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let me tell you, friends: writing a dissertation proposal is not the most exciting thing i have ever done. i know, i know, you are all terribly surprised—who knew she did anything exciting whatsoever? far be it from me to complain too strenuously, however; at least i am no longer reading for my field exam. had a moment yesterday in which i realized, finally, that i am ABD & felt suddenly old. today i printed off the most recent incarnation of the dissertation proposal, which has ballooned to an overly aggressive thirty pages, but instead of weeping i opted to write to you instead.

noteworthy things do not happen to me with any great frequency, but when you only write to the internet twice a year, you can at least pretend.

last autumn, while reading for the dreaded field exam, i was also (probably unwisely) put in charge of my first group of slightly needy, very energetic undergraduates. the subject was, unsurprisingly, drama, & our friday sections largely consisted of my continual efforts to irritate them by focusing on such trivialities as the off-stage pirate-fight in hamlet & that play’s apparently needlessly complicated political context, or gleefully demanding that they read aloud in middle english, or trying to get them to fight about whether or not prospero is an imperialist asshole.

i have since duly printed out—though resolutely refused to regard with any attention—my course evaluations; i believe the word “chill” figured in one of them. longtime friends & acquaintances will be baffled by this descriptor & assume that it was intended to apply to someone or something else, perhaps the temperature of the room whenever i was present. but no, i assure you that i regarded my little flock with a sort of exasperated affection.

after which i was given a year’s furlough to allow the undergraduate population to recover.

in the autumn i am slated to assist for a course in chaucer, with a magnificently gruff professor from whom i myself as a first-term graduate student took a similar course. he & i are, naturally, of one mind as to the matter of reading chaucer in middle english; the stated position, i believe, is “figure it out.” i do love the language (despite its resulting from the much-lamented victory of our french oppressors), as it is wonderfully demented & expressively vulgar, though i was initially alarmed to think that i will have to teach texts from a period which, even for me (working as i do in the dim & distant past which no one recalls, viz., the seventeenth & eighteenth centuries), is a bit historically vague. protestants fighting about various heresies? burnings? i do remember the Famous Flying Penises of the Book of Margery Kempe; perhaps i will be able to work that into section somehow. everyone likes a rapturous (i mean, really, raptus, let’s not forget) vision of wingéd cocks, yes? BUT I DIGRESS.

in the spring they are having me teach shakespeare. i am a little disappointed but entirely unsurprised. in the establishment, the only people who work on drama work either on shakespeare or the twentieth century; should you be so impudent as to attempt anything else, they will simply pick whichever is closest. hence, shakespeare. in any event the situation is better than having to teach beckett or, heaven forfend, the novel. if i’m lucky we’ll do the henry plays. if we have to do a tragedy (we will) i really hope it will be macbeth or, oh, i don’t know, julius caesar, but probably it will be something banal, like othello, which as a good seventeenth-centuryist i follow the thomas rymer party line on to declare it Not Actually Tragic, though nonetheless Deeply Fucked. i see that i am digressing, again. someday i should teach a course on tristram shandy.

i have neither cut nor dyed my hair since, what, october? perversely, i generally cut my hair very short just as winter commences & suffer through the summer with it long. this time i have vowed, however, to keep it, though we shall see how this resolution fares when i am faced, as i am every august, with the prospect of at least two weeks in a desert environment not famed for its kindliness to living beings in general & feminine hairstyles in particular. i have also resolved to grow out my bangs, which in the past three days has prompted my hair to develop its own notions about what it wants to be now that it is an adult, resulting in an aggressive side part on, bewilderingly, the non-usual side of my face. for now i am allowing it its folly. additionally i had become obsessed with learning the actual color of my hair, which no one had seen in approximately eight years. my beau was temporarily horrified at this prospect but allowed himself to be calmed by the assurance that no, i am not anywhere close to ginger. i have, however, discovered that what i had remembered to be a distressingly boring state of brunette is, somewhat confusingly, heavily laced with copper, gold, &—woe betide—silver. yes, well, that’s very nice, isn’t it.

i briefly considered moving out of my current domicile but have since realized that i am far too lazy, in addition to being magnificently spoiled by the extreme proximity of convenient public transit, groceries, bars i like, &, not least, my beau; concomitant with these is the extreme proximity of garbage bins, an industriously loud furniture store, halfhearted but noisy gang activity, & absurdly large weekend tourist crowds, but never mind.

summer has more or less arrived & for the first time i have an air conditioner (installed, natürlich, by my competent & masculine companion), for which i have already had cause to be grateful & which shall surely prevent despair-&-sweaty-palm-induced self-injury as the season progresses.

we are watching every episode of the x-files, a thing that i have already done but do not mind doing again. we are now in season eight & i am gleefully watching mulder be tortured & shouting “JOHN DOGGETT” every time said character appears, but my companion is not convinced. he is suspicious, he says, of john doggett’s accent. i realize that i am well in the minority on this, so i shall endeavor not to be too disappointed if suspicion transforms only into hostility.

