Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

Posts Tagged ‘endings

Tuesday Morning Links!

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* The course descriptions for Marquette’s Fall 2017 English classes are up at the department website. Check them out! I’m teaching Tolkien and a grad seminar on utopia. 

* Also in Marquette news! Marquette to host ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ conference in April.

Becoming a parent forces you to think about the nature of the problem — which is, in a lot of ways, the problem of nature […] the realities of aging and sickness and mortality become suddenly inescapable. […] [My wife] said something during that time I will never forget. “If I had known how much I was going to love him,” she said, “I’m not sure I would have had him.” Mark O’Connell on transhumanism and immortality.

* From the great Ali Sperling: Reading Lovecraft in the Anthropocene. And this review of Alan Moore’s Jerusalem from the great David Higgins!

* Adam Roberts reviews New York 2140. Another review, from a climate scientist. And an interview with Stan. My review comes out in LARB this weekend…

The Most Cringeworthy Monuments to Colleges’ Innovation Jargon.

Perverse outcomes: UC Berkeley deletes 20,000 audio and visual lectures in the name of compliance with the ADA.

Speculative Fiction and Survival in Iraq.

* Is it really so hard to understand that when your students go broke just trying to graduate they aren’t exactly moved to donate later?

harcourt_fenton_mudd_2267* The liberal arts at Harvey Mudd College, whose graduates out-earn Harvard and Stanford.

* You-might-be-from-Wisconsin-if at Ask MetaFilter.

President Roosevelt signed the order on February 19, 1942, almost exactly 75 years ago. By spring, American citizens would be arriving at the Fresno and Pinedale camps: our neighbors.

* Wisconsin is apparently harassing trans state employees.

* Chaos, again. This is fine. Even James Comey. Twilight of Reince Preibus. Ten Questions for President Trump. Ten More Questions for President Trump. Remember when it was scandalous that Obama, years before he became a politician, once sold his house?

It is through the Justice Department that the administration is likely to advance its nationalist plans — to strengthen the grip of law enforcement, raise barriers to voting and significantly reduce all forms of immigration, promoting what seems to be a longstanding desire to reassert the country’s European and Christian heritage. It’s not an accident that Sessions, who presumably could have chosen from a number of plum assignments, opted for the role of attorney general. The Department of Justice is the most valuable perch from which to transform the country in the way he and Bannon have wanted. With an exaggerated threat of disorder looming, the nation’s top law-enforcement agency could become a machine for trying to fundamentally change who gets to be an American and what rights they can enjoy.

The emerging effort — dozens more rules could be eliminated in the coming weeks — is one of the most significant shifts in regulatory policy in recent decades. It is the leading edge of what Stephen K. Bannon, Mr. Trump’s chief strategist, described late last month as “the deconstruction of the administrative state.”

* “Forever war, but too much.”

An Afghan family of five that had received approval to move to the United States based on the father’s work for the American government has been detained for more than two days after flying into Los Angeles International Airport, a legal advocacy group said in court documents filed on Saturday. Profiles of immigrant arrested in Austin. Thousands of ICE detainees claim they were forced into labor, a violation of anti-slavery laws. (Note this lawsuit was filed in 2014.This Stunningly Racist French Novel Is How Steve Bannon Explains The World. And if it were a book, it’d seem laughably contrived: A letter written in 1905 by Friedrich Trump, Donald Trump’s grandfather, to Luitpold, prince regent of Bavaria. Resisting ICE. Here we go again.

* 4chan and the Great Meme War.

* Russia and the Cyber Cold War.

* And while we’re on the subject: The Basic Formula For Every Shocking Russia/Trump Revelation. I think this is a very good reminder of the need to stay calm and detached from the chaos of the news cycle.

Instead, a new model is proposed: the president keeps everyone in a constant state of excitement and alarm. He moves fast and breaks things. He leads by causing commotion. As energy in the political system rises he makes no effort to project calm or establish an orderly White House. And if he keeps us safe it’s not by being himself a safe, steady, self-controlled figure, but by threatening opponents and remaining brash and unpredictable— maybe a touch crazy. This too is psychological work, but of a different kind.

* Democrats keep trusting demographics to save them. It hasn’t worked yet — but maybe this time…

NASA unveils plan to give Mars an ‘Earth-like’ atmosphere.

