Posts Tagged: literature

Sunday Tidbits : The First 2017 Edition

:: A few Sunday Tidbits for you ::

A lovely flash fiction story on what Cassandra also saw that she did not tell the Trojans about

2017 in (potential) Bright Comets :: If you don’t already have Astro Bob on your RSS Feed / Subscription, you should.

Stephen Hawking on This is the most dangerous time for our planet :: Ok folks, how are we all working to pull out of this tail spin of our own making?

And in other notes, my two gently used hardback books by Roberto Calasso have arrived.

Fantasy, Science Fiction, Imagination, Faith, and Modernity

There has been quite the internet blog-o-sphere to do revolving around Michael Weingrad’s essay “Why There Is No Jewish Narnia“, which led to D.G. Myers asserting that “Fantasy is a Genre of Christianity“, where upon E.D. Kain proposes that it is not Christianity but Anglophone culture that is the root of Fantasy literature in “Fantasy and the Anglosphere“.
In “Fantasy and the Anglosphere” Kain writes,

“When I published my fantasy piece in the Atlantic it was linked (reproduced?) by Richard Dawkins’ site and a number of the atheists in the commentariat had scathing things to say about fantasy literature. Apparently it is not enough that readers of fantasy do not, in fact, believe in their make-believe. Apparently the fact that dragons and sorcery are not based in science is enough to earn the scorn of some anti-religious types.
This reminds me of the reaction of many conservative Christian groups to various fantasy novels, from Harry Potter to The Golden Compass and the attempt by some conservative groups to ban these books in schools due to all that witchcraft and other devil-worshipping (you know, all those satanic rituals Harry Potter and Hermione engage in before the strange sexual acts begin.)
But many, many Christians and atheists and people of various other faiths enjoy fantasy. “

It struck my absurdity bone as darkly funny that folks are unable to enjoy fiction because it is not science.
And then being the internet it gets better, as Alyssa Rosenberg jumps in the fray with “Is Fantasy Inherently Christian?” and Adam Serwer joins in with “High Fantasy is a Subgene of Fantasy“, wherein Mr. Serwer brings in the fantasy traditions of many cultures worldwide.
What I find interesting is that none of the writers above, after name checking C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkein, and Chesterton, with one or two brief references to Arthurian legends of the high Middle Ages, discuss the Romantic and Victorian infatuation with all things that we would now label as Fantasy: elves, fairies, the sublime, the door between the worlds, other worlds, etc. Not just the folks in the British tradition, but also Wagner (The Ring Cycle), the Russian literature around Baba Yaga, the Welsh Mabinogion, the Celtic revival of Yeats, Wilde, et al, etc etc.
Or how about the writer that both Lewis and Tolkein gave much credit to, George MacDonald. While MacDonald was a poet, writer, and minister, many of his tales border between a mash up of older Scottish fairy tales with the early Modern Christian allegory tradition, wherein the fairy tales come out a bit stronger in his stories than any claims to a 19th Century version of Pilgrim’s Progress.
Wherever we want to trace the history and genealogy of contemporary Fantasy literature, it is far deeper and broader than Tolkein, Lewis, and Chesterton. The Bridge of Birds immediately leaps to mind.
Also to say that Judaism is only concerned with the here and now, and thus couldn’t produce a tradition of Fantasy is also only looking at the last 100 years or so of history. I would love a time machine to take me back to 1100 or 1200 AD to Cordoba or Granada to sit at the feet of a Jewish storyteller and hear of the tales being told in that moment in Andalucia. Maimonides may have had a few good fantastical stories to tell that weren’t all theological in nature.
We, a people who have lived through and beyond the age of the early Modern explorers, the empires where stories leaked back and forth between subject & subjector, as well as the Modernist love of all things industrial progress and the rational, dip into many strands of fantasy in our TV, books, films, and now internets, of which many of these strands may have root in the primary culture we live in right now or the stories may scamper up and down other trees and roots of places we have not yet seen nor heard of.
Many of the stories we now think of as Christian or Medieval are stories that have been radically reshaped or completely created anew in the last 200 years the Industrial Revolution, the Romantics, and the various Revivals of the late 19th century. How much of the current genre we call Fantasy is not necessarily the creative child of Christianity but really the rebellious teenager of rational Modernism?

