Alternative Visions, Radical Imagination

When Science Fiction Stopped Caring About the Future
by Noah Berlatsky, The Atlantic

Over here is Le Guin, taking a stand for science fiction on the grounds that “we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine some real grounds for hope.” And over here is Star Wars, showing you more pictures of the Millennium Falcon. So much for Le Guin’s call to elevate creators who know “the difference between the production of a market commodity and the practice of an art.”

writing & reading, democracy & despotism 
by Kenan Malik, Pandaemonium

Ursula Le Guin
‘Resistance and change often begin in art’

Hard times are coming, when we’ll be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine real grounds for hope. We’ll need writers who can remember freedom – poets, visionaries – realists of a larger reality.

Right now, we need writers who know the difference between production of a market commodity and the practice of an art. Developing written material to suit sales strategies in order to maximise corporate profit and advertising revenue is not the same thing as responsible book publishing or authorship.

Yet I see sales departments given control over editorial. I see my own publishers, in a silly panic of ignorance and greed, charging public libraries for an e-book six or seven times more than they charge customers. We just saw a profiteer try to punish a publisher for disobedience, and writers threatened by corporate fatwa. And I see a lot of us, the producers, who write the books and make the books, accepting this – letting commodity profiteers sell us like deodorant, and tell us what to publish, what to write.

Books aren’t just commodities; the profit motive is often in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism, its power seems inescapable – but then, so did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art. Very often in our art, the art of words.

The full text of the talk was published in the Guardian; there is also a video of the talk.

Science Fiction and the Post-Ferguson World: “There Are as Many Ways to Exist as We Can Imagine”
by Mary Hansen, YES!

Again, this is why we need science fiction. We often can’t imagine that things could be different because we can’t imagine alternative systems. Ursula LeGuin just gave an incredible speech at the National Book Awards, where she talked about this and said people can’t imagine a world without capitalism. Well, there was a time when people couldn’t imagine a world without the divine right of kings.

But the writers, the visionaries, those folks who are able to imagine freedom are absolutely necessary to opening up enough space for folks to imagine that there’s a possibility to exist outside of the current system.

I think it’s been a concerted effort to erase those possibilities. These systems that we live under are incredibly unnatural. This is not the way we’re supposed to live. It takes indoctrination to get us to a point where we believe that this is the way things should be. When we take a small step outside that, we are able to break that indoctrination and see that this is not the only way, and in fact there are as many ways to exist as we can imagine.

 

 

“Kids who hunt, fish, and trap don’t mug little old ladies.”

“Kids who hunt, fish, and trap don’t mug little old ladies.”
~ bumper sticker

“Since we saw this sticker on a car parked on a busy street in a densely urban area, clearly the intent here was to warn passersby to be on their guard against kids who don’t hunt, fish, and trap, since those are the likely muggers. So, when you’re walking through the city streets, seek children carrying rifles, fishing rods, and steel-toothed spring-loaded traps, and stay close to those children.”
~ The Kids Are to Blame, the stoneslide corrective

It is a humorous bumper sticker, when you give it a bit of thought. But it wasn’t intended to be humorous. It’s entirely unself-conscious in its inane logic.

I saw this bumper sticker the other day. My immediate response was to be dismissive. The argument falls apart. It is not meant to be thought about. It is a declaration of belief.

That is the key point. I suspect that even the owner of the vehicle realized that the statement isn’t true. The person probably isn’t stupid. Likely just an average person. It simply expresses what they wish was true. It isn’t just a statement of belief, but also a narrative. It is fiction and requires suspension of disbelief. It is a comforting lie, an idle fantasy.

I was thinking along these lines because of some research I came across earlier this year. The basic conclusion was that a lot of political polarization is superficial. It is cheerleading, a declaration of one’s group affiliation. But if there is money on the line incentivizing accurate information, it turns out most Americans disagree a lot less. They know what is true while pretending to believe all kinds of crazy shit.