House Republicans Unveil Bill To Repeal Obamacare. The GOP health bill doesn’t know what problem it’s trying to solve.

Austerity measures don’t actually save money. But they do disempower workers. Which is why governments pursue them in the first place.

* No! It can’t be! Researchers have found strong evidence that racism helps the GOP win.

* Losing West Virginia.

Contrary to What You Learned in Sex Ed, You Can Get Pregnant While Pregnant.

* Mid-decade gerrymander in Georgia.

* Autism and Addiction.

* What We’ve Learned from Giving Dolphins LSD.

In a world first, a teenager with sickle cell disease achieved complete remission after an experimental gene therapy at Necker Children’s Hospital in Paris, researchers say.

* Possible lynching outside Seattle, in 2017.

* The end of suburbia.

* In the richest country in human history, children have “lunch debt.”

The only way in which a game is guaranteed to end is when the player abandons their device. Everything else is game design.

“These devices don’t have emotional intelligence,” said Allison Druin, a University of Maryland professor who studies how children use technology. “They have factual intelligence.” How millions of kids are being shaped by know-it-all voice assistants.

* Finding a jury of your peers in a racially segregated society.

* A colony in a nation.

Divination hasn’t disappeared; it’s taken over the world.

But these second-order obstacles aren’t enough to explain the current collapse of poll-driven political certainty. They’re just excuses, even if they’re not untrue. Something about the whole general scheme of polling—the idea that you can predict what millions of undecided voters will do by selecting a small group and then just simply asking them—is out of whack. We need to think seriously about what the strange game of election-watching actually is, in terms of our relation to the future, our power to choose our own outcomes, the large-scale structure of the universe, and the mysteries of fate. And these questions are urgent. Because predictions of the future don’t simply exist in the future, but change the way we act in the present. Because in our future something monstrous is rampaging: it paces hungrily toward us, and we need to know if we’ll be able to spot it in time.

When I said that opinion polls are sibyls and soothsayers, it wasn’t just a figure of speech. Opinion polling has all the trappings of a science—it has its numbers and graphs, its computational models, its armies of pallid drones poring over the figures. It makes hypotheses and puts them to the test. But polls are not taken for what they are: a report on what a small number of people, fond of changing their minds, briefly pretended to think. Instead, we watch the tracking graphs as if the future were playing itself out live in front of us. The real structure of the electoral-wonk complex is more mystical than materialist: it’s augury and divination, a method handed down by Prometheus to a starving and shivering humanity at the faint dawn of time. Behind all the desktop screens and plate-glass of his office, the buzz of data and the hum of metrics, Nate Silver retreats to a quiet, dark, and holy room. He takes the knife and slits in one stroke the throat of a pure-white bull; its blood arcs and drizzles in all directions. He examines its patterns. And he knows.

There’s a never-ending fount of stories you can write about when someone is breaking away from canon or not, and create many controversies all the way through preproduction and production and even until a movie opens, about whether or not they’re breaking canon. Is it a blasphemous movie or not? At some point, you gotta stop and say, Is there this expectation that it’s like we’re doing Godfather Part I and II, only it’s going to nine movies? And we’re just gonna cut them into this kind of Berlin Alexanderplatz that never ends? We’re gonna suddenly take a moment to really savor the fact that these movies exist in an identical tone? The reality to me is that you can’t have interesting movies if you tell a filmmaker, “Get in this bed and dream, but don’t touch the pillows or move the blankets.” You will not get cinema. You will just get a platform for selling the next movie on that bed, unchanged and unmade. James Mangold on Logan.

* The making of The Silmarillion.

* And we have but one choice: the Ring must be destroyed.

Written by gerrycanavan

March 7, 2017 at 9:00 am

Posted in Look at what I found on the Internet

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Wednesday Is Now Trumpnesday, All Hail Trump

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* CFP: 42nd Meeting of the Society for Utopian Studies, Memphis, TN.

* Fascism happens fast: First look at Biff to the Future, the alt-history comic chronicling the BTTF universe.

* Trump and disaster capitalism.

* The Trump Story Project.

Dissenting from Within the Trump Administration.

Delusional Democrats Yearning to Prove They Can Work With Trump. From Jonathan Chait, no less!

Overshadowed by headlines about chaos and infighting, the new administration is notching a string of early victories.

