Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

Posts Tagged ‘Fred Chappell

Thursday Links!

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* Deadline extended: Special Issue: Star Wars: The Force Awakens: Narrative, Characters, Media, and Event.

* CFP: Speculative Vegetation: Plants in Science Fiction.

After humanity spent thousands of years improving our tactics, computers tell us that humans are completely wrong. I would go as far as to say not a single human has touched the edge of the truth of Go.

* The banality of evil in Baltimore.

* “Trump and Staff Rethink Tactics After Stumbles.” Every revelation in this story is stunning. Trump leans on ‘fake news’ line to combat reports of West Wing dysfunction. Donald Trump says all negative polls about him are fake news. Check out this fake news about voter fraud. Yemen Withdraws Permission for U.S. Antiterror Ground Missions. Milwaukee passes resolution opposing Trump travel ban. White House rattled by McCarthy’s spoof of Spicer. White House Denies Report That Bannon Had to Be Reminded He Wasn’t President Amidst Travel-Ban Chaos. Probably best to put this in writing ahead of time. The simple fact is that Trump has never had real friends in the sense you or I think of the term. Never Believe the Republicans’ B.S. Ever Again. How Each Senator Voted on Trump’s Cabinet and Administration Nominees. Five Theses on Trump. To Stephen Miller, Duke University Class of 2007.

* Elsewhere in Duke News! Bernie and the Duke Grad Student Unionization Movement.

Apparently those who support income redistribution through aggressive top marginal taxation are still willing to accept union busting and poor parent shaming before considering direct infusions of cash. No matter how lofty their rhetoric, there is an intuitive desire within mainstream American liberalism to believe that the trouble in education is not so obvious as poor people not having enough money to do well—but rather, that poor parents are to blame for not being enough like middle class ones. DeVos Was Inevitable. Democrats reject her, but they helped pave the road to education nominee DeVos.

* ok she won me over


The 10 US colleges that stand to lose the most from Trump’s immigration ban. American Universities Must Take a Stand.

The Nervous Civil Servant’s Guide to Defying an Illegal Order.

* American democracy isn’t.

Meet Antifa, the Most Reasonable People in America.

The Wisdom of Science Fiction in the Age of Trump.

* “All the pieces of the neo-Nazi solution to climate change already exist.”

Dakota Access Pipeline Is Back On, Skipping Environmental Review.

* The New Yorker celebrates the great Mo Willems.

Much has been written about the toxicity of internet “call out” culture over the past five years. But less has been said about the prevalence of efforts to fire people, one of that culture’s creepiest and most authoritarian features. 

Doctor Strange Has Now Made More Money At Box Office Than Man Of Steel. DC is really bad at this.

Liberalism looks and feels like a waiting period that may never end. A primary purpose of this tactic is to allow policymakers and elites to announce their intention to do something about a problem while hoping the problem goes away on its own as public attention dies down or as they move on with their careers.

* Keep Mars Red.

We Asked Sci-Fi Writers About The Future Of Climate Change.

Within a decade, according to a 99-page white paper released today, Uber will have a network—to be called “Elevate”—of on-demand, fully electric aircraft that take off and land vertically. Instead of slogging down the 101, you and a few other flyers will get from San Francisco to Silicon Valley in about 15 minutes—for the price of private ride on the ground with UberX. Theoretically.

* The Singularity has already happened.

* 150 Years to Alpha Centauri. But it’s no place to raise your kids.

* Make stamp-collecting great again.

* Know your alignments.

* Teaching is not longer a middle class job. College professor isn’t either, pretty much anywhere but a town like Milwaukee.

* The Arc of History Is Long But Republicans Are Moving To Scrap Rules That Limit Overdraft Fees.

* The Resistance.

* A clever study showing how protests impact election outcomes, using rain.

A general strike could transform American politics. But we’re nowhere near being able to call one.

* Capitalism is struggling to reproduce the misery and terror required for worker compliance.

* Even baseball hates baseball.

Donald Trump Had A Superior Electoral College Strategy.

* I don’t think there’s been a better postmortem on the election, and what it means for the coming decades, than this by Mike Davis: The Great God Trump and the White Working Class.