This is human nature. It isn’t even that people are lying about what they know. It’s just that the brain compartmentalizes thinking. People honestly don’t normally notice the discrepancies between what they want to believe is true and what they know is true. It’s not deception and it isn’t stupidity. The human mind has its own priorities. Many of these priorities are social, rather than rational, the former typically trumping the latter, unless some tangible gain is offered to reverse the order of priority.

We all do this. And we all are oblivious to it. Self-awareness is no easy task.

We can choose

“I wanted us to understand what we could be, what we could do. I wanted to give us a focus, a goal, something big enough, complex enough, difficult enough, and in the end, radical enough to make us become more than we ever have been. We keep falling into the same ditches, you know? I mean, we learn more and more about the physical universe, more about our own bodies, more technology, but somehow, down through history, we go on building empires of one kind or another, then destroying them in one way or another. We go on having stupid wars that we justify and get passionate about, but in the end, all they do is kill huge numbers of people, maim others, impoverish still more, spread disease and hunger, and set the stage for the next war. And when we look at all of that in history, we just shrug our shoulders and say, well, that’s the way things are. That’s the way things always have been.” [ . . . ]

“There seem to be solid biological reasons why we are the way we are. If there weren’t, the cycles wouldn’t keep replaying. The human species is a kind of animal, of course. But we can do something no other animal species has ever had the option to do. We can choose: We can go on building and destroying until we either destroy ourselves or destroy the ability of our world to sustain us. Or we can make something more of ourselves. We can grow up. We can leave the nest.”

Butler, Octavia E. (2012-07-24). Parable of the Talents (p. 358). Open Road Media. Kindle Edition.

A Useless Wrapper

Mike loved candy. He always had a stash of sweets at hand, and it was a short distance from hand to mouth.

More than anything, Mike liked to indulge his sugar addiction with hard candy, letting the sugar form a thick layer of deliciousness upon his teeth. Years of this activity caused his teeth to slowly decay and in their place grew new teeth of crystalized sugar.

Mike’s sugar-based diet had taken a toll on his health. He now lay dying, too weak to even lift another piece of candy to his mouth. Still, he felt no repentance for his gluttony. His last breath escaped him like a belch after a long gulp of pop.

God reached down into his stash of humans. ‘This one is ripe’, God said as he latched onto Mike’s limpid form.

God plucked the sugary teeth from Mike’s mouth. ‘No use for the wrapper’ God muttered, crumpling the now useless corpse and tossing it down toward hell. Mike’s discarded flesh dropped through the heavenly regions, a lonesome soul on a lonesome journey, downward and further down.

A passing angel took notice, swooped in on mighty wings, and used its talons to grasp the curious object falling from above. With a single thrust of wings, the angel returned to its perch among the clouds.

The angel added this new find to its nest, placing it with great care just in the right spot alongside some moss and a piece of string. Before the angel nestled down, Mike looked around and thought to himself, ‘The clouds look like cotton candy’.

Literary Loss of Faith: Literary Criticism as Doomsaying

I noticed the article Has Fiction Lost Its Faith? by Paul Elie in The New York Times. It initially interested me, but the more I thought about it I felt irritated by it. I did like the idea about making belief believable, as Flannery O’Connor originally explained it.

What irritated me was the simplistic conclusion. It reminded me of the articles I constantly come across about the world coming to an end in some way or another. Books will disappear and along with it reading. Before that, people worried books would make oral culture disappear. Before that, people worried oral culture would make cave paintings disappear. People used to fear-monger about how the first land-line telephones would destroy American society and corrupt the youth. Then they said that about the television, and then cable, and then the internet.

It just goes on and on endlessly. The world is always ending and yet it never ends. The world of faith, of miracles, of gods ruling on earth, of humans and animals as a brotherhood, of the fairyland still being accessible, etc; all of it is always in the past, always declining, always disappearing. For as long as civilization has existed, there have been prophets of doom proclaiming the decline of civilization or some particular tradition.  It has been millennia of failed predictions and disproven criticisms.

