There's a piece by Lev Grossman over at the Wall Street Journal, which is ostensibly about how Plots and Genre Concerns are being made respectable in the Novel once again. Yes, I'm using the Init Caps for Shorthand Sarcasm. Cue...By Serdar Yegulalp on 2009/08/31 16:57
There's a piece by Lev Grossman over at the Wall Street Journal, which is ostensibly about how Plots and Genre Concerns are being made respectable in the Novel once again.
Yes, I'm using the Init Caps for Shorthand Sarcasm. Cue the sound of the back of your head hitting the chair as you nod off.
Grossman's piece is shockingly dated in its outlook. It's a literary version of one of those hopeless "rock criticism" essays about What Punk Is. Lester Bangs himself took a few pages back in 1981 (Carburetor Dung, pp. 337-338 to be exact) to torpedo that already-sinking PT boat. The people who really give a damn about such things, he argued -- via a hilarious extended metaphor -- are too busy being punk in the first place to care about its genealogy. Trying to hammer it into a shape limited by your own critical vision is just dippy.
Actually, Grossman's essay is not just dated, but profoundly, proudly ignorant of how fiction works as a whole. The idea that there is some kind of literary shooting war for readers between the brave, wondrous Don DeLillos and David Foster Wallaces of the world, and those evil writers of shudder Genre Fiction gasp ... it's idiotic, plain and simple. Most of the people in either camp, as readers or writers, don't care about what's happening on the other side of their particular Berlin Wall. They've got books to write and read, dammit, and each of them has their own reasons for doing so. Janet Evanovitch is in no danger of losing fans to Robert Bolaño (or vice versa, for that matter). If anything, I'm betting this divide is going to get all the deeper over time.
The whole foofaraw he coughs up about plot going MIA and then miraculously coming out of its "carbonite nap" (his words; gee, where in the universe did he cop that particular metaphor from? the irony is unending) is just as dumb. Most fiction is plotted to some degree; the truly plotless, free-floating works of any repute out there tend not to retain much readership or get filed under a different rubric. (Is Maldoror a novel, a "prose poem", a hallucination? Does the label even matter here?)
I have a theory.
I think what really happened is that suddenly there's a crop of books out there that Grossman doesn't feel quite so bad about being caught with in public. If that was the case, I would have had more respect for the man if he'd just copped to it (as per Chuck Klosterman and his love of Road House) instead of trying to disguise the whole thing with this pesudo-critical weighing-in.
Someone else also weighed in nicely:
Let us banish the idea that it's possible to enjoy a book for the wrong reason.
Let us also banish the worry that we will be accused of enjoying books for the wrong reasons.
Let us believe each other when we say we liked a particular book, even if it was Black Body by H. C. Turk.
Do that, and I can guarantee we'll have some interesting conversations.
Yeah. Me too.
Tokyo Inferno and all the other books are on their way to Dallas right now, way ahead of me getting there. I'd actually taken a bit of a gamble by doing this; some part of me wanted to have the...By Serdar Yegulalp on 2009/08/30 20:16
Tokyo Inferno and all the other books are on their way to Dallas right now, way ahead of me getting there. I'd actually taken a bit of a gamble by doing this; some part of me wanted to have the books in-hand before I left -- but then I realized it wouldn't matter much, and it would just mean dragging that much more loot through airport security. I'm still bringing a second (empty) bag to bring things back in, since I'm anticipating coming back with at least some product.
The promo cards I created for Inferno didn't come out all that great. I'm just going to use up the whole supply at the show and create a new design when I get back home -- not only does the blurb on the card not match the one on the book (yecch) but the slogan on the front is pretty awful, too (double yecch). Ah, well -- screw up and learn.
I may have some announcements about what I'm working on in 2010 after I get back from the con, but all such things should be considered strictly tentative for now. There's several strong possibilities, but I don't count on any one of them being the one. I'm still sticking to a one-book-a-year schedule if I can hack it. For the most part it isn't hard -- it's just a matter of discipline, something that most any self-respecting artist typically giggles at. It's in our blood to sleep in late and take extra credits in creative loafing, innit?
An aspiring writer friend of mine composes all of his fiction in the first person. The character is always an "I", not a "he" or a "she" (or an "it", or even a "they", but I digress). I've been more...By Serdar Yegulalp on 2009/08/28 11:48
An aspiring writer friend of mine composes all of his fiction in the first person. The character is always an "I", not a "he" or a "she" (or an "it", or even a "they", but I digress). I've been more mutable than that: The Four-Day Weekend was first person, but Summerworld and Tokyo Inferno were third. Why the differences?
I asked myself that question the other night and, much to my surprise, got a surpassingly simple answer. If the subject of the story is a natural storyteller, then it makes sense to let them tell the story in their own words. If they're not, then it makes sense to reclaim storytelling duties from them and tell the story in your words, as an author.
Reason #2 is when you, the author, are trying to impart a bigger view of events than he, the subject, can possibly provide on his own. Sometimes you're trying to comment on what he's doing; sometimes throw it into sharp relief; sometimes just look at it as objectively as you can without letting his voice get in the way.
Feedback on this thought, of the non-electric-guitar non-Merzbow variety, is welcomed.
And now time for a quick roundup of movies from my Region 2 import list that haven't yet shown up domestically. Some of these have been discussed before, but are worth mentioning periodically. Away with Words: Funny, surreal, touching, weird,...By Serdar Yegulalp on 2009/08/26 11:27
And now time for a quick roundup of movies from my Region 2 import list that haven't yet shown up domestically. Some of these have been discussed before, but are worth mentioning periodically.
