERVIEWER You read contemporary novels out of a sense of responsibility? BALDWIN In a way. At any rate, few novelists interest me—which has nothing to do with their values. I find most of them too remote for me. The world of John Updike, for instance, does not impinge on my world. On the other hand, the world of John Cheever  did  engage me. Obviously, I’m not making a very significant judgment about Updike. It’s entirely subjective, what I’m saying. In the main, the concerns of most white Americans (to use  that  phrase) are boring, and terribly, terribly self-centered. In the worst sense. Everything is contingent, of course, on what you take yourself to be. INTERVIEWER Are you suggesting they are less concerned, somehow, with social injustice? BALDWIN No, no, you see, I don’t want to make that kind of dichotomy. I’m not asking that anybody get on picket lines or take positions.

The Popular and the Good and the Doomed

As I was writing a comment over at Adam Roberts's blog (about which more in a moment), I realized I had various items of the last few days swirling through my head, and it all needed a bit of an outlet that wasn't a muddled comment on Adam's blog, but rather a potentially-even-more-muddled post here. I don't have a whole lot to say about these things, and I certainly have no coherent argument to make, but they've congealed together in my mind, so here they are, with a few lines of annotation from me. Most of these things have gotten a lot of notice, but they haven't gotten a lot of notice together .

Jerry Garcia Reads...

A friend sent me the above photo this morning. "You probably know more about Sci Fi and Fantasy publications than anyone I know," he wrote, "so can you possibly identify the book that Jerry Garcia is reading in the attached photo. It would mean a lot to thousands of Deadheads." I like a challenge. The picture is of such low resolution I almost couldn't make out anything helpful about the book, but I was determined. The title seemed long and the more I stared at it, the more it looked like some sort of anthology title ... The Best something? ... maybe a best of the year collection? ... no, best of fantasy and science -- The Best from Fantasy and Science Fiction , I bet. I've got a few copies of that longrunning series of stories from the venerable magazine , but all mine are old hardcovers picked up at library sales. I'm not sure I've ever even seen one of the paperbacks, or knew that there were  paperbacks of the series. But God invented ISFDB

First Fassbinder

First Fassbinder from Matthew Cheney on Vimeo Over at Press Play, I have a video essay and accompanying text essay on the first films of Rainer Werner Fassbinder [dead link: see video above, text below], the best of which were recently released in the US by Criterion as part of the Eclipse series . EARLY FASSBINDER: A ROMANTIC ANARCHIST FROM THE FIRST by Matthew Cheney The German actor and filmmaker Frank Ripploh interviewed Rainer Werner Fassbinder in March 1982, only a few months before Fassbinder's death at age 37. Ripploh's last question was: "How do you describe yourself?" "I'm a romantic anarchist," Fassbinder said. And so he had been from the beginning. It can be difficult to know what to make of Fassbinder, how to enter his extraordinary body of work, how to assess and appreciate his achievement. Romantic anarchists don't sum up well. First, there is the simple problem of scale. Though his career was relatively short,

The Potential Doctor Is In

Posting has been nonexistent here for a bit because not only is it the start of a new school year (a time when posting is always light here), but, as I've mentioned before, I'm also now beginning the PhD in Literature program at the University of New Hampshire . This not only involves lots of time in classes, time teaching First-Year Writing , and time doing homework and class prep, but I'm also driving over 300 miles a week commuting to and from campus. And of course there are also the inevitable writing projects — currently, I'm writing an introduction for a new translation from the Japanese of a very interesting novel (more on that later, I'm sure), a couple of book reviews and review-essays and essay-essays, a couple of short stories, and the always very slowly progressing book manuscript on 1980s action movies. And I've got a couple video essays I want to make in the next month or so. And I'm editing a short film I shot this summer. And, well, natura

New Design

In honor of the blog's 10th anniversary , I thought it might be nice to spruce things up around here a bit. Thus, a new design. Some of the design details will be in flux for a bit while I try it all out in different browsers and on different computers. Please pardon any mess!

Now on Letterboxd

I've been playing around with Letterboxd, a sort of Goodreads-for-movies . I've put in a bunch of ratings and added some reviews, both from here and from an occasional film diary I've kept for the last couple years. I expect I'll continue using it to keep track of what I've seen, and will probably continue to post short reviews there as time and desire allow. If you want to stand aghast at my bad taste, this will give you lots of opportunities.

