28 September 2013

You're Doing It Wrong in the Mirror

via Wikimedia Commons

We can argue about whether Hamlet is right or not when he claims that art holds a mirror up to nature. But let’s just say he is. Here’s what Hamlet doesn’t say: that art is a mirror you choose to pick up to see yourself. Art shows you a mirror. That thing you see in there isn’t supposed to be your pre-conceived self-image. It’s something strange, and alien, and scary, or ridiculous, or dull. But it’s something that demands engagement. And sometimes, it becomes something that you realize is in fact you — but that’s not meant to be a happy realization. If the thing you see when you look into a book looks exactly like what you think you look like, you’re doing it wrong.
—Holger Syme, "The Loneliness of the Old White Male"

18 September 2013

Gun Culture, USA

Another mass shooting.

And what comes then comes from my friends who love their guns? This, now making the rounds of the gun nut Facebook page nearest you:

Welcome to the world the NRA has created. Sure, some people demand that we do something!, but it's theatre. Nothing gets done. True, most of the proposals for what to do are hasty and only vaguely more informed than the above graphic. (I've long been skeptical that we can do much of anything about gun violence in the US, given the realities. Still, practical, reasonable measures could help — treat guns like cars, for instance. But such ideas are politically impossible.) The general lack of quality to our national conversation on guns is not some fluke. It was created and is sustained by wealthy interests. The NRA fundraises and fundraises, lobbies and lobbies. Their leaders will do their best to look sad and concerned and serious, but don't miss the dollar signs in their eyes. They've spent decades training a solid subset of their membership into paranoia, which for the NRA means training those people to respond to tragedies by sending money and spreading macho idiocy.

Funding for studies by the CDC of gun violence has fallen 96% since 1996. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, & Explosives has been crippled by the NRA's minions in Congress. Including blackmarket weapons, there are almost certainly more guns than people in the U.S., but they're owned by a minority of the population. And only a small group of that minority buys into the paranoid ideology of the NRA. But boy do they buy into it. They buy the gear and they buy the hooks, lines, and sinkers. They buy and they buy and they buy.

17 September 2013

For a Trans-Inclusive Feminism & Womanism

We are committed to recognizing and respecting the complex construction of sexual/gender identity; to recognizing trans* women as women and including them in all women’s spaces; to recognizing trans* men as men and rejecting accounts of manhood that exclude them; to recognizing the existence of genderqueer, non-binary identifying people and accepting their humanity; to rigorous, thoughtful, nuanced research and analysis of gender, sex, and sexuality that accept trans* people as authorities on their own experiences and understands that the legitimacy of their lives is not up for debate; and to fighting the twin ideologies of transphobia and patriarchy in all their guises. [read more]
I agree with everything in the new "Statement of Trans-Inclusive Feminism and Womanism", and so just sent my name in to be added to the list of signers. The statement is well-written and thoughtful, a nice counter to the reckless, hateful statements and actions of certain people who have taken to calling themselves "radical feminists". Here's to a wondrous diversity of gendericity!

Thanks to Cheryl Morgan for sharing the link. If you want to sign on, here's the info:
If you are a blogger/writer/academic/educator/artist/activist/otherwise in a position to affect feminist or womanist discourse or action and you would like to sign on to this statement, let us know!  You can use the form on the contact page or you can email us at feministsfightingtransphobia1@gmail.com.  We’d love to hear from you.

15 September 2013

"Everything is contingent, of course, on what you take yourself to be."

From "James Baldwin, The Art of Fiction No. 78" at The Paris Review:

You read contemporary novels out of a sense of responsibility?

In a way. At any rate, few novelists interest me—which has nothing to do with their values. I find most of them too remote for me. The world of John Updike, for instance, does not impinge on my world. On the other hand, the world of John Cheever did engage me. Obviously, I’m not making a very significant judgment about Updike. It’s entirely subjective, what I’m saying. In the main, the concerns of most white Americans (to use that phrase) are boring, and terribly, terribly self-centered. In the worst sense. Everything is contingent, of course, on what you take yourself to be.

Are you suggesting they are less concerned, somehow, with social injustice?

No, no, you see, I don’t want to make that kind of dichotomy. I’m not asking that anybody get on picket lines or take positions. That is entirely a private matter. What I’m saying has to do with the concept of the self, and the nature of self-indulgence which seems to me to be terribly strangling, and so limited it finally becomes sterile.

And yet in your own writing you deal with personal experiences quite often.

