A Decade of Archives 4: 2009

This is the fourth 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.

2009 began with an unremarkable post pointing to a couple of free items on the internets and ended with a post on introductory film textbooks (December 2009 began the shift toward more frequent film posts that I discussed in the 2010 commemoration). Looking back on it, 2009 seems like a year with some good specific posts, but overall I don't think of it as a banner year for the blog in any way. I've been struggling with coming up with much to say about it, in fact, so instead of trying to tie everything together artificially, I'm just going to offer a few thoughts on some of my favorite posts from the year.

First, not really a post here (though I mentioned it): an interview with me that Charles Tan did in February 2009. This gives a sense of some of what I was thinking about at the beginning of the year. (Note that, contrary to the bio note at the beginning of that interview, I wasn't actually teaching in New Jersey at that point. I moved back to New Hampshire in the summer of 2008.)

In February, I wrote about Joanna Russ's magnificent vampire story "My Dear Emily". The version I had read at that time did not have Russ's preferred ending. Later, I read her preferred ending, but I'm not sure I prefer it. Sometimes I do. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays. Today is Monday, so I prefer the preferred ending. But tomorrow I will prefer the first-published ending. In any case, and with either ending, it's a story I continue to revere.

In March, my essay "Coetzee in the Promised Land" appeared at The Quarterly Conversation (and was, of course, mentioned around these here parts). I'm inordinately proud of this essay, so even though it didn't actually appear here in Mumpsimusland, I'm still linking to it now. Because I can.

In June, I wrote about China Miéville's great novel The City and The City. It's not bad as a first-attempt at getting some ideas down about the book, but I feel like I've never done China's work justice in my writing about it, and partly because of this feeling I haven't written about any of his work since The City and The City. I need to take a few months, read through everything he's written again, and really dig in. I don't have time now, but one day I'll do it. For now, though, this will do. It's a start, an attempt, a moment.

July 2009 was a pretty good month here. The first post, screaming against the use of "mimetic fiction" to mean "not-SF" still represents my feelings generally — I continue to loathe the term as used by genre fans and critics — but I'm not sure the details hold up, or at least that they encompass the many reasons I dislike the term. Possibly because I recently read On Literary Worlds by Eric Hayot, I've been thinking of concepts of mimesis, Eric Auerbach's seminal book on the topic, etc., and so the original post seems a bit thin to me now, but when I now try to formulate my ideas as to why the term "mimetic fiction" seems as inadequate to me as ever, mostly I just end up feeling like the distinction people make between realist/non-realist fiction is unproductive, even counter-productive, or at least utterly unappealing to me. It's just not a distinction I want to use to discuss writing, so at this point my hatred of the term "mimetic fiction" is mostly moot. I do think it's a misuse of the word mimesis and based on a simplification of how language works to create representations of types of reality, but it's also emblematic of a conversation I honestly couldn't care less about at this point.

Anyway, July continued with a review of a film I continue to watch and think about (and recently to assign to a class; some of the students really loved it): The Edge of Heaven. Then there was my review of two G.I. Joe novels. And then one of my favorite Mumpsimus reviews: "Some Notes on Burger's Daughter". Nadine Gordimer's novel remains an important one for me, and so I like the post partly because it's about a book I adore, but I'm also fond of it because I went back to it after reading the book again and I thought it held up — I thought it got at some of the wonders of the novel and managed to communicate how I understand those wonders. That's my ultimate goal with any review, and since I think I accomplished it here about as well as I ever could, it's a post that I always think about when trying to sort the few really good things here from the general hubbub of posts.

July also carried another of my favorite posts, but a favorite for an entirely different reason — I love it because it was written by my grandfather, who died before blogs were invented. It's about the Apollo 11 landing in 1969.

I'm also fond of a post from October about Richard Hughes's marvelous novel A High Wind in Jamaica. Kevin Brockmeier told me that post got him interested in the book, which he then sought out and read, and it's now the novel is among his favorites. Mission accomplished!

In November, I wrote about a book that's been important to me ever since, Carl Wilson's Let's Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste. The post itself isn't anything special, but I think it does a solid job of summing up Wilson's ideas.

In December, The Quarterly Conversation published another essay I wrote about Coetzee, there titled "Intentional Schizophrenia: J.M. Coetzee’s Autobiographical Trilogy and the Falling Authority Of The Author", a title necessary for the essay's first publication, but I prefer the less descriptive original title, "Awakening the Countervoices in One Self: J.M. Coetzee and the Authority of the Author". Two major essays on Coetzee in one year means 2009 was really, if anything, the Year of Coetzee for me.

This second essay will forever be close to my heart because it is quoted in J.C. Kannemeyer's huge, authorized biography of Coetzee. Coetzee is among my favorite three or four living writers in English, and to have my name on a page of Kannemeyer's marvelous biography of him pretty much means that I can die happy.

Also in December, I wrote a review of Stephen King's novel Under the Dome, a novel now getting more attention because of the TV series based on it (which I haven't watched). The review is typical for me in that it looks at language and narration, things I often can't help obsessing about in fiction.

Finally, the last substantial post of the year was an obituary for Robin Wood, a writer who was deeply important to me at that particular moment. A sad way to end the year.