* “The White House is deploying a network of advisers to the top of federal agencies as a direct line to stay on top of Cabinet officials.” “U.S. Government Agencies Go Silent, May Have Been Swallowed By Black Hole.” “Trump Health Care Plan Would Take Medicaid Coverage Away from Up to 31 Million People.” “Trump Aides Can’t Stop Blabbing about How He’s a Madman.” “Donald Trump’s stock in oil pipeline company raises concern.” Oh, no, not concern! “American Carnage.” “The Resistance.” Nailing it.

* Poor guy.

The bad press over the weekend has not allowed Trump to “enjoy” the White House as he feels he deserves, according to one person who has spoken with him.

* Almost certainly our next president, ladies and gentleman.

Beyond the Usual Suspects: Saturday’s marches were successful because they rallied millions, not just a small core of activists.

* Within minutes of each other: Trump Revives Keystone Pipeline. Canada oil pipeline spills 200,000 liters on aboriginal land.

Bill would end Virginia’s ‘winner take all’ electoral vote system.

* The voter fraud delusion.

* Some details on the shooting at the Milo Yiannopoulos talk at U Washington.

* Science corner! Badlands National Park Twitter account goes rogue, starts tweeting scientific facts. The Science of Sean Spicer’s Compulsive Gum Swallowing Habit. How long would a liberal have to cry to fill a coffee mug with tears? Flint water is fine again, also it was no one’s fault, trust us.

Standpoint theory doesn’t say we can just make shit up; it says we need a clear-eyed understanding of power relations in order to understand and evaluate knowledge-claims. In other words, pomo feminists didn’t create “alt facts”; it’s pomo feminists who have given us the tools to oppose them.

In Discarded Women’s March Signs, Professors Saw a Chance to Save History.

Minnesota bill would make convicted protesters liable for policing costs. N.C. state lawmaker says shouting at current or former gov’t officials should be punishable by 5 years in prison.

* Interesting little story about Dan Harmon’s work on/against an early version of Dr. Strange.

* An interesting piece of fan fiction about something that will never happen again in our lifetimes: a story ending.

* Like someone peeled open my skull and put my inner monologue on the Internet.

* The arc of history is long, but white women are going to prison at a higher rate than ever before.

Wisconsin lawmaker wants Sheriff David Clarke booted from office, immediately.

Further Thoughts on the Problem of Susan.

* The Case Against Unity.

* The View from Trump Tower.

* Whitefish, Montana vs. the Nazis.

This is how American health care kills people.

* Going back to the old days on health insurance, a first draft.

Potential Trump Science Adviser Says 90 Percent of U.S. Colleges Will Disappear. I’m amazed they think a full tenth will escape the Sentinels.

* Arrested Development Season 5 rumors.

Columbia University Releases Report on School’s Ties to Slavery.

The Other Buffett Rule, or, why better billionaires will never save us.

The Web Is a Customer Service Medium.

* ISIS and social media.

* And this truly is the darkest timeline.

Tom the Dancing Bug 1322 view from trump tower 2

Tom the Dancing Bug 1322 view from trump tower 2

Christmas and/or Fascism Megapost Forever and Ever Links – The Morning After!

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* Two especially good stories from Wired‘s SF issue: N.K. Jemisin’s “The Evaluators” and Charles Yu’s “Subtext®.”

* Three ways of looking at the arc of history.

Martin Luther King, Jr., famously said, “The arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice.” We can take this to be the standard liberal-progressive way of looking at the arc of history.

There are two other possible variations:

the reactionary right: “The arc of history is long, but it bends toward vengeance.”
the revolutionary left: “The arc of history is long and it’s going to keep getting longer unless we put a stop to it.”

You’ve seen the meme. Here are some actual college administrator titles.

* The road from Saddam Hussein to Donald Trump.

Enrollment trends place different facilities pressures on institutions of different sizes, the report found. Many small institutions that recently borrowed money to renovate or build in a bid to attract more students are now facing enrollment declines. They have seen enrollment drop by 3 percent since 2012 even though they’ve increased facilities development by 4 percent. Comprehensive institutions are opening new space just as they’re hit by enrollment stagnation — they increased their space by almost 14 percent cumulatively since 2012 but only posted a 1 percent enrollment increase over the same time period.