In addition, as Brookings researchers have recently shown, since 2000 a paradoxical core-periphery dynamic has emerged within the political system. Republicans have increased their national electoral clout yet have steadily lost strength in the economic-powerhouse metropolitan counties. “The less-than-500 counties that Hillary Clinton carried nationwide encompassed a massive 64 percent of America’s economic activity as measured by total output in 2015. By contrast, the more-than-2,600 counties that Donald Trump won generated just 36 percent of the country’s output — just a little more than one-third of the nation’s economic activity.”

* Trump believes his base desires cruelty above all else. Here is today’s case study.

“Uncle Biden” has done a lot to mask the fact that the real Joe Biden fought desegregation, wrote the 1994 crime bill, and appeared to side with Clarence Thomas over Anita Hill during Thomas’s confirmation hearings. The hyper-competent “Texts From Hillary” made it more difficult for the real Clinton to rebut charges of shadiness and corruption, and also served to mask over the fact that she had never won a closely fought election. Liberal Fan Fiction.

* When Details in a Story Can Put People at Risk.

* Creeping Trumpism.

* He speaks for us all: “Man found stuck in waist-deep mud has no idea how he got there, officials say.”

* The best news anybody’s gotten since 1997.

* What it’s like to lose your short-term memory.

* Ubiquitous surveillance watch.

A Crack in an Antarctic Ice Shelf Grew 17 Miles in the Last Two Months. Oh, well, that explains everything, doesn’t it.

* Rick and Morty and Bojack and existentialism.

* Yes Weekly interviews the great Fred Chappell.

* What a horrible night to have a curse.

* And this is a really good start, but I’m sure we can find a way to do worse.


Written by gerrycanavan

February 9, 2017 at 9:00 am

Posted in Look at what I found on the Internet

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Blackwater v. Fred Chappell

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Infinite Summer #7: Is ‘Infinite Jest’ Science Fiction?

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There have been some interesting Infinite Summer posts about whether Infinite Jest “counts” as science fiction—see, for instance, these two at Infinite Tasks and this from Chris Forster)—so I thought it might be interesting to run through some of my standard classroom definitions of science fiction and see how the book shapes up. (My notes on this are older than the Wikipedia page and mostly cribbed from Fred Chappell, but most of these definitions appear there as well.)

To begin with, there are a few classic definitions it clearly doesn’t meet.

…a charming romance intermingled with scientific fact and prophetic vision.
—Hugo Gernsback

Versions of this notion of “scientific prophecy” pop up whenever science fiction is discussed, and Infinite Jest pretty clearly meets neither criteria; its speculations are philosophical, not scientific, and it is surely a satire, not some coherent futurism.

Another take:

Science fiction is a branch of fantasy identifiable by the fact that it eases the “willing suspension of disbelief” on the part of its readers by utilizing an atmosphere of scientific credibility for its imaginative speculations in physical science, space, time, social science, and philosophy.
—Sam Moskowitz

I would defy anyone to claim that their willing suspension of disbelief is not frequently and fatally challenged by the hyperbolic “hysterical realist” elements throughout IJ. “FREAK STATUE OF LIBERTY ACCIDENT KILLS FED ENGINEER: BRAVE MAN ON CRANE CRUSHED BY 5 TON CAST IRON BURGER” (398) is not a sentence calculated to brace a spirit of credulity.

Still another:

Science fiction is anything published as science fiction.
—Norman Spinrad

This is usually the last definition I offer my students in my introductory SF lecture, and the one I usually argue is the most important. SF is, as much as it is anything else, a discrete, recognizable set of consumer practices and preferences—and here, too, Infinite Jest is clearly not science fiction because it isn’t branded as science fiction in the marketplace nor is it consumed as science fiction by “science fiction fans.” IJ pulls in dollars under an entirely different brand, mainstream literary fiction—which is a perfectly cromulent brand, if that’s what you’re into, but it’s not SF.

