According to Wikipedia,

A simulacrum is not a copy of the real, but becomes truth in its own right: the hyperreal. According to Baudrillard, what the simulacrum copies either had no original or no longer has an original, since a simulacrum signifies something it is not, and therefore leaves the original unable to be located.

When it comes to fiction, space is a simulacrum. For example, Ian McEwan’s novel is set during the Second World War. This conception of space is an imagined one that comes to stand in the place of any sense of reality.

Discussing John Baville’s Quirke series, Charles McGrath touches on the way in which space can act like a character in itself.

Banville, who is 74, grew up in County Wexford, which he thought boring and provincial. As a boy, he loved visiting an aunt in Dublin, which seemed much more vivid and exciting, and some of that romance lingers on in the Quirke books, in which the city itself — its sights and smells, its atmosphere of secrecy and repression, especially where matters of sex are concerned — is practically a character.

This is something that Leigh Sales’ also touches upon on the Chat 10, Looks 3 podcast in regards to the representation of the Northern Territory in Trent Dalton’s novel All Our Shimmering Skies. It is interesting to contrast this with the ‘best books set in each country‘.

Liked The D. H. Lawrence We Forgot by Frances Wilson (The New Yorker)

Essays like these further suggest that Lawrence invented the genre we call autofiction, though genre was irrelevant to him. Everything he wrote, as Dyer puts it, was a “kind of story,” and his stories, like Lawrence himself, were shape-shifters. His essays on writers, Dyer writes, “are also essays on places; essays on places are also pieces of autobiography.” In the same way, Lawrence’s poems are dramas, his dramas are memoirs, and his memoirs are novels. This last form was key: though Lawrence found stories everywhere, the novel was, for him, the “one bright book of life.” Four of the five essays on the novel in “The Bad Side of Books” were written in 1925, the year Lawrence was diagnosed with tuberculosis. As such, they are partly about the future of the novel and partly about the future of Lawrence.

Liked Revealed: the best book set in (almost) every country by Ellie Walker-Arnott (TimeOut)

Looking for a way to expand your horizons without actually leaving your flat? We hear ya. International travel isn’t on the cards for a lot of us at the moment, thanks to travel restrictions, quarantines and general 2020 anxiety. But there are still ways to explore our planet without getting on a plane.

This literary world map – a bookshelf made up of the most popular books set in (almost) every country on Earth – is a good place to start. It’s been compiled using Goodreads user ratings and reviews, and makes for a fascinating tour around the globe.

Bookmarked Chapter Books Rewritten to Reflect the Catastrophic Effects of Climate Change by Charlie Dektar (The New Yorker)

Charlie Dektar offers up satirical versions of children’s chapter books like “Harry Potter” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” adapted for the age of climate catastrophe.

Charlie Dektar rewrites some classic texts in light of the current pandemic. My two favourites where Charlie and the Chocolate Factory:

Augustus Gloop is an awful child,
Whom we would normally body-shame through song,
But what we’re more concerned about
Is land degradation and desertification,
Which led to the collapse of global supply chains
And drove Willy Wonka out of business,
Leading to our acquisition by Amazon,
Which renamed us “Amazon Sugars”
And only lets us make hard, salty nut rolls,
So enjoy the rest of your tour, led by Jeff Bezos,
I’m sure that it will be a lot of “fun,”

And Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe:

Once, there were four children, named Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy. They were all consumed by a plague of ancient diseases unleashed from the melting Siberian permafrost.

The end.

They go with some of the other literary responses associated with COVID-19.

Liked Jane Austen Was Not Fucking Around about Home School by Sarah Allison (Avidly)

Mansfield Park is both Exhibit A of white complicity with racist violence and a demand to recognize it. Fanny Price gets richly rewarded for being a person who kind of gets it. The victory of Fanny, who is introverted, unathletic, and often silent (except for occasional bursts of enthusiasm about nature), affords a different satisfaction from Elizabeth Bennet’s.

Replied to

Congratulations Fiona
Liked Resistance through Silence in Camus’s The Plague

The chronicle of Oran, besieged by rats, relates the travails of Dr. Rieux, a quiet hardworking medic during a time of a plague in “194–.” As Rieux’s job takes on broader public engagement, he befriends another taciturn man by the name of Tarrou. Together they take on the tasks of fighting the faceless bacterium, caring for the infected, counting the dead, sanitizing the city, and testing a new vaccine.

Underlying the actions of these two silent men is a greater philosophical point—one that is only made clear when Tarrou suggests to Rieux that “suppose we take an hour off—for friendship?” As they sit, the “silence returned” to the city, Tarrou extends the notion of the plague from a faceless, amoral microbe to the idea that people are its carriers; that in an epidemic, human actions have devastating, and mortal, consequences.

Bookmarked Pluralistic: 13 Aug 2020 by an author

When people ask me how I became an sf writer in the hopes of following in my footsteps, I’ve got bad news for them: I became an sf writer thanks to an utterly unique set of extremely beneficial circumstances that have never been replicated, and more’s the pity.

