Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

Posts Tagged ‘Samuel Delany

More Sick Baby Day Links

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* Ladies and gentlemen, the very worst “Should I Go to Grad School” piece ever written.

Samuel Delany and Wonder Woman.

* Letter from a Chinese labor camp?

* Quentin Tarantino’s next?

I don’t know exactly when I’m going to do it, but there’s something about this that would suggest a trilogy.  [The next part would follow] a bunch of black troops, and they had been f–ked over by the American military and kind of go apeshit… [The] black troops… kill a bunch of white soldiers and white officers on a military base and are just making a warpath to Switzerland.

* Philip Pullman will continue the His Dark Materials series.

* The headline reads, “Physicians in China treat addictions by destroying the brain’s pleasure center.”

* The cold hard facts of freezing to death.

Presenting the Royal Mail’s Doctor Who stamps.

* Why is Congress so terrible? Nate Silver says it was gerrymandering that done it.

* And just one piece from the latest JacobinThe Soul of Student Debt.

Monday Night Grief Bacon

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* Destroy your university the California way: In California, where public higher education has experienced cut after cut, the choices are particularly difficult. For the spring semester of 2013, the California State University has told campus leaders they may not admit any Californian students to graduate programs. Given that tuition covers only a fraction of the costs of these students’ education, the university said it couldn’t afford them.

At the trial, the guy who killed my sister was defended by Progressive’s legal team. If you are insured by Progressive, and they owe you money, they will defend your killer in court in order to not pay you your policy.

* More lists of words with no English translation: 1, 2, 3, more.

15. Kummerspeck (German) Excess weight gained from emotional overeating. Literally, grief bacon.

4 Decades on, U.S. Starts Cleanup of Agent Orange in Vietnam.

Terry Gilliam making 1st sci-fi movie in 18 years.

Living in an Orwellian corporate world where “mancams” serve as the eyes of a shadowy figure known only as Management, Leth (Waltz) works on a solution to the strange theorem while living as a virtual cloistered monk in his home–the shattered interior of a fire-damaged chapel. His isolation and work are interrupted now and then by surprise visits from Bainsley, a flamboyantly lusty love interest who tempts him with “tantric biotelemetric interfacing” (virtual sex) and Bob. Latter is the rebellious whiz-kid teenage son of Management who, with a combination of insult-comedy and an evolving true friendship, spurs on Qohen’s efforts at solving the theorem…Bob creates a virtual reality “inner-space” suit that will carry Qohen on an inward voyage, a close encounter with the hidden dimensions and truth of his own soul, wherein lie the answers both he and Management are seeking. The suit and supporting computer technology will perform an inventory of Qohen’s soul, either proving or disproving the Zero Theorem.

It’s a tale as old as time itself.

* Bookslut reviews the reissue of Samuel Delany’s Starboard Wine.

* Alan Moore apparently turned down $2 million to retain the right to complain about Before Watchmen.

The analysis of 2,068 reported fraud cases by News21, a Carnegie-Knight investigative reporting project, found 10 cases of alleged in-person voter impersonation since 2000. With 146 million registered voters in the United States, those represent about one for every 15 million prospective voters.

Marijuana Legalization Could Generate Half a Billion a Year for Washington State.

The Flaming Lips’ Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots musical is coming this November.

* Moonrise Kingdom is now the #1 grossing movie of all time…at the Alamo Drafthouse.

* And our long national nightmare is (nearly) almost over: Keanu Reeves teases Bill & Ted 3.

Links from the Weekend!

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* Wes Anderson bingo. Meanwhile, Moonrise Kingdom is setting records.

* Great television contrarianism watch: Neoliberal Holmes, or, Everything I Know About Modern Life I Learned from Sherlock. In which I analyze my allergy to Sherlock.

* David Harvey: The financial crisis is an urban crisis.

* Utopia and dystopia in quantum superposition: New parking meters text you when time’s running out.

Facebook is not only on course to go bust, but will take the rest of the ad-supported Web with it.

* Shaviro reviews Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders. LRB reviews Embassytown. LARoB reviews Railsea. The New Yorker reviews Game of Thrones.

But there is something troubling about this sea of C.G.I.-perfect flesh, shaved and scentless and not especially medieval. It’s unsettling to recall that these are not merely pretty women; they are unknown actresses who must strip, front and back, then mimic graphic sex and sexual torture, a skill increasingly key to attaining employment on cable dramas. During the filming of the second season, an Irish actress walked off the set when her scene shifted to what she termed “soft porn.” Of course, not everyone strips: there are no truly explicit scenes of gay male sex, fewer lingering shots of male bodies, and the leading actresses stay mostly buttoned up. Artistically, “Game of Thrones” is in a different class from “House of Lies,” “Californication,” and “Entourage.” But it’s still part of another colorful patriarchal subculture, the one called Los Angeles.

