pseudopodium
. . . Chandler Davis

. . .

I Love Luana

If you -- particularly you Butlerites -- would be kind enough to shelve those P. K. Dick trade paperbacks for a few minutes, I'd like to direct your attention to the recently reprinted-for-the-first-time-anywhere author's cut of Chandler Davis's 1958 story, "It Walks In Beauty", plucked from the sexist hegemony of 1958 and maybe still of interest to a 2004 where strong female role models feel compelled to sew plastic into the flesh of their lips and breasts.

"It's done tongue-in-cheek, but that doesn't mean I'm kidding."
- "Paradoxa Interview with Chandler Davis"

. . .

"Critique & Proposals" by Chandler Davis

By far the best available introduction to the nonmathematical work of Chandler Davis is Josh Lukin's interview with him in Paradoxa 18. Among many enticing but unavailable texts, it mentions an informal piece of argumentation from 1949. Hearing of my curiosity, Dr. Lukin very kindly lent me a copy. And, hearing of my interest in sharing the work, Professor Davis very kindly lent me permission to publish it online. I thank them both.

You'll have your own reasons to find it interesting. Here are a few of mine:

Responses

Kip Manley notices:
You're back!

Which means I get to spend some time, at least, musing on how comics does something similar to SF (yet again)--

"From birth, science fiction has been defined (and bounded) by a community whose ambiguities of consumer, critic, and producer more resemble philosophical schools or high art movements than commercial publishing genres."

Though there's far more of a distrust of the critical enterprise in comics than in SF. --Artists, you know?

Anyway: there's as vibrant if more brief a history of APAs in comics, too. Scott McCloud lists his inventions in the field of comics, which include such notable creations as Five-Card Nancy and the 24-Hour Comic; he used to include the Frying Pan, a comics APA he founded back (I think) in the early '80s. But he doesn't anymore, because who knows from APAs?

I think he's still got them in a box somewhere in Thousand Oaks. At least I hope so: lots of comics history in there, in a raw, unfiltered form. But formalists are lousy packers, and they've moved a lot in the past few years.

I should feel ashamed that mere dayjob (backed up by a bit of illness and hardware trouble) kept me offline longer than a hurricane and homelessness have Tom Matrullo. But I'm too relieved to build up a good head of mea culpa.

Yes, the critical distinction is why I didn't mention comics myself. But it's true that American comics are another "commercial art" built on uneconomically passionate emulation and argument, with similar adolescent fans, similar reliance on self-publishing, and Dan Pussey as son of Jonathan Herovit. And I suppose one might make a case for some ambiguity even in the realm of criticism, albeit more among the pros than the fans or one could bring up the ambiguous role of the collector....

That ol' renegade Tom Parmenter is interested too, although I suspect he has stories of his own to tell. And I see that during my recent exile from good fellowship, The Mumpsimus appreciated Phil Klass.

The Happy Tutor reunifies compliment and complement.

David Auerbach returns, and very welcome he is, too:

I guess what I think of is how, with the regularly occurring exception (what comes to mind is that EC comics story where the astronaut takes off his helmet at the end and...he's black!!!) specifically designed to appeal to racial and cultural issues, science-fiction went for a casual universalism, at least in its "golden age." What I remember of reading old-style genre sf were characters with purposefully vague or unnatural names (Jermbo Xenthos, e.g.), which had little to no bearing on their position in the story. Since genre sf tended to revolve around the conceptualization of a single (usually recycled) idea, attendant aspects of character were incidental at best; I haven't read it in years, but I believe this even applies to the Asian protagonist of Delany's "Babel-17". Even something like Heinlein's racist "Fifth Column" is not "about" the race of its characters qua characters. The Asians might as well be aliens (and the story would have had slightly firmer scientific grounding if they had been).

With gender, it only partly applies. The same dichotomy--women are either indistinguishably "one of the guys" with their anatomy switched around, or else a brainless love interest whose role is determined wholly by their gender--usually applies, but the love interest is considerably more common and incidental because of the more common presence of a secondary love story. I remember thinking this when I read Asimov as a kid. It also seems that as male authors grow older, the ratio gradually tilts away from the former. I got more compelling portraits of, for instance, farmers (in Clifford Simak) and manic-depressives (in Theodore Sturgeon) from sf than I ever did of women or minorities.

