|. . . 2015-11-02|
I have seen a cluster of such attitudes far too often in the last few years: ..., increased attention to the valorization of women's behavior along with decreased attention to what we used to call the oppression of women, an "encouragement" of men to broaden their "roles" — fancy anyone talking about racial roles or class roles!- Joanna Russ, letter to The Women's Review of Books, Sep. 1986
(from The Country You Have Never Seen: Essays and Reviews)
Possible parallels between "male feminists" and "anti-elitist" American oligarchs?
(Left at "possible" because no way am I going to tease that out myself, you think I'm crazy?)
I attended a WisCon panel on masculinities wherein people were getting all excited about the celebration of male sensitivity that was Iron Man III. So yeah, very very possible.
|. . . 2015-11-25|
The life of the mind is a sad, desperate affair compared to the life of the never-minding. But hey, you're there, it's there, what can you do? You can try drowning it or burying it but neighbors might complain and it's likely to just come back meaner.
So, you know, you try to keep it clean and fed and entertained, take it out for a walk if you have the time and it's not raining. It'll continue to vomit on your hardwood floor and scratch your guests and carry appalling diseases. Still, after a while you'll admit it's kind of cute in kind of an ugly worthless way. Sometimes it helps you pick up dates. People seem to miss it when it's gone.
Next: The Life of the Bowel!
Y'know the old cliché that the MLA convention is best encapsulated by a shot of John Goodman advancing down a flaming hotel corridor shouting, "I'LL SHOW YOU THE LIFE OF THE MIND"? Now you got me visualizing a version revised to be about the life of the bowel. Colon shots and all, man.
My work here is done.
Unfortunately, my mortgage payments here continue.
Mr. Arthur Symons discriminates finely:
To unhappy men, thought, if it can be set at work on abstract questions, is the only substitute for happiness; if it has not strength to overleap the barrier which shuts one in upon oneself, it is the one unwearying torture.
|. . . 2016-02-28|
Gypsy by Carter Scholz, PM Press (2015)
The enormous weight of the waft which was quite light was the thing that kept me contained in my perfect state which was as good as the state of any other thing before it is broken.- Madeline Gins
Hold on to what you got but don't let go. Don't let it go.- Bo Diddley
This is a soft time to write future history. Our post-1980 vector's so well defined and so evenly accelerating; we've so clearly passed "If this goes on" and entered "As it will be."
Too soft to support hard science fiction, or at least too soft to support the supersized undertested battleships which have served as its principal transport since, oh, say 1980. What's your rusty debris worth without a hero's journey? Where's your rotting corpse's character arc? And the three-act structure? Where are the next eight hundred pages?
There were once other ways to make the trip, still choosable if not necessarily profitable. For his first hard science fiction publication Carter Scholz went old-school.
By his own account, he was old-schooled. Like me, Scholz "grew up and was educated during the Cold War, when math and science education were priorities." There was a certain fogginess about utility then, before our rulers successfully separated education-for-maximal-exploitation from the chaff of pure-science truth and high-culture beauty — I think they call it "rationalization"? Those were the irrationally unexuberant years when, as mentioned on the fourth page of Gypsy, someone like Louis Zukofsky could find a stable day-job at Brooklyn Polytechnic.
Passing references to poets are themselves a bit old-school in fiction: Shakespeare or Eliot for titles; Dickinson or Blake for epigraphs; Villon or Rimbaud for stock characters. Louis Zukofsky is an unusual choice, though.
Zukofsky's poetry wasn't widely available until the late 1960s. Back in 1978, the year of his death and the year his long "poem of a life," "A", was published, niche readers like myself and (I suppose) Scholz still thought it likely Zukofksy's brand of difficulty would follow the Modernist course of things and become, if not widely known, then about as widely known as twentieth-century poetry gets. It never happened. His niche readership now is probably no larger than his niche readership in 1978. Rather than poetic heroism triumphant, Zukofsky exemplifies th'expense of spirit in a waste of craft, sloughed off by posterity as insufficiently instantaneously rewarding.
At any rate, Louis Zukofsky's name does not appear after the fourth page of Gypsy.
* * *
Before turning even to the first page, readers will know Gypsy as a throwback by sheer lack of heft. Classic science fiction's markets were magazines and cheap paperbacks. A novella sells either/both, and novellas like Scholz's therefore became the classically approved dosage of mindblowing science fiction. (Longer volumes such as Asimov's Foundation trilogy would be constructed from semi-autonomous novellas and short stories, an assemblage known as a fix-up and carrying its own stylistic markers.)