* Thus the nation-state is not with the common people – it is an enemy of the peoples. Some timely political theory from Abdullah Ocalan.

Essentially, the nation-state is a militarily structured entity. Nation-states are eventually the products of all kinds of internal and external warfare. None of the existing nation-states has come into existence all by itself. Invariably, they have a record of wars. This process is not limited to their founding phase but, rather, it builds on the militarization of the entire society. The civil leadership of the state is only an accessory of the military apparatus. Liberal democracies even outdo this by painting their militaristic structures in democratic and liberal colours. However, this does not keep them from seeking authoritarian solutions at the highpoint of a crisis caused by the system itself. Fascist exercise of power is the nature of the nation-state. Fascism is the purest form of the nation-state.

* When the oligarchy assembles itself out in the open.

* Democrats: we’re with him.

* Guys, not to alarm you, but what if Trumpism is actually bad.

* We regret to inform you that Pantsuit Nation is a sham.

* Twilight of Nintendo.

* Twilight of Ed Schultz.

Democrats shouldn’t assume their “Trump loves Putin” argument is a political winner. Oh, I think that ship has sailed.

Smog refugees flee Chinese cities as ‘airpocalypse’ blights half a billion.

Let’s Geek Out Over All The Fascinating Technology Used In Rogue One. Rogue One and the troubling promise of one Star Wars film per year every year until you are dead. And I think Wired has the best “let’s try to figure out what Rogue One was originally going to be like” breakdown yet.

* Just in time for my animals book, Wes Anderson makes it official: his next movie is Isle of Dogs.

* And all’s well that ends well.

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Closing Every Tab Because My Computer Will Barely Work Right Now Links

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Sorry I’ve been so quiet! Between summer teaching and wrapping up a few big projects it’s been a very busy couple of weeks. Here’s every tab I had open!

* CFP: Hamilton: A Special Issue of Studies in Musical Theatre.

* 2016 World Fantasy Award Finalists and Shirley Jackson Award Winners.

Marquette one of five universities in nation selected for the 2016 Higher Education Civic Engagement Award.

Graduate students in literary studies may often feel despair, even deadness and meanness, but an excess of cool seems like an especially implausible explanation. Far more damaging are bad mentoring, crippling overwork, social and geographic isolation, and the absence of opportunities to join the profession after spending a decade training. For too many graduate students, whether critical or postcritical, earning a PhD is the end — not the beginning — of a promising academic career. The skepticism that threatens graduate students and young faculty members results, therefore, not from the skepticism of academic theorists but from the skepticism of legislatures, administrators, donors, austerity-loving think tanks, and taxpayers. The Hangman of Critique.

* Jeff Vandermeer: Hauntings in the Anthropocene.

The Legendary Ted Chiang on Seeing His Stories Adapted and the Ever-Expanding Popularity of SF.

The Year’s Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories Have Been Determined.

100 African Writers of SFF.

* The Best of Science Fiction (1946) and The Big Book of Science Fiction (2016).

* Cleveland Police Are Gearing Up for Mayhem at the GOP Convention. Case Western in the News: Changes to campus operations during RNC. What’s a University For? Meet the Student Fighting Case Western U. for Shutting Down Campus to House 1,900 Police Officers.

* At least the convention went great.

* “Secretary Clinton Is A Different Person Than Donald Trump,” Says Bernie Sanders in Ringing Endorsement. GOP Establishment Relieved After Conventionally Abhorrent Beliefs Make Way Onto Presidential Ticket.

* Clinton has 945 Ways to Win. Trump Has 72.

* A Brief History of Turkey and Military Coups. The view from inside the bunker. Turkey ‘suspends 15,000 state education employees’ after attempted coup, including 1,577 deans at all universities.

US air strike in Syria kills nearly 60 civilians ‘mistaken for Isil fighters.’

* Bleeding the poor with fees and fines, Virginia edition.

* The end of Roger Ailes. The Drudge Era.

* Now, Baton Rouge. A 538 Special on Gun Deaths in America. The Tamir Rice Story: How to Make a Police Shooting Disappear. “One group is responsible for America’s culture of violence, and it isn’t cops, black Americans, Muslims or rednecks.” No lives matter. And from the archives: A Manifesto from People Reluctant to Kill for an Abstraction.

