Monthly Archives: December 2008

The “Anti-Feminist Harangue” in Lem’s Fiasco

I learned from Michael Kandel’s essay* in Peter Swirski’s collection The Art and Science of Stanislaw Lem (McGill UP, 2006) that crew member Harrach’s feelings about the absurdity of women appearing in science fiction novels (on pp. 313-14 of the Polish original according to Kandel) which expands into a rant was dropped from Kandel’s translation (with Lem’s approval) because Kandel and his editor thought that it would appear “ridiculous if not offensive to an American reader” (80 n.8). If I understand Kandel correctly, this passage is clearly an authorial aside.

I still can’t read Polish, but I feel like I have to check the French or German translations to see a) if it was left in and b) just how offensive it is. (I can’t help but think that Kandel might have overestimated the sensitivity of the American consumer of science fiction toward misogyny, but just as Lem is not Jerry Pournelle, neither do their readerships much overlap I suspect [and hope.])

Kandel also omitted a couple of pages from his translation of one of the Voyages of Ijon Tichy, as I recall, and I don’t know why.

*”A Freudian Peek at Lem’s Fiasco,” in Swirski ed., 72-80.

Up with Which I Will Not Put

Does this sentence from a Janet Malcolm piece on Gene Stratton-Porter qualify?

They became the central theme of a noxious novel called Her Father’s Daughter, written in 1921, after she had moved to Los Angeles and enthusiastically embraced the hatred for Chinese and Japanese immigrants by which early-twentieth-century California was seized.

It’s close, in any case.

Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch

What is there to say about the writing machines? According to the IMDB trivia page, Cronenberg wrote the script to this movie while he was playing a character (a psychiatrist, as I remember) in a Clive Barker film who would put on a mask and slaughter entire hotels because the mask told him to. The trivia page also mentions that he wrote it on a Toshiba laptop, which would have been suitably monstrous at the time. One of the most interesting procedures in psychoanalytic literary interpretation to me has always been what to make of writers who were not innocent of psychoanalytic concepts. The feedback becomes very difficult to entangle in those writers aware through cultural osmosis or primary reading (or actual analysis) of psychoanalysis. Cronenberg presents an interesting case here because, as even a quick glance through the collection of his interviews shows, he’s well acquainted with many of the most likely theoretical explanations that many people trained in film studies or literary analysis would turn to when interpreting the film.

This was primarily a secondary consideration for me in watching it, however. I’m more interested in Cronenberg’s reality-distortion effects. I’ve taught eXistenZ several times, and there’s a clear continuity between the two. (And it’s particularly interesting that Cronenberg saw the video game as the logical extension of Burrough’s imagination. I believe that Burroughs has had some influence on post-McLuhanite media studies.) Cronenberg’s visceral depiction of distorted realities contrasts interestingly with the literary feel of those presented by Dick, or the inevitably sterile depictions in much science fictional treatments of the concepts. Gene Wolfe’s Thag and nins stories, reprinted in Endangered Species (which also feature an analysis) are notable for the grittiness of their presentation, if not the granularity. I’m probably not being clear enough about what I mean here, and I don’t want to start talking about the stickiness of the real, much less its desert.

Burn after Reading

Clancy and I just watched this now, and I’ve had a chance to scan over a couple of the reviews. Ebert’s is surprisingly sloppy; several people do pronounce “Chigurh” in No Country for Old Men, and Woody Harrelson’s character is the only one who knows how to say it correctly. I mentioned to Clancy while we were watching it that the Coen brothers excelled in the poetics of everyday stupidity; “knucklehead” seems to be their favorite description of characters, for example. The John Malkovich character suggests that he’s been at war with morons his entire life, and it’s interesting to consider how the various characters end with respect to their various levels of accomplishment and intelligence: the Frances McDormand character, for instance, is by far the most venal and stupid and stupendously coerces the CIA into paying for elective surgeries. (And this comes from a CIA introduced to us with a mock spy-film satellite zoom to a faceless and dated office building, which routinely commits and covers up domestic murders, and makes us laugh about it. Because it’s clearly funny, expected, and deserved, in the film’s logic.)

