Friday, December 27, 2013

2013 Off Vesta

Doing a big self-linking post like this feels weird to me, but I've appreciated it when other people do it, so I'm talking myself into it. Lo: my "best" posts of 2013. I don't post all that often, so I've taken the liberty of including a very large proportion of all of my posts, heh. Maybe it's not so much a best-of as a summary.

Over and above what I've written this year, there is my chronological bibilography of Joanna Russ--which, amateurish though it may be, seems more complete than any other I've come across, at least in terms of recording the original appearance of each different work. Soon I hope to begin a long-term grand read-through of Russ's work. I may even write about some of it here.

As for the rest:

On "Nightfall"
There's a handful of things I would do differently now, but in general I'm quite proud of this preliminary study of Asimov's famous story. It starts with a "close reading" of sorts of the expositional techniques at play, en route to an attempt to understand the strange power a few seemingly out-of-place paragraphs towards the end of the story have over me.

Take the paperback, tear it in half
My first reading of Beckett's Endgame prompted some thoughts on sf's frequent failure to "think the totality of what it projects" (the phrase is Michael Holland's, and came to me via Steve Mitchelmore). It's a problem I consider much graver now even than I did then.

After us will follow...?
A conclusionless meditation on the isolation of the current moment, wondering what an sf that took this into account might be like. With help from Bertolt Brecht, Adrienne Rich, and Walter Benjamin.

Being boring
A defense--much needed in this field--of the boring in literature.

Proust on Mercury and other issues in coming to terms with 2312
My review of the then-latest novel by an important writer, in which I try to figure out where exactly I feel his project is going astray. I think I perhaps did a better job here than I usually do of treating my artistic and political concerns simultaneously, as a single issue.

On still being unable to write about Joanna Russ's And Chaos Died
A post described accurately by its title. Starts with personal narrative about my difficult early approaches to Russ's writing in general, then about the difficulty of And Chaos Died particularly. The last sentence of the postscript is probably the truest thing about Russ that I am capable of saying.

The sfnal impulse and literary form
Where I argue, via a combination of L. Timmel Duchamp and Algis Budrys, that the tendency of most sf towards so-called "literary" forms (more accurately "novelistic" forms, whether the work in question is a novel or not) is basically a historically contingent accident, and not anything intrinsic to sf itself.

Moratorium desired
As I am reminded almost weekly, this is probably my single most important post of the year.

My hopefulness in this post seems foolishly optimistic at this point, and yet I still think it's "right." Works I read by Vajra Chandrasekera and Justina Robson prompted me to argue against the notion that there are things called "tropes" that need to be (or indeed can be) "revitalized."

Explication and the inexplicable
A brief attempt to outline the tension that I think lies at the core of pretty much any sf worth reading. Not my most important post, but the one that touches most directly on what is to me the most important sfnal issue to talk about.

Speculations on a distinction between fantasy and science fiction
Based on another tension central to sf, related to but not exactly the same as the tension between explication and the inexplicable: that between the rational and the irrational.

In which I take Charles Stross to be a symbol of a certain very popular kind of contemporary sf in general
And a kind that bugs the shit out of me, too.

On Tiptree and the backlash
Much to my surprise, this has been by far my most popular post. I examine the "unmasking" of Alice Sheldon as what triggered sf's devastating retreat from its amazing accomplishments during the 70s.

At this point the disillusionment that had been setting in for quite some time became overpowering.

In the aftermath of reading Justine Larbalestier's frustrating Daughters of Earth: Feminist Science Fiction in the 20th Century (frustrating because its enterprise is so important, and the stories it reprints so essential, but the criticism it pairs the stories with is for the most part so bad) I wrote two posts about the radical inadequacy I see in most sf criticism.

Shortly afterwards I read a just abysmally awful article about Kingsley Amis's two "sf novels", written by Lee Konstantinou--an editor at LARB and professor at UMD. The excruciating inanity spewed by this gatekeeper and educator infuriated me into producing an extremely lengthy point-by-point critique of his article. Sometimes I allowed myself the satisfaction of snark, but at other times I touched on things that I do think are very important--particularly here and here. I originally planned not to publish that post, so beforehand I had also posted a response to one of Konstantinou's more breathtakingly horrible paragraphs, in which he contributes to the continuing dilution of whatever small use the term "New Wave" might once have had, and misrepresents the entrance of explicit sexuality into the American sf field.

And finally, my favorite posts of all are those rare ones where I manage to shut up and let other people's words do most of the talking. In November I managed two of these. One was on my reasons for calling sf a "field" (I have yet to go into my reasons for not calling it a "genre"), with help from Martin Heidegger, Gabriel Josipovici, Joanna Russ, and Wiktionary.

And the other, my all-time favorite post which I will probably never surpass: Lines from H.P. Lovecraft's "Dagon". All I want to say about that one is that it is a post of praise, not of mockery.

Monday, December 9, 2013

The phrase so smooth and good that it almost compels belief

A paragraph from Revolving Lights, the seventh volume of Dorothy M. Richardson's great novel Pilgrimage, noted without comment.
It is because these men write so well that it is a relief, from looking and enduring the clamour of the way things state themselves from several points of view simultaneously, to read their large superficial statements. Light seems to come, a large comfortable stretching of the mind, things falling into an orderly scheme, the flattering fascination of grasping and elaborating the scheme. But after reflection is gloom, a poisoning gloom over everything. 'Good writing' leaves gloom. Dickens doesn't. . . . But people say he's not a good writer. . . . Youth . . . and Typhoon. . . . Oh, 'Stalked about gigantically in the darkness.' . . . Fancy forgetting that. And he is modern and a good writer. New. They all raved quietly about him. But it was not like reading a book at all. . . . Expecting good difficult 'writing,' some mannish way of looking at things, and then . . . complete forgetfulness of the worst time of day on the most grilling day of the year in a crowded Lyons's at lunch-time and, afterwards, joyful strength to face the disgrace of being an hour or more late for afternoon work. . . . They leave life so small that it seems worthless. He leaves everything big; and all he tells added to experience for ever. It's dreadful to think of people missing him; the forgetfulness and the new birth into life. Even God would enjoy reading Typhoon. Then that is 'great fiction'? 'Creation'? Why these falsifying words, making writers look cut off and mysterious? Imagination. What is imagination? It always seems insulting, belittling, both to the writer and to life. He looked and listened with his whole self--perhaps he is a small pale invalid--and then came 'stalked about gigantically' . . . not made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding . . . and working his salvation. That is what matters to him. In the day of judgment, though he is a writer, he will be absolved. Those he has redeemed will be there to shout for him. But he will still have to go to purgatory; or be born again as a woman. Why come forward suddenly, in the midst of a story, to say they live far from reality? A sudden smooth complacent male voice, making your attention rock between the live text and the picture of a supercilious lounging form, slippers, a pipe, other men sitting round, and then the phrase so smooth and good that it almost compels belief. Why cannot men exist without thinking themselves all there is?