Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus II

Hold on to your heads, True Believers: it's the charismatic continuation of this provocative post!

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is yet another Gilliam film about the power of the imagination, liberatory and otherwise, but the stakes are very different from Brazil, Munchausen, and Fisher King. In Brazil, that imagination enables Sam to survive, see through, and (briefly) resist the dominant order. In The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, the imagination enables the title character to defeat some Muslims. Jonathan Pryce plays The Enlightenment in Munchausen, and he is not a good guy: all the Romantic clichés about the Enlightenment being responsible for the Terror and unweaving the rainbow and demanding uniformity and disciplining and punishing come into play.

The source of evil in Parnassus is not the the entertainment industry or the Enlightenment or the state or any force that I’ve seen foregrounded in previous Gilliam films: the source of evil is coercion and paternalistic control, manifested in part via the Charity Model of Disability. Sharon L. Snyder and David T. Mitchell have identified that model as a target of Melville’s Confidence-Man, wherein “Charity becomes a ruse by obscuring rather than exposing the truth of social injustice” (58). Snyder and Mitchell point out that

Historically, one of the primary qualifications of charity, as Jean Starobinski has argued, has been the complete repeal of every other human right . . . Debasement became an in-built feature of the charitable relationship in which the recipient degrades himself and the benefactor grows increasingly exalted. (59)
Gilliam doesn’t go as far as Melville, who “exposes charity as existing fully within the logic of an economic system that makes all economic relationships parasitic, but disguises that fact by marking only some participants ans unproductive and therefore unduly dependent” (60). But he’s acutely aware of the debasement, manifest in the scene where the dwarf is reduced to Crip Minstresly; and the repeal of every other human right turns out to be a big factor in the philanthropist’s agenda.

That aspect of the movie’s thesis has implications for the workings of gender therein. In Gilliam movies, women are often the down-to-earth people who anchor the men and oppose their “lunacy,” in Rebecca West’s sense of the term. Remember the scene in Brazil where Sam lets out a rebel yell at the end of the car chase and Jill points out to him that there’s a policeman burning to death right behind him? Or Sally’s repeated efforts to bring Baron Munchausen back down to Earth and remind him of his quest? Or the Waitress in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, who shows Duke and Gonzo that there are real people suffering in the midst of their fun and games?* One problem with that trope is that it tends to circumscribe the women’s lives, most noticeably in The Fisher King, where the heroes’ sweethearts are there basically to support the men's antics and be around when they're done anticking. I guess they contribute in that movie to a care-and-dependency ethic that counters the macho individualism one sometimes sees in Hollywood, but even that aspect of their lives is rendered a stage in Jack’s personal development: as Fred Pfeil wrote, The Fisher King is part of a genre of yuppie-redemption movies “constructing a process of regeneration from which . . . mainstream women are excluded, and . . . rendered superfluous . . . Despite all the indubitable goodness and insight of women, it still takes a man . . . to soften up and save a man” (49-52).

Because Gilliam aspires to deal with the opposition of freedom and paternalism in Parnassus, the movie features moments of female agency that we don’t get in Fear and Loathing and Fisher King. See, Parnassus is all about questioning the discourse of protection. The drive to "save" The Children of The World ends up being a tool for Tony's villainy; and, of course, the princess doesn't end up needing the rescue that the men's egos would like to think she needs. Now, in the real world, one can't easily say that freedom and paternalism are opposed: negative liberty is established by a regime of (often paternalistic) protections. So in what discourses is the repudiation of paternalism central to freedom? The anarcho-capitalist discourse is the first that comes to mind—yer Cato Institute and yer A. Rand Institute make the loudest anti-paternalist noises in the public sphere. But Gilliam’s not going to be a Randian thug. He's too much a stigmaphile, and perhaps too good a shit-detector, to buy into a discourse that lionizes the successful entrepreneur-hero. He’s not a capitalist libertarian or a socialist libertarian, just a hippie libertarian.

The value in that position, whatever its political limitations, is that it allows Gilliam to be anti-imperialist and pro-pleasure, a combination that’s all too rare in the public sphere. Ellen Willis, a kind of hippie libertarian manqué, wrote beautifully about the pro-pleasure stance but took the conservatives’ line on Nicaragua and Israel, and was sympathetic to the “We must save the Iraqis” argument. Edward Said wrote some great anti-imperialist pieces but got very impatient with the later work of Foucault and all that sex business.

Gilliam has said that, by showing the actual gory casualties of a car chase in Brazil, he wanted to say, "Steve [Spielberg], those are real people here!" Now he says the same thing to Roald Dahl. In Parnassus, no one's desire, however superficial, is punished unless they're doing bodily harm to others. Can you imagine what Dahl would do to the ladies who dream of large shoes? Both Right and Left, in this world, want to tell people: no, you don't want what you think you want, that's all "false consciousness."** So letting people want large shoes is pretty rad. Recall Delany in About Writing remarking that what he'd say to Pecola in The Bluest Eye, rather than grieve over her desire to be different, would be, "Get yourself some contact lenses, girl!"

There was, of course, another movie recently about a philanthropist named Tony, one in which a macho protector gets to save a bunch of poor, passive central Asians, which leaves me saying, Iris Marion Young, thou shouldst be living at this hour! But Favreau’s vision is not unique—think of all the Spielberg movies that simplify novels or history in order to tell a straightforward paternalist story, on more than one occasion invoking the old imperial fantasy about rescuing brown women from brown men. Remember "I knew I had to make that movie because I wanted so badly to save Celie"? So Gilliam could credibly be saying, "Steve, Celie doesn't need your help." That kind of thing has, in these times, to be said.

*How the heroine of 12 Monkeys fits this schema is an exercise left to the reader.

**In scary quotes because that's really not what Engels meant by false consciousness.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Will the SF community notice?

Strange remark here from some guy writing about Jennifer Egan's new tour de force, a story-cycle the last two pieces of which are set in the near future:
What I am frankly most curious about is how the novel will be received by the science fiction community. Indeed, it's quite uncertain whether it will be noticed. And Egan certainly did not take the typical approach to science fiction with regards to the creation of those portions of the novel set in the future.

Readers could easily argue the other side of the fence, that the portions of the novel set in the future are not science fiction, because they focus primarily on character. But Egan is quite adept at writing speculative fiction. Her instincts are fine.
Three thoughts:
1) The science fiction community noticed: the interview is right up there in the "Blinks" section of Locus Online. Plus it's no secret that Egan fan Chip Delany is on the NBA jury, and he has some connection with the science fiction community.
2) Litfic that uses SF tropes is not an Exciting New Thing. Gravity's Rainbow was thirty-seven years ago. Egan herself is a fan of The Road, and was not one of those reviewers who thought its use of an old SF convention was a Daring Innovation. Philip Roth, not one of our great experimentalists, has written an alternate-history novel.
3) The chapters in question are well done, with effective extrapolations about society and technology (I think--they're very sentimental, so I was reading them through a flood of tears, which makes my judgment suspect). To my mind, that's not enough to justify classifying them as SF. But it's hard not to ask, Who Cares? All this Tutankhamun was black, Spinoza was gay, Egan writes SF sort of thing strikes me as a very iffy legitimation game. How does saying, "This person who is revered by the Establishment was part of my very own stigmatized group" help you?