* Donald Trump’s Deals Rely on Being Creative with the Truth. Donald Trump Heads Into The Convention With Barely Any Campaign At All: Many of the numbers listed for his state offices don’t even work. Did you ever have to make up your mind? Donald Trump’s Announcement of Mike Pence in 18 Tweets. “Trump’s campaign logo mocked on Twitter.” He’s Really Pretty Bad at This. Being Honest about Trump. Jeb! We Play the Trump Board Game So You Don’t Have To. Republicans Keeping Their Dignity.  Teach the controversy: Is Trump Working for Russia? Understanding Trump Supporters: The Machine of Morbius. Back to the Future in Cleveland. The Last GOP President?

Won’t it be great when Donald Trump becomes president because you wrote a fucking BuzzFeed article daring him to run? Confessions of Donald Trump’s Ghostwriter.

Donald Trump Said Hillary Clinton Would ‘Make a Good President’ in 2008. Donald Trump should talk about Hillary Clinton’s email all the time. Here’s why. Pollster Frank Luntz: GOP has ‘lost’ the millennial generation.

There are about 20 households where she now lives. Like Susie, most of the residents in Snowflake have what they call “environmental illness”, a controversial diagnosis that attributes otherwise unexplained symptoms to pollution.

* Newborn Ducklings Judge Shape and Color.

* Small Arms, Long Reach: America’s Rifle Abroad.

Education Department’s proposed rule for student debt forgiveness could threaten traditional colleges as well as for-profits, particularly over its broad view of what counts as misrepresentation. College and the Class Divide. Wicked Liberalism.

As a result, in one of the richest countries that has ever existed, about 15 percent of the population faces down bare cupboards and empty refrigerators on a routine basis.

* Dying in America, Without Insurance.

* When Not to Get Married: Some 19th Century Advice.

* The Ontology of Calvin and Hobbes.

* Understanding Cousin Pam.

The Fight Between Berkeley’s Academics And Its Football Team Is Getting Ugly.

* A Modest Proposal: Eliminate Email.

Black Dishwasher at Yale University Loses Job After Shattering “Racist, Very Degrading” Stained-Glass Panel. Yale Rehires. Broken window theory: Corey Menafee and the history of university service labor.

* Ghostbusters (2016) and The Fan. Fake Controversy, Terrible Comedy. Ghostbusters‘ nostalgia problem. And from the archives!

Ghostbusters more than any other film highlights the growing devaluation of public-sector jobs at the hands of privatized for-profit entities operating for mercenary reasons. The protagonists of this movie spend their time removing unwanted, unpaying residents from spaces they occupied their whole lives (and longer) and placing them into a form of prison at the behest of the current owners who can get more rent from more affluent persons and don’t like the neighborhood being ‘brought down’ by those now-undesirable who lived there first. Not only that, but budget cuts have forced the New York Public Library to retain the dead as current employees, cutting into what should have been their final retirement, and the entire crux of the film comes from belittling and mocking elected officials’ uselessness in the face of corporations who can solve the city’s problems for cash and without all the useless regulation tying up the mayor, firefighters and police. Ghostbusters is essentially Blackwater for the dead, cleaning up the town of its unwanted past, making life safe for the corporate oligarchies.

* A Zero Star Review of The Secret Life of Pets.

‘Pokémon Go’ and the Persistent Myth of Stranger Danger. If Pokémon Go could resemble the best of childhood, it might have some value. What it actually does is very different.

* We Are All Queer Now.

* Did Wes Anderson Design North Korea?

How Sexual Harassment Halts Science.

Why rich parents are terrified their kids will fall into the “middle class.”

* Prepare to cry: Appleton teen makes heartbreaking decision to die.

To recap, the idea behind the Reverse Turing Test is that instead of thinking about the ways in which machines can be human-like we should also think about the ways in which humans can be machine-like.

* “He noted that further research is needed”: Women Wearing Low-Cut Tops In Application Photos Are 19 Times More Likely to Land a Job Interview.

* Penn State Football really should have gotten the NCAA death penalty.

* Am I a man, dreaming he is a Pokémon, or am I a Pokémon dreaming he is a man? Here’s All the Data Pokémon (Was) Leeching From Your Phone. Resist Pokémon Go. And as Adorno said: To catch Pokémon after Auschwitz is barbaric.

* OK, just take my money: Nintendo’s next assault on nostalgia is a mini-NES with 30 built-in games.