So, then, 0 for 3. Not a great start. But there are other definitions of science fiction that do cast a strong light on Infinite Jest:

Science fiction is the search for definition of man and his status in the universe which will stand in our advanced but confused state of knowledge (science), and is characteristically cast in the Gothic or post-Gothic mold.
—Brian Aldiss

Here science fiction collapses into a special category of existential literature, in which the SF aspects are merely the engine motivating the text’s more-central philosophical speculations. The science-fictional elements in Infinite Jest, it seems clear to me, are operating almost entirely on this level—each inventive speculation in the novel drives existential speculation about how we might be able to live in ultratechnological modernity in the shadow of the death of God. (Side question: is Infinite Jest “in the Gothic mold”? I’d have to pull out an entirely different set of quotes to discuss that question fully, but in its massive textual sprawl, its strong tendencies towards melodrama and hyperbolic excess, and its palpable atmosphere of both individual and familial tragedy I think we could have the start of a fairly strong case.)

We come now to the two definitions I use most commonly in my writing and teaching, which are (I concede) are completely in conflict with one another. But I think—I hope—it’s a productive tension. First is Darko Suvin, who inspired Fredric Jameson and most of the Utopian school of SF theorists I primarily read:

SF is, then, a literary genre or verbal construct whose necessary and sufficent conditions are the presence and interaction of estrangement and cognition, and whose main formal device is an imaginative framework alternative to the author’s empirical environment. —Darko Suvin

There’s a lot to pull out there, but the key words are “estrangement,” “cognition,” and “imaginative framework alternative.” What Suvin argues in his work is that the defining characteristic of science fiction is the pwower of defamiliarization that allows us to see our own world more clearly (and maybe for the first time), which is accomplished through the sort of intricate, even obsessive world-building confabulations SF is famous for. In particular, Suvin and his successors argue, SF expresses the desire for another kind of life, whether explicitly (as Utopian fiction) or implicitly (the desire for a plausible alterity expressed in negative in most dystopian, anti-Utopian, and apocalyptic fictions).

Infinite Jest, it seems to me, is pretty deep in the murky swamp that divides this sort of SF from more generic Utopian/dystopian political satire. The trouble for any Suvinian analysis of Infinite Jest, I think, comes in the unstable irony I was going on about earlier in the week; as Infinite Tasks lays out in detail, O.N.A.N.-ite politics is not in any sense a imaginative framework alternative to the present. It’s a series of gags. Wallace’s world-building just isn’t on the level. It’s no coincidence, to take but one example, that a close reading of DFW’s references to the Gentle administration and the start of Subsidized Time c. the year 2000 would seem to place the “Limbaugh administration” around the year of the novel’s composition in the mid-1990s, and therefore somehow impossibly concurrent with the Clinton administration that is also occasionally referenced. Infinite Jest is our cracked self-reflection, not another world.

And finally there’s Delany, who rejects political readings of SF in favor of a definition focused on wordplay, and really on the pleasure of the text itself:

In science fiction, “science”—i.e., sentences displaying verbal emblems of scientific discourses—is used to literalize the meanings of other sentences for use in the construction of the fictional foreground. Such sentences as “His world exploded,” or “She turned on her left side,” as they subsume the proper technological discourse (of economics and cosmology in one; of switching circuitry and prosthetic surgery in the other), leave the banality of the emotionally muzzy metaphor, abandon the triviality of insomniac tossings, and, through the labyrinth of technical possibility, become possible images of the impossible.
—Samuel Delany

This literary-linguistic pleasure, I think, is quite clearly a huge part of the pleasure of IJ for those of us who are enjoying it; the way in which, 400 pages in, we find ourselves now able to parse a sentence like this one:

All this until the erection of O.N.A.N. and the inception, in Clipperton’s eighteenth summer, of Subsidized Time, the advertised Year of the Whopper, when the U.S.T.A. became the O.N.A.N.T.A., and some Mexican systems analyst—who barely spoke English and had never once even fondled a ball and knew from exactly zilch except for crunching raw results-data—this guy stepped in as manager of the O.N.A.N.T.A. computer and ranking center in Forest Lawn NNY, and didn’t know enough not to treat Clipperton’s string of six major junior-tournament championships that spring as sanctioned and real. (431)

There is surely something Delany could recognize in this sentence and the subtle mental acrobatics required to make sense of it; if this isn’t quite science fiction, exactly, it seems to me it’s something very close.