Round-Up

Sorry about the radio silence all week. To make up for it, it's time for a Wet Asphalt Super 'Round the Web Round Up:

First up, the Guardian gives us a wonderful essay about James Baldwin's time in Paris, and how it reflected on his novels and his decision to move back to the States.

The Reading Experience finds academic criticism unreadable, because it seems to only be aimed at other academics and entirely consumed with a dialog that people outside of the Academy have no knowledge of or interest in, criticism that comments on criticism commenting on criticism ad nauseam. I have to agree with this for the most part; after all, academic criticism is what produces the unreadable garbage pumped out by Judith Butler (as a less-than-arbitrary example). This is exactly why we need intelligent, thoughtful criticism outside of the academy. Like on the Internet, for instance...

Ed Champion reminds us to read a book! Read a book! Read a mother-fucking book!

The American Scholar wonders if we shouldn't be more permissive about love between professors and pupils. This essay also has a telling summary of the professor-student relationship cliché found over and over again in film, from Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolfe to Wonder Boys:

What’s going on here? If the image of the absent-minded professor stood for benevolent unworldliness, what is the meaning of the new academic stereotype? Why are so many of these failed professors also failed writers? Why is professional futility so often connected with sexual impropriety? (In both Terms of Endearment and We Don’t Live Here Anymore, "going to the library" becomes a euphemism for "going to sleep with a student.") Why are these professors all men, and why are all the ones who are married such miserable husbands?

Meanwhile, in Locus, Cory Doctorow discusses futuristic vs. futurismic.

SF films and TV are great fonts of futurismic imagery: R2D2 is a fully conscious AI, can hack the firewall of the Death Star, and is equipped with a range of holographic projectors and antipersonnel devices — but no one has installed a $15 sound card and some text-to-speech software on him, so he has to whistle like Harpo Marx. Or take the Starship Enterprise, with a transporter capable of constituting matter from digitally stored plans, and radios that can breach the speed of light.

The non-futurismic version of NCC-1701 would be the size of a softball (or whatever the minimum size for a warp drive, transporter, and subspace radio would be). It would zip around the galaxy at FTL speeds under remote control. When it reached an interesting planet, it would beam a stored copy of a landing party onto the surface, and when their mission was over, it would beam them back into storage, annihilating their physical selves until they reached the next stopping point. If a member of the landing party were eaten by a green-skinned interspatial hippie or giant toga-wearing galactic tyrant, that member would be recovered from backup by the transporter beam. Hell, the entire landing party could consist of multiple copies of the most effective crewmember onboard: no redshirts, just a half-dozen instances of Kirk operating in clonal harmony.

The most interesting part of this essay is Doctorow's notion that people's vision of the future is directly related to how people feel while they are imagining it.

Futurism has a psychological explanation, as recounted in Harvard clinical psych prof Daniel Gilbert's 2006 book, Stumbling on Happiness. Our memories and our projections of the future are necessarily imperfect. Our memories consist of those observations our brains have bothered to keep records of, woven together with inference and whatever else is lying around handy when we try to remember something. Ask someone who's eating a great lunch how breakfast was, and odds are she'll tell you it was delicious. Ask the same question of someone eating rubbery airplane food, and he'll tell you his breakfast was awful. We weave the past out of our imperfect memories and our observable present

Bloggasm discusses the weirdness behind Amazon.com's most frequent reviewer, Harriet Klausner, who reviews "an average of four books a day, seven days a week".

On a depressing note, the Reading Experience (again) looks at an anthology devoted entirely to short stories begging to be made into movies, a kind of "American Idol brought into print." Sigh.

And lastly, is Harry Potter a bastion of psychological realism, revealing everything that's lacking in contemporary literary fiction?