George Clooney’s character wasn’t as much of a knucklehead as he might seem, more of a modern-day Odysseus, esp. if you buy the Adorno/Horkheimer reading. (His recreational engineering skills are a bit more impressive than any of the reviewers seemed willing to credit, for example.) I very much enjoyed that his wife wrote obnoxious-sounding children’s books and toured to support them, all the while having an affair of her own. One of the pitiable extras has an interview with the costume designer talking about how proud she was of the gauche jeans, tucked-in polo shirt, belt, and tennis shoes that Clooney wore to the hardware store, which made him look like a “suburban dork.” I started to remember what I was wearing the last time I went to Home Depot and then thought the better of it.

Mood Testing

It’s pretty easy to tell if I’m in a sentimental mood when I’m listening to music on my computer. If the Arcade Fire song “Intervention” comes up and I don’t skip it when he gets to the line about “working for the church,” then the natural lights of the season or something have gotten to me. I then sometimes read the reviews in The Yearbook of English Studies to get my edge back, if needed.

I left my Cyberiad in Cedar Island (wouldn’t that sentence exemplify as well as “colorless green ideas…” ?), but I particularly enjoyed Trurl’s tactical use of apophenia and wanted to discuss it in another context, which will have to wait.

I subscribe to TLS, despite the fact that it’s often frighteningly ignorant and reactionary. The back page, signed “J.C.” of the Dec. 12 issue quotes a perfectly lucid sentence of Hilary Dannenberg’s Coincidence and Counterfactuality in the apparent expectation that the readers of this august review will tap their pipes in knowing sympathy with this addition to the “annals of incomprehensibility.” (The U of Nebraska P is taken to task for publishing the book in its very good series in narrative theory. I suppose the complaint is not so much that the work is incomprehensible as such, but that it is only comprehensible to a few. A very democratic view to advocate for professional literary studies at this point.) I think this “J. C.” is the same who chivalrously promoted Drew Faust to manhood a few months ago.

A Girardian triangular desire analysis of Ween’s “Pretty Girl” off of Twelve Golden Country Greats would practically write itself. I’m also trying to imagine what Borges would have done with today’s big neuroscience reveal of the amanestic threading of the labyrinth by the blind.

Canadian Separatist Literature

I’ve always thought that the manifest ludicrousness of the Quebecois elements in Infinite Jest was a clear indicator of the diegetic embeddedness of much of the book, but I have learned from two review articles* in SFS that bizarre extrapolations about many different varieties of Canadian separatism have a rich literary history. Wallace, who enjoyed science fiction, might well have read some of them. Heinlein’s Friday, for example seems about on par from a plausibility perspective, if lacking in the grotesquerie of Wallace’s scenario.

There is even a suggestively subtitled novel on the subject by Patrick MacFadden, Rae Murphy, and Robert Chodos called Your Place or Mine? An Entertainment (Deneau & Greenberg, 1978).

*John Bell, “The Persistence of Division: Further Examples of English-Language Science Fiction concerning Canadian Separatist Conflicts,” SFS, 11.2 (Jul., 1984): 190-193 and John Bell, “Uneasy Union: A Checklist of English-Language Science Fiction concerning Canadian Separatist Conflicts,” SFS 9.1 (Mar., 1982): 82-88.


Perry Anderson, from the new series of NLR:

No collective agency able to match the power of capital is yet on the horizon. We are in a time, as genetic engineering looms, when the only revolutionary force at present capable of disturbing its equilibrium appears to be scientific progress itself—the forces of production, so unpopular with Marxists convinced of the primacy of relations of production when a socialist movement was still alive.

I know that the clause is not the projected term of “scientific progress,” but I enjoyed imagining it was, like something out of Mieville.