Here's an informative Egan interview in which interviewer Alec Michod keeps trying to ask her about genre and she finally says, wtf, it's just a marketing category, dude. She talks (and presents: the interview concludes with eighteen PowerPoint slides, which start to be really interesting around number eleven) analytically about her strategies for writing A Visit from the Goon Squad and the struggle to address changes in everyday life without falling into a nostalgia trap. And she cuts through a lot of recently-fashionable crap about "experimental fiction" and the style/story dichotomy.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Quote of the Day

Of course if you want to look out at something nice, there's always those snowcapped mountains. Some people might think I'm a little bit crazy because I talk to mountains when I'm off by myself. I started when I was about three years old. I always did it after I got whipped. I never talked to the highest, just the second or third highest. When I was little I thought the highest wouldn't bother listening to a little girl with nothing but little-girl problems. I still do it that way. ---from Carol Emshwiller, Leaping Man Hill

A friendly plea... authors of books published by Aqueduct Press. Please, please, please send me your change of address when you move. More than one royalty statement (one accompanied by a check) has been returned to Aqueduct by the post office as undeliverable. If you have a royalty statement coming to you and haven't yet received it, that is probably the reason why.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

2010 Locus Awards

Today I attended the Locus Awards event, and am pleased to report that Ursula Le Guin's Cheek by Jowl won in the Best Non-fiction/Art category. (I thought I'd be able to post a picture of the winners, but I'm afraid my sleeplessness sabotaged my photos: they are all of them blurry.) Ursula was there to accept in person. (She also accepted an award for Peter Beagle.) Aqueduct Press was given a "publisher's scroll" for having published the book, which I accepted. Five Aqueductistas besides Ursula and me attended-- Nicola Griffith, whose "It Takes Two" was on the ballot, Kelley Eskridge, Maureen McHugh (whose "Useless Things" was on the ballot), Eileen Gunn, and Nisi Shawl. (That's seven of us, all told! Imagine that.) Plus Aqueduct blog member Cat Rambo.

You can find the full list of winners here.

I arrived near the end of the first panel, "The Research Behind the Fiction," entering the room just as Nancy Kress was speaking the words "exposition is inherently distancing." But though I can't tell you much about that panel, I can tell you a bit about the second panel, "10 Don'ts for Writers," which featured Gardner Dozois, Eileen Gunn, Beth Meacham, Jeremy Lassen, and Gary K Wolfe. It began, of course, with a few minutes of jokes by the panelists. And then Beth Meacham got serious, beginning with "Don't quit your day job after signing your first multi-book contract."

JL: Don't phone your editor to ask if they've considered your ms yet. If you do, be prepared to have the editor reject your ms in a spot decision, ms unread. (He apparently has done this, and he commented that he's always happy for the opportunity to lighten the load of submissions he's burdened with.)

EG Don't email your editor 3 weeks after submitting a story and say that if the editor doesn't get to it immediately, you'll never submit another story to her again (unless, of course, you're happy to carry through on your threat).

JL Don't send an electronic file in a format the editor hasn't requested-- use rtf as the default format unless the editor tells you otherwise.

GD: Don't typewrite your story and submit it without electronic capability. (He followed this up with comments about his having had to practically retype Howard Waldrop and Tanith Lee's stories because they always sent him typescripts too marked up to be scanned.)

EG Scanning doesn't always work.

EG Don't assume that editors are looking for the best story ever and that your story fits that description. Editors often are looking for a story that fits unstated parameters that the editor might not be able to articulate. (Quality is not always the issue.)

BM Don't blow your deadlines.

JL Don't read your Amazon reviews or keep track of your Amazon sales rank. Both are meaningless. [Note from me: I track the sales of Aqueduct Press books on Amazon day by day and have repeatedly noticed that a book's sales rank seldom bears any relation to its actual sales.]

GD Don't respond to killer reviews. It only makes you look bad.

EG Don't send your story to the editor you think will be desperate enough to buy it.

GD Yeah. Start at the top.

GD Don't write a furious letter of outrage to the editor who has rejected your ms. (GD then told a few anecdotes about writers who insulted the editor in their submission cover letters-- trying to "take their revenge in advance.")

BM 30 years ago both short fiction and novel editors got continually recurring submissions of "The Milky Way Man Story." Each time it would arrive by special messenger, in a box covered with aluminum foil, accompanied by a Visible Man spray-painted silver, nested in polystyrene foam. The ms itself was terrible. BM received it 4 times. Other colleagues at Tor received it multiple times too. Even GD got it a few times. He wondered whether it was ever submitted to the New Yorker and said that he thought the mental age of the writer was about 5 years.

GD Back in the days when people made physical submissions, I sometimes received audio tapes with cues for playing the music on the tapes at specific points in the ms. (He doesn't recommend that writers do this.)

JL I don't open mail from people I don't know. (He has an intern do that.)

BM Since 9/11 and the anthrax attacks, Tor accepts only electronic submissions.

GD Don't hire an ad agency.

GD Don't include a synopsis of a short story in your cover letter. But do write cover letters. A submission without a cover letter feels cold.

BM Don't tell me what your novel is about, let me read it; later, after I've read it, if I like your novel I'll want to have the synopsis. (She elaborated: writers should submit 3 chapters and a synopsis.)

BM Don't submit a query letter for a novel.

JL I prefer to get the whole ms.

GD To the Clarion West students present: Don't write a novel until you've practiced your craft and sold some short stories. Most first novels are awful.

EG I disagree. Short stories and novels are different kinds of writing (involving different kinds of craft). (She then told the story of a writer in her Clarion West class who had written 8 novels before attending; and her novels were better than her short fiction.)

EG If the editor sends you a suggestion: thank the editor whether you use it or not. Suggests are extra work for the editor.

GD Don't slavishly adopt the editor's suggestion-- only take the suggesiton i it rings true to you.

GD Don't rush to get your first novel into print-- you only get one or two shots. If your first or first two books don't sell, you won't get another chance with a stronger novel. (GD also talked about how infuriating it was to have writers use his suggestions and then turn around and submit the rewrite to another editor. BM said this had happened to her, too. There was general agreement among the panelists that this was because writers (especially new ones) often don't know how to read rejection letters.)

The panel wound down then (with more jokes, of course). I've left a bit out of my account, by the way, for instance the discussion of cover letters and how not many people, as EG & GD both pointed out, are able to carry off humor with someone they've never met. The discussion made me feel a bit like a tennis ball being batted around (though maybe that was due to sleep deprivation)-- sometimes I'd be receiving the panelists contributions from the point of view of a writer, sometimes from the point of view of an editor, back and forth, back and forth, as anecdotes or description of writers behavior resonated with my own experience.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Speculative Literature Foundation Announces Older Writers Grant Winner

For Release: June, 2010


Mario Milosevic wins the Speculative Literature Foundation’s Older Writers Grant

The Speculative Literature Foundation is pleased to announce that its seventh annual Older Writers Grant is to be awarded to Mario Milosevic. The $750 grant is intended to assist writers who are fifty years of age or older at the time of the grant application, and who are just starting to work at a professional level.

Born in Italy, Milosevic grew up in Canada, graduated from the University of Waterloo with a degree in philosophy and mathematics, and now lives in the Pacific Northwest of the United States with his wife, writer Kim Antieau. He started writing stories when he was nine years old, began submitting to magazines when he was fourteen, and hasn't stopped since.

Milosevic has published poems, articles, and short stories, and his first novel, Terrastina and Mazolli, has been available for a couple of years. He describes most of his work as exercises in conditional reality, creating narratives that look at the world from a slightly (and sometimes not so slightly) skewed perspective, which may explain how he got it into his head to write about the states unmoored and floating in the ocean. He has found the science fiction and fantasy genres very accommodating to his take on storytelling.

Grant Administrator Malon Edwards said of Milosevic’s entry, “The Untied States of America”: “Susie’s story of post-apocalyptic survival is admirable, considering her loss. Her husband has died a violent death and her son has left her to find adventure amongst the floating states. She’s lonely and sad, but she’s also appreciative of what she has and hopeful for the future. If there are more people like Susie out there, this new America will overcome its difficulties and persevere.”

Honorable Mentions for the Older Writers Grant go to Michele Cashmore, April Grey, Lynne MacLean, Ada Milenkovic Brown, and J.A. Huets for their entertaining submissions, which made the selection of the winner a difficult but enjoyable process.

The Speculative Literature Foundation is a volunteer-run, non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the interests of readers, writers, editors and publishers in the speculative literature community.

"Speculative literature" is a catch-all term meant to inclusively span the breadth of fantastic literature, encompassing literature ranging from hard and soft science fiction to epic fantasy to ghost stories to folk and fairy tales to slipstream to magical realism to modern mythmaking–any literature containing a fabulist or speculative element.

