28 August 2012

Painter with a Movie Camera: A Tribute to Tony Scott

I suppose that comparing the late Tony Scott to Dziga Vertov will seem ridiculous to many (most!) people, as will proclaiming Domino a masterwork. So be it. Here's a tribute to Tony Scott in which I do both of those things:

Painter with a Movie Camera: A Tribute to Tony Scott from Matthew Cheney on Vimeo.

And here are the tributes I mention in the video:
Manohla Dargis, "A Director Who Excelled in Excess"
Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, "Smearing the Senses: Tony Scott, Action Painter"

20 August 2012

"How to Play with Dolls"

This little story was originally published in Weird Tales 352, Nov/Dec. 2008, edited by Ann VanderMeer.

How to Play with Dolls
by Matthew Cheney

Jenny's father spent a year making a dollhouse for her, a three-storey mansion with four gables and six chimneys and secret passageways and a dumbwaiter and a tiny television that, thanks to a microchip, actually worked.  He gave it to her on her seventh birthday.  Jenny thanked him and kissed him and told him she had always wanted an asylum for her dolls.

Though he wanted her to make the house into a pleasant place for tea parties and soirees, Jenny's father stayed silent as he watched his daughter restrain her dolls with straightjackets fashioned from toilet paper.  He kept his silence as she built prison bars with toothpicks and secured every door with duck tape.  But as she placed the dolls into their cells and set a group of them to stare at the television, he could not observe quietly any longer, and so he went to his workshop and reorganized his impressive collection of antique awls, adzes, augers, and axes.

Jenny continued in his absence.  She created schedules for the patients, times when they could wander through the halls or make origami birds or rant and rave without reproach, or sleep in the cots she had built out of matchboxes stolen from her late mother's private stash.  She had considered appointing some of the dolls to be doctors, but she did not trust them, and so retained all supervisory duties for herself.  She did not sleep, for fear that were she not to keep a vigilant watch, the dolls would revolt or, worse, harm themselves.  She despaired, though, because none of the patients seemed to be making any progress.  Instead, they were all becoming recalcitrant, and they did not want to wander or create anything, they stopped ranting, they let the television slip to a channel of grey static, they slept and slept and slept.  Jenny tried extreme measures: water dunking, severe lighting, simulated earthquakes, and even, with a contraption made from spoons and Christmas tree lights, electrocution.  Nothing got better, and the dolls might as well have been dead.

After a month, Jenny's father returned from his workshop with delicately-detailed miniature hot air balloons, and as Jenny sat beside her asylum and wept over the helpless despair of the dolls, her father orchestrated clever escapes for the patients, who proved to be masterful balloonists, each and every one.  They flew to the paradise of Jenny's bed, where they waited until she returned one night, the asylum having been abandoned, and they embraced her in their tiny arms and sang ancient songs in lost languages while she slept, her face wet with tears from her dreams.

Creative Commons License
"How to Play with Dolls" by Matthew Cheney is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

On Weird Tales

It was a sad day when Ann VanderMeer and the rest of the staff at Weird Tales were fired when the magazine was bought by people who wanted to change the direction away from the great innovations Ann et al. had brought to it and instead return the magazine to publishing, apparently, Lovecraft pastiches. Apparently, Ann and creative director Stephen Segal winning a Hugo for their work wasn't good enough. The new owners wanted, they said, to return the magazine to its roots.

Well, Lovecraft was a thoroughgoing racist, and apparently those were the roots editor/publisher Marvin Kaye had in mind, although in his mind it's actually "non-racist". Sure, keep telling yourself that. [Update: Weird Tales has taken Marvin Kaye's post down from their website, so the link there doesn't work. However, there's a Google cache. I'm happy the publisher has apologized, but I'm not a fan of memory holes.]

For a better chronicle of the awful, see Nora Jemison's post on the topic. I'm sure there will be more. I'll update this post as time allows.

For now, though, I'm going to follow Nora's lead and post my story "How to Play with Dolls" here on the blog. It was published by Ann in WT 352, and it is one of my proudest publications. But I want it to be free from association with Weird Tales in its current incarnation.

Update: Completely, totally, and hurriedly stealing some additional links from Shaun Duke:

Given that Revealing Eden would not generally fall under WT's genre purview and that the prose and story are hardly so transcendant as to justify making an exception, it’s impossible to read Kaye’s decision to reprint the first chapter as anything other than a defense of racist writing. It is just barely possible that Foyt may have had the best of intentions and been genuinely taken aback when her book was called out for displaying her unconscious racism. Kaye, however, has no such excuse. This is a calculated statement of scorn for non-white authors and readers and their allies, and it stinks.
Update 2: Weird Tales backpedals.

Update 3: Ann VanderMeer resigns as senior contributing editor of the new WT.


Here's an important post from Atlantic senior editor Garance Franke-Ruta regarding Republican U.S. Senate candidate Todd Akin's repugnant comments about pregnancy rarely occurring from "legitimate rape" (just typing those words makes my hands shake).

Franke-Ruta makes the important point that Akin is not an outlier in the world of anti-abortion zealots. His ideas are connected to those that seek to distinguish between "forcible rape" and something else. Such dangerous delusions are central to so many of the misogynistic and ignorant tenets of the anti-abortion movement and to the sorts of ideologies that seek to downplay the frequency of sexual assault and defund the institutions that attempt to address sexual violence:
Arguments like his have cropped up again and again on the right over the past quarter century and the idea that trauma is a form of birth control continues to be promulgated by anti-abortion forces that seek to outlaw all abortions, even in cases of rape or incest. The push for a no-exceptions anti-abortion policy has for decades gone hand in hand with efforts to downplay the frequency with which rape- or incest-related pregnancies occur, and even to deny that they happen, at all. In other words, it's not just Akin singing this tune.
Amanda Marcotte explores similar evidence and ideas at The Prospect:
Akin’s comment should serve as a reminder that despite its sentimentality surrounding the fetus, the anti-choice movement is motivated by misogyny and ignorance about human sexuality. In this case, what underlies the rape-doesn’t-get-you-pregnant myth is the notion that sex is shameful and that slutty women will do anything—even send an innocent man to jail to kill a baby—in order to avoid facing the consequences of their actions.
 Akin's ideas are not a gaffe.