As for three-act structures, an equally viable narrative strategy is available in hard science fiction's native version of the picaresque: one-damn-thing-after-another whack-a-bug-make-a-bug problem solving, drawing straight from the genre's turpentine-soaked roots in hobbyist magazines. Hollywood itself recalled that formula into service for two of its best recent spectacles, and that's how Carter Scholz builds Gypsy.
Although Scholz gives "Earth's first starship" every reasonable break, it finds (as it reasonably must) problems sufficient to his purpose. By way of comparison, consider our national attempts at an oceanic habitat, summarized by Ellen Prager in Chasing Science at Sea:
The U.S. Navy's first undersea laboratory, Sealab I, sank twice and filled with water before a successful launch in 1964 in the Bahamas. A tropical storm then halted the Sealab mission after only eleven days, although it was supposed to have lasted for three weeks. [...] Hydrolab also had its share of problems in the beginning, including one 25-mile (40-km) trip out into the Gulf Stream after breaking loose in a storm. [...] During decompression, when the air pressure inside the habitat was decreased, the internal air inside the toilet's holding tank not only expanded, it literally exploded, splattering its contents all over the entry trunk of the habitat.
A breathable atmosphere was within reach of Sealab; Gravity had Earth (and video-game physics); The Martian had NASA (and public funding and international good will). Scholz takes hard-science-fiction's nominal rules at their word, and so Gypsy has, at best, in its hoped-for sequence of events, seventy years of nothing. Pulp self-sufficiency could hardly desire a more congenial home. It is therefore, of course, populated by a secret band of brilliant, dedicated, rebellious, rationalist-if-not-necessarily-rational brethren and sistren with hands-on can-do attitudes; there's even Heinleinisch intervention by a left-behind robber baron.
There's not much Hawksian teambuilding chatter, though. Sustainability requires redundancy for backup; constraints of mass and energy require as quiescent an organic load as possible. Therefore at most one crewmember at a time can be conscious. The book's chain of puzzles must be linked in, as writer Juliet Clark put it, a game of exquisite corpse played against actual corpses.
These P.O.V. transitions provide Scholz ample opportunity to mimic fix-up novels' stock three-asterisk-separated gestures towards excyclopediac range and cosmic sweep, weaving flashbacks, expository passages, back-stories (almost aways of refugees, almost tautologically: anyone who reaches adulthood must have survived something to get there) — and monologues, of course, monologues: little self-pep-talks, little cries-on-one's-own-shoulder, simulated second-guessing, checking off the list, working shit out....
As decades pass, and glitches and kludges accumulate like a hoarder's maze of newspaper stacks, first delimiting paths and then blocking them, and the spacecraft-and-story Gypsy nears its destination, characters are given more time for reflection, and their monologues shift register. They abstract; their rhetoric is shaped. They become arias of anger, arias of despair, arias of nostalgia. They fit 2016, yes, but to some extent they'd fit 1917, or 404 BC, or 586 BC.
* * *
Gypsy's closing lamentation may not be instantly recognizable even in 2016. I don't know if the initial Locus reviewer saw the same printed letters pass her eyes; we certainly didn't read the same page.
Myself I found it most effective; it led me to write this to you. But how can I explain the effect without snuffing its already-slim chances of replication?
Tossing another kludge on the pyre, then:
That last chorus is a reference but not a quote. A collaboration of sorts between dead author and not-yet-dead writer, but also between immersion in books and immersion in the melting shards of a human-free but human-welcoming world. Its import will be missed entirely by most readers and missed deeply by a very few. "The Happy Few," I want to say; happy in the Stendhalian sense, as in "Happy to have met you" — no one would claim we're distinguished by our cheeriness, or by our good fortune, or by much other than our reluctance to trade up.
Even when we're offered sweet fuck-all to trade up to, to return to future history. In his deauthorized transtemporally award-winning story "The Nine Billion Names of God," Scholz editorially queried "That is the real last question: Do we need fiction? Do we need science?" and introducing those two interrogative sentences as a single question was no mistake. The triumphalism of art is as beside the point as the triumphalism of science: Two Cultures, one boat, no Coast Guard.
Going old-school one older, Gypsy brings grounded technophilia's sense-of-wonder back to its source in the Sublime of terror and pain. While a surplus of Big Dumb Objects may have calloused over our shock at the infinite scale of the universe, shock at the infinite scale of our loss snuffs out only with us. Science fiction still has one vacuum-packed export for the stars.
|. . . 2016-08-20|
To appreciate the significance of these changes we must evaluate the place occupied by the nobles in French society in the middle of the fourteenth century. They comprised 1.5 to 2 per cent of the population, perhaps some 40,000 to 50,000 families, or between 200,000 and 250,00 individuals. There was a strict internal hierarchy.... This in turn affected their political role and decisions.
