Senin, 11 November 2013

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Jumat, 25 Oktober 2013

Rob Zombie and the Cinema of Cruelty


I have a new video essay and accompanying text essay up at Press Play. This one, in honor of Halloween, is about the work of one of my favorite living directors, Rob Zombie. In it, I relate some writings by Antonin Artaud to some of what it seems to me Zombie is up to in his work.

One thing that struck me as I rewatched all of Zombie's movies over the space of just a couple days to create the essays was how very David Lynchian his last two films have become — Halloween II and The Lords of Salem both remind me of nothing so much as Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive.

Wonderbook


Other obligations have kept me away from blogging for a month, and though I fully intended to mark and celebrate the publication of Jeff VanderMeer's wondrous Wonderbook last week, time was not on my side.

I am biased toward Wonderbook because Jeff is a close friend, I was a consultant on the text, and I wrote some stuff for it. But I don't think my biases warp my perception of the book in this case, because it is just undeniably beautiful. Simply as an object, it's magnificent. (And I had nothing to do with the design, layout, or production, so I think I can be at least partially objective about that.) After Jeff sent me an advance copy, I told him I just kept carrying it around with me wherever I went so I could leaf through it. I'd seen a lot of the book before, but there's a huge difference between looking at it as a series of draft PDFs and holding the whole thing in your hands.

I think the text offers useful, new, and invigorating ideas about how to create fiction — or anything, really, because this is fundamentally a book about creativity, even if the example vehicle for creativity in it is fiction — but I couldn't possibly pretend to be unbiased there.

The accompanying website Wonderbooknow.com is also pretty darn great. I've got a couple pieces of writing there, too, but for a sense of what makes the website so great, I'd point in you first toward the Editors' Roundtable, the sample of the editing process Jeff's novel Shriek: An Afterword went through with the extraordinary editor Liz Gorinsky, and the various interviews with writers. There's tons more stuff available at the site, and it's worth taking the time to explore. It's a remarkably rich and generous website to accompany a breathtakingly original and rewarding book.

art by Scott Eagle for Wonderbook

Sabtu, 28 September 2013

You're Doing It Wrong in the Mirror

via Wikimedia Commons

We can argue about whether Hamlet is right or not when he claims that art holds a mirror up to nature. But let’s just say he is. Here’s what Hamlet doesn’t say: that art is a mirror you choose to pick up to see yourself. Art shows you a mirror. That thing you see in there isn’t supposed to be your pre-conceived self-image. It’s something strange, and alien, and scary, or ridiculous, or dull. But it’s something that demands engagement. And sometimes, it becomes something that you realize is in fact you — but that’s not meant to be a happy realization. If the thing you see when you look into a book looks exactly like what you think you look like, you’re doing it wrong.
—Holger Syme, "The Loneliness of the Old White Male"

Rabu, 18 September 2013

Gun Culture, USA

Another mass shooting.

And what comes then comes from my friends who love their guns? This, now making the rounds of the gun nut Facebook page nearest you:


Welcome to the world the NRA has created. Sure, some people demand that we do something!, but it's theatre. Nothing gets done. True, most of the proposals for what to do are hasty and only vaguely more informed than the above graphic. (I've long been skeptical that we can do much of anything about gun violence in the US, given the realities. Still, practical, reasonable measures could help — treat guns like cars, for instance. But such ideas are politically impossible.) The general lack of quality to our national conversation on guns is not some fluke. It was created and is sustained by wealthy interests. The NRA fundraises and fundraises, lobbies and lobbies. Their leaders will do their best to look sad and concerned and serious, but don't miss the dollar signs in their eyes. They've spent decades training a solid subset of their membership into paranoia, which for the NRA means training those people to respond to tragedies by sending money and spreading macho idiocy.

Funding for studies by the CDC of gun violence has fallen 96% since 1996. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, & Explosives has been crippled by the NRA's minions in Congress. Including blackmarket weapons, there are almost certainly more guns than people in the U.S., but they're owned by a minority of the population. And only a small group of that minority buys into the paranoid ideology of the NRA. But boy do they buy into it. They buy the gear and they buy the hooks, lines, and sinkers. They buy and they buy and they buy.


NRA's America's First Freedom magazine, November 2012
And the gun industry loves them. Paranoia equals profits for the manufacturers. The promoting of paranoia is strategic: the industry knows that gun ownership is declining, and so anything that encourages the core gun buyers to buy more and more and more means that profits are protected. Obama may have gotten no new laws (meaningful or symbolic) passed, but that doesn't mean people stopped believing he was going to send his Kenyan Socialist Gestapo to take all their guns. Sales (and prices) skyrocketed when he was elected and have continued to stay high, with any talk of gun control leading to more panicked buying — so much so that ammunition shortages have consistently arisen, generally whenever one of two things happens: 1.) Democrats are elected; 2.) a massacre dominates the headlines. (Of course, the shortages were really the fault of the government stockpiling to prevent honest, gun-loving citizens from protecting themselves!)