More information about the Speculative Literature Foundation is available from its web site ( or by writing to

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The WisCon Chronicles, Volume 4

The WisCon Chronicles Volume 4: Voices of WisCon, edited by Sylvia Kelso, is now available from Aqueduct Press. (Our apologies for our delay in getting up.) This volume chronicles WisCon 33, held in 2009. In her introduction to the volume, Sylvia writes of "the voices of WisCon":
They are widely diverse, not only in what events the writer attended, what he or she saw and felt, but in the writers themselves. There are first-timers and long-termers, there are women and men, there are POC and whites. There are reports in prose and reports in verse, reports from people who went to panels and reports from those who ran parties, reports that rhapsodize about WisCon 33 and reports that critique it, or indicate that it is not always a coming-home and recognizing-the-tribe experience. These are strong, clear voices showing that the experience of WisCon is multi-hued and complex.
The volume's contributors include a mix of writers, scholars, and fans, among whom number Nisi Shawl, Nancy Jane Moore, Andrea Hairston, Jennifer Pelland, JoSelle Vanderhooft, MJ Hardman, Julie Andrews, Elise Matthesen, and Beverly Friend. It also, notably, includes a handful of short stories. And as with previous volumes, it does not shy away from controversy. You can buy your copy here.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Something's rotten in the Fifth Circuit

Today, Judge Martin Feldman, a U.S. District Court Judge for the Eastern District of Louisiana, sided with a drilling company which had argued that the Obama administration’s blanket, 6-month moratorium on deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico was illegal. An article in Think Progress notes:
Like many judges presiding in the Gulf region, Feldman owns lots of energy stocks, including Transocean, Halliburton, and two of BP’s largest U.S. private shareholders — BlackRock (7.1%) and JP Morgan Chase (28.3%). Here’s a list of Feldman’s income in 2008 (amounts listed unless under $1,000):

BlackRock ($12000- $36000)
Ocean Energy ($1000 – $2500)
NGP Capital Resources ($1000 – $2500)
Quicksilver Resources ($5000 – $15000)
Hercules Offshore ($6000 – $17500)
Provident Energy
Peabody Energy
PenGrowth Energy
Atlas Energy Resources
Parker Drilling
TXCO Resources
EV Energy Partners
Rowan Companies
BPZ Resources
El Paso Corp
Chesapeake Energy
ATP Oil & Gas

In his opinion today, Feldman wrote, “Oil and gas production is quite simply elemental to Gulf communities.” Indeed, it is so elemental that the justice system is invested in the oil and gas industry. As TP’s Ian Millhiser has written, “Industry ties among federal judges are so widespread that they are beginning to endanger the courts’ ability to conduct routine business. Last month, so many members of the right-wing Fifth Circuit were forced to recuse themselves from an appeal against various energy and chemical companies that there weren’t enough untainted judges left to allow the court to hear the case.”
Yep. Without question, we're in trouble.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Recommended Reading: Adrienne Rich's A Human Eye

When Delta stranded me in Madison after WisCon, I took advantage of my extra day there to buy an armload of books at a Room of One's Own. One of these was Adrienne Rich's A Human Eye: Essays on Art in Society, 1997-2008. After buying myself a pair of reading glasses (I'd somehow managed to lose the pair I had), I settled myself with coffee and a sandwich at Michelangelo's and plunged in. Since it strikes me that the first paragraph of the first essay-- "Thomas Avena's Dream of Order-- might be taken as the collection's emblem, I'll quote it:
Wherever I turn these days, I'm looking, as from the corner of my eye, for a certain kind of poetry whose balance of dread and beauty is equal to the chaotic negations that pursue us. Amid profiteering language, commoditizing of intimate emotions, and public misery, I want poems that embody-- make into flesh-- another principle. A complex, dialogic, coherent poetry to dissolve both complacency and despair.
There's much in this book about what art is, what it does, and why it matters. And there's a great deal about politics of various sorts. Frequently art and politics are too intertwined in her reflection to imagine ever separating. Take, for instance, "Jewish Days and Nights," which I happened to read only a couple of hours after hearing about the Israeli commando raid on the Gaza aid flotilla. "Every day in my life is a Jewish day, Rich begins. "Muted in my house of origins, Jewishness had a way of pressing up through the fissures. But only in my college-dormitory years did it become a continuous conversation, as Israel was declared a nation-state." (18) For Rich, a significant part of that Jewishness was her father's library, which shaped her intellectual and imaginative life from childhood. "When I think-- daily-- about American Jews and Israel, about Zionism and the Middle East, about intellectual and political life in this country and elsewhere, I start from there. A library. An attitude."(20) Rich continues her reflections by invoking the ethos and poetics of novelist Shulamith Haraven, a European-born Israeli, who as an artist calls herself a "Levantaine," which she characterizes thus:
Authentic Levantism means the third eye and the sixth sense. It is the keen sensitivity to "how," the knowledge that "how" is always more important than "what"; therefore every true artist is a kind of Levantine. It means a perpetual reading between the lines, both in human relations and in political pronouncements--an art no Israeli political leader has yet succeeded in acquiring.... the tacit knowledge that different nations live at different ages, and that age is culture, and that some nations are still adolescent, among them, quite often, Israel. And it is the bitter experience that knows that everything-- every revolution, every ideology-- has its human price, and there is always someone to pay it.
Rich identifies the sense of living differences that Haraven says the artist must be keenly aware of as at the heart of her own Jewishness. "Diaspora...means never always, or anywhere, being just like other Jews. It means class and cultural difference, dissension, contradiction, different languages and foods, living in different ages and relationships to tradition, world politics, and the "always/already" of anti-Semitism." (22) Rich wonders "if there has been anything more impoverishing to Jewish ethical and intellectual culture in the second half of the twentieth century than the idea of Jewish sameness, Jewish unanimity, marching under one tribal banner." She is particularly pained by the neocon redefining of antisemitism as a critique of Israel and the Occupation: "to reduce every question to anti-Semitism," she writes, "is to become infected with anti-Semitism's toxic spirit." (26)

Other essays in the collection engage with the work of Muriel Rukeyser, LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka, James Baldwin, Robert Duncan and Denise Levertov, and other poets. A few of the essays aren't particularly about poetry, among them "Three Classics for New Readers: Karl Marx, Rosa Luxemburg, Che Guevara," which she wrote as a preface to Manifesto: Three Classic Essays on How to Change the World--Che Guevara, Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. She begins
If you are curious and open to the life around you, if you are disturbed as to how, by, and against whom wealth and political power is held and used, if you sense that there must be good reasons for your unease, if your curiosity and openness drive you toward wanting to act with others, to "do something," you have much in common with the writers of the three essays in Manifesto.(57)
She points out that all three were fairly young when they wrote their manifestos-- Marx 30, Luxemburg 27, and Che Guevara 37. Not surprising, I guess. A manifesto needs to be bold in issuing its clarion call, not tangled in qualifications and caveats and the intricate concerns that accumulate in the thinking mind, year after year.
They saw themselves not as "public intellectuals" or pundits but as witnesses and contributors to the growing consciousness of a class whose labor produced wealth and leisure for some but who did not share in it it-- a class more than capable of reason and enlightened action, if often lacking the education that could lead to political power....(59) Marx, Luxemburg, and Guevara were revolutionaries but they were not romantic. Their often poetic eloquence is grounded in study and critical analysis of human society and political economy for the earliest communistic arrangements of prehistory to the emergence of modern capitalism and imperialist wars. They did not idealize past societies or attempt to create marginal lifestyle communities but--beginning with Marx-- they scrutinized the ilusions of past and contemporary reformers, idealists and rebels, aware of how easy it can be for parties and leaders to lose momentum, drift off, and settle down within exising structures of power. (It is this kind of compromise that Luxemburg addresses in "Reform or Revolution.")(61-2)
As is often the case in her essays, Rich explicitly makes critical imagination key:
The serious revolutionary, like the serious artist, can't afford to lead a sentimental or self-deceiving life. Patience, open eyes, and critical imagination are required of both kinds of creativity. The writers gathered in Manifesto [Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Marx, & Che Guevara] all speak emotionally of the human condition, of human realization not as losing oneself within a mass collectivity but as a release from the numbed senses, the robotization of advancing capitalist society. Marx writes of "the complete emancipation of all the human qualities and senses [from the mere sense of having]....The eye has become a human, social object." Rosa Luxemburg speaks of "social happiness," of the mass strike as "creativity," of "freedom" as "no special privilege," and of "the love of every beautiful day" required to live in a world of struggle. And Che of the revolutionary as "moved by great feelings of love," though this might "seem ridiculous" in the cynical climate of bourgeois politics; of the need for a "new human being," created through responsible participation in a society in which everyone has a stake. (68)
One last quote, and then I'll stop. In "Permeable Membrane," Rich writes:
Poetic imagination or intuition is never merely unto itself, free-floating, or self-enclosed. It's radical, meaning root-tangled in the grit of human arrangements and relationships: how we are with each other.
If Rich's poetics speaks to you, this book is certainly one you'll want to read-- and read again. It's published by Norton and is now available in trade paperback. It's been a long, long time since Rich was "under 40." And it shows.