* Canon Police: Sulu’s Sexuality. But, you know, let’s not lose our heads. J.J. Abrams Won’t Re-Cast Anton Yelchin’s Role in ‘Star Trek’ Movies. For Some Baffling Reason, This Star Trek Beyond TV Spot Spoils the Big Twist. But the next one will be good, we swear.

* That piece I’m writing on Star Wars and canonicity will just never, ever be finished: Grand Admiral Thrawn Joins Rebels and the New Star Wars Canon.

* The headline reads, “Gonorrhea may soon be unbeatable.”

* Cancer, or, death by immortality.

Hacking the brain in Silicon Valley.

This blind Apple engineer is transforming the tech world at only 22.

Comic Books Are More Popular Now Than They’ve Been in 20 Years.

* Presenting the Apollo 11 Code.

* 67 Years of LEGO — by the numbers.

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Darwin’s Kids Doodled All Over His “Origin of Species” Manuscript.

Neanderthals Ate Each Other and Used Their Bones as Tools.

* The Films Rian Johnson had the Episode 8 Cast Watch.

* This sizzle reel from Rogue One is the best.

* Treaty loophole might let someone claim ownership of the Moon.

Should You Quit Your Job To Go Make Video Games?

* Understanding endings.

A civil servant missing most of his brain challenges our most basic theories of consciousness.

* And Mightygodking pitches the dark, gritty Sesame Street reinterpretation you didn’t know you needed.

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Written by gerrycanavan

July 22, 2016 at 4:10 pm

Posted in Look at what I found on the Internet

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Friday Links! All Of ‘Em!

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* A brief write-up of my science fiction class in the Marquette Tribune.

* zunguzungu: Sir Warsalot and the Daily Show.

* Everything is broken: Snowden’s latest revelations demonstrate that the US surveillance apparatus has completely broken both the Internet and the US telecommunications industry.

* Never-used Breaking Bad storylines.

* How to End It All: By Carlton Cuse, Damon Lindelof, Vince Gilligan, and Alan Ball. That’s not exactly a promising lineup for the end of Breaking Bad (though the last few minutes of the very last Six Feed Under were admittedly pretty all right).

Colorado Proves Housing The Homeless Is Cheaper Than Leaving Them On The Streets.

No, the Student Loan Crisis Is Not a Bubble.

 For the most part, it’s not helpful to think of student lending, circa 2013, in terms of bubbles at all. Rather, as Chadwick Matlin has put it at Reuters, it’s more of an anvil weighing on a large but discrete group of very unfortunate borrowers.

When College Presidents Are Paid Like CEOs.

States generally meet their obligations to match certain federal funds that go to predominantly white land-grant universities, but this isn’t the case for historically black land-grant colleges, according to a new report by the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities.

Plain Talk: Wisconsin’s school vouchers are a scam.

* Want to break into professional comics artistry? Just draw us a cheesecake picture of a naked woman in a bathtub preparing to commit suicide and you’re in.

In the popular imagination, opposition to the Vietnam War was driven largely by the privileged, while supposedly reactionary blue-collar workers supported the war effort. That memory is wrong.

* Mind-boggling: College students cheer sex abuse.

* Unpaid internships must be destroyed: file your lawsuit today!

* CFP for the inaugural issue of BOSS: Biannual Online-Journal of Springsteen Studies. I can’t believe I wasn’t approached for the editorial board.

“He was a wonderful boss. I lived with him for five years. We were the closest people who worked with him … we were always there. Hitler was never without us day and night.”

* Always totalize!

* And John Cleese explains the brain. That should clear everything up.

Entropic Realism and ‘The Road’

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The following contains unmarked spoilers for Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and its film adaptation. Be on your guard!

He stood listening. The boy didnt stir. He sat beside him and stroked his pale and tangled hair. Golden chalice, good to house a god. Please dont tell me how the story ends.
—Cormac McCarthy, The Road, p. 75

From the earliest pages of The Road it is clear that we are reading the most bleakly nihilistic novel ever to grace Oprah’s Book Club. Set after an unspecified apocalypse in a ruined world populated by thieves, murderers, cannibals, a man, and his son, in which the main character’s primary inner conflict revolves around whether or not he will have the fortitude to use his gun’s last remaining bullet on his son “when the time comes” (29), The Road winds its doomed characters and traumatized readers on a path through the Cumberland Gap towards the East Coast in a kind of reverse Western Migration, in which the final destination offers neither hope nor opportunity, just dead, stagnant water, not even blue (215). When they reach the coast, it isn’t long before the father dies of the illness from which he has been suffering throughout the novel, leaving the boy completely alone in a ruined, evil world. (The father, in the end, couldn’t bring himself to murder his son before dying after all.)