18 August 2012

"The trap of data, numbers, statistics, and charts"

Maria Konnikova, from "Humanities aren’t a science. Stop treating them like one" at Scientific American's Literally Psyched blog:
Every softer discipline these days seems to feel inadequate unless it becomes harder, more quantifiable, more scientific, more precise. That, it seems, would confer some sort of missing legitimacy in our computerized, digitized, number-happy world. But does it really? Or is it actually undermining the very heart of each discipline that falls into the trap of data, numbers, statistics, and charts? Because here’s the truth: most of these disciplines aren’t quantifiable, scientific, or precise. They are messy and complicated. And when you try to straighten out the tangle, you may find that you lose far more than you gain. 
It’s one of the things that irked me about political science and that irks me about psychology—the reliance, insistence, even, on increasingly fancy statistics and data sets to prove any given point, whether it lends itself to that kind of proof or not. I’m not alone in thinking that such a blanket approach ruins the basic nature of the inquiry. Just consider this review of Jerome Kagan’s new book, Psychology’s Ghosts,by the social psychologist Carol Tavris. “Many researchers fail to consider that their measurements of brains, behavior and self-reported experience are profoundly influenced by their subjects’ culture, class and experience, as well as by the situation in which the research is conducted,” Tavris writes. “This is not a new concern, but it takes on a special urgency in this era of high-tech inspired biological reductionism.” The tools of hard science have a part to play, but they are far from the whole story. Forget the qualitative, unquantifiable and irreducible elements, and you are left with so much junk.
And a postscript, via Einstein, here.

17 August 2012

An Accidental Nonfiction Writer

In the author's note to his new collection of essays, Magic Hours, Tom Bissell calls himself "an accidental nonfiction writer", and then says:
When I first started writing for magazines, I imagined that I would use nonfiction writing as a way to fund my fiction writing. This did not go exactly as planned. Insofar as I am known as anything today, it is as a nonfiction writer. Earlier in my career, I was neurotic enough to let this bother me. When I started out as a writer, I regarded fiction — novels, especially — as the supreme achievement of the human imagination. While I still hold fiction in very high regard, and continue to write it, I no longer believe in genre chauvinism. Life is difficult enough.

15 August 2012

Fall Classes

I've just about finished drafting syllabi for my fall classes, and so it's time once again for my semi-annual post about how I'm planning the coursework.

I'll be teaching three classes at the university, two for the English department and one for the department of Communication & Media Studies. The English classes are "Advanced Prose Workshop" and a general education intro to lit class, "The Outsider". The Com/Media class is "Media as Popular Culture". I've taught The Outsider a bunch of time, Media as Pop Cult once before, and have never taught Advanced Prose Workshop, which I'm doing only because our writer-in-residence is in Ireland this term.

13 August 2012

Was Worldcat Designed By People Who Actually Use Libraries?

Update: Attention has been paid! Please see the comments for a nice response from a WorldCat representative. We now have an answer to the title question: Yes.

My beloved university library has now switched over from an in-house computerized catalogue to using WorldCat. There are definite advantages to this, and some neat things WorldCat can do.

But for all its many useful features, I wonder: Does anybody at WorldCat actually use libraries?

07 August 2012

"Hell Broke Luce"

Tom Waits has made a beautiful, surrealist video for the song "Hell Broke Luce" from his Bad as Me album. It's one of my favorite of his songs, a coruscating view of war and soldiering. Play it loud. (Note: Some strong language.)

06 August 2012

Readercon Update: Making Amends

The Great Readercon Harassment Debacle of 2012 has resolved with a statement from the Convention Committee that is an excellent example of how to apologize for mistakes and, more importantly, how to make amends.

When I read the statement, I'd just gotten the new album by Franz Nicolay, Do the Struggle, and a line from the chorus of the magnificent first song seemed oddly appropriate: "The hearts of Boston have a hurricane to answer for."

The hurricane's dying down. The rubble is getting cleaned up. The hearts are strong.

There are lots of things in the statement to pay attention to — ideas that will, I hope, serve as a model for other events in the future, not just Readercon. I was especially pleased to see this among the actions the committee has committed to: "Working with the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center to train concom members and volunteers in swift, appropriate reactions to observed or reported harassment."

Such actions move Readercon from having passive policies that may (or may not) help in the event of harassment to having systems in place that actively work against the culture of rape and violence. Knowledge and awareness matter: they change how you interact with the world. By taking such a thorough and public stand and becoming a site for education and prevention, Readercon helps chip away at the forces that support and enable intimidation, harassment, and violence.

A few folks have asked if I would reconsider my resignation from the Program Committee, and I've said that while I completely support the new statement and policies, have great respect for the work that went into it all, and look forward to attending Readercon 24, I need, for various reasons, to take at least a year off from participation in the committee. This is as much for emotional reasons as rational ones, and I don't have adequate words to explain why.

For some of what went into creating the statement and new policies, see this post by Rose Fox. Lots of people worked really hard, through difficult conversations and difficult emotions, to make all this happen. We should be grateful to them for doing that work, for putting their words and hearts and minds on the line.

Here's Genevieve's lovely response to the statement.

See you at Readercon next year.