A Clutch of Reviews

Here are a few recent reviews of some Aqueduct Press books.

*Publishers Weekly has reviewed Aqueduct's first Heirloom Book, It Walks in Beauty: Selected Prose of Chandler Davis, ed. Josh Lukin:

This scholarly volume, the first maleauthored book from feminist SF press Aqueduct, explores the work of Chandler Davis, who refused to cooperate with 1950s McCarthyism and was dismissed from the University of Michigan faculty, academically blacklisted, and briefly imprisoned. As Lukin writes in his extensive introduction, Davis's writings "remind us that nothing and no one is as immutable as the dominant order would have us believe." Five stories--including "Last Year's Grave Undug" (1953), in which an "atombombed" America is still in the grips of "the Red scare" even though nations no longer exist, and the sublimely powerful "It Walks in Beauty" (1954), which examines a society where women with careers are rendered genderless--are accompanied by numerous essays, a speech, and a lengthy interview, all of significant interest to any fan of political SF. Copyright © Reed Business Information

*Donald D'Ammassa has reviewed Tomb of the Fathers by Eleanor Arnason:

Here’s a clever and quite original planetary adventure. A crew of humans and aliens is conducting research on a planet supposedly abandoned by its intelligent residents when a malfunctioning AI decides to strand them there. In short order they begin to uncover secrets about the decline of the alien civilization, which mixes the serious and the humorous in about equal measure, and yes there’s considerable social commentary mixed in with the laughs and surprises. It’s quite short – not much more than a novella – so the satire doesn’t get too long winded, and there’s an active plot as well. Have a few laughs and look at human behavior from a slightly different viewpoint.

*And Strange Horizons has posted Narrative Realities: A Symphony in Four Books by Matt Cheney, an essay that discusses Narrative Power edited by L. Timmel Duchamp, Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor, Reality Hunger by David Shields, and Vanishing Point by Ander Monson. On his own blog, Matt remarks:
All four books are well worth reading, thinking about, arguing with. I especially hope that in the wake of Paul Di Filippo's review of Who Fears Death in the B&N Review that the column will offer an alternative way of evaluating the novel. For the way Di Filippo read the book, I think his assessment is valid, but he read it in the most narrow and silly way possible, the way someone who's only ever read science fiction would read. And I know he hasn't only read science fiction, so I'm perplexed at the assumptions he applies.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Yachting with the nobs while endangered species burn

There's been much buzz about BP's CEO fleeing the disaster his company unleashed on the Gulf of Mexico to go yachting with English lords, sailing his $700,000 boat around the Isle of Wight. (Getting his "life" back, perhaps?) But much more disturbing is The Raw Story's report by Daniel Tencer that BP is burning marine species caught in their free fire zones without giving anyone a chance to rescue them.
Mike Ellis, a boat captain involved in a three-week effort to rescue as many sea turtles from unfolding disaster as possible, says BP effectively shut down the operation by preventing boats from coming out to rescue the turtles.

"They ran us out of there and then they shut us down, they would not let us get back in there," Ellis said in an interview with conservation biologist Catherine Craig.

Part of BP's efforts to contain the oil spill are controlled burns. Fire-resistant booms are used to corral an area of oil, then the area within the boom is lit on fire, burning off the oil and whatever marine life may have been inside.
That's bad enough. But consider this:
Dr. Brian Stacey of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration told NPR last week that, although there are five different species of sea turtle in the Gulf of Mexico, the majority of the ones found affected by the oil spill are Kemp's Ridleys, "the rarest of them all."

Ellis confirmed that he's mostly been seeing Kemp's Ridleys.

Mike Michael at reports that Kemp's Ridleys are listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Harming or killing one "carries stiff fines and civil penalties ($500-$25,000) assessed for each violation. Criminal penalties include possible prison time and fines from $25,000-$50,000."

Michael suggests that, given the size of the fines BP could face as a result of the turtle deaths, the company may be happy to let turtles burn, as it would make it impossible to calculate exactly how many turtles died. He notes that the bodies of dead animals are being kept as evidence to determine how much in fines BP will be liable for.

"Is BP destroying evidence to keep their liability down?" he asks. "Is anyone going to stop them?"
The article is accompanied by a video in which Mike Ellis is interviewed.

Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010)

Louise Bourgeois died on May 31. Although she is one of my favorite sculptors, her death didn't attract much notice. Looking at her Wikipedia entry, I'm bemused to see her characterized as "the founder of confessional art." (What does that mean?)

Over the years, I saw pieces of hers here and there, in different museums in different cities, and of course had the pleasure of staring at images of them in print. And then-- I'm not sure when-- I had the startling experience of seeing a small show of her work at the Henry Gallery, here in Seattle. And I was shocked (and pleased) by the effect it had on me. Although the Wikipedia entry pays a lot of attention to her more recent spider pieces, back then I was swept away by the sensuality of some of her more shapely pieces (and creeped out by her earlier paintings, for more of which, see below). Several pieces of sculpture deeply moved me, though one in particular absolutely obsessed me. I can't tell you how hard it was to resist touching its marble curves. (It wasn't enclosed in glass!) The effect was tremendously erotic. This was one of those rare instances when I was visiting the exhibit on my own. Under the circumstances, I was glad for that.

As for the work that creeped me out: in the 1940s, Bourgeois produced a series of paintings that today are easily understood as feminist, though critics of the day took them for something else. Here's Whitney Chadwick on them:
The nexus of body/home/art is central to the early work of Louise Bourgeois (b. 1911) whose femme-maison paintings were exhibited in 1947. Although Bourgeois pointed to the home as a place of conflict for the woman artist, critics read the paintings as affirming a "natural" identification between women and home. Her paintings of 1947 evolved out of earlier ones based on the grid, a structural form familiar to her from her early weaving and tapestry, an from her training in Cubist abstraction. Under the influence of Surrealism, she developed the personal, quasi-figurative imagery of these femme-maison paintings with their houses perched on top of women's bodies in place of heads. In these disquiesting works, domesticity, imaged through blank facades and small windows, defines women but denies them speaking voices. "Hers is a world of women," writes one critic. "Blithely they emerge from chimneys, or, terrified, they watch from their beds as curtains fly from a nightmare window. A whole family of females proves [sic] their domesticity by having houses for heads." (Women, Art, and Society, 303-304)
It can come, then, as no surprise that Bourgeois participated in the feminist uprising of artists in the 1970s. Astonishingly, according to obituaries, Bourgeois continued working right up until her death.