in the past two weeks i have shirked my professional duties to read china miéville’s embassytown, christopher priest’s inverted world, &, finally, the new iain m banks. they were all great, of course; completely ruinous of productivity. i reread pynchon’s against the day, which was somehow even better the second time, & before that hilary mantel’s wolf hall, which is truly magnificent.

since rewatching all of torchwood in preparation for the new season, i have been rewatching every episode of the new doctor who, because i can. in the middle of the dreaded “specials ‘season'” now. as for the new new doctor, i have not yet watched beyond the xmas special, so DO NOT RUIN IT FOR ME, i will get to them soon.

i am always interested in whatever people are reading, looking at, listening to, &c., especially if it is science fiction. except for charlie stross, do not bother recommending him to me, i refuse, it was bad enough before but it is utterly impossible to take seriously anyone who titles a novel rule 34 &, worse, invents something called, hideously, the “rule 34 squad.”

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busy times, friends! i moved to chicago & forgot about the internet. well, not really, i am on twitter, but you all knew that already.

in academic news, i passed my field exam in december! now all i have to do is write a dissertation. the university has worked me to death since i started in 2008, so maybe now i will have some spare time to write more bizarre, off-topic, & self-aggrandizing things. just what we all wanted!

to celebrate passing my exam, i went to england & gave a paper on a late-eighteenth-century comedy. also, i took some photographs of things, & this is really just a note to say that my flickr account is back in business after a long & dreadful hiatus. huzzah?

in science fiction news, look what i got in england:

probably you can’t tell, but that is a copy of iain m banks’s inversions, which is not yet available in orbit’s fine QP here in the states, so i did my bit for the british economy & picked up a copy of that & also of look to windward, & i can assure you that they are both very good. i mean, they are no algebraist, but then again, my friends, what is. i mean, really.

i will try to come back more frequently to talk about things that i like, & that you, if you are reading this, probably like, like science fiction & music.

in the meantime, you might want to look at some pictures of england that i took earlier this month. before that i was in DC for a few days. last night i took my boyfriend to the go-kart track.

tomorrow we are going into hibernation, because the word on the street is that we are supposed to have wind-chill temperatures into the negative twenties, yes, that’s -20°F, or even lower, & we have been told not to go outside if we can avoid it, which we are happy to do.

maybe tomorrow i will write some words on the internet, though probably i should also start thinking about going back to work sometime.

Samuel R. Delany is one of those criminally under-read science fiction authors, the size of whose readership seems inversely proportional to the quality of his writing. Part of the reason, I think, is that Delany writes literary-intellectual science fiction: “intellectuals” tend to turn up their noses at anything even vaguely associated with genre-fiction, while hardcore sci-fi fans want more guns & fewer inquiries, say, into the nature of language. Well, too bad for them.

When I find someone interested in picking up some Delany, I always recommend Babel-17 (& its accompanying novella, Empire Star) as a point of entry into Delany’s peculiar worlds. Babel-17 can be described either as the adventure of interstellar captain & poet Rydra Wong as she tries to track down the alien threat that’s been sabotaging the galactic system or as an extended inquiry into the ways in which language drives—either to promote or to limit—thought, from the ontological & existential base-structure to the nuances of social chat. The novel is, in fact, both, & holds up under examination from either angle. Lyricism, referentiality, complexity; drugs, sex, space-fights. The only bad thing about Babel-17 (which won the Nebula) is that Delany wrote it when he was 23—no one has any right to be so talented.

[originally written for publication over at plasmapool.org]

nokia has produced a sort of amazing commercial for one of its new products. it doesn’t really matter which one, but the advert is actually worth watching, because it’s a fine example of a strange phenomenon in advertising that i’m struggling to pin down in my own thinking.

the advert is hosted (by youtube) at its own website for something called the maemo project, which apparently has some whole community of participating users, in an attempt, clearly, to harness the community power of the internet to do development, which isn’t a bad idea, if it actually works. good for you, nokia, at least you know that the internet exists. too bad about that iphone thing, though.

anyway. back to the matter at hand. advertising as a concept is something that i think i’ve lost track of, somehow. it must be the internet, & the fact that i don’t really watch videos on it. but a 2.5 minute advert that takes its sweet time to sell its product? that obviously took a pretty talented design team? with its own website, the url for which rings “avant-garde viral thing”, when it isn’t? this shit is wheels within wheels, people.

think about it: this is an advert, for a phone, made by a giant corporation, & you can practically close-read it. not that your reading would be all that complex, but there are definitely elements of this short film that can’t be explained away as clever marketing, that seem to point to some weird science-fictional dystopian narrative where bright people get locked up & then questioned in order for—companies? the government?—to R&D new tech: this doesn’t sound like a commercial at all. it sounds like a novel. maybe not the most literary or inventive novel, but a novel nonetheless.
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neil gaiman is, as ever, sensible:

I don’t think immediate tragedy is a very good source of art. It can be, but too often it’s raw and painful and un-dealt-with. Sometimes art can be a really good escape from the intolerable, and a good place to go when things are bad, but that doesn’t mean you have to write directly about the bad thing; sometimes you need to let time pass, and allow the thing that hurts to get covered with layers, and then you take it out, like a pearl, and you make art out of it.

i think this is exactly right. people say to me, sometimes, they do, “oh, i had my heart broken so i am going to write a poem about it,” or something along those lines, & i think that writing because you have been hurt is all well & good but that the name of that writing is rarely, say, “a poem” & is, instead, “a journal entry.”

which is fine; but you have to know the difference between them.