Good Morning: Stross has a Good Poke at Steampunk

If you like to read and have been more than bewildered by the sub-genres that have spawned off of sub-genres, go read Charlie Stross’ rant on Steampunk* – The hard edge of empire.
It is a good and glorious essay/rant:

We’ve been at this point before with other sub-genres, with cyberpunk and, more recently, paranormal romance fang fuckers bodice rippers with vamp- Sparkly Vampyres in Lurve: it’s poised on the edge of over-exposure. Maybe it’s on its way to becoming a new sub-genre, or even a new shelf category in the bookstores. But in the meantime, it’s over-blown. The category is filling up with trashy, derivative junk and also with good authors who damn well ought to know better than to jump on a bandwagon. (Take it from one whose first novel got the ‘S’-word pinned on it — singularity — back when that was hot: if you’re lucky, your career will last long enough that you live to regret it.) Harumph, young folks today, get off my lawn ….

I am not a big fan of Steampunk the sub-culture, as I have only seen it in the late stages of its decline – the point where it is a fashion/identity sub-culture**. As for Steampunk the literary sub-genre, I have only read one novel that even has a bit of steampunk in it, of which the book was a tongue-in-cheek bit of romance-vampyre-regency-werewolf-steampunk-victorian-humor fluff of the best read it in three hours sort.
But then again, that is how I find myself reading many genres of fiction, I start off reading the humorous parody novels, get curious, and then start reading the ‘real’ books in the genre, which is not a bad way to find books to read.
All that to say, go read Charlie’s The hard edge of empire.
* Steampunk is a sub-genre mashup of SF/Fantasy, time anachronisms, Industrial Revolution dystopia/utopia, and sometimes with the addition of either the historical Romance and/or Vampyres & Zombies genres.
** Now as a person who has participated, with joyful abandon, in several fashion/identity/music sub-cultures, I will not condemn the folks who are having fun living the steampunk life, I am merely stating that it is not my thing (too much brown, sepia, and finicky metal bits).

Eschew Obfuscation, Part II

It has been two years and two days since the master of a good humorous poke at and romp with obfuscation died and his publisher will be releasing the novel he was working on at the time of his death as an unfinished work.
David Foster Wallace’s novel about entry level employees at the IRS, The Pale King, will be released in April 15, 2011:

“Set at an IRS tax-return-processing center in Illinois in the mid-1980s, The Pale King is the story of a crew of entry-level processors and their attempts to do their job in the face of soul-crushing tedium. “The Pale King may be the first novel to make accountants and IRS agents into heroes,” says Bonnie Nadell, Wallace’s longtime agent and literary executor.”

If one has a history of depression, why, even for reasons of sussing out the black comedic gems, would one write a novel about the IRS?

Scalzi & Sullivan & Burland

No, not a law or architecture firm, but two links that I enjoyed today plus a good debate from the other day.
John Scalzi on Holden Caulfield:

“I never got Holden Caulfield anyway. This partially due to having my own reading tastes bend towards science fiction as a teen rather than the genre of Alienated Teen Literature, of which Catcher is, of course, the classic. If you were going to give me a teenage hero, give me Heinlein’s Starman Jones: He traveled the galaxy and memorized entire books of log tables and became Captain of a starship (for procedural reasons, granted). All Holden did was bitch, bitch, bitch. Put Holden at the controls of a starship and he’d implode from stress. Not my hero, thanks.”