Here are the obituaries I've seen:

Holland Cotter, Louise Bourgeois, Artist and Sculptor, Is Dead (New York Times)

Jennifer Peltz Arist Louise Bourgeois dies in NYC at 98 (AP)

Jennifer Peltz Sculptor Louise Bourgeois Plumbed Depths of Female Psyche, Made Giant Freaky Spiders (Christian Science Monitor)

Michael McNay Louise Bourgeois obituary (The Guardian)

Finally, Bourgeois herself: here's an excerpt of Rachel Cooke's interview of Bourgeois, October 2007:

RC: The main focus of your work, according to some, is the relationship between an entity and its surroundings. But you have also been influenced by human relationships. Can you explain more about this aspect of your work?

LB: My works are portraits of a relationship, and the most important one was my mother. Now, how these feelings for her are brought into my interaction with other people, and how these feelings for her feed into my work is both complex and mysterious. I'm still trying to understand the mechanism.

RC: In the Fifties and Sixties, the art market ignored you a little. Was this frustrating? Was it connected to your sex? How and why did things change?

LB: The Fifties were definitely macho and the Sixties less so. The fact that the market was not interested in my work because I was a woman was a blessing in disguise. It allowed me to work totally undisturbed. Don't forget that there were plenty of women in a position of power in the art world: women were trustees of museums, the owners of galleries, and many were critics. Surely, the Women's Movement affected the role of women in the art world. The art world is simply a microcosm of the larger world where men and women compete.

RC: Today, your most famous works might be your 'spider' structures. Is this pleasing? Can you talk a little about how they came about?

LB: The spiders were an ode to my mother. She was a tapestry woman, and like a spider, was a weaver. She protected me and was my best friend.

RC: Your parents worked with tapestry, and you initially studied mathematics. Some critics have traced both these influences in your work. How separate is the mathematician in you, from the artist, or are the two intimately connected?

LB: My love of geometry is expressed by the formal aspect of my work. From the tapestries, I got this large sense of scale. I learned their stories, the use of symbolism and art history. The restoration of the tapestries functioned on a psychological level as well. By this I mean that things that have broken down or have been ripped apart can be joined and mended. My art is a form of restoration in terms of my feelings to myself and to others.

Friday, June 18, 2010

More on the plan for reducing global levels of machismo panel

We talked only indirectly about gender issues during the reducing global levels of machismo panel at WisCon 34 (noting, for instance,that "women are the economic heart, especially of the developing world. In South Asia, women provide up to 90% of the labor for rice cultivation; in rural Africa, women transport two-thirds of all goods that are their arms, on their backs, on their heads. In the developing world writ large, women produce 60-80% of the food." But that for the most part, females are allowed to receive education or run their own (micro)businesses only on male sufferance). We would have had an entirely different panel if we'd tried to discuss what gender has to do with global levels of machismo (and frankly, that wasn't the discussion I wanted or was prepared to have).

But Ruth Rosen's article Gender Apartheid Online (link via Echidne of the Snakes), though focused on a certain effect of gender politics, is indeed relevant to our discussion about bearing witness and trying to open public discourse to people like ourselves. She begins:
Forty years ago, feminists demanded that special "women's pages," which featured fashion, society and cooking, be banished from newspapers. Instead, they insisted, newspapers should mainstream serious stories about the lives of women throughout their regular news.

Forty years later, the new media have re-segregated women's sections. The good news is that they are no longer about society, cooking and fashion. Most are tough, smart, incisive, analytic,and focus on events, trends or stories that the mainstream online news still ignores. The bad news is that they are not on the "front page" where men might learn about women's lives.
Particularly relevant for our discussion is this:
Consider the Inter Press Service, which describes its mission as "giving a voice to the voiceless" - acting as a communication channel that privileges the voices and the concerns of the poorest and creates a climate of understanding, accountability and participation around development, promoting a new international information order between the South and the North."

Women, however, do not appear on the regular Inter Press Service. Instead IPS Gender Wire, a separate magazine, provides outstanding news about women's lives around the world. In each issue, IPS Gender Wire repeats the fact that "Women do not get half the media's attention, or an equal voice in expression - only 22 percent of the voices you hear and read in the news today are women's. In its stories IPS redresses this huge imbalance - covering emerging and frontline issues while asking an often forgotten question: What does this mean for women and girls?

The news stories that appear on IPS Gender Wire have focused on political opportunities for women in Senegal, investigated whether Namibian women are being sterilized, discussed women's debates in Lebanon about whether to don the hijab or bikini, and exposed sexual assaults against detained female immigrants by guards in Texas. And it never stops reminding readers that women are "Half the world's population, but not with half the share of wealth, well being and opportunity."

Think about it. Many of these sections are terrific and cover wonderful stories. They are not about fashion, cosmetics and wrinkle cream. But do men read them when they are clearly "marked" for women? I don't know, but the party line from writers and publisher is "of course." True, some of my male journalist friends know about some of these sites. But I can't find many ordinary men who regularly read these online magazines who even know that IPS Gender Wire exists, or who regularly click on Broadsheet. And most of my female friends have never even heard of the New York Times' Female Factor.

The quality of the writing and analysis in these "separate sections" is quite high. So what's my problem? My concern is that gender equality will only emerge when men are educated about women's lives and when women stop being quarantined as "the other." Why aren't stories that explore women's responses to the Taliban or Islamism, reproductive health issues, new forms of contraception, the growing majority of women in American higher education, or the estrogenic impact of cosmetics on women's health mainstreamed on the "front page" as part of the news about foreign policy, national security, ecology, pollution, or health care?
Well to tell the truth, I myself didn't know that IPS Gender Wire exists (though I read stories from IPS all the time). I find myself wondering why stories about women are considered gendered at all. I suppose it's one of those (gendered!) applications of metonymy that are so pervasive in most cultures. Rosen's point, of course, is about women's status: "Success," she says, "will come when women's news is mainstreamed." (This is exactly what I've been saying (for at least 15 years now) about the sf that women write: that we won't need a feminist press when work by women is a routine part of the conversation.) But what interests me particularly is this:
News about women is linked to the health of the planet, the education of half the world's population, the reproductive opportunities for or constraints on half the world's people, the hidden injuries of sex, the violence against girls and women, and the poverty of women and children.

By now, most international organizations have embraced the fact that elevating women's status though education and reproductive choice results in a higher living standard for an entire population. Sadly, that widespread and obvious consensus has not yet penetrated the news media. We will know we've succeeded when every magazine asks of every news story, as IPS Gender Wire does, What does this mean for women and girls?
Thank you, Ruth Rosen.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The dabbling ducks and goslings of June

Visits to Union Bay, the wetlands the UW is restoring, are an immense comfort to me. Like many people, I'm finding the ongoing catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico painful whether I consciously think about it or not. For weeks it has been following me around, making me even sadder than it makes me angry. Finally I realized that the lack of a clear scale adds a deep sense of uneasiness to the sadness.

Now that spring is almost over, life at the fill (as they call it) is a lot calmer. The reeds and grasses have grown tall-- as high as my shoulders, if you can believe that. Many species of birds have flown on. But there are lots of goslings (though they've grown a lot bigger than they were before I went off to WisCon) and ducklings about, and of course blue herons and turtles Over the weekend I acquired a pair of binoculars (a gift!) and some bird books, and was thrilled to identify the mates (polygamy!) of a red-winged blackbird, hanging out together in a tree while the male was off somewhere on his own. (The females don't have black feathers, so this was a revelation to me. Also: although I had noticed that red-winged blackbirds produce several kinds of calls, I had no idea that they produced twenty in all-- the females six, the males eighteen.) I also identified a pair of ducks as gadwalls.

Yesterday the notice board announced that a green heron had been spotted, so we of course kept a sharp look out for it (according to my books, it's about half the size of a blue heron and much more colorful). Not that I don't continue to love watching blue herons! I rather like that when they aren't staring down into the water, fishing, they are either stalking stealthily about or just standing motionless and seemingly staring off into space, something you'd never catch a dabbling duck or a goose doing.