Yes, but—and here I’m in trouble with the language again—it depends upon how you conceive of yourself. It revolves, surely, around the multiplicity of your connections. Obviously you can only deal with your life and work from the vantage point of your self. There isn’t any other vantage point, there is no other point of view. I can’t say about any of my characters that they are utter fictions. I do have a sense of what nagged my attention where and when; even in the dimmest sense I know how a character impinged on me in reality, in what we call reality, the daily world. And then, of course, imagination has something to do with it. But it has got to be triggered by something, it cannot be triggered by itself.

What is it about Emily Dickinson that moves you?

Her use of language, certainly. Her solitude, as well, and the style of that solitude. There is something very moving and in the best sense funny. She isn’t solemn. If you really want to know something about solitude, become famous. That is the turn of the screw. That solitude is practically insurmountable.

14 September 2013

The Popular and the Good and the Doomed

As I was writing a comment over at Adam Roberts's blog (about which more in a moment), I realized I had various items of the last few days swirling through my head, and it all needed a bit of an outlet that wasn't a muddled comment on Adam's blog, but rather a potentially-even-more-muddled post here.

I don't have a whole lot to say about these things, and I certainly have no coherent argument to make, but they've congealed together in my mind, so here they are, with a few lines of annotation from me. Most of these things have gotten a lot of notice, but they haven't gotten a lot of notice together.

11 September 2013

Jerry Garcia Reads...

A friend sent me the above photo this morning. "You probably know more about Sci Fi and Fantasy publications than anyone I know," he wrote, "so can you possibly identify the book that Jerry Garcia is reading in the attached photo. It would mean a lot to thousands of Deadheads."

I like a challenge. The picture is of such low resolution I almost couldn't make out anything helpful about the book, but I was determined. The title seemed long and the more I stared at it, the more it looked like some sort of anthology title ... The Best something? ... maybe a best of the year collection? ... no, best of fantasy and science -- The Best from Fantasy and Science Fiction, I bet. I've got a few copies of that longrunning series of stories from the venerable magazine, but all mine are old hardcovers picked up at library sales. I'm not sure I've ever even seen one of the paperbacks, or knew that there were paperbacks of the series. But God invented ISFDB for just such moments. I didn't know which volume of the series this was, but figured if I looked up some of the paperbacks from the 1960s, I might be able to figure it out. I tried the 18th first. No, but the text and layout looked like I was maybe in the vicinity. So I just kept trying.

And there it was. The Best from Fantasy and Science Fiction, 14th Series.

I was particularly amused to see that the ever-wonderful Kit Reed had a story in the book ("Automatic Tiger"). I stuck the info on Facebook and asked her if she'd gotten a fan letter from Jerry. Alas, no. But still, it's nice to find direction around some corner where it's been waiting to meet you.

First Fassbinder

Over at Press Play, I have a video essay and accompanying text essay on the first films of Rainer Werner Fassbinder, the best of which were recently released in the US by Criterion as part of the Eclipse series.

It's a great shame that most of Fassbinder's films are not easily available on DVD in the US anymore. Criterion has done great work bringing some of them to us, though they've also had some go out of print. Many are available for streaming at Hulu Plus, thankfully. I'm holding out a bit of optimistic hope for a companion Eclipse set: Late Fassbinder, which could include Lili Marleen and Querelle. Or maybe for a release of Eight Hours Are Not a Day. Or ... well, a boy can dream...

10 September 2013

The Potential Doctor Is In

Posting has been nonexistent here for a bit because not only is it the start of a new school year (a time when posting is always light here), but, as I've mentioned before, I'm also now beginning the PhD in Literature program at the University of New Hampshire. This not only involves lots of time in classes, time teaching First-Year Writing, and time doing homework and class prep, but I'm also driving over 300 miles a week commuting to and from campus. And of course there are also the inevitable writing projects — currently, I'm writing an introduction for a new translation from the Japanese of a very interesting novel (more on that later, I'm sure), a couple of book reviews and review-essays and essay-essays, a couple of short stories, and the always very slowly progressing book manuscript on 1980s action movies. And I've got a couple video essays I want to make in the next month or so. And I'm editing a short film I shot this summer. And, well, naturally, blogging is not really at the forefront of my mind right now. But it is there, somewhere, in amidst everything else in that rattletrap of a mind.

02 September 2013

New Design

In honor of the blog's 10th anniversary, I thought it might be nice to spruce things up around here a bit. Thus, a new design.

Some of the design details will be in flux for a bit while I try it all out in different browsers and on different computers. Please pardon any mess!