Mr. Scalzi and I are the same age and as teenagers appear to have had similar tastes in literature. I loved SciFi and Fantasy novels as a teenager and when I was made to read novels like “Catcher in the Rye” in school, I found them to be repugnant. I remember thinking that someone should tell Holden to get a life and get on with it.
I was made to read that novel when I was miserable at my high school, but rather than whine about it, I went out bought thrift store clothes, dyed my hair, hitched every ride to Hollywood I could, and took lots of photos at concerts. Holden was up there with the non-hero of “The Good Earth” for folks I would ignore rather than hang out with at that stage of my life.
Mr. Scalzi has squarely hit the nail on the head with his assessment that Holden was too passive. I didn’t have those words in high school, but I knew that if you didn’t like your life, like I didn’t like mine, you did something about it. To this day, I have always thought of Holden Caulfield as the hero to young men of a melancholy bent and I have yet to meet a woman who really liked him or the book as a teenager. If you are a woman and identified with Holden or Catcher in the Rye, please feel free to comment below in his defense.
On another note, Mr. Sullivan has parsed out an interesting difference between Brits and Americans in terms of debating and refining an arguement:

“So much of American politics is debate conducted at a distance, through ads or soundbites or various talking points that never actually engage one another in debate. Reared in the British debate tradition – I debated through high-school and college, becoming President of the Oxford Union in 1983 – this has always felt to me like the biggest drawback of the American system.
The point of debate is to clarify things, to find where the real points of disagreement are, and to assess them in that context of actual alternatives. “

I find this a wonderful assessment as some of my favorite people to debate with have been raised and/or educated in the British or Irish systems. Just a few days ago, I found myself in a good give & take with James Burland on Twitter about Windows 7 vs. Ubuntu for the Nokia Booklet. After our tweeted mini-debate died down, I realized that I thoroughly enjoyed debating the merits of Windows 7 with a Brit who was also a fellow creative and Mac owner as he was able to help me parse out what I was really thinking about rather than both of us taking a side and sticking to it.

The First Anniversary of the Seal Beach Salon This Saturday!

Seal Beach Salon First Anniversary Party

I may have invited y’all before, but the Seal Beach art | music | writing salon meets once every two months for a night of art, music, and poetry/reading – and drinking & snacking & talking. It really is a mishmash of folk from all over SoCal and from a variety of creative disciplines. This Saturday is the 1 year anniversary and they are moving the location to Dan Callis’ new studio on Marina Dr. Come join us, it will be fun.
What: The Seal Beach Salon’s First Anniversary
When: Saturday, Nov. 15, 2008
Time: Starts at 6pm, ends at 10pm.
Where: 700 1/2 Marina Drive* at Dan Callis’ new studio (just back from the corner of Marina & PCH, in the yard behind the flower shop & plumber that are on PCH in the same building) – Google Map
Who: Filmmakers Hobo Soul will be showing their film in an RV, Dan Callis will be having an Open Studio, poet Aaron Belz will be giving a reading, and Avi Buffalo and Band will be performing.
Bring: Yourself, friends, and beverage of choice.
Come and join us in Seal Beach on Saturday evening.

Sex in the City or Extensive Handholding in the Countryside, I Prefer the Second

The movie “Sex in the City” was released today. My reaction is “meh.” A friend sent around an email to a group of us asking if we wanted to go to lunch or to see “Sex in the City”. I voted for lunch. Date to be determined.
Now let me make a few caveats:
1) I have not ever owned my own TV. In fact, I have not lived in a household with a TV since college. That is nearly two decades of TV-less living. I am VERY behind in my TV watching by choice. So, I have never, not once, seen the HBO TV series “Sex in the City“.
2) In recent months, to not appear to the the serious computer savvy luddite or jacobite that I can be at times, I got a Netflix subscription of 2 movies a month, of which I watch on my MacBook Pro with headphones. My Netflix movie subscription has most comprised of Bollywood romantic comedies (no kissing, no real handholding), Jane Austen movies (Extensive handholding in the countryside), an odd happy indy foreign film, and a few indy cinema classics.
Basically, I did not grow up in a happy, intact family in the ‘burbs, so I really don’t like horror movies, film noir, serious complex indy films, and throw away sex movies. I grew up in a constantly divorcing & moving family in the sometimes burbs and now I like nice, happy movies with redemptive endings. Mock me all you want to, I lived the shit and now I want a happy ending.
3) New York is a foreign country to me. London and Mumbai are much more familiar cities to me. I have been to NYC a number of times and could not wait to get out. My last visit, I stayed for only four hours to go to dinner & see a band, and then got out as fast as possible. I love London, I go there all the time. I fell in love with Mumbai this February and plan on going back soon.
Movies and TV shows about New York are odd to me. It is another culture, a bizarre one at that, that I really don’t get. Los Angles, London, Istanbul, and Mumbai, I get and like. I will watch films about those cities.
4) If you have met me then you know a very important fact about me, I have a case of terminal nice girl. Forget the funny colors in the hair (honey, that is all about art & color), forget the tendency towards loud & fast music, forget the tendency towards outrageous stories (I am a Hanen after all!), but remember I am a nice girl despite the colorful external trappings. Viva extensive handholding in the countryside!
End of caveats.
One thing I have done for years, to make up for my lack of TV watching and movie attendance, is to read the LA Times’ film review section in the Friday Calendar so that I can at least know some of the plot and the critics’ opinions on the latest movies. I surprise friends with my skimmed knowledge of the latest flicks at times even when I have no intention of seeing them at all, not now in the theatre or later on DVD.
After my friend’s email and all the hype about “Sex in the City” to women of my age group (post-25, pre-60), I made sure that I read today’s LA Times review about the movie. It was glowing. It made love to Carrie, Samantha, et al. The LA Times critic, Carina Chocano, seems to think even though they would deny that they ever stepped into the theatre that men would like the movie. The LA Times asserts that the film is quite revolutionary for Hollywood, in that it depicts middle-aged women (40-50) having a complete, fulfilled independent life.

