Saturday, November 5, 2011

Home Cinema Doesn't Exist

God bless you, Anthony Lane. And by God, I mean one of those black and white Bergman numbers where heaven is strawberries or some such.
There’s only one problem with home cinema: it doesn’t exist. The very phrase is an oxymoron. As you pause your film to answer the door or fetch a Coke, the experience ceases to be cinema. Even the act of choosing when to watch means you are no longer at the movies. Choice—preferably an exhaustive menu of it—pretty much defines our status as consumers, and has long been an unquestioned tenet of the capitalist feast, but in fact carte blanche is no way to run a cultural life (or any kind of life, for that matter), and one thing that has nourished the theatrical experience, from the Athens of Aeschylus to the multiplex, is the element of compulsion. Someone else decides when the show will start; we may decide whether to attend, but, once we take our seats, we join the ride and surrender our will. The same goes for the folks around us, whom we do not know, and whom we resemble only in our private desire to know more of what will unfold in public, on the stage or screen. We are strangers in communion, and, once that pact of the intimate and the populous is snapped, the charm is gone. Our revels now are ended.
He also has some very funny, Freudian things to say about Brett Ratner's Tower Heist. It is the New Yorker, after all. And tower is in the title. There was no choice, really.

Oh, and actually, I'm quite happy with carte blanche. I want, as the subtitle up there says, everything ever. I want Pandora and Spotify and Grooveshark and podcasts curated by DJs. I want Mubi and Netflix and old, obscure, Spanish neo-realist films beamed to my brain, and I want, on occasion, to put on a coat and scarf, walk down a sidewalk in the fall, with yellow leaves falling and that smell in the air, and then enter into some dark room, sit down with a bunch of strangers, and watch something grand and silly, preferably with, of late, the involvement of Emma Stone or Wong Kar-Wai.

Happy 5th of November, readers. Remember, remember.


Friday, November 4, 2011

Porn stars and science fiction writers don't really care what you think of them.

The other day, I read a thing in the New York Times that annoyed me. I decided to not bother thinking about it overly much, except that I was glad I read it all the way through. We'll get to that in a minute.

The thing in the New York Times was Glen Duncan's review of Zone One. It begins like so:
A literary novelist writing a genre novel is like an intellectual dating a porn star. It invites forgivable prurience: What is that relationship like? Granted the intellectual’s hit hanky-panky pay dirt, but what’s in it for the porn star? Conversation? Ideas? Deconstruction?
Which, you know, is a perfectly fine and dumb way to begin a review, and designed, more or less, to get people to mention it on blogs so that the people reading those blogs will click the link to the review and so drive page views and advertising dollars to the New York Times.

This is, among other reasons, why I didn't bother mentioning it.

But, Charlie Jane Anders at io9 could not resist. And I'm glad she didn't.

She attempted to contact Glen Duncan for an interview. To ask him, for example, if he had ever dated a porn star, or if, perhaps, he had run into trouble with readers of his own foray into genre, The Last Werewolf; or if he had read Dhalgren? The Female Man? House of Leaves? The Wasp Factory? The Dispossessed? Air?

Glen Duncan did not respond. So, Ms. Anders went ahead and posted her questions for him and avoided any pointless ranting, saying " really feels like we're mostly past that by now, when places like the Atlantic are celebrating the trend that Duncan decries."

Instead, of a rant she closes with an inspired list of "how genre writers are like porn stars" which does great justice to both "slums" and includes, among other things, this:
Porn stars and genre writers are both trying, in very different ways, to satisfy a basic human need for a transcendent experience, something that takes you out of yourself. People — who feel imprisoned in these bodies, these lives, these surroundings — crave escapism and fantasy, but also a feeling of connection to a world where implausible things happen.
Go read the article.