As a social group, the nobility was more accessible than is generally believed. If an individual was no longer in a position to ‘live nobly’, he left the group; while newcomers continued to be admitted, in so far as the nobility remained the only social model for those who aspired to upward mobility.
Whatever its composition, in 1360 the nobility remained the framework within which the nation’s military, political and social affairs were still conducted. It was this framework, shaken by military defeats, political crisis and, indeed, the brutal rise of the state, that had to be strengthened in the reigns of Charles V and Charles VI. Crucial measures were taken in 1360 when John II returned from captivity, and the money for his ransom had to be found. Taken together, they formed a package with three main elements. First, there was the introduction of the franc, a strong gold coinage, which blighted the money markets but guaranteed high revenues and stable yields to those (notably lay and ecclesiastical lords), who received payments established in money of account....
Secondly, direct taxation was established, with a fiscal system that remained essentially unaltered until 1380, and then survived with various alterations and controversies. Here, the most important aspect was the nobility’s exemption from taxation. Despite both the precedent of the feudal aids, levied in four different contexts (one of which was the ransom of a lord) and the specific instructions for the collection of taxes in 1360 (‘all of the king’s subjects are bound to pay by the general custom of the kingdom’), the nobility paid nothing. Exemption was formally granted in 1363. And thirdly, there was a restriction in the number of officials in the royal administration, which symbolically halted the progress of the state.
- "France Under Charles V and Charles VI" by Françoise Autrand,
The New Cambridge Medieval History ed. Michael Jones
Meanwhile, in the French Revolution:
Sophie de Grouchy’s Letters, the preface to her translation of Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments, articulated the idea of commercial or modern citizenship with real clarity. Reversing Rousseau’s drama of alienation, she argued that as societies become more complex they amplify the capacity of individuals for empathetic understanding of one another. Their education through society in their dependence on one another allows citizens to glimpse universal rules of justice and equity. Only the rich and powerful, cocooned away from the common life of interdependence, would be insensitive to the education of a commercial society in compassion. The political consequences of inequality created the role for the state: “one of the primary goals of the laws ought to be to create and maintain an equality of wealth among the citizenry.” Her argument was not for material but moral equality. Gross material need would “render them incapable of the degree of reflection necessary for the perfection of all natural sentiments, and particularly that of humanity.”- James Livesy, "Ch. 20: The Political Culture of the Directory" in
A Companion to the French Revolution, ed. Peter McPhee (2013)
quoting Theéorie des sentiments moraux, ou, Essai analytique, sur les principes des jugemens que portent naturellement les hommes, d’abord sur les actions des autres, et ensuite sur leurs propres actions: Suivi d’une Dissertation sur l’origine des langues; par Adam Smith; traduit de l’anglais, sur le septième et dernière édition, par S. de Grouchy Veuve Condorcet. Elle y a joint huit Lettres sur la sympathie (An VI/1798)
|. . . 2016-08-21|
The mutations of societies from generation to generation are in the main due directly or indirectly to overpriced and tediously extended parodies.
|. . . 2016-08-22|
But it's a long, long while from May to December
QUESTION: In terms of the director-actor relationship, how did it feel directing your father in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre? How did it feel to be directed by, say, Roman Polanski in Chinatown?
Walter Huston's original 78 of "September Song" sold respectably in 1938 and even better in 1950. But "September Song" could only go on to become a standard for self-pitying horny old crooners by standardly shedding the toothless-and-lame money-and-fame couplets. Which, aside from its loss of Brechtian piquancy, sadly undercuts the subliminal-marketing promise behind word-choices like golden, precious, and spend.
A memory of Walter's short-term-investment pitch might have helped suggest John's casting in Chinatown:
|. . . 2016-10-22|
New from the Repress: "Oxydol Poisoning" by Earl Jackson, Jr., originally published 1995. We thank Dr. Jackson for the opportunity.
|. . . 2016-11-21|
Aside from primate reliables like deceit and terror, divide-and-conquer is likely repression's most well established technique. Even when you know it's coming, it just works. So I understand — I understand intimately — how much easier and more gratifying it is to rip into those nearest to us than to fight a united-enough front of all three branches of the federal government, most state governments, and possibly City Hall.
Sadly, there are worse things than being wrong. There are even worse things than having to work with the annoyingly smug, the fanatically muddled, and the scandalously tunnel-visioned. Among those things would be accelerated transfer of all wealth to the wealthiest, illegalized abortion, destruction of Medicare and Social Security, ramped-up voter suppression, dropping consumer and financial and environmental regulations, valorizing the therapeutic use of violence and incarceration by the inexplicably timorous powerful, increased inundation by propaganda at school and home, decreased access to real information at school and home, absolute freedom to apply bigotry in whatever fashion can be reached or bought, and the frenzied sprint between total economic and total ecological collapse, along with whatever less predictable international scrapes we're dropped into.