“Sex and the City” can’t rightly be called a romantic comedy in the dismal, contemporary sense, though it is at times romantic and is consistently very funny. It’s also emotionally realistic, even brutal. Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker), Miranda (Cynthia Nixon), Charlotte (Kristin Davis) and Samantha (Kim Cattrall), now in their 40s and 50s, continue to navigate the choppy waters of urban life, negotiating relationships, work, fertility and friendship, only now the stakes are higher, the risks are bigger and decisions feel more permanent.
For a film that delights in indulging in frivolity at every possible turn, it examines subjects that most movies don’t dare graze for their terrifying seriousness. And when it does, the movie handles them with surprising grace, wit and maturity. In other words, it’s a movie for grown-ups of all ages. The press and industry screening I attended was uncharacteristically packed with women in their 20s, and my guess is that their interest had zero to do with the inclusion of Jennifer Hudson as Carrie’s personal assistant — though her character, Louise, is likable and allows the writer to expand the scope of the film from a story about four friends living in New York into a tale about the contemporary lives of urban women from early adulthood to maturity.

After I read this review, I thought, “Hmmm… maybe I will put it in my Netflix queue to watch much, much, much later.”
But then the New Yorker’s film critic, Anthony Lane, panned the movie as an extendede TV show on steriods, ending his review with this quote:

In short, to anyone facing the quandaries of being a working mother, the movie sends a vicious memo: Don’t be a mother. And don’t work. Is this really where we have ended up–with this superannuated fantasy posing as a slice of modern life? On TV, “Sex and the City” was never as insulting as “Desperate Housewives,” which strikes me as catastrophically retrograde, but, almost sixty years after “All About Eve,” which also featured four major female roles, there is a deep sadness in the sight of Carrie and friends defining themselves not as Bette Davis, Anne Baxter, Celeste Holm, and Thelma Ritter did–by their talents, their hats, and the swordplay of their wits–but purely by their ability to snare and keep a man. Believe me, ladies, we’re not worth it. It’s true that Samantha finally disposes of one paramour, but only with a view to landing another, and her parting shot is a beauty: “I love you, but I love me more.” I have a terrible feeling that “Sex and the City” expects us not to disapprove of that line, or even to laugh at it, but to exclaim in unison, “You go, girl.”

I really am not interested in watching a movie about NYC consumerist fashion obsessed women. If I wanted to watch something vaguely similar, even if the West Coast version, I could go to any upscale bar or restaurant in Newport Beach or the Westside of LA and watch it live and in person. Bah.
What ever happened to hand holding and true love or at least love that is concerned with others as well as self? I guess I will be missing “Sex in the City” and I could watch a Jane Austen flick or a Mira Nair movie. Or maybe I will read a book instead.