In light of his induction into the hall of fame, Cory Doctorow reflects upon his origin story. It makes me think that every origin story is unique. What stood out was that although Doctorow had support from a number of people his development involved keeping on going.
Bookmarked Mary Trump and the most shocking family secrets (BBC)

From Capote to Houellebecq, BD Hyman to Margaret Salinger, these are people who wrote not just their own stories but other people’s stories, sacrificing their family lives for a writer’s pleasure in getting published. Yet it doesn’t seem, in most cases, to have made them happy. Did they get what they wanted? To borrow the saying of St Teresa from which Truman Capote took the title of his scandalous work, more tears are shed over answered prayers than unanswered ones.

On the back of Mary Trump’s tell-all memoir about her family, including Donald, John Self explores a number of other past exposes involving JD Salinger, Bette Davis, Michel Houellebecq, Truman Capote. AS Byatt and Margaret Drabble
Liked How Penguin and Portnoy’s Complaint helped topple Australia’s book censorship system by Jane Lee ([object Object])

Eagle-eyed Mad Men fans might have spotted Don Draper reading Portnoy’s Complaint. The 1969 bestseller was deemed too obscene for Australian readers — but Penguin took a stand, setting up a historic showdown with a strict literary censorship regime.

Bookmarked I Am a Book Critic. Here’s What Is Wrong With “Black Lists” — and What Is Good.

It’s difficult to know, in the typical chicken-and-egg conundrum, the extent to which Amazon is driving the public discussion on race, or our public debate is driving Amazon sales. Are the “Black Lists” pushing traffic on Amazon to particular books, and then those books pick up steam through the Amazon algorithm and get even more prominence? Or are loafing critics and readers cribbing from Amazon? At any rate, the online behemoth continues to hawk products by prioritizing them according to strong sales history and high conversion rates. The tyranny of the algorithm worsens our collective mental sloth where race is concerned. This mixture of culture, publishing, and code conflates traffic analytics with quality, and algorithmic recommendations with urgency.

Rich Benjamin discusses some of the problems and limitations to lists of books responding to political turmoil, particularly the impact of recommendation algorithms.
Liked Stories Can Help Us Fly with Dr Denise Chapman

Children’s literature and other media can help children to build bridges and engage with people they may not encounter in their everyday lives and find connections to work together when they may not share common ground. Author Michele Norris notes, “Words are this connective tissue that allow us to listen and to find each other”, and I believe that stories that are representative of our society fuel us all forward towards social belonging and the liberation we all need.

Listened Why Willem Dafoe, Iggy Pop and more are reading The Rime of the Ancient Mariner to us from

Slavery, ecocide, plague … the warnings of Coleridge’s poem resound down the ages. Now 40 actors, musicians and authors are performing in a daily mass-reading

The University of Plymouth spent three years putting together a shared reading of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.

Philip Hoare summarises why this poem is so important.

It is not despite but because of its narcotic wildness that The Rime became one of the most referenced works of poetry ever. From Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, to Fleetwood Mac, Iron Maiden and Public Image Ltd’s “Albatross” – a screech of post-punk angst sung by John Lydon – it is the one poem that almost everyone can quote. Lines including “All creatures great and small” and “Water, water, everywhere” have become part of the lexicon.

via Jason Kottke

Liked The Lockdown Lessons of “Crime and Punishment” (The New Yorker)

Every day, in Trump’s America, it seemed as though we were coming closer to the annihilating turmoil—the mixed state of vexation and fear—in Raskolnikov’s dream. The disease was everywhere, and it only heightened our world’s fissures and inequities. More than a hundred thousand had died, tens of millions were unemployed, many were hungry, and, at times, the country appeared to be unravelling. Some spoke of racism as a “virus,” the American virus; and the language of disease, though it miscasts a human-made scourge as a natural phenomenon, captures just how profoundly it has infiltrated the life of the country. The President’s every statement, meanwhile, was designed to widen chaos. He spoke of the need to “dominate,” and many of us were determined not to be dominated. We would not lose our individuality, like the poor murderer in his exile. But neither could we escape responsibility for the mess we had made, a mess we had bequeathed to the students, and to all of the next generation. I kept returning to Dostoyevsky’s book, looking for signs of how collective purpose can heal social divisions and injustices, stoking hope and resolve alongside fear, anything that would overtake the desperate anomie that Raskolnikov’s dream had conjured: “In the cities, the bells rang all day long: everyone was being summoned, but no one knew who was summoning them or why.”

