Criticism

For the record

It is my completely objective and inarguable opinion that the series finale of Battlestar Galactica was a steaming pile of horse crap. That is all.

My Review of Logorrhea

My review of the short fiction anthology Logorrhea has just been published on the New Haven Review website.

The New Haven Review incidentally is edited by Brian Francis Slattery, the very excellent author of Spaceman Blues: A Love Song and Liberation: Being the Adventures of the Slick Six After the Collapse of the United States of America (which books you should read right now), and is worth checking out.

How Not To Write Corporate Communication: An Object Lesson In Obfuscation

So Facebook founder Mark Zuckerman has heard the Twitter-patter on his window of the rain of Facebook subscribers deleting their accounts in droves following an exercise in crappy journalism that it appears that The Consumerist has been backpedaling on for most of the day since I pointed out that they had overblown their reading of the new Facebook Terms of Service. Zuckerman, realizing once again what a fragile and delicate flower his social networking orchid is, has boldly marched forward into the fray and declared with all due gravitas and solemnity what the TOS actually means for a Facebook user.

Except, well, he didn't.

Adventures in Hyperreality: Live Suicide and Why It Doesn't Matter

So last night my Twitter account started pinging my phone with updates featuing the #chase hashtag. Apparently something was going on in Los Angeles involving a slow speed chase through north Hollywood. Curious to see what was going on, I signed in and started following the updates. A man in a white Bentley had been leading police around for 3 hours before stopping in front of a Toyota dealership. Local Fox and ABC affiliates had helicopters on the scene and Fox was streaming the actual unedited camera feed through it's website. Twitter en masse was enthralled with updates coming rapidly with the unfiltered immediate responses of the people watching. Eventually, the driver killed himself. The feeds went off. People went to bed. And now comes the analytical aftermath of what in my opinion amounts to a non event.

The Protocols of the Elders of Sci Fion

James Gunn has written an essay about the "protocols of science fiction", a concept he draws from the 1984 Samual R. Delany essay collection Starboard Wine (or more exactly, the MLA conference that preceeded it). (This book is sadly out-of-print and difficult to find -- Amazon Auctions has a copy for $175 or so -- though Matt Chaney is leading the effort to bring out a new edition.) In the essay, Gunn, quoting Delany, says that Science Fiction does not work in the same way as other written categories, in that it has "specific conventions, unique focuses, areas of interest and excellence, as well as its own particular ways of making sense out of language." Gunn then introduces an example, the story "Sail On! Sail On!" by Philip José Farmer.

Genre Fiction, Best Of and Media

Michael Peterson's latest comics column in The House Next Door, which is a fascinating analysis of comics as cartography, contains this aside:

The Best American Comics was established three years ago as a counterpart to other "Best American" collections of prose writing and has largely maintained the same roster of talent in each annual edition.

...

I was digging through some old notes in preparation for this installment on an especially bitter night in 2005, after attending a gallery opening here in Chicago hosted by cartoonist Ivan Brunetti, editor of a Yale anthology of comics very similar to the "Best American" books. The gallery featured the same few folks; I hurled out some invective that evening, some of which I'm inclined to retract and some of which is still true today:

Brunetti is part of that society of cartoonists that holds our most public faces—Spiegelman and Ware, Chester Brown and Seth and Joe Matt, Daniel Clowes and Adrian Tomine and the rest of those who hold Schultz and Crumb as the binary star which we should orbit. They're the ones that sit at the Big Kids Table, and at this point, we're resigned to it. They're married to our roots in the daily and Sunday strips, and for many, that form is what informs their every creation, a view that cannot be disentangled. The comic book as a unit is the stuff of old pulps. To stray too far into genre territory, other than as an ironic metaphor, is to obfuscate your message and resign yourself to obscurity.

This all reminded me quite a lot of my own questioning of genre's acceptance by the mainstream critical world. After all this site was practically founded as a reaction to the predominance of quotidian, autobiographical, realist fiction in the "literary" world, exactly the kind of fiction that dominates both the Best American Comics and (usually) the Best American Short Stories anthologies.

With that in mind, let's take a look at the critical estimation of works in verious media, as judged by some well-known "best of" lists.

No Really, Dune Fucking Sucks: Part One, an introduction to the project

Lots of people really likeDune. It's spawned a movie, a couple of TV mini-series, several video games, at least one comic book adaptation, and a continuing series of books written by the book's late author's son in order to cash in on the gullible mouth breathers who think there is value in the franchise. The pro-Dune camp believes that this book and the series it spawned are "classic," "masterfully crafted," "well-planned," novels. Do a quick google search, and you will find no shortage of people who are willing to ascribe adjective phrases like "beautifully written," "elegant," and "brillant" to this novel.

