Showing posts from July, 2013

A Decade of Archives 3: 2010

This is the third 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 . Munyurangabo 2010 began here with a look at the extraordinary film Munyurangabo  and ended with a look at the extraordinary writings of Wallace Shawn . During the year, I turned my general education class called "The Outsider" into a course on the idea of the image of Africa , a turn that revitalized the course for me, personally, but which faced some huge obstacles in making it work for the students. (Nonetheless, one of those students, now a senior, stopped me last term when he saw me on campus and said the course was really influential and valuable for him. So it worked for one person...) Teaching that course also led to one of my favorite posts from 2010: a look at The Story of an African Farm  by Olive Schreiner . Lots more happened. The third

Rejecting Doris Lessing

When crime writer Robert Galbraith was revealed to be J.K. Rowling, I of course thought of Richard Bachman and Stephen King, but I also thought of Jane Somers and Doris Lessing . Lessing wrote and submitted two books under the Somers pseudonym, they were rejected by her publisher (Jonathan Cape) in Britain, and when they were eventually published by Michael Joseph in the UK and Knopf in the US, they were barely noticed and didn't sell well. The story itself is interesting and, as these stories tend to do, reveals much about the power of expectations created by a recognizeable writer's name. Now, in a short piece at the New Yorker website, James Lasdun has revealed himself to be the in-house reader at Jonathan Cape who rejected Lessing's first Somers novel . Once Lessing's ruse was revealed, it seems he was a bit of a laughingstock, which is unfortunate — I expect most, if not all, of the people who criticized him for rejecting the book would probably have don

A Decade of Archives 2: 2011

This is the second 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 . Looking back through the posts for 2011 , I felt great fondness for the year, if not for my blogging (I think overall it was one of the weaker years for The Mumpsimus. That tends to happen when life itself is busy and fulfilling, so I'm not complaining!) It was a year when I taught two of my favorite classes, Gender & Science Fiction and Global Literature ; when we started blogging the Caine Prize ; when Eric Schaller and I launched The Revelator , our very occasional online magazine; when I wrote, directed, and co-edited a short film without knowing much of anything about what I was doing; when I started making video essays ; when I got to see one of my favorite Fassbinder movies, World on a Wire ; and when I had a whole class pose for a picture whil

A Few Words for Wallander

Some time in the winter, I fired up the Netflix machine and watched the first few episodes of Wallander  with Kenneth Branagh . It was occasionally interesting, but I found Branagh's lugubrious, blubbery, hangdog acting insufferable. It's rare that I like Branagh in anything, so I decided to try out the other Wallander  that was available for streaming: the 2009/10 Swedish series starring Krister Henriksson . This week, I finally let myself watch the last two episodes available. I haven't loved a TV show this much in ages, and the final episode of series two is heartwrenching, though the last scenes are sweet and touching. I was moved halfway through the episode to send a frantic text to a friend (who, though she hasn't watched the show, has been amused by my growing obsession): "They killed Wallander's dog! The heartless Swedes!" I was, it turned out, jumping to conclusions and slandering an entire nation. But I have never been moved to send a text

A Decade of Archives 1: 2012

2003 A month from today, this blog will be 10 years old. I'll reflect on that amazing, terrifying fact at that time. For now, what I'd like to do is begin a series of occasional posts that dip into the archives. Barring unplanned events, personal and/or technological failures, etc., I hope to do 10 posts between now and a month from now — posts that somehow or other explore what's been buried here. We'll start with the recent past, though I'm going to ignore this current year, since it still feels too present. That brings us to 2012 , which began with a post about blogrolls and ended with a post about some movies . (To update that final post, now that I've seen more films from 2012, my favorite 10 would be: The Amazing Spider Man; Cosmopolis; Detention  [technically a 2011 movie, but it didn't get off the festival circuit till 2012, so I think of it as a 2012 movie];  Holy Motors; The Kid with a Bike; Moonrise Kingdom; Oslo, August 31st; Premiu

Extra Star Drives for Empty Space

As I mentioned when it was published, my review of M. John Harrison's Empty Space  for Strange Horizons was a more polished version of a rather ragged, untamed essay. For the terminally curious, here are the parts that I cut. Most of the cuts were done for reasons of focus; a few I made simply because the sense of the sentences seemed, on reflection, too hermetic (or just wrong). To indicate context and provide some form, I've included connecting material at the beginning and end.