Up until this moment the novel is perhaps American literature’s best example of what I call entropic realism: the ideology of apocalypse, of breakdown, of things falling apart. Entropic realism is the literary-aesthetic positionality appropriate to depressive nihilism, when God’s being dead means not “anything is possible” but “nothing matters” and “there is no hope.”

Up until this moment. But now The Road throws its reader a curveball. The boy stays beside his father’s corpse for three days, and then walks about twenty feet before discovering a substitute father accompanied by a replacement mother and two ersatz siblings who happily take the boy in and provide for his well-being from then on. The end.

This second father, and the quasi-happy ending his unexpected appearance represents, appears completely out of nowhere, both narratively and thematically. There is nothing in the book before the last six pages that suggests any sort of non-disastrous resolution to this story is possible, nothing in the world McCarthy makes that gives us license for this sort of hope. That the man would die, and that his son would be better off dead than alive without him, are both framed as inevitable, as the only possible ending for the story despite any desire that it be otherwise. True to its entropic realism, in The Road all stories end in failure and death; see, by way of example, meditations on this pessimism on 153-154, 168-169, 242-243, and elsewhere. (Please, don’t tell me how the story ends.)

The book hammers home, time and again, that such things as “trust,” “kindness,” and “happy endings” are artifacts of a dead world that is never to return, and any hope they might is just a fairy tale, a dream:

In his dream she was sick and he cared for her. The dream bore the look of sacrifice but he thought differently. He did not take care of her and she died alone somewhere in the dark and there is no other dream nor other waking world and there is no other tale to tell. (32)

I went to see the film last week specifically to see how this ending was played cinematically, and I can confirm it is played entirely straight: the substitute father appears out of nowhere twenty feet away, emerging not three days but seemingly three minutes after the first father has died. The end.

There is, I argue, something necessarily unsatisfying about this ending for nearly any reader of The Road. It just doesn’t make sense, doesn’t fit; it doesn’t seem “realistic.” Just where has this new family come from? How have they survived, intact and apparently secure, all this time? Why have we never seen any hint, before p. 281, that any such people yet remained alive?

The strange improbability of the ending has suggested to many readers that The Road is a book about faith being rewarded, a book, indeed, about miracles—if not a book about the literal Tribulation described in the book of Revelation. The father’s last recorded words suggest this sort of redemptive religious possibility: “Goodness will find the little boy. It always has. It will again” (281). In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.

But I would frame my reading of The Road differently. I think the ending is a kind of dare, or leap of faith, or perhaps even a sort of literary Rorschach test. After everything you have seen, can you let yourself believe a happy ending is actually possible? Can you, as they say, buy this?

The possibility that we can’t is repeatedly thematized throughout the novel. The boy is preoccupied with narratives and the problem of their realism, particularly by the growing sense he has that the actions he and his father take, and the world in which they live, do not comport with the moral fables about “good guys” and “bad guys” on which he has been raised. In one of the last lengthy conversations he has with his father this comes out explicitly:

Do you want me to tell you a story?
No.
Why not?
The boy looked at him and looked away.
Why not?
Those stories are not true.
They dont have to be true. They’re stories.
Yes. But in the stories we’re always helping people and we dont help people.
Why dont you tell me a story?
I dont want to.
Okay.
I dont have any stories to tell.
You could tell me a story about yourself.
You already know all the stories about me. You were there.
You have stories inside that I dont know about.
You mean like dreams?
Like dreams. Or just things that you think about.
Yeah, but stories are supposed to be happy.
They dont have to be.
You always tell happy stories.
You dont have any happy ones?
They’re more like real life.
But my stories are not.
Your stories are not. No. (267-268)

In these terms, of course, the ending of The Road, while “happy,” is plainly not “true”; it fulfills the structural requirement that “stories are supposed to be happy” at the cost of its own realist coherence. In its final six pages The Road unexpectedly abandons its relentless entropic realism and becomes more like a fable or dream—both words that appear on the novel’s first page, and which, especially in the case of dreams, are central preoccupation of the characters throughout.

