Notes From Underground: First Fragment

Here's some stuff I believe:

You can accept Marx's diagnosis without agreeing with his cure. I'd rather live in a laissez faire hands off communist autocracy than a laissez faire hands off corporate plutocracy. But both of those are not good options, and I see no reason why we can't just have a democratically regulated mixed economy and a tax system that punishes greed.

At the end of the day it's not about some theory of economics or another, it's about basic fairness. The idea that if a person wants a job, he or she ought to be able to find one and that job ought to pay for the true value of his or her labor. That if someone wants a good education, he or she shouldn't be priced out of getting one. That if you break the law and end up in a really bad place, you can do your time, clean up your life and we'll give you a clean slate and a second chance. The idea that we're lucky to have been born in the United States and we can therefore be gracious to those who were not but who wish they were and help them find their way to share in our bounty. the idea that no man woman or child should have to go to sleep hungry tonight. The idea that if you get sick you can see a doctor without having to declare bankruptcy. The idea that if we built a railroad across a continent in the 1860s and put men on the moon in the 1960s, we ought to be able to find a way to fill up a car in 2011 with a renewable energy resource that produces no greenhouse gas. The idea that it takes all of us coming together and agreeing on a common purpose to do some of the most important and fundamental jobs that need doing in our society.

The simple truth that we're all in this together, and so we ought to be able to talk about how to get out of it without calling each other names.

I don't see this as radicalism. I see it as common sense. These are values that we can all agree on. So why is it that it's so hard to get it done?

Why I Hate Fahrenheit 451

Ray Bradbury is one of the few writers published consistently in the science fiction category who is also read widely by non-sf readers. He was awarded a special National Book Award for "contributions to American letters", his books are regularly assigned in schools, and he inspires that special level of fanatical devotion that leads people to name blogs after him and create absurdly elaborate music videos about wanting to have sex with him.

Which is part of why it's so frustrating to me that I don't like him. Of all the sf authors who have made some significant impact on the mainstream (whose numbers include Robert Heinlein, Ursula K. LeGuin, Philip K. Dick, Samuel R. Delany, JG Ballard, Michael Moorcock, William Gibson, Neal Stephenson and China Mieville, among others), Bradbury is probably the one that troubles me the most. (Okay, Heinlein is deeply problematic, but that's another essay entirely.)

Bradbury's most famous and bestselling book is Fahrenheit 451. Like millions of Americans, I was assigned to read this book in Middle School, though I didn't until recently as part of my Reading the History of Popular Literature project. Most of what's always bothered me about Bradbury is summed up by this passage on page 7 of my edition:

Gene Roddenberry's Unfortunate Legacy; or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Hate Star Trek

Netflix in their pursuit of continual appeasement of the great god Mammon has etched a deal with Paramount Pictures that allows them to stream all day all night all Star Trek all the time. And lo it did come to pass that the great multitude of Star Trek Nerds were pleased. I have taken this opportunity to, with no extra expenditure than I would otherwise make, finally sit down and engage with the franchise as a text. I can now say unequivocally that it is without a doubt every bit as stupid as I always assumed it was, but I have nevertheless made some discoveries about it that I think have wider cultural implications that can be profitably unpacked.

I should note that I elected to watch the series in the chronological order internal to the franchise. I began with Star Trek:Enterprise, followed by 2009 Star Trek prequel/reboot, then watched the 60's Star Trek, then the Motion Pictures featuring the original cast, then Star Trek: The Next Generation, and finally Voyager (Deep Space Nine is not yet available on netflix as of this writing) flipping back and forth between them interspersed with the feature films with the Next Generation cast until Voyager gradually, finally, mercifully ground to an ignominious halt. In all of this, I find very little that is of any value, the Wrath of Khan and the interesting treatment of the "Mirror Universe" being the most notable exceptions. Of all of these particular cash cows, however, the one that I think is most consistently my favorite is the truly abhorrent Star Trek: Enterprise.

A now, a very special message from the WOLD NEWTON READING EXTRAVAGANZA

Announcing the next WOLD NEWTON READING EXTRAVAGANZA! Hosted by Wet Asphalt's own Eric Rosenfield.

Monday Oct 3rd at 6:30pm at an EXCITING NEW LOCATION:
The Way Station
683 Washington Ave
btw Prospect and St Mark's
Brooklyn, NY

The world's greatest steampunk and Doctor Who themed bar!

With a special comic book audio-visual experience! You will SEE and HEAR COMIC BOOKS right before your eyes! With the authors presented IN THRILLING TRUE-LIFE 3D!

Dave Roman
Two-time New York Times bestselling creator of ASTRONAUT ACADEMY: ZERO GRAVITY

β€œThere will not be a better all-ages graphic novel published this year than Astronaut Academy. Period.” – Marc Mason, The Comics Waiting Room


Jim Ottaviani
World's preeminant writer of comics about science, writer of FEYNMAN, the larger-than-life true story of the SMARTEST MAN ALIVE, a physicist who grew up in Queens, worked on the Manhattan Project at 23, won the Nobel Prize and wrote funny things about picking up girls.


On Thursday Nov 10th at 7pm
Will be multiple Hugo, Nebula and World Fantasy award winner MICHAEL SWANWICK, whose new book DANCING WITH BEARS is about con men in a delirious future Russia.

With him will be recently Hugo nominated and critically acclaimed NK JEMISIN, in honor of the release of the final book of her INHERITANCE TRILOGY, THE KINGDOM OF GODS, which is about deities as weapons of mass destruction, a city on a spire and one hundred thousand kingdoms.

