Sunday, December 30, 2018

The Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening in 2018, part 24: Arrate Hidalgo Sanchez

The Pleasures of 2018
by Arrate Hidalgo Sanchez

What a year 2018 has been. Since people around me online and in meat-space started doing reviews of this year’s events, reads, playlists, and so on, I’ve been struggling to come up with a coherent bird’s eye view of what 2018 has been to me. Just too much has been happening. Among other things, I co-organized Spain’s first ever feminist science fiction festival, which we have called AnsibleFest and --in view of what a lovely, energizing, inspiring day and a half it was-- will have a second edition in 2019. This, plus the fact that I’m a Tiptree Award juror this year, means I have had very little time to read aside from all of the things I can’t talk about!

Still, I managed to sneak in a few cheeky non-Tiptree reads throughout the last twelve months, including all of the Basque-language science fiction by women I have been able to find (not much). For those who do not know, I come from a region known as the Basque Country, geographically divided between France and Spain but whose both sides share a cultural and linguistic heritage, which, being non Indo-European, has immediately turned me into a Really Cool Person in the eyes of all the US linguists I have ever met.

Mayi Pelot is regarded as the woman pioneer of Basque science fiction. Two sf books by her exist, both published in the eighties: Biharko oroitzapenak (“Tomorrow’s memories”), a collection of short stories, and Teleamarauna (“The tele-spider web”), a novella. The press (Maiatz, cofounded by Luzien Etxezaharreta and renowned lesbian author Itxaro Borda with the goal of promoting work by authors from the north –“French”—side of the Basque Country), was kind enough to send me copies of both titles, and we read the first of them at the inaugural meeting of a feminist-queer sf reading club in Basque I started coordinating in Zarautz, a coastal town near San Sebastian, earlier this year. We were all amazed at Pelot’s ingenious use of Basque, which she only learned later in life, in the way she created neologisms and science fictional terminology. While the short stories, set in the future, reflect the geopolitics of the eighties –including a communist Islamic utopia in the Iberian Peninsula except for the Basque region, divided from the south by a post-atomic wasteland and blocked on the north by a wall protecting it from a carcinogenic sea-- they also include acute, at times really funny observations of Basque culture and its interactions with futuristic tropes.

Since then there seems to have been a general absence of women sf writers in Basque, save for a few short stories –though I’m still wearing my Russ glasses and refusing to accept this as true-- but this year saw the publication of two! new titles: Bihotzean daramagun mundua (“The world we carry in our hearts”), by Maite Darceles, and Izadia by Garazi Albizua, who also ran a creative writing workshop at AnsibleFest. Both are dystopias and, though their proposals may not be to the standards of more “mature” markets such as the USA, they fill me with hope for the future of sf in the region. After all, Samuel Delany made Babel-17’s distant-future, space-travelling protagonist Rydra Wong a Basque-speaker. One doesn’t need much more validation than that.

Aside from that, I allowed myself some non-fiction in Spanish, including El Entusiasmo, (“The Enthusiasm”, or perhaps “The Excitement”), by philosopher Remedios Zafra (a deep look into the eyes of young, precariously situated workers in the contemporary professional fields of culture, art, and academia), and No existe sexo sin racialización (“There is no sex without racialization”), a collective publication of texts and images produced in a series of workshops run and attended by queer POC in which they confronted Eurocentric and colonial notions of queerness.

Finally, I wanted to mention two texts I received as gifts: one was Amos Tutuola’s classic The Palm-Wine Drinkard, which I had had on my wish list for so long and finally my incredibly talented friend Peter gifted to me (watch out for his forthcoming poetry collection). Another is a stunning little zine which was generously posted to me by the woman running the blog Reading Africa. It’s a small anthology of poetry by women from Niger, which includes fragments such as this:

The book of honey crumbles
In a cemetery of epileptic organs
I unveil myself

A rhythmic flame
The Hymn
Of offered poems

 (From "The Vagina of Destiny" by Mallai Lélèl)

That is about as much as I can talk about in terms of my year’s reading without getting into queer Spanish zines and twitter threads on the resurgence of Spanish fascism.

 In terms of Watching, I have actually consumed impressive amounts of trash on Netflix, which has been really good for my mental health and a great background noise while I knit. However, I’ll ignore guilty pleasures and problematic faves and actually say that one of the things I’ve enjoyed most regularly this year has been browsing for material on butoh around the internet. There are actually quite a few (old) documentaries in English about butoh on Youtube, as well as plenty of recordings of performances. I’ll go ahead and just highlight this really short video with thoughts by Akeno Ashikawa, taken from Richard Moore’s 1991 documentary Butoh – Piercing the mask. Then again, I’m still really ignorant about this art, but the process of learning about it has been one of the most satisfying things in my life lately.

Not so much Watching as Seeing, I also wanted to mention the work of two Spanish artists I’ve had the pleasure to get to know this year during my residency at BilbaoArte Foundation: Raquel Meyers and Cristina Ramírez. Raquel Meyers uses obsolete technology such as Commodore 64 and Teletext to create dreamy/nightmarish/brutalist imagery in a process she describes as “expanded typing.” This takes the form of videos, images, performances and, lately, woodcarving and even embroidery.

Cristina Ramírez has recently focused her drawings and sculptures on the representation of the landscape in cosmic horror, detaching what we know as the natural world from any moral or anthropocentric interpretations. Both are incredibly talented artists who have taught me a lot. and I’m hoping will continue to do so in the coming years.

 It’s very difficult for me to make a meaningful selection of music I’ve listened to and enjoyed over a specific period of time. These days I’m annoyed at the Youtube algorithm, which always makes me click on the same things, but still – music is ever-present in my life (as I assume is the case for many of us), and this list I’m including below is just whatever I can remember off the top of my head right now. First off, go and listen to Daniel Caesar’s heartbreaking 2017 album, Freudian, right now, please. Secondly, Janelle Monáe’s album and emotion picture Dirty Computer have by themselves blessed 2018 enough to tip the scales against the apocalyptic timeline of doom we seem to be dealing with.

Speaking of which, I have been exploring early doom metal and blasting Dopethrone by Electric Wizard whenever I need to walk around Bilbao at night. For more contemporary takes on the genre, I urge you to enjoy Corrupted’s Garten der Unbewusstheit (2011), delicate and brutal in equal measure.

I can’t mention Christine and the Queens without mentioning also her music videos, which make my little queer heart beat faster every time. Her MJ-inspired choreographies make me very jealous, as do the dancers in all Jungle music video choreographies, which are always perfect. The London-based neo-soul band Jungle thankfully dropped a new album this year, which they have called For Ever and has been a welcome change from having to play their debut album in loop since 2014.

I suppose I should mention that I have been obsessively playing The Roots’ Tiny Desk Concert for months. Overall, I recommend NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts wholeheartedly. Some of my all-time favourite performances are H.E.R., Anderson .Paak, Natalia Lafourcade, Tank and the Bangas, and Tyler, the Creator.

I am truly hoping for more time and peace of mind in 2019, just so that I can catch up with the dozens of reading piles waiting for me on the other side of the bumpy, demanding, heart-rending, fascinating year 2018 has been. And, most of all, I hope 2019 leaves us all enough time to find peace in art and in one another. We certainly need to stop and take deep breaths every now and then, and I think doing it together is the best way to do it.

Among other things,  Arrate Hidalgo is Associate Editor at Aqueduct Press. She is also an English to Spanish translator, an founder and organizer of a feminist sf con, and an amateur singer. Visit her website at

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