This article expresses a related kind of rhetoric. The hypothesis stated as fact is that faith is disappearing from literature and that this somehow implies a deeper problem or malaise, a societal corruption or moral decline or weakening of serious thought, or something like that. People have been worrying about the loss of faith at least since the Protestant Reformation and probably long before that. This obsession is particularly strong in America where religion has had some of the strongest roots in all the world. If faith truly was weakening, no one would even write an article like this or want to read it because no one would give a flying fuck.

I don’t have a dog in this fight. I’m neither religious nor anti-religious. It’s not the substance of the argument that annoys me, rather the style and structure of it. It’s so simplistic and predictable, so tired and cliché. If society is collapsing from internal decay, it is weak journalism like this that is a sign of the coming apocalypse… except journalism has always been this way, as long as journalism has existed… so, I guess no apocalypse for the time being. I’ve always thought that if and when civilization finally collapses or modern Western society declines to a point of no return, it probably would come from a confluence of events and conditions that no one would or could foresee.

I doubt that there are fewer authors of faith. A better query might be: Have the literary gatekeepers lost their faith? If the great Christian writers of the past were writing today, would they be published by the major publishing companies, would the mainstream critics review their works, and would they make it on Oprah’s book club list?

Then again, I don’t even know that those are good questions. This article, after all, was published in the mainstream media. It is a literary gatekeeper who, in his dual role as journalist and fiction writer, is complaining about this literary loss of faith. It’s like Republicans claiming other Republicans are secret Democrats for not being right-wing enough or nationally viewed MSM pundits complaining about the MSM being liberally biased. It’s a rhetorical trick to manipulate one’s audience.

In this case, the critic of literary loss of faith is setting the stage for his upcoming novel about faith. This means he is offering the solution to the problem he portrays as a threat. How convenient.

In criticism of the article, the following are two good responses.

D.G. Myers writes in The Novel of Belief:

It is not immediately clear why a setting in the past should disqualify any novel from the category “of belief.” Perhaps the greatest religious novel ever written by an American—Willa Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop—is also set in the past. [ . . . ] There have been enough historical novels of religious faith written by Americans that Elie’s demand for contemporaneity begins to seem arbitrary.

[ . . . ] Elie also stipulates that the novel of belief be a novel of Christian belief, which leaves out of account the remarkable turn toward religion on the part of Jewish novelists [ . . . ]

There is no possible stipulation, however, which can explain Elie’s neglect of Christopher R. Beha’s extraordinary What Happened to Sophie Wilder. I’ve called the novel a modern saint’s life. It has everything Elie is looking for—the living language of religious faith, a distinct and conclusive personal transformation under the influence of the Holy Spirit, the acceptance of religion’s explanatory power, a commitment to the established Church instead of the Do-It-Yourself religiosity that so many Americans seem to prefer, an ethical quandary that is directly caused by Christian faith, an emphatic and unembarrassed Roman Catholic character, and best of all, it is entirely contemporary in its setting—but its author is young and not yet famous (he will be), his publisher is a small house (not like Elie’s own Farrar, Straus & Giroux), and it does nothing whatever to confirm the trend away from novelistic belief which Elie is at such pains to illustrate. Even worse, Beha’s novel may be part of a countervailing trend toward anew Catholic fiction, which rejects the literary Catholicism of Flannery O’Connor for predecessors like Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh instead.

Abe Rosenzweig comments (from an article by Dominic Preziosi):

To be honest, this is the sort of “trend piece” one expects from the Times. He sort of takes a James Woodsian tour of recent fiction (Delillo! McCarthy!), meaning that he seems stuck on Big House publications, and his dismissal of Robinson seems wholly contrived along the rather arbitrary parameter that works set in the past must be dismissed (seriously, Robinson is one of the most lauded of contemporary authors, and her work is driven by Christianity; his rejection of her is just silly). Also, of course, is the simple fact that he’s not actually interested in works dealing with faith, but rather works that deal with (and are motivated by) Christian faith (equating “faith” with “Christian” is, of course, a typically Christian move).

I also find myself wondering what the point of the piece is. I don’t see how it could really be part of a program (reinvigorating Christian literature?); it seems to just be another soft lament for the fact that the Sikhs are next door.