Away with Words: Funny, surreal, touching, weird, funny, poetic, beautiful, and very, very funny experimental feature from longtime Hong Kong cinematographer Christopher Doyle. Tadanobu Asano stars along with Mavis Xu and Doyle's buddy Kevin Sherlock; they're a triumvirate of oddballs in Hong Kong, each with their own peculiar derangements of the senses and soul. The Japanese DVD is loaded with fun extras, including a gut-busting longer version of the "Rapping Granny" sequence, wherein an octogenarian gets up on a nightclub stage and does her own rendition of Grandmaster Flash's "The Message".
Mind Game: My vote for the best animated film not yet available in English. A chance meeting between Nishi and an estranged girlfriend turns into an odyssey across time, space, mind, oceans, continents and memory. Yet more evidence that Japan's animation industry is rocketing into, through and out of the same fearlessly experimental territory as the most adventurous live-action movies in the West. I think DreamWorks had the option to distribute this (it was briefly in theaters), but no domestic DVD has turned up.
Shiriusu no Densetsu (Sea Prince and Fire Child): My vote for the other best animated film not yet available in English. A simple story, a mythological take on Romeo and Juliet, but told with such grace and elegance that it becomes appealing to all audiences and not just kids. The DVD has no English, but a fansubbed version has been circulating. I suspect a license tie-up with the people who brought it (very briefly) into English on VHS is preventing a re-release.
Swallowtail Butterfly: Shunji Iwai's epic three-hour pesudo-futuristic saga about ... well, a lot of things, really. Adolescence, the immigrant experience, life on the margins, crime and punishment, sin and redemption and you-name-it. Gets even better on repeat viewings, and Iwai has done nothing scarcely as good since. The DVD edition is heavily windowboxed but still quite watchable.
The Man Who Stole The Sun: What Dr. Strangelove did for nuclear war, this movie does for nuclear terrorism. Kenji Sawada stars as a schoolteacher who builds his own A-bomb and then realizes he hasn't thought out the next steps too well. Bunta Sugawara is the steel-jawed cop who goes after him, not realizing he's also a public hero who helped save a busload of schoolkids. Leonard Schrader (Paul's brother) wrote the script, and despite some dated touches it still holds up today.
AICN Anime gave me a shout-out for my piece about the very, very bad Black Jack remake manga. (Search on "Serdar") and you'll find it on that page. Thanks, Scott!...By Serdar Yegulalp on 2009/08/24 16:17
There's now an official Facebook page for Genji Press. At least, I think that's the address to use -- I hate the fact that it's next to impossible these days to tell what the actual permalink is for such a...By Serdar Yegulalp on 2009/08/21 12:15
There's now an official Facebook page for Genji Press. At least, I think that's the address to use -- I hate the fact that it's next to impossible these days to tell what the actual permalink is for such a page. I'll be adding the link to the sidebar in the next day or so once I get some more actual content up there. Right now, it's just a placeholder, and it's not going to be anything more than a place where I announce new stuff and direct people here to the official site.
Chuck Klosterman goes to town on the etymology of the Guilty Pleasure: What the authors of The Encyclopedia of Guilty Pleasures (and everyone else who uses this term) fail to realize is that the only people who believe in some...By Serdar Yegulalp on 2009/08/20 13:44
Chuck Klosterman goes to town on the etymology of the Guilty Pleasure:
What the authors of The Encyclopedia of Guilty Pleasures (and everyone else who uses this term) fail to realize is that the only people who believe in some kind of universal taste—a consensual demarcation between what's artistically good and what's artistically bad—are insecure, uncreative elitists who need to use somebody else's art to validate their own limited worldview. It never matters what you like; what matters is why you like it.
So here comes the dilemma. Is it worth attempting to argue that I like Machine Girl and and Doomsday (yes, that thing) and I Love Maria the same way I love Kagemusha and Ran and Oldboy and Mind Game? That I like the items in the former list because they are trashy, and the latter because they are sublime?
I don't think so. I like everything on those lists for one overriding reason: they give me joy. Sometimes it's because there's a peek into human nature -- not just because of what's on screen, but sometimes in spite of it ("Who in god's name could have made this thing?"). Sometimes that joy is in the form of seeing something I have never seen before -- and even sometimes that joy can be absurd or profound or even both at once.
Chuck is touching on something crucial here, though: we tend to form our like and our dislike first, and then look for our reasons for it. The more effort you put into it from a critical perspective, the better you can disentangle your feelings from some sense of what the work is attempting to do and why. Consider all those movies that you know are great pieces of work but you never, ever want to sit through again. And then consider the stuff that is just so fundamentally empty-headed or inexplicable that you can't help but marvel at it. The level of astonishment you get from the latter sometimes supersedes what people can do when they really are trying.
The former would any of the mercilessly sad movies about WWII that get made in hopes of an Oscar bid. The latter is lunacy like Wolf Devil Woman, which features a feral female swordswoman who (among other things) extinguishes a fire by ripping open a vein on her arm and spraying it with her own blood. Or We're Going To Eat You, a movie about human cannibalism that sports a climactic fight on rollerskates.
Such logic explains a lot of the affection some people have for bad movies. They don't just go out of their way to find the badness and wallow around in it and fling mud back at it; they seek it out because more often than not such things produce the above reaction. There's nothing quite as stupefying as a creator who embraces madness with a straight face -- it's rare, and in its own way, quite brilliant.
None of this, of course, is an argument against someone doing something brilliant/serious with a straight face and getting away with it. If I was against that, I'd have to take everything I've done and throw it into a deep hole and push dirt over it. Being straight is what I'm good at. Other guys, who get to be crazy with a straight face, get my admiration any day of the week. It takes real nerve, nerve I'll never have, to make a movie about, oh hell I dunno, people whose wounds turn into machine guns.
Or, hell, Eraserhead.
Science fiction, rebooted.