I can't help feeling that walking around with a pair of large binoculars makes me look as if I'm an authentic birder. (False pretenses!) A woman (also wearing binoculars) asked me if I'd seen any wood ducks. (I hadn't.) And to think just a couple of months ago I didn't know what a coot looked like!

Wiscon # 2

Having written what I wrote below, I think we need to put some work into separating machismo and the patriarchy from capitalism. Capitalism arose within patriarchal societies and has incorporated patriarchal ideas and behaviors. However, the two are not identical; and capitalism does great damage to prior social relations. As Marx and Engels say in The Communist Manifesto:
The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations. It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his “natural superiors”, and has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous “cash payment”...

The bourgeoisie has torn away from the family its sentimental veil, and has reduced the family relation to a mere money relation.

The process of destroying prior relations has been a long one, and is not yet complete. But when we look at the tiny, fragmented, always-threatened families that exist in the US, we can see we have moved a long way toward a totally atomized society, ruled only by money.

When Margaret Thatcher said, "There is no such thing as society, there are only individuals and families," I think she was talking about nuclear families, not the huge extended families of traditional cultures.

However, in the US the same groups that defend capitalism also claim to defend traditional social roles. It makes perfect sense that people would confuse capitalism with the patriarchy. Capitalist societies -- especially the US -- may prefer to the use the rhetoric of the patriarchy, even while they break apart kinship bonds and reduce clans and extended families to fragments. But I think we could completely destroy traditional forms of male dominance and still have capitalism, with all its dangers; and because capitalism is so slippery, so able to assume new disguises and make new arguments for itself, it's really important to understand its core nature.

I don't think machismo caused the petroleum volcano in the Gulf. I think it was capitalism's insane drive for profits.

So, a panel topic for next year's Wiscon could be "Capitalism and machismo, compare and contrast."


I spend every Wiscon the same way -- in a daze caused by too much input, too little sleep and too much coffee. Then I come home and spend a day or two sleeping; and then I begin to reflect on the con.

Right now I am reflecting on a panel (late in the con) on ending machismo worldwide. I suspect it's a panel that should be done every year at Wiscon and at cons other than Wiscon, because it asks the core question: "What Is To Be Done?" How can we react to and act in a world that seems (in many ways) increasingly grim?

I didn't pay attention to the news during Wiscon, but two pieces of information got through: BP's attempt to cap their oil well did not work; and Israel attacked the flotilla bringing humanitarian supplies to Gaza, killing at least nine people. The US, as usual, is trying to protect Israel from any consequences.

So, how do we live and work in this world?

The panel -- especially the comments from the audience -- sounded like the kind of panel I've heard before, when people are beginning to discuss an issue, but don't yet have an analysis or a plan. What is to be done?

Andrea Hairston talked about programs that help Third World women and girls gain an education and some economic independence. According to Andrea, if you give money to men, they will spend it on beer. Women invest to increase their wealth and better care for their children. If the lives of women improve, then the entire society improves. As the old union song tells us, the rising of the women is the rising of the race.

Euen Bear talked about local politics as a way to change minds and make social change. Another woman in the audience talked about grassroots organizing and how you talk to --and reach -- people with different politic beliefs. Karen Joy Fowler asked what can be done about Fox News; and I suggested a boycott, like the one Color of Change organized against Glenn Beck. Harpoon them in the pocketbook, as Big Bill Haywood said. It's the only thing they understand.

People on the panel and in the audience pointed out that none of this changes the system.

The system was not named. It is capitalism. It is important to name it, I think. It's a slippery system with a remarkable ability to survive crisis after crisis, and to change its rhetoric whenever needed. (It's like the diseases that are difficult to treat, because they fool the immune system. I think syphilis is one.) We need to counter the slipperiness of capitalism with clarity, with an analysis that enables us to actually see the world.

We need to talk about the cost of capitalism over and over. Evo Morales says we cannot save the environment unless we end capitalism. I think he has a point.

This panel was about something else: machismo is not the same as capitalism, though the people talking from the audience were actually talking more about capitalism than machismo. But we need panels on capitalism and on class. I've been trying for years to get a good discussion on class going at Wiscon. It's remarkably difficult. One of the ways capitalism disguises itself is by using language and ideas that obscure power relationships.

This leads to something else that needs to be discussed somewhere. What is the role of the intelligentsia, if any? Does our gift for language, art and ideas have any use, except to make capitalism more palatable? Can we dissect the system and show clearly through our writing what it is and does?

Have we done this already? I think not, because the discussions at Wiscon so often slide around capitalism.

Another Aqueduct Writer in the Clarion West Write-a-thon

I'm joining Rachel Swirsky in participating in the Clarion West Write-a-thon, a fundraising event in which people sponsor writers who "shadow" the six-week Clarion West workshop by doing their own writing projects. I've promised to write 1,000 words of fiction per day, except for the period from June 30-July 5, when I'm off at Aikido camp. (I haven't yet learned not to overcommit myself, but I have at least learned that I can't do two intense projects at the same time.)

You can sponsor me on the Nancy Jane Moore Clarion West Write-a-thon page. You can select other writers to sponsor, or sponsor more than one at a time, on the main Write-a-thon page.

(Rachel, I was thinking about signing up anyway, but your entry nudged me along.)

Sunday, June 13, 2010

A suspicion of ideas that are not utterly topical

Reading the opening of The Death and Life of the Book Review by John Palatella, in the June 21 Nation, I had the pleasure of doing a double-take only a couple of paragraphs in. Try this:
Seeking some solace I picked up a book, and in a matter of minutes I read the following passage:
Now that anyone is free to print whatever they wish, they often disregard that which is best and instead write, merely for the sake of entertainment, what would best be forgotten, or, better still be erased from all books.
The sense of impoverishment before an overabundance of information; of helplessness before the need to spot relevant material in a slurry of ephemera; of vertigo provoked by the realization that "the present" is becoming overwhelmingly, annoyingly accessible—many of us, I'd wager, have had these reactions after reading those year-end digests or spending just a modicum of time online. Now anyone is free to print whatever they wish. This could be someone kvetching about blogs, Facebook, Flickr, YouTube or Twitter, and in not 500 words or 300 but nine. Except it wasn't. The jeremiad was the handiwork of Niccolò Perotti, a learned Italian classicist, writing to his friend Francesco Guarnerio in 1471, less than twenty years after the invention of the printing press.

This anecdote does not suggest that past is prologue but rather underscores the importance of thinking historically, of taking a long view when trying to understand changes in deeply engrained patterns in literary culture. I stumbled upon Perotti's plaint in Robert Darnton's essay collection The Case for Books: Past, Present, and Future (2009). Rejecting the commonplace notion that digital technology has ushered in a new era, "the so-called information age," Darnton argues that every age in which a new technology has altered forms of writing and communication has been an age of information, and that in every such age "information has never been stable." There is continuity to the history of technological transformations, Darnton suggests: what is everpresent is the experience of rupture. Anthony Grafton, another historian of the book, makes a similar point in "Codex in Crisis," from his recent essay collection Worlds Made by Words (2009): "The current drive to digitize the written record is one of a number of critical projects in the long saga of our drive to accumulate, store, and retrieve information efficiently. It will result not in the infotopia that the prophets conjure up, but in one more in a series of new information ecologies, all of them challenging, in which readers, writers, and producers of text have learned to survive and flourish." The point impresses because one of its implications is that a technological innovation, whether the printing press, the telegraph, the television or a digital device, though it delivers information in a new form, is not necessarily the root cause of problems with—or controversies about—reading and writing that have arisen in its wake.