Empty Space by M. John Harrison

My review of M. John Harrison's extraordinary novel Empty Space  has been posted at Strange Horizons . My original version of this review was a long, crazy, rambling essay. Editor Abigail Nussbaum did heroic work helping me cut it down into something for a general audience. I like both versions — this one is much more a review, the longer version is ... brain spewings. Abigail kindly suggested that I post the cut pieces here on the blog, and I will do that later this week. I think the Strange Horizons  version is perfectly good for 90+% of readers, but a few folks might enjoy seeing what zany lands this great book, and its predecessors, sent me to. Update:   And here are the deleted passages .

July 14, 2013

It's almost 2am where I am right now. I'm at Readercon , where I've spent the day and evening with dear friends, new friends, colleagues, great people. I returned to my hotel room exhausted and also full of that excitement that comes from being in the presence of such folks. I checked email and the news. And I saw the verdict . All of my joy suddenly disappeared, and tears filled my eyes: rage, despair. I can't say it was entirely a surprise. I feared it might go this way, given the laws and the evidence and how damn much this country hates— No, I'm not going to say it. I'm too angry, too sad, too despairing to trust any general statement I make right now. I've posted the photo I put here back in March 2012, when I first learned Trayvon Martin's name. I want to remember his name, his face, his life. I want to remember how much we have failed him, before and after his death. I want something good and productive to come from this pain. I don


I read these words this morning, and now they're all in my head, chatting: * Simply put, there is an unhealthy obsession among American law enforcement agencies (and American society at large) with stopping violence perpetrated by American Muslims, one that is wholly out of line with the numbers. There is no doubt that the events of 9/11 play into this — never mind that not one hijacker was American — but there is something much darker at work here as well. It’s the fear of a people, a culture, and a religion that most Americans do not understand and therefore see as alien and dangerous. The fear of the “other” has wiggled its way into the core of another American generation. —"US Law Enforcement Blatantly Ignores Right-Wing Extremists" by Matthew Harwood, Salon * We live at a moment when the imagination is threatened. When its possibilities are administered. When we have learned to believe that to survive harm is enough, and, sometimes, more than enough.

Around and About

A trio of items... 1. Penguin Books is, slowly but surely, bringing all of Shirley Jackson's work back into print. Earlier this year they brought back the posthumous collection Come Along with Me , and just a few weeks ago they released new editions of novels that have been out of print for ages: The Road Through the Wall  (her first novel) and Hangsaman . You'll be hearing more about those here later this summer. I've also gotten confirmation that Penguin will release  The Bird's Nest  and The Sundial  at the end of January 2014 — two strange and fascinating books that have long deserved to be available once again ( The Bird's Nest  is currently available in the e-book of The Magic of Shirley Jackson ). Returning these books to print has brought about some new writing on Jackson. In March, Slate  published "Why You Should Read Shirley Jackson" by William Brennan; last month, The New Yorker's  book blog posted a fascinating account by Ruth Fran

The Guy Davenport Reader

Guy Davenport; photograph by Jonathan Williams Counterpoint Press has just released The Guy Davenport Reader , edited by Davenport's literary executor,  Erik Reece . It's a good, basic overview of Davenport's work, and a nice opportunity to review some of the highlights of that work. Davenport was one of the greatest of American writers, and a single 400-page book can only offer a brief taste of his large and eclectic oeuvre , but it seems to me that the Reader  achieves what it sets out to achieve: to bring together various genres of Davenport's writing (fiction, essays, poetry, translations, journals), and, in Reece's words, "to make an argument for the extraordinary range and even, yes, the accessibility of this remarkable writer." Accessibility  is, of course, in the mind of the perceiver, and poses particular problems with Davenport's work, a fact that befuddled reviewers pointed out with every book he published. As a Rhodes Scholar, he wro


a doodle by Franz Kafka Today is Franz Kafka's 130th birthday, as Google has reminded us , and it reminded me that one of the first and most obscure stories I published was largely about, or at least inspired by, Kafka. I'd been reading the diaries and the letters to Felice Bauer .  I'd dipped into the diaries before, reading around in random order, but had never read them very comprehensively, which is a considerably different experience. While the diaries were fascinating, if sometimes tedious, I loathed the Kafka that came through via the letters to Felice. How she put up with him is beyond me. (The relationship would become clearer when I read Reiner Stach's excellent Kafka: The Decisive Years , which has now been completed in English with the translation of  Kafka: The Years of Insight , a book I've just recently begun reading.) All this reading got me thinking about narcissistic heterosexuality, fragmentary identities, and, somehow or other, the relatio