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the lurkers do not support me in email! oh no!

from a correspondent:

The three-book version of 2666 is actually cooler than the hardcover? I don’t believe you—please explain.

so i have tried. what follows is from an email &, as such, is in a rather different style. forgive me. i am lazy.

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YOU MUST READ THIS.

roberto bolaño’s 2666 is killer. i’m only part-way through the first book1 (what with finals & all) but well hell i just have to recommend it right this instant.

a teeny tiny excerpt, to whet just the edge of your keen interest:

What a sad paradox, thought Amalfitano. Now even bookish pharmacists are afraid to take on the great, imperfect, torrential works, books that blaze paths into the unknown. They choose the perfect exercises of the great masters. Or what amounts to the same thing: they want to watch the great masters spar, but they have no interest in real combat, when the great masters struggle against that something, that something that terrifies us all, that something that cows and spurs us on, amid blood and wounds and mortal stench.

i’m not going to write a review of the thing, as i haven’t finished it & i hate book reviews. but the impulse is almost overwhelming;—which is, perhaps, recommendation enough.

it kind of makes me want to tear my hair out.


1. you should most definitely acquire the 3-volume boxed set of the novel, as it has been released in both that form & in hardcover from farrar, straus & giroux, & both forms are (in typical FSG fashion) lovely, but the thing was originally plotted to be in five parts & released sequentially anyway, & anyway the little QPs are easier to carry around, & it just looks so much more badass.

once more posting on the run, as is my wont:

netlabel rope swing cities has released an album by eleven steps called one week early, which you should run right out & download here.

rich warm tasty guitar-heavy soundscapey ambient. think i’ll probably lie in bed & have a listen right now.

steve’s website is here, & it has links to another release, as well.

overmetaphorization
leads to foolish & facile equations
the logic is flawed
its proponent a fraud
the conclusion an abomination

::

one occupies an ideology
which is modified methodologically
or one holds some beliefs
be they lengthy or brief
they may well emerge pathologically

—c.

01. If it doesn’t look human, it probably isn’t.

02. When encountering alien species on earth, remember: sympathy is overrated, and empathy is impossible. Automatically assume hostility. When encountering alien species off-world, try not to be a dick until you have to.

03. Talking to a potentially hostile alien life-form doesn’t always help, though sometimes it does.

04. Even if it looks human, it might not be. Never assume a human shape isn’t just a host.

05. Creepy people are creepy for a reason. Children are automatically creepy and are much more prone to accepting contact from alien life, hostile or otherwise.

06. Sometimes humans are the most alien of all.

07. Never question someone immortal, nearly immortal, or just bloody old. Especially if he has really great hair.

08. Get your snog on while you can, but try not to fall for someone of another species. Especially if you work for a top secret organization that specializes in alien technology and neutralizing potential alien threats. Do try not to shag the opposition.

09. However, do stay as close to them as you can. Unless they’re trying to kill you, which may or may not be obvious.

10. If you think you hear or see something, you probably did.

11. Really do try not to get separated.

12. Bring an extra flashlight.

13. The things in the dark are real.

14. Don’t turn your back. Don’t look away. Don’t blink.

15. Stay out of the shadows.

16. On the other hand, bright lights tend to be less friendly than you would think.

17. When in doubt, run. In fact, “run” should probably just be your default setting.

18. If your phone stops working, run. If the lights go out, you know what to do.

19. Learn how to use a gun, but it probably won’t do you much good.

20. Sometimes it’s smarter just to shoot to kill and ask forgiveness later. Or not ask forgiveness later.

21. Sometimes you just gotta drive a car into a building.

22. Never leave your keys in the ignition.

23. Never underestimate the value of a well-timed kick to the crotch.

24. Avoid London on Christmas. Avoid Cardiff in general.

25. If you find yourself in the midst of a particularly horrifying situation and/or you realize it’s the 51st century, blame Steven Moffat.

26. Never underestimate the power of human stupidity (cf. SEP)—nor of human courage and innovation.

27. Be clever. Use that unstoppable gob.

28. Each person has their own time at which to die. Trying to prevent the inevitable is a bad idea. Bringing people back to life is an even worse one.

29. The universe is full of strange and wonderful things, and some really horrible things, too. The past can be as strange as the future. Life is impossibly sad. But that’s life.

30. If you haven’t told someone you love them and you feel you should, for god’s sake TELL THEM ALREADY.