Page 9:

He said the right dreams for a man in peril were dreams of peril and all else was the call of languor and of death.

Page 21:

And the dreams so rich in color. How else would death call you?

Page 189:

When your dreams are of some world that never was or of some world that will never be and you are happy again then you will have given up.

Page 269, just after the part of the conversation quoted at length above:

(the boy speaking) I dont have good dreams anyway. They’re always about something bad happening. You said that was okay because good dreams are not a good sign.

To accept the book’s uncomplicatedly happy ending at face value would be to ignore everything we have seen thus far, including, in the pages before the declaration that good will always win in the end, these repeated assertions that such moral fables are lies that will only make you weak. To believe in happy endings, in this particular happy ending, is therefore in the book’s terms to be seduced by what is not real, potentially at the cost of your life. If we take seriously the way the text opposes both dreams and stories against the one-way entropic directionality of “real life,” the apparent happy ending therefore becomes a deeply problematic structural excess: a miraculous suspension of the novel’s own basic law of nature.

But other sorts of readings do present themselves. Instead of accepting that The Road ends happily, despite its own self-prophesy, we can reject the apparent happy ending and conclude (for instance) that everything that happens after p. 281 is merely the father’s interior dream as he dies.

Now, this is so dramatic a manipulation of the text’s surface meaning as to be fairly described as willful misreading. I was first exposed to this alternative ending by my mother, who considered it the plain meaning of the novel until I told her most people don’t actually read the book that way. But as I reread The Road to write this post I found more and more evidence of this possibility staring me in the face: why else, we might well wonder, is the novel so preoccupied with the father’s belief that a man close to death has happy dreams? And when I’ve brought this reading of the novel up at academic conferences I’ve seen the same reaction in others: a sense that this reading may in some sense be better than that the straight one, that it alone accounts for the novel as a totality.

Now of course I don’t actually believe in the dream ending either. This is a fan rewrite, something akin to The Phantom Edit. I certainly don’t think it’s what Cormac McCarthy “intended”—though, with so many references to dreams, death, and the problem of endings, who can say? Rather, I perform this self-conscious misreading as a way of making clear that at the end of the novel The Road is divided against itself: it becomes a site of indeterminacy hovering between two possible end states, almost like a thought experiment out of quantum mechanics. The boy is simultaneously rescued (and we happy, if naive) and doomed (and we sad, but wise); the boy is both at once, suspended permanently in a zone of interpretive indecision.

It seems impossible not to choose one or the other, but I think the novel may be best if we decline; that very indecision, the impossible demand that an ending somehow be both “happy” and “realistic” at the same time, is itself the novel’s crux.

The Road, in essence, provides us with a happy ending we cannot believe and sadder endings we do not want to accept, and dares us to choose between them. In this way I think The Road is best read as a deconstruction of the evaluative terms by which we normally judge stories—a refusal, that is, of the very possibility of narrative closure altogether. Midway through the book the usual flow of narration suddenly breaks to assert this very point directly:

Do you think that your fathers are watching? That they weigh you in their ledgerbook? Against what? There is no book and your fathers are dead in the ground. (196)

Life, would that it were otherwise, is not a story. In its ending The Road embodies the conflict between the ordered teleology of story and the disordered antinarrative of life as it must actually be lived. The entropic realism of the text is necessarily in irreconcilable tension with its own miraculous ending; we simply can’t have both. Please, the novel seems to say to us, and we to it: don’t tell me how the story ends.

Written by gerrycanavan

January 7, 2010 at 10:36 am

More Monday Links

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More Monday links! More!

* Jacob directs my attention to the Spider-Man lizard. As Jacob says, you won’t be disappointed.

* Amanda Marcotte says last night’s explosive office hijinx on Mad Men were a quiet reference to the Kennedy assassination. I think she may be right.

* Japan’s real-life Dollhouse.

* The mother of all Infinite Jest ending theories. (Thanks, kate!)

* Last words of the executed in Texas. Found poetry.

Cathy, you know I never meant to hurt you.
All my life I have been locked up.
I am tired.
I’m ready, Warden.

Written by gerrycanavan

September 21, 2009 at 10:42 pm