I have been dividing into the music of Oneohtrix Point Never lately. I remember when I first heard his music I struggled to find an entry point. At the time, it was not for me, I was in a different space. I love electronic music, but what I heard at the time did not gel. Of late, I have returned with new context and new interest. I remember having similar experiences with the art of Vermeer until I appreciated the innovation and Jane Austen until I realised that there was something beyond the BBC adaptations. In part, this is why ratings can be problematic.
Bookmarked The end of coronavirus: what plague literature tells us about our future (the Guardian)

From Thucydides to Camus, there are plenty of hopeful reminders that there’s nothing unprecedented about the coronavirus lockdown – and that pandemics do end

Marcel Theroux shares the hope that we will continue highlighted in plague literature through time.
Bookmarked Rebecca Solnit: On Letting Go of Certainty in a Story That Never Ends (Literary Hub)

Familiarity is a life raft or some floating trash we might mistake for a life raft, but the task isn’t to try to bellyflop onto the flotsam; it’s to swim. We are in the ocean and time is fluid and the waves will keep coming and there is a distinct possibility that this is okay. A little like Li Po’s poem about Chuang Tzu dreaming he’s a butterfly dreaming he’s Chuang Tzu, we are maybe dolphins dreaming that the  clarity and dry solidity of the desert is our natural habitat rather than where we’d scorch and wither, are beings under Prince Andrei’s illimitable sky sometimes yearning to be back in the box of the familiar and the predictable, sometimes, or sometimes that’s the house of love and the space we share with those we care about. Sometimes the right story is a bridge between the illimitable sky and the comfort of the intimate and an invitation to travel freely between them.

Rebecca Solnit reflects on the uncertainty associated with the current crisis and the solace she has found in fairy tales.

Underneath all the trappings of talking animals and magical objects and fairy godmothers are tough stories about people who are marginal, neglected, impoverished, undervalued, and isolated, and their struggle to find their place and their people.

For Solnit, these stories can help us contextualize the time and color it with brightness and hope.

It turns out that the powers that matter are attentiveness, innovative thinking, and alliance-building. They change their fate, which is to say it’s not fate or destiny at all, but an unwritten future that they seize authorship over. They don’t know what will happen, but they launch into uncertainty with the energy of participants.

This reminds me of Ed Yong’s discussion of the problem of narrative when confronting the current crisis, as well as Doug Belshaw’s return to Stoicism to ground himself.

Bookmarked Why London’s National Theatre Is Hooking Online Viewers (The Atlantic)

The intimate camerawork of its web broadcasts gives everyone the best seat in the house.

Daniel Pollack-Pelzner reflects on the pivot of plays online. He explains how such mediated experiences are different from the feeling of being their in the theatre.

As the performance scholar Sarah Bay-Cheng points out, “mediated theatre” that’s edited for a screen offers a very different sense of space, movement, and time than an in-person performance. Eight or so cameras get positioned around the theater, and there are two camera rehearsals before the broadcast. The show is recorded in a single take in front of an audience and broadcast live that night to movie theaters, with some delay for audiences in different time zones.

Speaking from a US perspective, Pollack-Pelzner also situates such broadcast from the perspective of the literacy canon and colonialism, suggesting that there is something to be said about the particular choices chosen to be broadcast.

broadcasts also reinforce a sense of the U.K. as the center of civilization, and cinematic outposts around the world as its fringes, a message reinforced by the particular plays NT Live chooses for export. Although the theater has, in recent years, become much more supportive of diverse artists, the broadcasts for NT at Home come straight out of the Victorian canon, a series of Shakespeare and 19th-century-novel adaptations: Twelfth Night, Antony and Cleopatra, Frankenstein, Jane Eyre, Treasure Island. What the National sends out under its banner, “the best of British theatre,” is more or less the same culture that the British empire used to enforce Englishness around the world a century and a half ago. London is still the metropole; I’m still regarding it fondly from a colonial outpost. It’s the very coziness, the domesticity, of NT at Home that makes its imperial echoes both so pervasive and so hard to hear.

This can be understood as being a part of a wider push back on the limits of streaming. Although there is a plethora of content available, whether it be museums, zoos or concerts, there has been a growing sense of push-back. For example, Chris DeVille argues that musical performances are often underwhelming:

Livestreams suck. Livestreams have always sucked. There are exceptions — when your favorite artist logs on, when something incredibly charming and unexpected happens — but in general, watching musicians perform onscreen from home is underwhelming and sometimes depressing. By necessity, the format has become a mainstay of the music industry during the coronavirus pandemic, which has only underlined how much the format sucks. There’s a reason the streamed concert platform StageIt was in dire financial peril before COVID-19 struck and why the world’s best and most popular musical artists didn’t typically lower themselves to the level of YouTube struggle-folkies until they had to. Under normal circumstances, when the live concert experience is available and people can safely leave their homes, livestreams are clearly an inferior alternative. They suck.

While Peter Schjeldahl reflects on the mark virtual tours of galleries will  leave on us, accompanying us spectrally.

Online “virtual tours” add insult to injury, in my view, as strictly spectacular, amorphous disembodiments of aesthetic experience. Inaccessible, the works conjure in the imagination a significance that we have taken for granted. Purely by existing, they stir associations and precipitate meanings that may resonate in this plague time.

In the end, I am reminded of something that Audrey Watters‘ wrote a few years ago about virtual tours.

Virtual field trips are not field trips. Oh sure, they might provide educational content. They might, as Google’s newly unveiled “Expeditions” cardboard VR tool promises, boast “360° photo spheres, 3D images and video, ambient sounds — annotated with details, points of interest and questions that make them easy to integrate into curriculum already used in schools.” But virtual field trips do not offer physical context; they do not offer social context. Despite invoking the adjective “immersive,” they most definitely are not.

Maybe the current crisis is not one of equity, it is still something to stop and consider I guess.