Those seem like plenty enough problems to occupy our minds. An embarrassment of riches. Embarrassing enough to make me want to avert my eyes. I mean, who has the time? Given a chance to study ancient Greek, I'll spend an hour looking at Mary Beard tweets.
But when you're deported or abducted to a foreign land, I suppose you have to learn the language as best you can, no matter how badly that is. And I suppose I've got to bumble and thrash more-or-less towards what might be the right direction, and try not to get in the way too much.
ALL THAT SAID, this is an unusually well-earned rant by Kurt Eichenwald: "Start with this: The DNC, just like the Republican National Committee, is an impotent organization with very little power...."
Eichenwald is a reporter who focused on the election process itself, which may be why he doesn't mention what baffled me most about anyone-but-Clintonism: Bernie Sanders's one single issue wasn't something that Sanders or any other president could do much about. Taxes are determined by Congress, not by the executive branch, and there's no other path by which our democracy can restore the necessary redistribution of wealth. So long as greedy traitors control Congress, a President Sanders or a President Clinton, just like the post-2010 President Obama, could only act as a speed bump.
A speed bump or a drunken lead foot on the gas? That seemed like a simple enough choice. I forgot how 30% of Americans drive.
well, we know how to rip into each other, and we don't know how to fight the folks we need to fight. any ideas?
And then you can hear me run through the consonant declensions. Nah, I have no ideas; I'm looking to more sensible people for those. I do have words, plenty of words, but they're all unhelpfully self-obsessed and I'd rather not share them except as needed for friendship's sake.
For friendship's sake, I'll attempt a tl;dr: Whenever I engage in anything recognizable as "political action," my misery and ineptitude are such as to constitute sabotage.
More-sensible person Josh Lukin reminisces:
I guess my only comment on 9 November would have been "Hey, Mako! What the fuck happened!"
|. . . 2016-11-24|
Peter Brown translates Pacianus of Barcelona's account of his flock's inadequately repentant attitude, c. 380 AD:
It is good that we are middling persons [mediocres]. It is not for us to live in houses sheathed with marble, to be weighed down with gold, in flowing silks and bright scarlet. But all the same we have our little places in gardens and by the sea-side. We have good quality wine, neat little banquets, and all that goes with a sprightly old age.(From Through the Eye of a Needle: Wealth, the Fall of Rome, and the Making of Christianity in the West, 350–550 AD. Cf. Apollinaire.)
|. . . 2016-12-24|
I can be mediocre at greater length, if that'll put you at ease:
My tastes and preferred critical vocabulary overlap D'Agata's more than Deresewicz's, but taste is cheap (just look at my wardrobe) and vocabulary can be misused (just ask my editors). The, let's say, idiosyncratic D'Agata usage which bugs Deresewicz most is essay; the one which bugs me is lyric.
By the late 1970s I'd developed my own sturdy notion of "discursive lyric" from Lester Bangs and Thomas Nashe and to the amusement of my college professors. That notion describes a mode rather than defining a genre: a preoccupation with sound and structure reveals itself more or less blatantly in a subset of essays, but the impulse isn't associated with particular materials, markets, or audiences.
However that formal impulse manifests, facts are no more its enemy than words are. Like words, they inspire; they supply convenient handholds; they're a garden full of carrots and a briar patch full of paths. Fudging the facts amounts to faking the funk. When Bangs and Nashe make shit up, they make sure you know it. The sound of someone making shit up is a powerful structural device in itself, and they deploy it as such.
To quote a translation of Rancière paraphrasing Hegel which, ten hours after writing the above paragraph, I read at a bar between a library and a movie, "Art lives so long as it expresses a thought unclear to itself in a matter that resists it." Later in Dissensus, Rancière compares the stone-by-stone sentence building of Flaubert to the speaking stones of early archaeologists and geologists, and cites attacks on Flaubert's art-for-art's-sake art as degradation by the ignoble real.
Around and after Flaubert, we could easily multiply examples of artists, musicians, and writers who've borrowed the antiseptically desocialized terms of science or engineering to justify their practice. Words and colors and textures become fact-objects in themselves, and the job set the artist-scientist is to pattern those givens rather than to elevate the spirits of the powerful or keep the proles in their place.
The essays of Montaigne established an early limiting case for aestheticism/scientism by wrenching discourse itself — the medium of the sermon and the political speech — from its seemingly innate goal of persuasion.
