1. Klint Finley

    From a 2011 BLDGBLOG interview with China Miéville:

    . Novelists have an endless drive to aestheticize and to complicate. I know there’s a very strong tradition—a tradition in which I write, myself—about the decoding of the city. Thomas de Quincey, Michael Moorcock, Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Iain Sinclair—that type-thing. The idea that, if you draw the right lines across the city, you’ll find its Kabbalistic heart and so on.

    The thing about that is that it’s intoxicating—but it’s also bullshit. It’s bullshit and it’s paranoia—and it’s paranoia in a kind of literal sense, in that it’s a totalizing project. As long as you’re constantly aware of that, at an aesthetic level, then it’s not necessarily a problem; you’re part of a process of urban mythologization, just like James Joyce was, I suppose. But the sense that this notion of uncovering—of taking a scalpel to the city and uncovering the dark truth—is actually real, or that it actually solves anything, and is anything other than an aesthetic sleight of hand, can be quite misleading, and possibly even worse than that. To the extent that those texts do solve anything, they only solve mysteries that they created in the first place, which they scrawled over the map of a mucky contingent mess of history called the city. They scrawled a big question mark over it and then they solved it.

    Arthur Machen does this as well. All the great weird fiction city writers do it. Machen explicitly talks about the strength of London, as opposed to Paris, in that London is more chaotic. Although he doesn’t put it in these words, I think what partly draws him to London is this notion that, in the absence of a kind of unifying vision, like Haussmann’s Boulevards, and in a city that’s become much more syncretic and messy over time, you have more room to insert your own aestheticizing vision.

    As I say, it’s not in and of itself a sin, but to think of this as a real thing—that it’s a lived political reality or a new historical understanding of the city—is, I think, a misprision.

    BLDGBLOG: You can see this, as well, in the rise of psychogeography—or, at least, some popular version of it—as a tool of urban analysis in architecture today. This popularity often fails to recognize that, no matter how fun or poetic an experience it genuinely might be, randomly wandering around Boston with an iPhone, for instance, is not guaranteed to produce useful urban insights.

    Miéville: Some really interesting stuff has been done with psychogeography—I’m not going to say it’s without uses other than for making pretty maps. I mean, re-experiencing lived urban reality in ways other than how one is more conventionally supposed to do so can shine a new light on things—but that’s an act of political assertion and will. If you like, it’s a kind of deliberate—and, in certain contexts, radical—misunderstanding. Great, you know—good on you! You’ve productively misunderstood the city. But I think that the bombast of these particular—what are we in now? fourth or fifth generation?—psychogeographers is problematic.

    Full Story: BLDGBLOG: Unsolving the City: An Interview with China Miéville

  2. Klint Finley

    Ostensibly a review of Professor Borges: A Course on English Literature, this essay is a great overview of how Jorge Borges’ politics affected his work:

    Throughout his life, Jorge Luis Borges was engaged in a dialogue with violence. Speaking to an interviewer about his childhood in what was then the outlying barrio of Palermo, in Buenos Aires, he said, “To call a man, or to think of him, as a coward—that was the last thing…the kind of thing he couldn’t stand.” According to his biographer, Edwin Williamson,1 Borges’s father handed him a dagger when he was a boy, with instructions to overcome his poor eyesight and “generally defeated” demeanor and let the boys who were bullying him know that he was a man.

    Swords, daggers—weapons with a blade—retained a mysterious, talismanic significance for Borges, imbued with predetermined codes of conduct and honor. The short dagger had particular power, because it required the fighters to draw death close, in a final embrace. As a young man, in the 1920s, Borges prowled the obscure barrios of Buenos Aires, seeking the company of cuchilleros, knife fighters, who represented to him a form of authentic criollo nativism that he wished to know and absorb.

    The criollos were the early Spanish settlers of the pampa, and their gaucho descendants. For at least a century now, the word has signified an ideal cultural purity that, according to its champions, was corrupted by the privatization of the pampa and, later, by the flood of immigrants from Italy and elsewhere in Europe that took place in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

    Borges spent much of his twenties attempting to write a full-length epic poem that would mythologize this “innumerable Buenos Aires of mine,” as he called it—a work that would, in Borges’s words again, “converse with the world and with the self, with God and with death.” He saw it as a way to reflect the city’s essence, as Joyce had done with Dublin, a way to establish a lasting cultural identity that Argentina did not yet possess in the world. His aim, in part, was to enshrine the urban descendent of the criollo, with his ubiquitous dagger and supposedly honorable outlaw ways. Eventually he would abandon the project—Borges was never able to conquer the long form; and though his cultural vision, as it later developed, would be much broader, the romance of the criollo would continue to animate his imagination. Some of his finest fiction—including the stories “The South,” “The Dead Man,” and “The Intruder,” to name just a few—was kindled by the dagger.

