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Showing posts from March, 2014

Samuel R. Delany: Another Roundtable

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Recently, Locus published an online discussion of the work of Samuel R. Delany with a bunch of different writers and critics, primarily aimed at discussing Delany’s status as the newly-crowned Grand Master of the Science Fiction Writers of America. Plenty of interesting things are said there, and the participants include a number of people I’m very fond of (both as writers and people), but the particular focus ended up, I thought, creating a certain narrowness to the discussion, especially regarding the post-Dhalgren works, and I thought it might be nice to gather a different group of people together to discuss Delany … differently.

So here we are. I put out the call to a wide variety of folks, and this is the group that responded. We used a Google Doc, and the discussion grew rhizomatically more than linearly, so you'll see that we sometimes refer to things said later in the roundtable. (This makes for a richer discussion, I think, but it may be a little jarring if you expect …

Lucius Shepard: Art Out of Fantasy and Pain

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I hate that this sentence must now be in the past tense: Lucius Shepard was one of the great American writers.

It's hard to find words, even though I've had 24 hours to search.

In a review of The Dragon Griaule, I invoked Conrad and melodrama, and quoted Eric Bentley on both. Here's part of that quote again, because it gets at exactly what Lucius Shepard's stories mean to me, and why they mean so much:
Only under the influence of a narrow and philistine Naturalism can we ask why an artist shows life at a remove and in some established genre. The transposition of an inner struggle to a duel between persons does not even need a convention to carry it: such changes are made nightly by everyone in his dreams. If one can make of one's tussles with suicidal wishes a drama of love and honor, one has given to private and chaotic material a public and recognizable form. One has made art out of fantasy and pain. And now a sentence from the introduction to the final collecti…

False Detectives, True Discourses, and Excessive Exegeses

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I got caught up in the hype, got curious, and found a way to watch True Detective. It's my kind of thing: a dark crime story/police procedural/serial killer whatzit. Also, apparently the writer of the show, Nic Pizzolatto, is aware of some writers I like, and even one I know, Laird Barron. (Hi Laird! You rock!) What struck me right from the beginning was the marvelous music, selected and produced by the great T-Bone Burnett, and the cinematography by Adam Arkapaw, who shot one of my favorite movies of recent decades, Snowtown, and also the very good film Animal Kingdom and the marvelous Jane Campion TV show Top of the Lake. Something about Arkapaw's sensitivity to color, light, and framing is pure mainlined heroin to my aesthetic pleasure centers. If I found out he'd shot a Ron Howard movie, I'd even watch that.

So many other people have discussed the show that there are now, I'm sure, nearly as many words written about it as there are words in Wikipedia. My own …

Notes on a Sentence from "The Death of the Moth"

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Forced by some reductive power to declare a single favorite essay, mine would be "The Death of the Moth" by Virginia Woolf. It is a marvel of concision, and yet it contains the universe. It is an essay both personal and cosmic, material and spiritual.

Whenever I teach writing, I use "The Death of the Moth" as an example of the interplay of form and content. (While I have seldom met a pairing I didn't want to deconstruct, the form/content binary is one I continue to find useful. Yes, the separation is problematic — what, in language, is content without form or form without content? — but I also find it a valuable way to talk about concepts that are otherwise invisible or easily muddled.) Usually, I take one sentence, scrawl it out on the board, and pick it apart. It's not always the same sentence, but recently I've been using this one:
Yet, because he was so small, and so simple a form of the energy that was rolling in at the open window and driving its…

20 Years of The Downward Spiral

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It was twenty years ago today that Nine Inch Nails' second album, The Downward Spiral, appeared in record stores.

Despite being an album of relentless nihilism, aggression, profanity, and self-hatred, it is an album I still consider to be among the most beautiful music I know. For a while, I liked really loud, industrial music, but I've grown awfully mellow in my old age, and these days I'm much more likely to listen to something acoustic. (Even ten years ago, a friend described my taste in pop music as boiling down to "songs by whiny white boys". Which was not really true, even then. Well, sort of.) Nonetheless, I still listen to NIN, and, especially, The Downward Spiral.

I try to avoid explaining my musical tastes, since I spend much too much time analyzing most of my other tastes, and it's nice to have one analysis-free area of the brain. I haven't quite been able to escape an analysis of my love for this album, though. Because it's this album.

Wh…

"Life’s too short for anxious score-keeping"

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From a Q&A in the New York Times with Teju Cole:
What books are you embarrassed not to have read yet?
I have not read most of the big 19th-century novels that people consider “essential,” nor most of the 20th-century ones for that matter. But this does not embarrass me. There are many films to see, many friends to visit, many walks to take, many playlists to assemble and many favorite books to reread. Life’s too short for anxious score-keeping. Also, my grandmother is illiterate, and she’s one of the best people I know. Reading is a deep personal consolation for me, but other things console, too.