Before you go though, I should say that Glen Duncan's review of Zone One manages to not completely go downhill from it's beginning, as it does manage this paragraph near its end.
The shape it makes is a love story. More specifically, a story of lost love, at first glance contemporary America’s for its own cultural protocols — from sidewalk etiquette to sitcom vectors — but beyond that, humanity’s love for ritual, its dependence on ways of imposing meaning on the void; for religious trinkets or scientific models or personal superstitions or long-term financial plans; for every gimmick, brand preference, boxed set or mumbled prayer that helps us deny the absurdity of our predicament and the certainty of death. Some “Zone One” humans are still at it, post-Apocalypse, framing the plague as God’s righteous reboot or the planet’s eco backlash, but for the antiheroic Mark Spitz the framing days are over. What happens happens, and there’s nothing behind it but a random biological swipe. Philosophically, the novel’s as existentially hard-line as they come. 
It's a nice paragraph and, to a certain extent, shines some light on why, perhaps, Glen Duncan made such a fit about genre throughout--thinking, maybe, that genre also demonstrates humanity's love for frames and rituals.

Which it does.

The thing is that the term "literary" houses its own generic tropes, as much as science fiction, mystery, romance, and so forth, and really the distinction for readers comes down to whether, as a wonderful lady once told me, you crave comfort or surprise.

This, presumably, is what China Mieville was going on about in The Guardian concerning, "the literature of recognition versus that of estrangement."

You can find whatever you want, readers, wherever you want to look.

And, here's one more thing.

The reason Zone One succeeds, the reason The Soprano's was awesome; the reason Dhalgren exists; the reason the very blonde Buffy Summers walks down a dark alley and proceeds to kick demon ass,  is that genres exist, and the creators of those works of art are in love with genre, almost as much as they're in love with surprising themselves, and us, by bending their beloved frames into new shapes.

Shapes which matter, which resonate, because we, as readers, recognize what the original frames looked like, what view of the world they allowed, and what this new frame, made by this new creator, has done to our way of seeing the world through their stories.

Genre is dead. Love live genre.

Happy reading, readers.


All Books Are Weird

Kelly Link writes a particularly wonderful brand of odd.

Look. All books are weird when you think about it. I just read a ter­rific quote from an arti­cle by Edward Docx, “Among the Rus­sians,” in which he and a group of Russ­ian writ­ers are talk­ing about writ­ing. Out of that con­ver­sa­tion comes this description:
Decid­ing to write a novel is like vis­it­ing an obscure, half-forgotten and slowly-evaporating planet entirely com­prised of swim­ming pools and decid­ing that what is needed is… yes, another swim­ming pool! But, for obscure rea­sons, a swim­ming pool that must be built single-handedly from scratch and then filled using only a syringe.
Read the rest of her interview at the Weird Fiction Review, wherein you will learn she's currently being disturbed by old, North Hampton farmhouses in Colson Whitehead's Zone One, and she was once an editor with The Greensboro review.

I had forgotten she was, like so many of us*, once an MFA student..

Of note, she will be an instructor, along with Gavin Grant, at the next Clarion West.

ttfn, readers.

*And by us, of course, I mean me and other people I know who were once MFA students. If you are not a former MFA student, that's okay. There's still time.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Ancient Sumeria

From Jonathan Lethem and Occupy Writers:
Dahlia Lithwick says, “Occupy Wall Street is not a movement without a message. It’s a movement that has wisely shunned the one-note, pre-chewed, simple-minded messaging required for cable television as it now exists. It’s a movement that feels no need to explain anything to the powers that be, although it is deftly changing the way we explain ourselves to one another… We are the most media-saturated 24-hour-cable-soaked culture in the world, and yet around the country, on Facebook and at protests, people are holding up cardboard signs, the way protesters in ancient Sumeria might have done when demonstrating against a rise in the price of figs. And why is that? Because they very wisely don’t trust television cameras and microphones to get it right anymore. Because a media constructed around the illusion of false equivalencies, screaming pundits, and manufactured crises fails to capture who we are and what we value.” 
Here's Dahlia's article from Slate.

ttfn, readers.