* Terrible news, state by state:

Louisiana Incarcerated: How We Built the World’s Prison Capital. Via MeFi.

* The Institute for Southern Studies covers North Carolina’s answer to the Koch brothers, Art Pope.

* Detroit shuts off the lights.

* Kansas Republicans reinstitute feudalism, deliberately bankrupting the state.

* Voter purges in Florida, again.

* Contemplating these dreary statistics, one might well conclude that the United States is — to a distressing extent — a nation of violent, intolerant, ignorant, superstitious, passive, shallow, boorish, selfish, unhealthy, unhappy people, addicted to flickering screens, incurious about other societies and cultures, unwilling or unable to assert or even comprehend their nominal political sovereignty. Or, more simply, that America is a failure.

* The New Yorker‘s science fiction issue is live. If you wanted to get me to read New Yorker fiction for the first time in years, well, mission accomplished…

* And we’re still pouring college money down the for-profit drain. Because never learning from your mistakes is the most important thing we have to teach.

‘A Book That No One Else Could Have Written’

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Announcing American Literature 83.2: ‘Speculative Fictions’!

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Very exciting news: the special issue of American Literature I co-edited with Priscilla Wald is up and available for purchase or download (through subscribing institutions). Here’s a little bit from our preface and a table of contents:

In this sense SF holds within itself the restless curiosity and relentless drive toward futurity that has characterized theory ever since Karl Marx dedicated his project to “the ruthless criticism of all that exists, ruthless both in the sense of not being afraid of the results it arrives at and in the sense of being just as little afraid of conflict with the powers that be.” Thus has Freedman suggested that SF and critical theory are “each . . . version[s] of the other.” Or, as Ray Bradbury puts it: “That’s all science fiction was ever about. Hating the way things are, wanting to make things different.” Or Le Guin, writing of the Stalinists’ designation of Zamyatin as an “internal émigré”: “This smear-word is a precise and noble description of the finest writers of SF, in all countries.” The equivalent term in the United States, she notes, would be “un-Americanism”—transmogrifying the title of this journal, for this special issue, to something like Un-American Non-Literature. There could be worse things!

…In a world whose basic coordinates are under constant flux from eruptions of ecological crisis to the emergence of genomic science, from the global realignments of religious fundamentalism to the changing parameters of liberation theology, from the ongoing unfoldings of antiracist activisms worldwide to the struggle for LGBTQ rights, the estrangements of SF in all its forms, flavors, and subgenres become for us a funhouse mirror on the present, a faded map of the future, a barely glimpsed vision of alterity, and the prepped and ready launchpad for theory today.

Here then are seven estrangements; seven émigrés; seven ruthless criticisms of all that exists; seven ways to make things different.

Table of Contents

* Mark Chia-Yon Jerng, “A World of Difference: Samuel R. Delany’s Dhalgren and the Protocols of Racial Reading”
* Nathaniel Williams, “Frank Reade, Jr., in Cuba: Dime-Novel Technology, U.S. Imperialism, and the ‘American Jules Verne'”
* Aaron Bady, “Tarzan’s White Flights: Terrorism and Fantasy before and after the Airplane”
* David M. Higgins, “Toward a Cosmopolitan Science Fiction”
* Ramzi Fawaz, “‘Where No X-Man Has Gone Before!’ Mutant Superheroes and the Cultural Politics of Popular Fantasy in Postwar America”
* Robert F. Reid-Pharr, “Clean: Death and Desire in Samuel R. Delany’s Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand
* Everett Hamner, “The Predisposed Agency of Genomic Fiction”

Sci-Fi Links for a Thursday without Joy

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Sci-Fi links for a Thursday without joy.

* AskMetaFilter on slammin’ science fiction-themed hip-hop.

* Where I Write: Science Fiction and Fantasy Authors in Their Creative Spaces.

* Just Another Post-Apocalypse Story.

* Fox is promising not to ruin Dollhouse this time around.

* Terry Gilliam is hoping to adapt a Philip K. Dick novel, The World Jones Made. Will it be the first PKD movie since Blade Runner to be actually good? (Sorry Arnold.)

* And Warren Ellis says the future is small.

Written by gerrycanavan

August 6, 2009 at 11:23 pm

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.