    Full Story: The New York Review of Books: The Daggers of Jorge Luis Borges

  3. Capitalist Realism author Mark “K-Punk” Fisher on The Hunger Games: Catching Fire:

    There’s something so uncannily timely about The Hunger Games: Catching Fire that it’s almost disturbing. In the UK over the past few weeks, there’s been a palpable sense that the dominant reality system is juddering, that things are starting to give. There’s an awakening from hedonic depressive slumber, and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is not merely in tune with that, it’s amplifying it. Explosion in the heart of the commodity? Yes, and fire causes more fire …

    I over-use the word ‘delirium’, but watching Catching Fire last week was a genuinely delirious experience. More than once I thought: How can I be watching this? How can this be allowed? One of the services Suzanne Collins has performed is to reveal the poverty, narrowness, and decadence of the ‘freedoms’ we enjoy in late, late capitalism. The mode of capture is hedonic conservatism. You can comment on anything (and your tweets may even be read out on TV), you can watch as much pornography as you like, but your ability to control your own life is minimal. Capital has insinuated itself everywhere, into our pleasures and our dreams as much as our work. You are kept hooked first with media circuses, then, if they fail, they send in the stormtrooper cops. The TV feed cuts out just before the cops start shooting.

    Ideology is a story more than it is a set of ideas, and Suzanne Collins deserves immense credit for producing what is nothing less than a counter-narrative to capitalist realism. Many of the 21st century’s analyses of late capitalist capture – The Wire, The Thick Of It, Capitalist Realism itself – are in danger of offering a bad immanence, a realism about capitalist realism that can engender only a paralysing sense of the system’s total closure. Collins gives us a way out, and someone to identify with/as – the revolutionary warrior-woman, Katniss.

    Full Story: K-Punk: Remember Who the Enemy Is

    (via Laurie Penny)

    Previously: Dystopia Now and Time Wars.

  4. Klint Finley

    From Live Science:

    Tehrani discovered that “Little Red Riding Hood” seems to have descended from the more ancient story “The Wolf and the Kids” — but so did African versions that independently evolved to look like “Little Red Riding Hood.”

    “This exemplifies a process biologists call convergent evolution, in which species independently evolve similar adaptations,” Tehrani explained in a statement. “The fact that Little Red Riding Hood ‘evolved twice’ from the same starting point suggests it holds a powerful appeal that attracts our imaginations.”

    The analysis also suggests that the Chinese version of “Little Red Riding Hood” derives from ancient European tales and not vice versa as other researchers have suggested.

    “Specifically, the Chinese blended together ‘Little Red Riding Hood,’ ‘The Wolf and the Kids’ and local folktales to create a new, hybrid story,” Tehrani said.

    Full Story: Live Science: 1st-Century Roots of ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ Found

    (via K Tempest Bradford)

  5. Klint Finley

    The Week reports, back in October 2012:

    An ambitious new e-book pushes the boundaries of interactive fiction by requiring readers to visit specific locations to unlock new parts of its story
    If you want the full experience of The Silent History — a new e-book available on the iPhone and iPad — you’d better get ready to do some traveling. The Silent History is “part medical case study, part mystery novel, and part-real-life scavenger hunt,” says Sarah Hotchkiss at KQED, and the e-book aims to personalize its narrative for each reader. (Watch a trailer for The Silent History below.) The Silent History is divided into two parts: Testimonials and field reports. The testimonials, which are divided into six volumes of 20 chapters each, are automatically unlocked as the story unfolds each day. But the field reports require an unprecedented level of interaction: They can only be read by traveling to specific locations, and readers are encouraged to write and contribute their own localized installments.

    Full Story: Yahoo News: The Silent History: The strange new e-book that makes you travel to read it

    (Thanks Skry)

  6. Klint Finley

    Fiction (?) from Adam Rothstein:

    They explained the manifesto. Any device that was known to be approaching release, they would fabricate and wield in public. Their devices were seen in blurry street photos, profiled in gadget magazines of the highest order, spotted in the wild when by rights, they should never have been. They intentionally subverted the release cycle paradigm, and in doing so redirected the entire gray market of development, hype, and design. “Permanent beta techno-anarchism by the deed,” was the phrase I remember best, though this commodity insurgency was certainly permeated by the occult as much as any politics. Perhaps it was something in the incense smoke affecting my powers of reason, but there was a dark magic implied in these counterfeit devices.