AND ALSO! There will also be an exhilarating STAGE COMBAT DEMONSTRATION by stage combat instructor, stunt man and KUNG FU MASTER MIKE YAHN.


Reading the History of Popular Fiction Part 2: The Mid-to-Late Nineteenth Century

This article is part of my series Reading the History of Popular Literature.

Books marked with a red asterix (*) are recommended reading. Books that were read previous to starting this project are marked "(previously read)". The country indicated in parentheses is the country of the author's origin, not necessarily the country in which the book was written. If the country of first publication is different then the author's country of origin, it is noted.

Books marked "(Not finished)" I did not finish reading.

Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott (United Kingdom - 1819) (Not finished)

A 1819 publication date is obviously a little early for a book's inclusion in an article called "The Mid-to-Late Nineteenth Century", but it's not a Gothic novel so I'm fitting it in here.

Ivanhoe, like The Castle of Otranto, is set in the 12th century, but trades the more spooky and fantastic trappings of the Gothic for Romantic knights in tournaments, historical intrigues, and bald soap opera. One of the supporting characters is Robin Hood, and a principle character is a Jewish lady in one of the early positive portrayals of a Jew in European gentile literature. The book was very popular, and was part of a long series of books the author wrote about the period, which in turn inspired numerous imitators and led to a boom in historical medieval fiction that's an important part of the lineage that stretches from the heroic epics of the 16th century like Orlando Furioso to the quasi-medieval fantasies of JRR Tolkein and his heirs.

Weekday Reading: 8/17/2011

Neil Gaiman talks to Grant Morrison about COMIC BOOKS naturally, and it's pretty great.

From 2004 but new to me, John Kessel's fascinating break down of the moral problems with Ender's Game and how Orson Scott Card manipulates our emotions.

Lev Grossman writes about fan fiction, and in particular Harry Potter fan fiction and the weird and wonderful little universe that has sprung up around it, with its own population and vocabulary.


Speaking of Grossman, here's an excerpt from his new novel The Magician King which gave me chills when I heard him read it at the NYRSF Reading Series here in New York.

And Electric Velocipede has put up one of the better stories from its Logorrhea collection, "The Chiaroscurist" by Hal Duncan. I reviewed the whole collection for the New Haven review some time ago.

Sorry, not a lot of new fiction this fiction time, all my reading lately has been for the Reading the History of Popular Literature series.

Reading the History of Popular Literature part 1: The Gothics

This article is part of my series Reading the History of Popular Literature.

Books marked with a red asterix (*) are recommended reading. Books that were read previous to starting this project are marked "(previously read)". The country indicated in parentheses is the country of the author's origin, not necessarily the country in which the book was written. If the country of first publication is different then the author's country of origin, it is noted.

The Castle of Otranto: A Gothic Story by Horace Walpole (England - 1764) and an introduction to the Gothic

Rarely can a literary movement be traced so definitively to one book. So why is The Castle of Otranto subtitled "A Gothic Story"? The word "Gothic" referred originally to the Goths, a Germanic people famous for being the barbarians who sacked Rome during the fall of the Roman empire. For much of European history, then, the term "Gothic" was synonymous with "barbaric". In the Renaissance period, artists began to refer to earlier styles of Medieval art which they were rebelling against as ugly and Gothic. Eventually, the cultural period in which that art flourished, approximately the 12th to 16th centuries, became known to scholars simply as the Gothic period.

The subtitle of the Castle of Otranto, then, refers to the fact that it takes place at the beginning of that period, in the 12th century.

Reading the History of Popular Literature: Introduction

After considering the history of genre and popularity, and looking at my reading list full of popular novels I missed during my years of literary fiction snobbery, I decided the best thing to do would be to put all the books I wanted to read in chronological order, and with them other books I hadn't read that might help illuminate the lineage of contemporary popular literature -- which is to say the popular literature of the culture I live in, America in the 21st century. This way I could get a feel for how the the work developed over time and get a sense of its context.

Of course, any such lineage could be traced back at least to Gilgamesh. For practical purposes, I decided to begin with the Gothics because it appears that a lot of the tropes and tendencies we associate with popular genres developed there. The list is also, unfortunately, predominantly Western. With certain notable exceptions, such as The Arabian Nights, popular literature in the West has been almost exclusively from the West, with relatively little from other regions getting translated into Western languages and brought to Western shores at all. Even today, with the welcome exception of Japanese manga and anime, most of the popular culture we consume is Western, and in America most of that is American or, at best, British.

The list is also largely dominated by science fiction and fantasy and its antecedents for the simple reason that it's what I want to read. There will, however, be forays into crime, mystery, western, thriller and other popular genres, in order to get a flavor of what else was going on at the time. I'm also going to mention some works I read before starting the project if they help illuminate or represent something that I think is important about a particular period.

The World as I See it In Pieces: Part 2

It's increasingly apparent that what could once have been said about the privilege of place generally afforded by speech over writing being inverted in the normal mode of cultural production in the United States has at this late date completely collapsed. We are now living in a post-scribal politics where the authenticity of the word has been replaced by the authenticity of the sign, and that has itself been subsumed by the authenticity of the sensation. This is what lies in the middle of Stephen Colbert's celebrated "truthiness," which is an illusory ascription of truth values to bodily sensations which are neither public nor propositional and therefore paradoxically denied any kind of involvement in the semiosis of sentences. If what is true is what cannot be expressed, and also if what cannot be expressed is located temporally post-hoc to the dialog of democratic politics, then the assignation of truth values to sentential reasoning no longer exists and we have finally found ourselves living in a post-rational environment in every sense of the word.