After that beginning, I had to go on reading, even though the next sentence was "I'd like to talk about a meltdown, one that's occurring not on Wall Street but Grub Street, that storied realm of writers, booksellers, bohemians and hacks" and I wasn't certain I really wanted to read more about the current state of newspaper journalism. Actually, though, Palatella's essay turned out to be more about the declining space for book reviewing in newspapers-- noting, among other things, that the sixties and seventies saw a vast increase not only in the amount of news published in metropolitan papers, but also in the space they allotted to book reviews:
Between 1964 and 1999, the volume of news published by some metropolitan papers doubled. The dimensions of the news changed too. As Leonard Downie and Michael Schudson explained last year in the Columbia Journalism Review, during the boom years newspapers began to gravitate away from a longstanding preoccupation with government and with pegging coverage to specific political events; papers still worked those beats, but they also began to cultivate "a much broader understanding of public life that included not just events, but also patterns and trends, and not just in politics, but also in science, medicine, business, sports, education, religion, culture, and entertainment."
In looking at the shrinking of book review space in newspapers, Palatella fingers something that came up in the Global Machismo panel we've been talking about on this blog since WisCon:
The book beat has been gutted primarily by cultural forces, not economic ones, and the most implacable of those forces lies within rather than outside the newsroom. It is not iPads or the Internet but the anti-intellectual ethos of newspapers themselves.

"Anti-intellectual" is a hefty allegation, but bear with me as I substantiate it with a few stories from the newsroom and observations about the response of newspaper books sections to some important publishing trends of the past several decades. First, a definition. In a news context, "anti-intellectual" does not necessarily mean an antipathy to ideas, though it can be that too. I use the word "anti-intellectual" to describe a suspicion of ideas not gleaned from reporting and a lack of interest in ideas that are not utterly topical.

In 1999 Steve Wasserman was three years into his tenure as the editor of The Los Angeles Times Book Review, and that July he published a review of Richard Howard's new translation of Stendhal's The Charterhouse of Parma. The reason was simple: Howard is among the best translators of French literature. As Wasserman explained several years ago in a memoir of his days at the Los Angeles Times published in the Columbia Journalism Review, the review of the book, written by Edmund White, was stylish and laudatory. The Monday after the piece ran, the paper's editor summoned Wasserman to his office and admonished him for running an article about "another dead, white, European male." But the paper's readers in Los Angeles thought otherwise. Soon after the review appeared, local sales of the book took off; national sales did too when other publications reviewed the book. The New Yorker ended up printing a "Talk of the Town" item that traced the book's unexpected success to The Los Angeles Times Book Review. In his memoir, Wasserman relates a similar story about Carlin Romano, then the books critic at the Philadelphia Inquirer, who was scolded by an editor for running as the cover story of his section a review of a new translation of Tirant Lo Blanc, a Catalan epic beloved by Cervantes. "Have you gone crazy?" the editor asked. "Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of America's newspapers in the 1990s," Romano reflected, "is their hostility to reading in all forms."

The taboo still exists, and it is sometimes enforced not by other editors but by newspaper books sections themselves.

The New York Times Book Review comes in for criticism here.

Along with tackling disinformation bolstering a non-reality-based ideology, I'd like to see something done about the rampant anti-intellectualism that has been such a scourge in US politics and culture.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Dorothea Dreams by Suzy McKee Charnas: now available

Aqueduct Press's reissue of Suzy McKee Charnas's wonderful Dorothea Dreams is now available through Aqueduct's website-- and, until July 1 (its official publication date), for $12 (which is a $4 reduction in price). Actually, this edition is revised. (Yep: Samuel R. Delany isn't the only sf author with a penchant for tinkering with previously published prose!) This is an extremely attractive volume (as many people told us when they picked it up and handled it at our table at WisCon), with a cover designed by Anna Tambour. It also includes an introduction by Delia Sherman, who fell in love with the book on first sight a bit more than twenty years ago. Here's a snippet of the intro:
For me, Dorothea Dreams is the most purely beautiful of [Suzy McKee Charnas's] novels. It is certainly the one that speaks most directly to my own fears and obsessions. When I read it, I am proud to be a woman, proud to be an artist, even proud to be asthmatic and mortal and fallible, because they're all part of being human. And that's what art and literature are about, aren't they? The glory and shame of the human condition.

Suzy sent me a copy of a letter, with James Tiptree, Jr.'s comment (dated 25 November, 1985) on it: "It's an intimate book, a book to savour privately. [Suzy McKee Charnas] has a high-burning talent." I like that one, especially. But I think my favorite sentence from all the reviews the book collected back in the 1980s is this one, from UPI International (which no longer exists): "The plot in Dorothea Dreams starts slowly and explodes like the dreams that shake Dorothea from her sleep with visions of the French Revolution and blood-thirsty crowds." With all that is going on in the novel, that sentence nails the key event of the book: Dorothea's full awakening into the world she lives in. This book, for me, is really about the artist and the artist's relation to her world and her work on the one hand, and the relation between the work and the world on the other. If these relations interest you, then I know you'll want to read Dorothea Dreams.

You can purchase the book now here.

The End of Men?

I went to the WisCon panel on reducing global machismo, and have read and reflected on both Cat and Andrea's posts about it. And then I came across the latest issue of The Atlantic online, and found that the featured article was "The End of Men." Unlike most articles with this sort of title, this piece by Hanna Rosin is neither a joke nor a lament, but a thoughtful discussion of how society is changing in ways that appear to favor the skills and approaches usually attributed to women.

It's definitely worth a read. I disagreed with some things that were said, but it didn't come with an automatic assumption that biology is destiny, and hinted at the idea that some of the problems men face might well be cultural learned behavior.

While reading, I had a flash of insight: What many men appear to lack is flexibility. They have one idea of how to act in the world, and cannot adjust when the rug is pulled out from under them.

Now I don't believe men are born with a gene (or combination of genes) that makes them inflexible, nor do I believe that hormonal surges are responsible for their problems on this score. I suspect many men are taught that changing your mind is a sign of weakness. (In the US, we endured 8 years of a presidential administration built on this principle, and the world is still paying the price.) They are taught that certain behaviors and jobs are appropriate for men, and some are not, which leaves them high and dry in a world in which those jobs no longer exist.

Women, on the other hand, are taught to adapt to circumstances. I should point out that I consider flexibility to be a key element for human survival -- I include it as one of my seven skills of self defense -- and that my thinking on this comes from my Aikido training. That is, it's a principle of the supposedly manly art of warriorship.

At WisCon, I was thinking and talking a lot about the fictional images of women as warriors, both good and bad, and how important they are for helping women discover that they can take care of themselves and fight for things that are important to them. Now I think it might be just as important to look at fictional images of men as everything else but warriors -- as parents, nurses, teachers, and so forth. Look at them and create new ones that open more doors, based on the assumption that the stories we tell ourselves allow us to see new possibilities for our own lives.

BTW, The Atlantic is publishing a lot of interesting material these days, and doing it with a large and very usable online presence. Apparently this magazine -- over 150 years old -- is figuring out how to survive in the new world. It's worth checking out on that score alone.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Meditation On Disinformation

false information deliberately and often covertly spread (as by the planting of rumors) in order to influence public opinion or obscure the truth

As usual, the panels, the elevator-encounters, the readings, the late night parties, the guest of honor speeches, and the hallway carnivals at WISCON (that marvelous feminist science fiction convention in Madison, Wisconsin) left me high as a satellite for days. Truth be told, I haven’t come down yet.

At the “Reducing Global Machismo” panel(see Timmi’s summary below), Karen Joy Fowler asked the panelists (M: Timmi DuChamp, Andrea D. Hairston, Alexis Lothian, Cat Rambo) and folks in the audience what we could do about Fox News and the Disinformation that spews forth from it and similar media outlets. A great question, a sobering question.

Here is my meditation on Disinformation:

If there is no society (as former Prime Minister Thatcher once contended in her neo-conservative fantasy of humanity), then there’s just war. We isolated human agents inhabit a kill-or-be-killed battle-landscape, a grab-what-you-can, defend-it-to-the-death empire. All that we are, we owe to ourselves, our individual efforts, our battle performances. Oh, yeah, kill who’s in your way before they get the jump on you. Such a (fictional) empire of rogue individuals is the perfect setting for Global Machismo. All hail the man with the big stick! (Or Maggie in Macho Drag!)