    Their work displayed the usual anti-corporate merit badges, measured in leftist buzz words and culture jamming cache. Every counterfeit device they made and used in public was a lobbed stick of dynamite at the Silicon Valley scabs, who had commodified the spirit of invention and delivered it up to the bosses. But there was a deeper symbolism at play. The devices they produced in this pseudo-lab were hexes, a transubstantiation of the spirit of consumption, simultaneously capturing the specter and setting it upon others. The market of gadget futures was a field of energy, invisible to anyone who wasn’t ensconced in this culture. And the Group played with this metaphysics as if it was their own personal toy. There was an incredible amount of power invested in the development of the newest, the most cutting edge, the most must-have consumer devices. The Group was blackening it, stealing this occult knowledge for their own purposes, hijacking it into unholy loops that they were attempting to channel. Also, sabotaging and rupturing the rights-of-way that railroaded this energy back to its supposed owners. And if the Group were throwing these bombs into the market square, then there were definitely Pinkertons out there, looking for them.

    Full Story: The State: Chased by Google X

  7. Klint Finley

    Sophia McDougall writes:

    Sherlock Holmes gets to be brilliant, solitary, abrasive, Bohemian, whimsical, brave, sad, manipulative, neurotic, vain, untidy, fastidious, artistic, courteous, rude, a polymath genius. Female characters get to be Strong. […]

    Chuck Wendig argues here that we shouldn’t understand “strong” as meaning, well, “strong”, but rather as something like “well-written”. But I simply don’t think it’s true that the majority of writers or readers are reading the term that way. How else to explain the fact that when the screenwriters of The Lord of the Rings decided to (clumsily) expand Arwen’s role from the books, they had her wander on screen, put a sword to her boyfriend’s throat and boast about how she’d sneaked up on him? (It took Liv Tyler to realise later “you don’t have to put a sword in her hand to make her strong”). Why else did Paul Feig, as Carina Chicano notes here, have to justify the fact that Bridesmaids hinges on a complex, interesting female character who appeared rather weak?

    And even if this less limiting understanding of “strong female character” were the common reading, doesn’t it then become even sadder and even more incomprehensible that where the characterisation of half the world’s population is concerned, writing well is treated as a kind of impressive but unnecessary optional extra?

    Full Story: New Statesman: I hate Strong Female Characters

    It probably goes without saying, but part of the problem here is that “strong” almost always equates to a certain set of characteristics we problematically associate with maleness: physical strength, aggression, competitiveness. Maybe raw intellect, if the character is a detective or scientist. Women get to be “strong” only by exhibiting these trains, not traits labeled “feminine,” like empathy, expressing emotion. This leaves us not only with one-dimensional “strong female characters,” but also reinforces unhealthy expectations that being strong or “tough” means suppressing emotion and winning in fights. This is understandable to some extent — action movies are about violence, not nurture. But there are writers who pull it off. Fringe‘s Olivia Dunham is tough and smart, but also involves her emotions with her work, which, as she points out on the show, actually makes her a better detective.

  8. Klint Finley

    Tim Maughan

    Here’s a nice long interview with, Tim Maughan, author of short stories like “Paintwork,” “#Burgerpunk” and the British Science Fiction Award nominated “Limited Edition“:

    The problem, perhaps, with addressing the concerns of the day – particularly in science fiction that hopes to predict the future – is that it ages pieces considerably. Simon Ings (Hot Head; Dead Water) said of Paintwork: “[Tim] catches those fleeting moments of possibility in stories that ought to have no shelf life whatsoever – and which, regardless, linger in the mind.”

    With very positive reactions, this timeliness obviously doesn’t concern Tim too much. In fact, he embraces that idea, mentioning how dated – but still enjoyable – films like Alien, Blade Runner and Outland are. “The idea behind many of them,” he tells me, “is that we’ll go into space and it’ll be this massive industrial enterprise; we’ll build these huge mining platforms – and that’s a reflection of the 1980s right? That’s a reflection of what industrial corporate technology was like then. It’s not a reflection of what industry’s like now.

    “If we do ever expand our industries into space, it won’t look like that because the only way we could do it would be with more sophisticated technology – with nano-technology, and much sleeker approaches to doing things. We’re not going to go and build huge mining cities on Io, or whatever. But that doesn’t make those films any less beautiful to watch and it doesn’t make them any less relevant. In the1970s and the 1980s, we were building these huge oil platforms out in the North Sea in order to exploit the resources we had there. And I’m a big believer in that sort of science fiction; I don’t mind getting things wrong.”

    He can even see his own work becoming dated, despite only being published in July 2011. “I get the impression that QR Codes are already going out of fashion,” he continues. “I don’t mind that because when I was writing about them, they were a fairly new thing. It’s interesting: I think the reason they’re going out of fashion is because they’re so easily hacked! They’re so open to malware – and you don’t know where it goes.