Want to make money even in a difficult economy? Get a Federal Firearms License and open a gun shop. The best locations are in states with lax gun laws of their own that border states with tougher gun laws. You'll get lots of loyal customers, many of them wealthy, from over the border. Stock mostly military-style guns and pistols, the sorts of things that the liberal politicians are always complaining about. Stoke your sense of being a rebel and also your sense of being an oppressed minority (nobody understands the healthy, Constitutional need for lots of guns except your friends and customers; even some of your family members may look askance; people judge you, they don't understand you, they probably want to disarm you and make you weak and vulnerable, but you'll show them, won't you?). Jack up your prices. Remind your customers that the jackbooted thugs will be confiscating these guns as soon as they can get their grubby pinko hands on them. Best to own ten. No, ten's too few. The more you own, the less likely it is that the people who fly the black helicopters will be able to find them all. And you know about the ammo shortages, right? Do you really want to be caught without enough ammo when the shit goes down? Don't you have a family to protect? Don't you have a sense of your own patriotic duty? Well, then, don't ever have fewer than 5,000 — no, preferably 10,000 rounds of ammo for each of your weapons. Because you never know. Have you heard what they're talking about in Congress? Have you seen the latest bulletin from the NRA? Well, then you know things are dire, friend. Maybe you should buy another. Just in case. You never know...

And then you, the owner of the gun store, can sit back and count your cash. Sure, some of your customers will kill themselves, some of the family members of your customers will kill themselves, and some of those folks might even kill other people. But so it goes. Profit is American.

Don't tell anybody, but be sure to vote for Democrats. Business isn't all that great when a Republican is president. The customers get complacent and some of them begin to wonder what they need all those guns for, all that ammo. Encourage your customers to help the NRA, but you yourself should probably donate to the Brady Campaign, because it does wonders for business. You can spew all sorts of toxic rhetoric about them in the shop, but you know that the people who publicly call for major gun control laws are helping to make you rich. Enjoy the irony. Enjoy the money. Enjoy the tragedies.

Selasa, 17 September 2013

For a Trans-Inclusive Feminism & Womanism

We are committed to recognizing and respecting the complex construction of sexual/gender identity; to recognizing trans* women as women and including them in all women’s spaces; to recognizing trans* men as men and rejecting accounts of manhood that exclude them; to recognizing the existence of genderqueer, non-binary identifying people and accepting their humanity; to rigorous, thoughtful, nuanced research and analysis of gender, sex, and sexuality that accept trans* people as authorities on their own experiences and understands that the legitimacy of their lives is not up for debate; and to fighting the twin ideologies of transphobia and patriarchy in all their guises. [read more]
I agree with everything in the new "Statement of Trans-Inclusive Feminism and Womanism", and so just sent my name in to be added to the list of signers. The statement is well-written and thoughtful, a nice counter to the reckless, hateful statements and actions of certain people who have taken to calling themselves "radical feminists". Here's to a wondrous diversity of gendericity!

Thanks to Cheryl Morgan for sharing the link. If you want to sign on, here's the info:
If you are a blogger/writer/academic/educator/artist/activist/otherwise in a position to affect feminist or womanist discourse or action and you would like to sign on to this statement, let us know!  You can use the form on the contact page or you can email us at feministsfightingtransphobia1@gmail.com.  We’d love to hear from you.

Minggu, 15 September 2013

"Everything is contingent, of course, on what you take yourself to be."


From "James Baldwin, The Art of Fiction No. 78" at The Paris Review:

INTERVIEWER
You read contemporary novels out of a sense of responsibility?

BALDWIN
In a way. At any rate, few novelists interest me—which has nothing to do with their values. I find most of them too remote for me. The world of John Updike, for instance, does not impinge on my world. On the other hand, the world of John Cheever did engage me. Obviously, I’m not making a very significant judgment about Updike. It’s entirely subjective, what I’m saying. In the main, the concerns of most white Americans (to use that phrase) are boring, and terribly, terribly self-centered. In the worst sense. Everything is contingent, of course, on what you take yourself to be.

INTERVIEWER
Are you suggesting they are less concerned, somehow, with social injustice?

BALDWIN
No, no, you see, I don’t want to make that kind of dichotomy. I’m not asking that anybody get on picket lines or take positions. That is entirely a private matter. What I’m saying has to do with the concept of the self, and the nature of self-indulgence which seems to me to be terribly strangling, and so limited it finally becomes sterile.

INTERVIEWER
And yet in your own writing you deal with personal experiences quite often.

BALDWIN
Yes, but—and here I’m in trouble with the language again—it depends upon how you conceive of yourself. It revolves, surely, around the multiplicity of your connections. Obviously you can only deal with your life and work from the vantage point of your self. There isn’t any other vantage point, there is no other point of view. I can’t say about any of my characters that they are utter fictions. I do have a sense of what nagged my attention where and when; even in the dimmest sense I know how a character impinged on me in reality, in what we call reality, the daily world. And then, of course, imagination has something to do with it. But it has got to be triggered by something, it cannot be triggered by itself.

INTERVIEWER
What is it about Emily Dickinson that moves you?

BALDWIN
Her use of language, certainly. Her solitude, as well, and the style of that solitude. There is something very moving and in the best sense funny. She isn’t solemn. If you really want to know something about solitude, become famous. That is the turn of the screw. That solitude is practically insurmountable.