The logical fallacies in this neo-con fantasy are too numerous to cite even with Arabic numbers at my disposal and polyglot of languages, English, offering the poetic majesty of billions of speakers though out time and space!
Endlessly chanting the rugged individualist myth doesn’t make it fact, but repetition is truth, and we live and die in our stories. Fictions direct our lives, creating/destroying our possibilities.

Five corporations own everyMEDIAthing and get to have their say all the time! Five corporations control the flickering screens that write on our brains, that etch the neural pathways that get us to act and react before critical discourse or desire or conscious belief have time to check/correct/alter our actions—well, there goes the neighborhood, the water, the air, the soil, the future.

We’re in deep do-do. What’s an agent of history, a race woman, a member of society, a collective bargainer, a queer agitator, a guerrilla theatre artist, a storyteller to do? To paraphrase Mr. Al Gore, we cannot afford to careen from denial (the situation is not really that dire) to despair (it’s so dire that there’s nothing we can possibly do).

I say to myself:
Finding a way to Reduce Global Machismo is a difficult problem to solve. That means it’s fun. Because, hard is fun. Don’t get weary, think! Maybe someone has told you again and again that human nature is fixed, stuck on foolish and selfish, and political action is boring and pointless. All the issues, wrongs, and catastrophes are on such an overwhelming scale, what else is there for the rugged individual to do but have a good time? Many someones have insinuated that only rigid killjoys are political activists and they never, never have fun. They are much too grim for a sense of humor! They think about everything. Thinking is a buzz kill.
Now really, Andrea, are you anything like that?
I talk out loud to myself, a theatre thing:
Consider that having contempt for thoughtful interactions in a media world of Disinformation is a perfect set-up for five corporations to do the thinking while the rest of us are having “mindless fun!”

So sorry, Mrs. Thatcher, I like symbiogenesis as a primary biological metaphor. See SYMBIOTIC PLANET: A NEW LOOK AT EVOLUTION by Lynn Margulis
Mitochondria and chloroplasts are the cooperative way to go—get into everything, be the energy engine!

Or for a praise song to a community of folks dreaming and scheming their way out of predatory capitalism and Thatcher’s there is no society madness get Pearl Cleage’s latest novel, TILL YOU HEAR FROM ME or any of her novels for that matter. While they’re busy changing the world, Cleage’s political activists definitely know how to have fun! Freedom is an outrageous high!

Or for an activist to support who is working against Disinformation, check out:
Sut Jhally—He is best known as the producer and director of brain popping films and videos (including Dreamworlds: Desire/Sex/Power in Music Video; Tough Guise: Media, Violence and the Crisis of Masculinity. and Hijacking Catastrophe: 9/11, Fear & the Selling of American Empire) that deal with issues ranging from gender, sexuality, and race to commercialism, violence, and politics. Sut Jhally is progressive voice at the edge of the Overton Window (see Cat Rambo’s post on Reducing Global Machismo below), pushing against the neo-conservative definition of what’s moderate or liberal.
He is also Founder and Executive Director of the Media Education Foundation. Check that out too for info and what to do!
Like hydrogen and oxygen, let’s surprise ourselves with water!

The world we can imagine is the one we can make!
What other ideas you got?

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Quote of the Day

I've been thinking about how behind every shelf of publications on gender and sexuality, every course offered in queer or gender studies, lie thousands of ghostly sheaves: leaflets, letters, pamphlets, mimeographed bibliographies, little magazines, posters, movement anthologies, some now preserved in archives, others reduced to landfill. Behind every academic program or lectureship under the rubric of queer studies stand lives that were participant in radical ideas about freedom and justice-- movements that moved, in nonlinear ways, in and out of each other. In those movements, queer women and men, unknown at first unless to each other, invisible to their otherwise-comrades, emerged to declare a gay and lesbian politics, because the idea of inclusive justice is-- was then-- contagious and irresistible. The names Bayard Rustin, Barbara Deming, Lorraine Hansberry, Harry Hay, Martin Duberman, Audre Lorde, Joan Nestle are a few that flash immediately to mind. And, of course, I think of the queer pioneers, Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, The Ladder, the Daughters of Bilitis, the Mattachine Society, the early queer underground; the publicly gay, anarchist, antiwar poets Paul Goodman and Robert Duncan. I think, in short, of many lives of defiance and creation.--- Adrienne Rich, "'Candidates for my Love': Three Gay and Lesbian Poets"

Sunday, June 6, 2010

It Walks in Beauty: now available

It Walks in Beauty: Selected Prose of Chandler Davis, edited by Josh Lukin, is now available through Aqueduct's website-- and, until July 1 (its official publication date), for $16 (which is a $5 reduction in price). As you may recall, I posted about this book earlier, previewing its table of contents and a lengthy excerpt for Josh's introductory essay. Here's a more general description, with blurbs:

Harvard awarded Chandler Davis a PhD in mathematics in 1950. Three years later, Davis was served with a subpoena as a result of his having paid for the printing of a pamphlet critical of the House Committee on Un-American Activities, and his subsequent ordeal included the loss of his job at the University of Michigan and a six-month imprisonment in 1960 for contempt of Congress. Blacklisted from full-time academic jobs in the US, he ultimately found employment in 1962 at the University of Toronto, where he is now an Emeritus Professor of Mathematics. It Walks in Beauty collects several of his science fiction stories, which probe deeply into such social and political issues as nuclear escalation, gender roles, and eugenics, as well as a selection of his essays, originally published in venues ranging from The New York Review of Books to the Waging Peace Series of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. The volume also includes a lengthy interview of Davis by Lukin; a speech Davis made at the February 1995 meeting of AAAS; and three essays by Lukin, taking a long view of Davis's work.

In addition to his lifelong activism as a civil libertarian, Davis has been a director of Science for Peace and is a trustee of the Davis-Putter scholarship fund, founded by his father in 1961 to award grants to students working for peace and social justice. A poet and composer as well as a long-time co-editor of The Mathematical Intelligencer, Professor Davis combined his artistic and scientific interests in the anthology The Shape of Content: Creative Writing in Mathematics and Science (Chandler Davis, Marjorie Senechal, and Jan Zwicky, editors. Wellesley, MA: AK Peters, 2009).

"Although Chandler Davis has published less than a score of science-fiction short stories, some of us have long treasured them as brilliant gems. Josh Lukin's thoughtful collection of Davis's fiction and nonfiction offers 21st-century readers a fine introduction to the work of this neglected and invaluable writer."
— H. Bruce Franklin, author of War Stars: The Superweapon in the American Imagination and Vietnam and Other American Fantasies

"This is a wonderful and unusual selection of science fiction and political/psychological non-fiction, a collection of writing by Chandler Davis. Informed by his personal life, his unwavering political activism over the last half century, his professional life as a mathematician, Davis's work provides invaluable insight and direction about what is to be done ¡V and always with wit, clarity, tolerance, and dissent. Whether writing imaginatively or factually, he shows how narcissism so destructively gets in the way of seeing others as real people and how it works against acknowledging what is unknown. Chandler Davis relates to past, present, and future times, always open to decipher the whole picture and to speak up."
— Judith Deutsch, President of Science for Peace

"This is a terrific book. I can't remember the last time I have seen fiction, especially science fiction, put so richly in context. It Walks in Beauty introduces us to a remarkable man, gives us insight into the American science fiction community of the 1940s and 50s, and reminds us how much damage the McCarthy era of red hunts did to ordinary human lives and to American civilization. Among the stories, I especially like "The Names of Yanils," a thoughtful consideration of the relation of people to tradition, and "It Walks in Beauty," an utterly creepy and true description of sex roles in 50s America. I remember those sex roles, just as I remember the red hunts.We have not recovered yet. Nor will we recover until the ideas and integrity of people like Chandler Davis are incorporated into our history and culture."
— Eleanor Arnason, author of Ring of Swords and A Woman of the Iron People

And if you're wondering why the avowedly feminist Aqueduct Press has published this book... Well, I recommend you read it to find out! You can purchase the book here. (Or you could nudge your local library to acquire it.)