    “That’s what Paintwork is all about. I like the idea that you can look back at science fiction from the ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s, now, and go, ‘well, that’s wrong about the future, but that doesn’t matter because it was reflecting the values and concerns of the time it was written.’” It’s like a time capsule. “It makes science fiction an important and historical document,” Tim agrees. “You can’t get the future right, you never can. So coming back to those films, I watch Alien and Blade Runner and those movies all the time because they’re visually stunning. For that reason, there’s a place for it and it is nostalgia.”

    Intro
    Part 1
    Part 2
    Part 3

  9. Klint Finley

    Short sci-fi by Tim Maughan:

    “‘Burgerpunk?’” Tamsin squinted at me over the rim of her ironically ugly spex. “And that’s…what?”

    Her eyes aimed down again, I could tell she was reading from some non-existent document floating in her own private space, my portfolio I presumed. It was also painfully obvious this was the first time she’d seen it. I stifled a sigh.

    “Well…it’s a phrase I coined when I was in Shanghai. It’s…let me think. You know what steampunk is, right? Do you remember that?” She was probably too young.

    “Sort of.” She half nodded. “Vaguely. Cogs and robots dressed as Colonial Saunders. Airships.”

    “Yeah, that’s it. Pretty much. It was this romanticised idea of Victorian Britain but with this…this steam powered technology stuff. Anyway it got really popular in the States mainly, the reasoning being it allowed Americans to fetishise this sanitised, romanticised British Empire, because they’d never had one. I mean they had an economic, military and cultural empire – but not a physical, old school empire with an exciting history, right? Their empire never showed up on any maps.”

    “Okay.”

    “So, the Chinese have the same problem, right, but slightly different – they’ve got this economic and maybe military empire, but they don’t even have a cultural one. Because of the language thing. Nobody outside China apart from a few nerds is watching Chinese movies, reading Chinese comics. So they’ve started fetishising America’s cultural empire. Burgerpunk.”

    “Right.” It didn’t seem like Tamsin was completely following me, but I carried on regardless. It was too late to stop, I guess.

    “So over in Shanghai and Beijing they’ve got all these AR parks and shopping malls and restaurants, where these salary men and factory workers take their families, and they can sit and eat burgers and milkshakes in fake ‘50s diners served by robots that look like Ronald Reagan and Lady Gaga while clips of the Vietnam war play on flat screens. Just outside Beijing there’s actually a theme park where you can dress up like gang members, and drive around this hyper-real recreation of an anonymous LA retail park – all burger franchises and outlet stores – in replicas of exactly the sort of gas-guzzling US muscle cars that the Chinese government has just had to ban.”

    Full Story: The Orphan: #Burgerpunk

  10. Klint Finley

    Capitalist Realism author Mark “K-Punk” Fisher on The Hunger Games: Catching Fire:

    There’s something so uncannily timely about The Hunger Games: Catching Fire that it’s almost disturbing. In the UK over the past few weeks, there’s been a palpable sense that the dominant reality system is juddering, that things are starting to give. There’s an awakening from hedonic depressive slumber, and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is not merely in tune with that, it’s amplifying it. Explosion in the heart of the commodity? Yes, and fire causes more fire …

    I over-use the word ‘delirium’, but watching Catching Fire last week was a genuinely delirious experience. More than once I thought: How can I be watching this? How can this be allowed? One of the services Suzanne Collins has performed is to reveal the poverty, narrowness, and decadence of the ‘freedoms’ we enjoy in late, late capitalism. The mode of capture is hedonic conservatism. You can comment on anything (and your tweets may even be read out on TV), you can watch as much pornography as you like, but your ability to control your own life is minimal. Capital has insinuated itself everywhere, into our pleasures and our dreams as much as our work. You are kept hooked first with media circuses, then, if they fail, they send in the stormtrooper cops. The TV feed cuts out just before the cops start shooting.

    Ideology is a story more than it is a set of ideas, and Suzanne Collins deserves immense credit for producing what is nothing less than a counter-narrative to capitalist realism. Many of the 21st century’s analyses of late capitalist capture – The Wire, The Thick Of It, Capitalist Realism itself – are in danger of offering a bad immanence, a realism about capitalist realism that can engender only a paralysing sense of the system’s total closure. Collins gives us a way out, and someone to identify with/as – the revolutionary warrior-woman, Katniss.

    Full Story: K-Punk: Remember Who the Enemy Is

    (via Laurie Penny)

    Previously: Dystopia Now and Time Wars.

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