Zulu by Caryl Férey

This review originally appeared in the print edition of  Rain Taxi   in the fall of 2010 . I didn't realize until I read this post at Africa is a Country that the book was being made into a film starring Forrest Whitaker and Orlando Bloom. I wrote as restrained and fair a review as I could; I hated the book. But since the movie is coming out, perhaps this review is of interest. ZULU Caryl Férey Europa Editions ($15) French writer Caryl Férey's Zulu isn't likely to win any awards from the South African Department of Tourism, for though the novel is as full as a guidebook with information about the country's history and culture, the story it tells is a relentlessly brutal one, and the South Africa that emerges from the narrative is a place of chaotic violence, rampant drug traffic, densely-populated slums rife with doom and disease, and corruption bursting from every level of society. The novel is a police procedural portraying an investigation into

Ten Years

One decade ago today, I sat down and started writing blog posts here. This is the room I wrote in: That room no longer exists, and not just because it doesn't have all my books and papers everywhere. The house was renovated (for the first time in decades) after I left, with the area that had been my apartment pretty well gutted. The computer I began the blog with was an iMac G3 . A year later, I got the laptop that's visible in those photos. I've been working up to this anniversary moment by writing posts about each of the years in the decade. Here they are for easy reference, along with the primary topics of the posts: 2012 [beginning to look back]   2011 [some thoughts on canonical nationalism] 2010 [the turn to film writing] 2009 [month by month] 2008 [thoughts on teaching & syllabi] 2007 [the bad year] 2006 [a Mumpsimus taxonomy] 2005 [some old posts worth saving] 2004 [Annus Mirabilis, or, Why I Owe A Lot to Neil Gaiman] 2003 [the begin

A Decade of Archives 10: 2003

This is the tenth in a series of posts leading up to this blog's tenth anniversary today, August 18. In each post, I look back on one year, sometimes specifically and sometimes generally. All the posts can be found  here . Well, here we are. The beginning. I started the blog after reading something in an emailed newsletter from my internet provider about Blogger . It sounded interesting, and I was curious to learn about HTML, which you needed to know the basics of to be able to format anything, so I took some of the last few days of summer vacation and played around. I'd recently begun reading science fiction and fantasy again after a relatively long absence. The New Wave Fabulists  issue of Conjunctions  brought me back, showing that some interesting stuff had happened since I'd stopped reading SF with any regularity in the mid-'90s. I got interested in the writers associated with the New Weird , and, especially, the contentious discussions that surrounded it

A Decade of Archives 9: 2004

This is the ninth in a series of posts leading up to this blog's tenth anniversary on August 18. In each post, I look back on one year, sometimes specifically and sometimes generally. All the posts can be found  here . 2004 was the first full year of The Mumpsimus. It was also the year with the largest number of posts: 319. (These days, I'm able to get out about 100 or so in a year.) And it was the year when a relatively large number of people began to notice what was going on here. That initial attention is what made me think this was not, perhaps, just a useless lark. A lark, yes, and largely useless, yes, but maybe not completely so... The year began with a post about returning : I hadn't paid a lot of attention to the site at the end of 2003, having written one post in December and none in November. The first paragraph of that post indicates that I was still thinking of this as a site about, primarily if not exclusively, science fiction. The reason for my absence

Against Silence

"I understand that the games will likely go on—as do most people calling for a boycott—but I don't think our outrage is useless, or unproductive. At the very least, it has brought worldwide attention to the treatment of LGBT people in Russia. Putin may not change his position on the issue, and the discrimination will certainly continue, but the gays in Russia will know they are not alone. This alone is justification enough, because there is one thing that is almost always more useless than outrage: silence." —Eric Sasson

A Decade of Archives 8: 2005

This is the eighth in a series of posts leading up to this blog's tenth anniversary on August 18. In each post, I look back on one year, sometimes specifically and sometimes generally. All the posts can be found  here . 2005 was a big year around these here parts, as the blog was nominated for a World Fantasy Award. I went to the World Fantasy Convention and wrote up a report of that experience here. It was an exciting time. From my perspective now, though, 2005 doesn't seem like all that great a year for actual blog posts,. There are lot of them — 2005 is second only to 2004 in the number of individual posts — but most of them are quick links, bits of news, etc. The stuff that I now will just throw on Twitter , or ignore altogether. This is reassuring, actually, because I often look back on the number of posts in 2005 and 2004 with fondness and even a certain awe — how did I ever write so much? (My life was no less busy and crazy back then; indeed, it was busier and

Whither the Gay Blockbuster?