This is evidently not what Davis wanted, as he says, but the failure of sf to meet his expectations seems more grounded in the agreed-upon restrictions of the genre rather than the failed imaginations of the authors. The generic restrictions of plot, character, and ideas would have made a socially progressive agenda stick out like a sore thumb. I always found "Stand on Zanzibar" very difficult to get through precisely because he approaches Davis's issues from the standpoint of problems to be solved through ideological architecture rather than areas meriting in-depth exploration. In the same way, you wouldn't go to Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle" for a revelation of the social relations of the immigrant community. They're just too goal-directed.

Chandler Davis himself provides some additional thoughts:

I think it's true that the spirit of our APAs lives on electronically, without the health effects of inhaling hektograph solvent. As to my then simplified spelling, if that doesn't live on I won't mourn it.

My post mortem on my essay of 55 years ago is just what I told you I thought it would be: it's not all just what I would say today, but it was worth saying.

I don't think I told Josh or you one of the striking responses to my essay. Isaac Asimov remarked that when he wanted to make his character Preem Palver as harmless as possible (so that it would be a surprise when he turned out to be the most powerful guy in the galaxy), he gave him the accent & mannerisms of his father, an East European Jewish immigrant. (Didn't call him Jewish, though, I guess.)

. . .

Baboon see, baboon do

Maybe belligerent democracies are just reactive by nature. Power struggles to balance intensity, not hue.

It's hard to realize nowadays the extent to which Sputnik incited support for scientific education and research in America. While the national enemy was secular and egalitarian, the United States achieved its rational and fair best. (Although, as Chandler Davis would remind us, that was nothing to write home about.)

And now that the national enemy is fundamentalist and plutocratic, we feel the need to close the intolerant billionaire gap.

Responses

A helpful reader recaps the story so far:

An amoeba in a tutu, with a little pink hat on its uppermost. Bikers re-enacting Lakota chest-piercings in disused pastures. Souls of the wronged lined up for miles at the window someone said they thought might be the place you go to state your case. At the end the weak ones turn around and go back through time, creating a tidal effect. It gives them an unassailable advantage, but it doesn't really go anywhere. Domestication and sophistication begin to merge. Everything gets stolen. SRI had these tests...

Ah, how I loved that tutu it gave me a waist....

Josh Lukin's mention of René Girard led me, a few hours too late, to this:

The error is always to reason within categories of "difference" when the root of all conflicts is rather "competition," mimetic rivalry between persons, countries, cultures. Competition is the desire to imitate the other in order to obtain the same thing he or she has, by violence if need be....

And, a half year later, the brilliant Narrow Shore starts from the same comparison and reaches a horribly beautifully complementary contrast:

The detonator in those planes was not a gadget but the absolute faith that allowed the human pilots to steer dead into the glass towers. There has been a Sputnik moment, but the tech and arms race embarked upon recognizes faith as the ultimate weapon, and the tactical goal seems be to out-believe the enemy.

This is very dangerous. Not that belief cannot be part of a very effective military technology. Clearly, it can. But the trigger mechanism (didn't anyone notice, in this Sputnik moment?) is suicide.

. . .

Three Ways of Looking at a Blacklist

Chandler Davis, full time mathematician, sometime fiction writer, and lifelong political activist lost his career in American academia for the third quality. Dr. Josh Lukin kindly mailed me copies of two of Professor Davis's comments on that loss:

"... From an Exile", written in 1960
"Did the Red-hunt Win?", delivered in 1995

In turn, Professor Davis has kindly consented to my making them freely available online. Both are beautiful examples of "plain speaking" rhetoric and possibly of interest for other reasons as well.

UPDATE, 2005-12-03: I've just added a third piece by Professor Davis, "The Purge". A history rather than an exhortation, originally written for the American Mathematical Society's A Century of Mathematics in America, it provides many more details about the post-WWII attack on leftist American academics (and the resistance to that attack).

. . .

"Trying to Say Something True"

With the kind permission and assistance of Josh Lukin, his "Paradoxa Interview with Chandler Davis" is now available in the Repress.

. . .

Loin du Toronto

Long-time readers won't be surprised to learn that my day job began boiling over a couple of months ago. But long-time readers will also understand why I must attempt to draw the great world's attention to (finally!) a collection of Chandler Davis's fiction and essays. Go and do thou likewise, only better.

* * *

Update: And fast upon the book's heels comes the Chandler Davis Online Archive, also edited by Josh Lukin, with five essays and three short stories.

Chandler Davis

 

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.