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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.”
From Thucydides to Camus, there are plenty of hopeful reminders that there’s nothing unprecedented about the coronavirus lockdown – and that pandemics do end
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.
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.
The intimate camerawork of its web broadcasts gives everyone the best seat in the house.
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 Schjeldah 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 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.
In the literature of pestilence, the greatest threat isn’t the loss of human life but the loss of what makes us human.
Albert Camus once defined the novel as the place where the human being is abandoned to other human beings. The plague novel is the place where all human beings abandon all other human beings. Unlike other species of apocalyptic fiction, where the enemy can be chemicals or volcanoes or earthquakes or alien invaders, the enemy here is other humans: the touch of other humans, the breath of other humans, and, very often—in the competition for diminishing resources—the mere existence of other humans.
An important part of this question of humanness and suffering through each of these stories is the act of reading and books themselves. Lepore suggests that reading itself can sometimes be understood as a contagion infection on minds, while at other times it acts as an antedote.
Reading is an infection, a burrowing into the brain: books contaminate, metaphorically, and even microbiologically. In the eighteenth century, ships’ captains arriving at port pledged that they had disinfected their ships by swearing on Bibles that had been dipped in seawater. During tuberculosis scares, public libraries fumigated books by sealing them in steel vats filled with formaldehyde gas. These days, you can find out how to disinfect books on a librarians’ thread on Reddit. Your best bet appears to be either denatured-alcohol swipes or kitchen disinfectant in a mist-spray bottle, although if you stick books in a little oven and heat them to a hundred and sixty degrees Fahrenheit there’s a bonus: you also kill bedbugs. (“Doesn’t harm the books!”) Or, as has happened during the coronavirus closures, libraries can shut their doors, and bookstores, too.
In a seperate piece, Alain de Botton discusses Camus’ exploration of human suffering captured in his novel The Plague:
“The Plague” isn’t trying to panic us, because panic suggests a response to a dangerous but short-term condition from which we can eventually find safety. But there can never be safety — and that is why, for Camus, we need to love our fellow damned humans and work without hope or despair for the amelioration of suffering. Life is a hospice, never a hospital.
My novella “The Masque of the Red Death” is a tribute to Poe; it’s from my book Radicalized. It’s the story of a plute who brings his pals to his luxury bunker during civlizational collapse in the expectation of emerging once others have rebuilt.
Naturally, they assume that when they do emerge, once their social inferiors have rebooted civilization, that their incredible finance-brains, their assault rifles, and their USBs full of BtC will allow them to command a harem and live a perpetual Frazetta-painting future.
Doctorow has also shared another story recently addressing global crisis “When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth“, as well as readings of Poe’s original 1842 story, “The Masque of the Red Death” and Mark Twain’s “Punch, Brothers, Punch”.
Continuing on the topic, Bryan Alexander has shared an extensive collection of readings on the plague.
Of course, books can be a balm in these terrifying times—but as the surge in sales of plague-related literature reveals, sometimes all we want to read are books that speak directly to our terrifying times. Well, friends, with a little elbow grease, any book can be a coronavirus book. Behold: the first lines of 10 classic novels, rewritten for these times of social distancing.
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be hoarding toilet paper. – Pride and Prejudice
Carol Sklenicka’s biography and a long-overdue “Collected Stories” spotlight Carver’s growth as a writer and illuminate his poisonous relationship with the editor Gordon Lish.
I sat down for an interview and lively Q&A at the Kelowna Public Library with the CBC’s Sarah Penton as part of the Canada Reads national book prize, for which my book Radicalized is a finalist. Courtney Dickson was kind enough to send me raw audio from the board and to give me permission to post it and include it in my podcast feed. It was a genuinely wonderful night, with great and thoughtful questions, and I’m really glad that I get to share it with you!
Rather than an optimist or pessimist I am a believer in hope.
Saying we don’t need libraries because we have the internet is like saying we don’t need doctors because we have the plague.
Directed by Justin Kurzel. With George MacKay, Essie Davis, Nicholas Hoult, Orlando Schwerdt. Based on Peter Carey’s novel. The story of Australian bushranger Ned Kelly and his gang as they flee from authorities during the 1870s.
Although it was enjoyable as a film, I did not feel that it was faithful as an adaptation.
We’ve also pulled together a small collections of writing from the recent Meanjin past which all deal with climate and fire in some way. From essays to fiction, poetry and memoir, there’s plenty of thoughtful reading below.
Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy’s fifth book, was first published in 1985 to lukewarm critical and commercial reception. It’s gone on, of course, to become recognized as McCarthy’s masterpiece and among the greatest American novels of all-time.
All the while, it’s been the source of one tr…
Peebles: I honestly believe that with the right spin, it’s got potentially huge appeal — because of McCarthy. You have one of the greatest living American authors. He’s won a Pulitzer, and this is arguably his master work. It also has this history of failed adaptations, which lends another cachet, like it’s so amazing that it’s never been brought to the screen! Plus, today’s political context doesn’t have to be a burden either. It can be an advantage.
It’s not often a writer can throw a dart into the future and hit treble 20. Here are six who did.
Midway through his career, the inventor of “cyberspace” turned his attention to a strange new world: the present.
Gibson doesn’t have a name for his method; he knows only that it isn’t about prediction. It proceeds, instead, from a deep engagement with the present.
Most science fiction takes place in a world in which “the future” has definitively arrived; the locomotive filmed by the Lumière brothers has finally burst through the screen. But in “Neuromancer” there was only a continuous arrival—an ongoing, alarming present. “Things aren’t different. Things are things,” an A.I. reports, after achieving a new level of consciousness. “You can’t let the little pricks generation-gap you,” one protagonist tells another, after an unnerving encounter with a teen-ager. In its uncertain sense of temporality—are we living in the future, or not?—“Neuromancer” was science fiction for the modern age. The novel’s influence has increased with time, establishing Gibson as an authority on the world to come.
Gibson’s strategy of extreme presentness reflects his belief that the current moment is itself science-fictional.
“The future is already here,” he has said. “It’s just not very evenly distributed.”The further Gibson developed his present-tense sci-fi, the more mysterious and resonant his novels became.
Gibson has a bemused, gentle, curious vibe. He is not a dystopian writer; he aims to see change in a flat, even light. “Every so often—and I bet a lot of people do this but don’t mention it—I have an experience unique in my life, of going, ‘This is so bad—could this possibly be real?’ ” he said, laughing. “Because it really looks very dire. If we were merely looking at the possible collapse of democracy in the United States of America—that’s pretty fucked. But if we’re looking at the collapse of democracy in the United States of America within the context of our failure to do anything that means shit about global warming over the next decade . . . I don’t know.”
Some speculative writers are architects: they build orderly worlds. But Gibson has a collagist’s mind. He has depicted himself as “burrowing from surface to previously unconnected surface.”
His plots are Tetris-like, their components snapping together at the last possible moment until the space of the novel is filled.