 

 

 

Cronenberg, Burroughs, and Dick

Cronenberg, Burroughs, and Dick

Posted on Jan 1st, 2009 by Marmalade : Gaia Child Marmalade

David Cronenberg is a director whose movies I often enjoy.  A favorite weird movie of mine is Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch which is loosely based on the novel by William S. Burroughs.  He definitely brought his own touch to that story and there are some common themes with his other movies: mixing of machine and biology, sexuality, the grotesque, etc. 

I’m not sure which movie he first developed these themes, but Videodrome was one of his early movies.  I was just watching eXistenZ which also uses these themes.  Its a decent movie if you’re into dark violent visions of artificial realities. 

What inspired me to write this blog is that there is a scene where the two main characters bought some fast food.  The name on the bag was Perky Pat’s which is a direct reference to the Philip K. Dick story.  The story is about how people get obsessed about the game that their lives revolve around it.  Cronenberg takes this idea in a different direction, but I’m sure PKD would’ve appreciated what he did with it.

Basically, I was just pointing out Cronenberg as one of the contemporary meeting points between WSB and PKD.

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Nicole : wakingdreamer

about 20 hours later

Nicole said

that must be some movie!

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

about 22 hours later

Marmalade said

I watched eXistenZ again for a couple of reasons. Quentin S. Crisp mentioned it in his blog recently. Crisp thought it was the best alternative reality movie ever, but I’m not sure what he was comparing it to. After reading Crisp’s comment, I happened to be at the library where I noticed a copy and so checked it out.

I’m glad I did. I had more respect for it watching it again. Cronenberg does play with some fairly deep ideas. The first time I watched eXistenZ I thought of it as nothing but a novel SciFi action flick. I personally don’t agree with Crisp that its the best, but I disagree because I don’t feel that its directly comparable to other alternative reality movies such as The Matrix Trilogy or Dark City.

Nicole : wakingdreamer

1 day later

Nicole said

right, how can you really compare these movies? so, worth watching then?

Marmalade : Gaia Child

1 day later

Marmalade said

I doubt you’d like much that Cronenberg has made. He has made a lot of films though, and I haven’g watched most of them. I was reading the description of M. Butterfly and you might enjoy it.

Cronenberg is most famous for the movieThe Fly. That is more representative of his oeuvre. I find many of his movies fascinating, but the only one that I’ve watched repeatedly many times is Naked Lunch.

There is a couple reasons.

First, it felt a lot more polished than his earlier movies. He really was taking his favorite themes to a new level… maybe because he was using the work of another artist as the starting point.

Secondly, I’m also attracted to this movie because its a portrayal of Burroughs novel which itself is a fictional portrayal of part of his own life. Petter Weller plays the part of William Lee (Burroughs) perfectly. Both my friend and I are longtimefans of Borroughs, and so I’ve watched this movie with him numerous times.

Nicole : wakingdreamer

3 days later

Nicole said

it’s great you have such a friend, Marm. It enriches these experiences.

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

3 days later

Marmalade said

I’m sure I’d be a different person if not for him. If it weren’t for our friendship, I probably wouldn’t have the interest I have in fiction.

We have this odd pattern. Often, when one of us is reading fiction, the other is reading non-fiction. As I was wanting to get back into fiction, I was telling him he needs to stop reading fiction all of the time.

Also, you can entirely blamemy friend forall of my blogging about horror. He reads horror all of the time and tells me about the stories. I wouldn’t even know about Quentin S. Crisp if it wasn’t for him.

It is rather strange to have had a close friend since childhood. Its seems rather uncommon in these days of people moving around all of the time. It also helps that neither of us is marriednorhas acareer. Life is good! lol

Nicole : wakingdreamer

4 days later

Nicole said

LOL!

Marmalade : Gaia Child

4 days later

Marmalade said

Hey Nicole – I’ve been noticing a new glitch in the system. All my recent posts show up as missing spaces between words. I can fix it by editing, but its seems an odd glitch. Have you noticed this happening to your comments?

