Tag Archives | Literature

Groundbreaking Experimental Author Christine Brooke-Rose Dies At 88

thruPioneering, yet little known by the general public, in her mind-bending works, she “exploded the fixed architecture of the master narrative.” The Guardian writes:

One of Britain’s most radical exponents of experimental fiction, the marvelously playful and difficult novelist was fond of the device of omission.

In her 1968 novel Between, she left out the verb “to be” throughout, to stress the narrator’s disoriented sense of personal identity – the year before George Perec’s novel La Disparition omitted the letter “e”. She left out the word “I” from her autobiographical novels, instead describing the narrator as “the old lady”.

Her first truly experimental novel, Out (1964), was narrated by a white character facing racial discrimination in the aftermath of a nuclear war, with pale skin now indicating radiation poisoning and dark skin health.

As a Women’s Auxiliary Air Force officer during the second world war, she worked at Bletchley Park, assessing intercepted German communications.

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The Invention Of The Meritocracy

rise-of-meritocracy-coverThe New Inquiry unearths the 1959 work of sci-fi satire that arguably coined the term — now used in earnest by many pundits to describe and defend our current society:

Michael Young’s The Rise of the Meritocracy begins in 2034 with a puzzled member of the commanding elite of the future wondering why in the world various discontented factions of the meritocratic society could be contemplating a general strike.

The more plausible meritocracy seems, the more self-righteous and intransigent the “meritorious” will become. In other words, the obvious shortcomings of the meritocracy myth don’t prevent beneficiaries of the status quo from taking ideological comfort in the idea.

There are inescapable problems of definition and measurement. What counts as merit? Who decides, and how is this decision objective? What sort of tests can be devised to isolate “merit” from some inherently privileged position in society that facilitates it? Doesn’t power redefine merit in terms of itself, and what it needs to preserve itself?

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Dreaming of Electric Sheep

End Of The WorldIn this column for Toronto Standard, Emily Keeler asks, “Are Dystopic literary visions becoming the way of the world?” Call me Henry Case, but i think she might be on to something.

Okay, it’s true: I tend to prefer fiction to fact. Though some journalists (and essayists) who work with what you might call “reality” get my gears going, I typically think stories are better, if only because they offer a window to a different, much less banal world. I learned early that novels are a place to run to, islands of respite from the endless rowing across the boring and tedious ocean between birth and death. It’s a place, to abuse a phrase associated with one of fiction’s loudest champions, where I can go to get away from being already pretty much away from it all. Stories relieve me of myself, from the blandness of my mostly apolitical and largely unremarkable life, and none more so than fictions of the mystifying future.

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Varney the Vampire’s Feast of Blood

Varney_the_VampireThe fictional vampire may have made his debut at the Algonquin Round Table, but he flourished alongside the cave-dwelling cannibals and homicidal maniacs who introduced the British working class to the magic of reading. The 1845-1847 penny dreadful Varney the Vampire was penned by none other than James Malcolm Rymer, who created the character Sweeney Todd. Victorian Gothic writes:

James Malcolm Rymer’s Varney the Vampire has been described as the worst book of the 19th century. Introduced in 1845, the completed serial consists of over 600,000 words of tedious dialog, aimlessly meandering storylines, maddening repetition, and enough kernels of genius to consistently inspire horror fiction into the present day. Bram Stoker, Anne Rice, Stephen King, Russell T. Davies and Freidrich Wilhelm Murnau are just some of the writers and filmmakers who have been indebted to concepts originated in the pages of Varney, making it easily the most influential vampire story that nobody reads.

The first full-length work of vampire fiction, Varney appeared in the penny press some 36 years after the original short story sketches by Lord Byron and John William Polidori, and decades before J.

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The Lesbian Vampire Story That Inspired “Dracula”

CarmillaIn composing his novel Dracula, Bram Stoker drew heavily upon an earlier, more seedy story in which a young woman succumbs to the attractions of an undead countess. Victorian Gothic reviews J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla:

First published in 1897, Bram Stoker’s Dracula was destined to become the universally-acknowledged masterwork of vampire fiction, but it was not, by any means, the first of its kind. Stokers genius consisted not in having invented the modern vampire monster, but in the imaginative way he synthesized and expanded upon the ideas that prior authors had already been exploring.

One of these was J. Sheridan Le Fanu, whose 1872 tale Carmilla provided a template for many of Dracula’s best-remembered characters and motifs, including the occult doctor (Dr. Hesselius), and the lonely Gothic castle set in a barbarous region of Europe. Many of the proper names in Dracula, in fact, are direct allusions to Carmilla’s characters and settings: “Karnstein” became “Carfax,” “Reinfeldt” became “Renfield,” and so on.

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The Extraordinary Syllabus Of David Foster Wallace

The best people you will ever knowFor fans of Foster-Wallace, the archive of his work at the University of Texas is an absolute treat. Katie Roiphe looks at his teaching syllabus when he was faculty member at Pomona College in the years before his death, for Slate:

Lately David Foster Wallace seems to be in the air: Is his style still influencing bloggers? Is Jeffrey Eugenides’ bandana-wearing depressed character in The Marriage Plot based on him? My own reasons for thinking about him are less high-flown. Like lots of other professors, I am just now sitting down to write the syllabus for a class next semester, and the extraordinary syllabuses of David Foster Wallace are in my head.

I am not generally into the reverential hush that seems to surround any mention of David Foster Wallace’s name by most writers of my generation or remotely proximate to it; I am not enchanted by some fundamental childlike innocence people seem to find in him.

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Six Fictional Drugs With Unintended Side Effects

Datos Pegados ff93Substance D, Soma, Melange – they’ve all been part of our culture for decades. Gabe Habash looks at the side effects for Publishers Weekly:

In fiction and in reality, medicine is designed and set up to operate with the best of intentions, to eliminate pain and disease and the things that push us toward mortality. In theory. In practice, we know that there are holes in this theory. But for all the problems in the reality of medicine, at least we don’t have to worry about these 6 fictional drugs, which were designed to make the world a better place, but failed in all types of spectacular ways.

1. Altruizine from “Altruizine” by Stanislaw Lem

Unintended Side Effect: It makes people too altruistic.

Lem, one of the most widely-read sci-fi writers in the world, wrote a short story within his collection The Cyberiad about Altruizine, a metapsychotropic drug that causes the user to feel the pains and emotions of others within a radius of fifty yards.

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Happy Halloween from William S. Burroughs (Remix Video)

William S. BurroughsOnce upon a time, there were witches ... in this classic remix, the silent film Haxan is wed in an unholy matrimony to the laconic snarl of William S. Burroughs narrative aplomb. For those of you with a big appetite, we've got a special sweet hidden away. Check out this great little recitation of Poe's "The Red Death" — also read by William S. Burroughs — at Joe Nolan's Insomnia.
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