Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Jumping up and down on the fantasy bandwagon

In the Wall Street Journal, Alexandra Alter says that literary authors are "jump[ing] on the fantasy bandwagon" this summer. All manner of highbrows are now writing about werewolves, zombies, ghosts, and robots, and evidently raking in the cash. Some of us have in fact been riding this very bandwagon for years, hopping up and down and waving our arms; but if this "new" trend means that novels about domed cities, crackpot marketing schemes, the Apocalypse, Bigfoot, and kind-of-magical babies are now hip--and lucrative--then I am all for it. Have I mentioned that my novel is about a domed city, a crackpot marketing scheme, the Apocalypse, Bigfoot, and a kind-of-magical baby? And celebrities? OK, just checking.

Apart from yapping after the accelerating Audi of mainstream success, I suspect these literary authors are also taking post-post modernism in another, logical direction. Those who are congenitally suspicious of "realism" may be getting tired of self-consciously playing around with figurative language--with clouding the lens, as it were. (Though not me, God knows.) Entering the imagined worlds normally reserved for science fiction and fantasy is another way of saying, "What do you mean, 'represent reality'? No, really, what do you mean?" Probably more readers will enjoy this second way of asking the question.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Where the real resides

From the Paris Review's interview with Ann Beattie:

The interplay between character and external world is something that realist writers always dealt with conscientiously, and it started to drop out with minimalism. Hemingway dropped it out, too, but even in his stories there tends to be a volley going on between the environment and the character. Carver won’t say what the volley is. None of us will.

I guess you might say that minimalism resides in certain omissions, in trusting, à la Beckett, that if you give the sparest sort of context—two people in a trash can, a road at night—it will be like a dreamscape for people’s projections.

This is very well said, and something I've been wondering about for quite awhile. What makes literary characters seem real to us? What forms the boundaries around character? What delineates it; what processes build it up? I've always thought the "volley" was an important component, and that squares with my being somewhat averse to minimalism. But Beattie's right; minimalists like Beckett (whom I love) trust the reader to supply the "dreamscape." To put it another way, the characters' interior depictions are strong and suggestive enough to inspire that dreamscape.

So who's to say which is a more realistic depiction of character or "the world"? We don't come across people in trash cans calmly discussing life every day, but for many readers and playgoers, that psychological reality is fully recognizable. Perhaps it's more so, because they're creating their own context to a larger degree.

Jess Row is getting at this same issue in his recent Boston Review piece. His point, well worth remembering, is that our sense of "realism" is culturally determined. In part, anyway. (There's quite a dust-up going on in the comments to this article. By God, people do care about literature.)

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The way we live now

Back, I hope, to the regular blogging schedule of Tuesdays and Thursdays.

On this Tuesday, I think it's worth contemplating the words of Cathy Davidson on the HASTAC blog, in response to Bill Keller's fears about Twitter and the human soul:

We are fifteen years into the commercialization of the Internet. We have all made tremendous adjustments to these new forms of technology and social media. I don't know about you but I do not need a new "study" to tell me my life has been changed by email, texting, blogging, tweeting, Facebooking, Wikipedia, eBay, Amazon.com, my iPad, my Blackberry, and on and on and on. It's NOT the Technology , Stupid! I hear James Carville shouting. It's about all of the ways life is changing and how technology facilitates, reshapes, redistributes the everyday patterns, facts, and habits of life. And it is about us figuring out the best ways to live given these rapid and continuing changes.

I agree that it's time to dispense with laments for the Before Time. This technology stuff is here to stay, and many of us--the relatively privileged, anyway--are now living a good chunk of our lives in the cloud. If that's an expression of a collective soul, we have the opportunity, and obligation, to discover its proper care and feeding. If the soul--the Internet--is dumb, we can make it less so by reading and writing better stuff. If the soul is vicious, we can make it kinder. And so forth. The message is the medium.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Space colony art from the 1970s

Commissioned by NASA.

I love these for the same reason I love the NASA logo itself, the one known as "The Meatball." It's the goofy more-is-more graphic optimism of the early space age. (I don't love the alternative logo, known as "The Worm," which has fortunately been retired.)

Of course I'm biased, since my dad worked for NASA. He was at the research center now known as Glenn, formerly Lewis. They used to have "For the Benefit of All Mankind" spelled out in begonias in front of the building.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Light needs darkness

I really enjoyed this TED talk on the relationships between darkness and light. It also confirmed my suspicion that institutional lighting can truly make people crazy.

(Link here.)