Nicole : wakingdreamer

5 days later

Nicole said

No. But I have noticed extra indents. We seem to be having the opposite problems 🙂

William S. Burroughs as a Character

William S. Burroughs as a Character

Posted on Dec 30th, 2008 by Marmalade : Gaia Child Marmalade
Burroughs is different from Philip K. Dick.  Whereas PKD was the first to use himself as a character, Burroughs had been made a character before he even was published himself. 

That would be a tough act to follow.  He had the shadow of someone else’s fame over him (Kerouac), and the popularity and mythos of the whole Beat movement.  Burroughs had to attempt to claim himself not only as a writer but also as his own person.  Fortunately, he wasn’t one to follow on the coattails of the fame of others.  He was certainly a way better writer than Kerouac, and he was quite distinct from all of the Beat writers.

Finding works that Burroughs is in is rather difficult.  I’m not sure how many books in which Kerouac placed a Burroughs character, and it wouldn’t surprise me if other Beats had also used him as a character.  Burroughs is much more a cultural icon than PKD.  I don’t know how to even begin to seek out fictional works that feature him, but I’ll offer what little I know at present.

As far as I can figure, William S. Burroughs first appeared as Bill Lee in Kerouac’s On the Road.  Burroughs used this name later in his own work.  He might of initially used it in Junky which he did intentionally to play off of Kerouac’s work.  He chose to continue this mythologizing.  He later used this name in other Works such as Naked Lunch which was supposedly a name given it by Kerouac.  I don’t know if there are any other names that Burroughs went by in his fiction or the fiction of others.

Novels:

The works of Jack Kerouac

Move Under Ground by Nick Mamatas
(A recent novel that mixes the mythos of the Beats with the Mythos of Lovecraft’s Cthulu.)

Movies:

Drugstore Cowboy written and directed by Gus Van Sant
(Burroughs acts the character of a defrocked priest named Tom.  He is loosely playing a character that is a mix of himself and his own fictional characters.)

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Philip K. Dick as a Character

Philip K. Dick as a Character

Posted on Dec 27th, 2008 by Marmalade : Gaia Child Marmalade
Besides PKD making himself a character in his own work (ie VALIS as Horselover Fat), I wanted to list all of the books that have used him as a fictional character.  I decided to create this list because I haven’t seen a complete list anywhere online which is quite impressive considering how many websites relate to PKD’s work.  There might be more, but here are the only books I’ve discovered so far.

Novels:

Philip K. Dick is Dead, Alas by Michael Bishop

The Word of God by Thomas M. Disch

Pandemonium by Daryl Gregory

Anthology of short stories:

Welcome to Reality: The Nightmares of Philip K Dick edited by Uwe Anton

Edit: I removed Philip K. Dick High by David Bischoff because I’m not sure that PKD is actually a character in it.  Maybe I’ll read it someday to find out.  It was this review I was looking at and he mentioned a book of short stories I added to the list.

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Quentin S. Crisp: Fiction Writer and Blogger

Quentin S. Crisp: Fiction Writer and Blogger

Posted on Dec 23rd, 2008 by Marmalade : Gaia Child Marmalade
A favorite writer of mine is Quentin S. Crisp.  He is a fiction writer, but I admit I haven’t read much of his fiction.  He is moreso a favorite writer of my friend.  I primarily know him through his blog writings and I will say he is my favorite blogger.  He shares many of my interests and views.  I think he was raised by a psychotherapist or something.  Maybe that is the reason that, despite his occasional cynicism, he has a very accepting and easygoing attitude about life.  He is often designated as a horror writer, but does’t like that designation.  He is more just a weird write with dark streak.

I like how he is usually very reserved and humble about his opinions.  He has written that he doesn’t take his opinions as ultimate truths but simply what makes sense to him in the given moment.  I like what he says here(this is from the comments section of one of his blogs):

Actually, I feel like adding that, although I used the word ‘pessimistic’ at one point, I don’t really think of myself as pessimistic. I know some people do, because they’ve told me. But for me to call myself that would suggest I had some preformed pessimistic bent to which I wished to shape any conclusion. I don’t. I actually have a sense of enormous potential within existence, which seems, rather tiresomely, to be thwarted again and again by human stupidity, my own included. Some people have tried to find the way out of this trap but it tends to turn to the way back in, because as soon as they call themselves ‘right’ and start preaching about it, it all goes wrong. I suppose that’s why I prefer to be wrong from the start, to be a ‘lost cause’ and to write fiction rather than philosophy.