To claim that lyric discursive prose forces you to ignore the enticingly resistant real in favor of off-the-Walmart-shelf whatevers is like claiming that lyric verse restricts you to vaguely maudlin epiphanies. Your craft has drifted out of the never-terribly-reliable lyric impulse and into discourse's powerful home current — in this case, aiming to persuade us that an overstretched careerist is actually an irresistible su-per-ge-nius who has it... all... under... control...
|. . . 2016-12-25|
The old Roman law had insisted that freed slaves should continue to render obsequiuum — personal service — to their masters. This law was maintained with particular vigor in the church. In the words of the fourth council of Toledo (in 633 AD), the descendants of all slaves freed by the church were expected to continue to owe “service and obedience” to the church. They did this “because the church never dies.”- Peter Brown, Through the Eye of a Needle:
Wealth, the Fall of Rome, and the Making of Christianity in the West, 350–550 AD
|. . . 2016-12-26|
I loved my country — my United States, headed by a well-funded and unabashedly ambitious federal government — I loved my country about as much as any halfway sane person could love an unimaginably huge and amorphous institutional abstraction. Which seems only natural since it had rescued, fed, clothed, sheltered, educated, and boosted me and my brother after having rescued and supported our parents.
Of course (being halfway sane) I knew big government was frequently inept, hypocritical, and unjust to the point of murder. But it was also the only rival to and our only defense against the unimaginably huge and amorphous institutional abstractions of big business and big religion, both of which were at least as frequently inept, hypocritical, unjust, and murderous. And where big businesses and big churches could cheat, lie, embezzle, extort, and rape with virtual impunity, big government's pretense of public service left its miscreants nominally (and therefore sometimes actually) susceptible to public inspection and public penalty.
Even while I and my brother were swaddled by socialism, big business and big religion began negotiating an unholy alliance. As of the 1980 election, its success was no longer deniable. But I kept a sullen, resentful faith. My country had absorbed such body blows before and re-righted itself. Weren't the allegiances of evangelical with Jew around Zionism, and evangelical with Catholic around abortion, and church with plutocracy around ignorance inherently unstable?
After the 2000 election, "my country" suddenly looked less like world-as-is and more like a vulnerable blip. 2001 confirmed its vulnerability; the 2004 election guaranteed its loss. Seventy years, approximately the lifespan of the Third Republic.
You know how these things go, though. We understand our loved ones will die, and yet the day finds us unprepared. We understand that gambling is lucrative business; we noticed the casino staff repeatedly extract ever larger winnings and repeatedly produce ever colder decks. And yet when we blankly watch our chips, checks, bonds, mortgage, and IOUs squeegeed dry across the table, it's a shock.
A shock but no surprise.1 No need to waste weeks arguing over how we might have played that last card better. No infallibly winning card was left in this particular game. If we hadn't lost this deal, we would have lost the next one.
At least our razed territory holds plenty of company. Like successful totalitarians of the past, our new leaders didn't let themselves be distracted by the unpopularity of their goals; instead they focused on gaining power by any means at hand, and then guaranteeing continued power by any means at hand. This they interpret as a heroic win against overwhelmingly unfair odds by dint of their superior brilliance and talent.
They've recently attempted to adapt their self-justifications for a wider audience with spins like "saving our country from urban scum" or "defending America against California" or simply "making those fuckers squirm." And of course, as soon as their eminent domain's established they begin demolishing anything in the path of the propaganda superhighway — notably the distasteful slums of reality-based journalism, education, and research. But for a brief while yet, our rulers remain a lunatic fringe who defy majority opinion on almost every policy, and we retain some belief that a democracy should at least vaguely represent its people. History suggests that's common ground enough to push from.
1 Well, one surprise, at least for me. I never anticipated Vladimir Putin as leader of a new Axis. Awfully exceptionalist of me. After "patriotism" lost any connotation of service or sacrifice (even the trivial financial sacrifice of taxes), and frankly selfish plutocrats could reach office without need of political stand-ins, who better to inspire them than the leading exponent of the globalized shakedown state? And whereas Stalin's, Hitler's, and Mussolini's attempts at foreign influence relied on native "thought-leaders" who never quite met spec, now misinformation and propaganda, like every other form of publishing, can bypass the middleman (unless, of course, the middleman is a national firewall), and Russia's greatest export, the bot-troll cyborg, can work from the comfort of home.
|. . . before . . .||. . . after . . .|
Copyright to contributed work and quoted correspondence remains with the original authors.
Public domain work remains in the public domain.
All other material: Copyright 2015 Ray Davis.