I respectfully—well, sort of— disagree with this assessment, and taking a page out of slacktivist's close reading of Left Behind, given how widespread respect for Dune is even occasionally outside of the science fiction ghetto, I think it's high time someone pointed out how terribly flawed, immoral, and transparently lacking in complexity Dune actually is.

I don't know how many entries this is going to take, but beginning next week after I've been able to procure another copy of the book, I'll be posting a page by page and occasionally line-by-line commentary on the book in the hopes of exposing it for the massively deficient and incompetent piece of literature that it is.

All comments are welcome, particularly from those who think that there's something of value in this trash that I'm missing.

I'm looking forward to the project and expect that it will take me some time to complete. I hope you all enjoy it, or at least learn to enjoy Dune a little bit less.

Elric and Michael Moorcock

I've recently become addicted to the Elric novels of Michael Moorcock. For the uninitiated, Elric was created as a reaction against the kind of Conan-the-Barbarian/Lord-of-the-Rings style fantasy that still dominates sword-and-sorcery novels today. He is the anti-Conan; a frail, albino sorcerer from the decadent kingdom of Melneboné, addicted to drugs to stay alive and to the demon black sword Stormbringer, which both fills him with strength and compels him to kill so that it might eat the souls of his victims. Adjectives frequently used to describe him include "cursed," "tortured" and most of all "doomed." He is totally emo. Elric was most popular in the 1970's, when Blue Oyster Cult wrote a song about him ("Black Blade") and Dave Sim parodied him in the comic book Cerebus as "Elrod of Melvinbone." Yet, with new additions of the books coming out, the prospect of a movie and Moorcock now writing new Elric adventures, the albino seems to be having a resurgence of attention.

Who Cares About the Nobel Prize?

One of the things that has had the lit blogosphere all abuzz is the Nobel Prize secretary Horace Engdahl's remarks that "The U.S. is too isolated, too insular. They don’t translate enough and don’t really participate in the big dialogue of literature," indicating that an American writer would not be getting the big prize this year. People are up in arms, saying that the Nobel Prize committee has "no clue" about American literature. However, to me the whole thing begs a larger question. Why do we care who wins a Nobel, anyway?

Over and over again, we hear the litany of great 20th century writers who never received the prize; Joyce, Kafka, Nabokov, etc. The implication in this list is that the Nobel has to go to writers who really matter and when it doesn't it's some kind of great tragedy. Yet, looking back on the list of laureates past, does it really seem like the creme de la creme is always represented? Sure, you've got Hemingway, Faulkner, Yeats, Mann, Eugene O'Neil and Gabrial Garcia Márquez. But you've also got dozens of names that even the extremely well-read will have never heard of, and also writers, such as Rudyard Kipling, whose star has long since fallen. There's even the occasional touch of the ridiculous, as with the award to Winston Churchill.

Why are we so hung up on awards? If you win one, you have it appended to your name; Jack Nicholson is now Academy Award-Winner Jack Nicholson. Likewise, José Saramago is really Nobel Laureate José Saramago, as if the award conferred some kind of divine rechristening like God changing the name of Abram. Yet, at the same time it's common to debate whether someone deserved an award, whether there were politics involved, whether the award-givers were trying to make some kind of statement. And when someone disagrees with an award, out comes the declamation "Awards are meaningless," to be widely agreed with by all within earshot.

Why do we care if the Nobel people don't understand our American literature? Most of America doesn't understand American literature at this point. Don't we have bigger things to worry about?

Open Letter to David Foster Wallace's Literary Executor

To Whom it May Concern,

I don't yet know who might be inheriting the job of dealing the with David Foster Wallace Nachlass but whoever you are out there in the world, this is a request to you. Let me be frank and to the point: Let us see it all.

Not knowing how much remains unpublished of Wallace's work, not knowing what provisions he may have made or requests he may have left for whoever it falls to to see to the administration of his remaing material, I think it needs to be said that we want it, and that in my opinion there is no way that the publication of any juvenalia, unfinished manuscripts, rejected by the author incomplete essays, or abandoned novels will in any way harm the legacy of the greatest American writer of the last 50 years.

My reasons for believing this are as follows:

1.) Wallace's brilliance is fixed in literary history by his already published work. It would have been fixed by Infinite Jest alone, but that in concert with A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, Girl with Curious Hair, Oblivion and Everything and More (which has been unjustly panned in this writer's estimation) has established an unassailable legacy of fine literary output. Anything additional, published correctly and with the understood caveat that it may not be up to the author's standards for his own work, will only add to our understanding of a literary giant the understanding of whom should be the work of anyone who cares about American letters. In short, the publication of everything can do no damage.