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Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

37 minutes later

Marmalade said

Its funny how similar he is to me. He admires Ligotti and Burroughs, two very dark and cynical writers. But he also reads writers like Tolle.

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

about 2 hours later

Marmalade said

Its true, though, that I’m much less reluctant to philosophize than he is. I don’t find that I ve to assume I’m entirely right before stating my opinions. Even so, I get what he means about the difference between fiction as compared to philosophy, but some writers even let their ideology rule their fiction.

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

3 days later

Marmalade said

I have a comment that I’ll put here because it more or less relates. Crisp and Ligotti are of that common variety of great varieties that are mostly unknown. I’m not surewhat that says about ourculture, but it doesn’t seem to be uncommon for great artists to die poor.

Fortunately, Philip K. Dick escaped this fate near the end of his life. Crisp and Ligotti may yet escape this fate also. They’ve both been stuck in the small press world where actually some of the best writers get published and where many writers get their start.

Anyways, I mentioned Ligotti because he is another horror (or weird to be more exact) writer. Crisp admires Ligotti as many writers do. And if any dark weirdwriter could make it out of small press horror and getsomewhere near the mainstream (even if only the genre mainstream),I’d be willing to bet onLigotti.

It seems he may be have gotten a toe in. I was at the bookstore and noticed an anthology which was I believe titled The New Weird edited by Vandermeer. Vandermeer is a major force in the cross-genre field sometimes called Slipstream amongst other things. It makes sense that Ligotti is included. Horror writers have too long been stuck in their very small genre, and too many writers get labelled as horror never to escape. Crisp and Ligotti write stories that go beyond traditional horror even if horror might describe the general mood of many of their stories.

I likea lotof the writers that get into these new anthologies. I prefer stories that don’t easily fit into genre conventions which simply means that the authors are attempting to push the limits of imagination. I’ll have to blog about this later on.

Fiction and Non-fiction, Gnosticism and the Gothic

Fiction and Non-fiction, Gnosticism and the Gothic

Posted on Dec 23rd, 2008 by Marmalade : Gaia Explorer Marmalade
I have an equal interest in fiction and nonfiction.  They often feel in confict and they can have very different effect on me.  I tend to obsess on one or the other.  In recent years, I’ve been more focused on nonfiction, but I’m slowly switching back into a mood for fiction.

I don’t see them as fundamentally in conflict.  My favorite writers are those that combine fiction and nonfiction.  This is my interest in William S. Burroughs and Philip K. Dick, but its also the reason for my more recent interest in “horror” writers such as Thomas Ligotti and Quentin S. Crisp.

There are various aspects in common.  As I said, they all combined fiction and nonfiction, but they also wrote them separately.  Besides all of this, the most obvious similaity is the Gothic.  The Gothic definitely applies to the horror writers, but the Gothic isn’t limited to the horror genre.  The other connection is Gnosticism.  PKD helped to popularize Gnosticism only to maybe a slightly lesser degree than Jung had.  Gnostic themes and references are found throughout the works of WSB, TL and QSP.

What has brought all of this together in my mind are several nonfiction books that have been occupying my mind particularly past year or so.  One book is The Secret Lives of Puppets by Victoria Nelson, and two books by Eric G. Wilson (The Melancholy Android, and Secret Cinema).  Wilson was influenced by Nelson and I always think of these authors together.  Both of these authors write about PKD, and Nelson mentions WSB a couple of times.  Both focus on the the fantastical and horrific in fiction.  Both write about Gnosticism and Wilson goes into great detail about the connection between Gnosticism, the Gothic and the genres.

I won’t go in more detail right now.  I just wanted to set down where my thoughts are at the moment.  This is a very personal nexus of my understanding of life.  Thinking about these authors is my way of contempating my place amidst a world of tremendous suffering.  I plan on blogging more about this soon as I clarify my ideas.

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