The next stage will depend on the willingness of queer publics to be both accepting and demanding, for the biggest impediment to the creation of culture is not the imagination of the creator but the receptivity of an audience. Once, a public hungry for change did its part to bring the [New Queer Cinema] to life. In the decades since, queer audiences have too often retreated into a comfort zone of familiar faces and cozy narratives. The 2010-2012 seasons give me hope that change is afoot, and the harsh economic conditions of our times, the extremity of politics, and the disparity of wealth have created an audience eager to be challenged, and to change. I think it's time for queer publics to broaden their vision once again, not shut it down for legal status, gender definition, or genre formula. The creativity of queer communities ensures that anything happening right now is "just a stage" and that, far from returning to earlier iterations as the phrase used to sugges

A Decade of Archives 7: 2006

This is the seventh in a series of posts leading up to this blog's tenth anniversary on August 18. In each post, I look back on one year, sometimes specifically and sometimes generally. All the posts can be found  here . Miami Vice K: There are times when I'd really love to live in your world. M: It's full of existential crises, but not a lot of headaches. K: I've already got the existential crises, so it might be a nice change. M: There's a reason the first album that ever made a strong impression on me was Stop Making Sense . K: So that's your aesthetic credo? M: No, I don't have a credo. It's just something I thought of and so I said it. It's probably not even true. —"A Conversation After Miami Vice " 2006 seems to me an ideal year of The Mumpsimus, not because all of the posts are high quality (they aren't!) but because the diversity of posts covers just about everything I think of as Mumpsimusian. In other years, th

Watching the Dark: Zero Dark Thirty

Some notes for the above video essay: 1. My viewing of Zero Dark Thirty  and my ideas about it were and are influenced by ideas I first encountered in writings by  Ignatiy Vishnevetsky , Glenn Kenny , Steven Shaviro , and Nicholas Rombes . Their interpretations are not mine, and they should not be blamed for my failures, but I certainly owe them gratitude for whatever insights I have benefited from. 2. I worked on this video over a period of months, trying simply to gather a few of the motifs and visual patterns in the film (monitors, windows, surfaces, light/dark). It evolved to be something more impressionistic than that, but that was the initial concept.

A Decade of Archives 6: 2007

This is the sixth in a series of posts leading up to this blog's tenth anniversary on August 18. In each post, I look back on one year, sometimes specifically and sometimes generally. All the posts can be found  here . I'm Not There 2007 began with an outtake from an interview I did with Juliet Ulman of Bantam Books and ended with a rather mysterious announcement on December 24 that I would need to take a break from blogging for a while. The reason for the hiatus was something I discussed in the previous post : my father's death. I last talked with him on my cell phone as I was walking home after seeing Tim Burton's movie of Sweeney Todd , a review of which was the last substantive post I wrote that year; the next afternoon, I got the call from the New Hampshire State Police. The only thing I managed to write between the announcement of my absence and then my later return was a column for Strange Horizons  that adds some context to it all, "Of Muses and

A Decade of Archives 5: 2008

This is the fifth in a series of posts leading up to this blog's tenth anniversary on August 18. In each post, I look back on one year, sometimes specifically and sometimes generally. All the posts can be found here . Posting in 2008 began late because in December 2007, my father died, leaving me not only with the emotional and psychological challenge of a dead parent, but also with the challenge of now being the heir to a house, property, and gun shop 300+ miles away from where I was then living. By the end of the year, I had quit my job, moved back to New Hampshire, gained a Federal Firearms License to sell off the inventory, and started work as an adjunct professor at Plymouth State University in the English Department and the Women's Studies Program. The year ended with a post noting that George W. Bush had done a wonderful thing for New Hampshire, making our sole contribution to the U.S. Presidency, Franklin Pierce, look better. It was a relatively thin year for

"How Far to Englishman's Bay"

My story "How Far to Englishman's Bay" is now available at Nightmare Magazine for reading, or you could listen to it read by Paul Boehmer on the podcast. There's also an interview with me by Erika Holt about the story, though if you don't like to know any plot elements before reading, you should save the interview for after you've finished the story, because I blithely give away a few surprises. I thought the above image, based partially on one from a 1909 Harper's Weekly story called "The Queer Folk of the Maine Coast"  (which would be a perfect subtitle for "How Far to Englishman's Bay") more or less fit the story, so I put it together during a moment when procrastinating from something more important, and so, well, here it is.