Wednesday, August 16, 2017

New Genre Wednesdays: Sarcastika

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Notes on Estrangement 3: Still

What is the awareness of the other guest -- the other guest, whom you have not seen and will later studiously cast your eyes in a wide berth around so as not to glimpse -- although a guest whom you will, later still, slipping back to your locker to retrieve your laptop with half these words already spilling in your head, with slight frustration, accidentally glimpse -- what is this awareness of this other guest, whom you have not seen, but who seems to be as light and as restless a sleeper, and perhaps as desperate a sleeper, as you are, this other guest with whom you share at least these pointless qualities, this other guest with whom you share also not exactly a bed, but exactly two beds, squeakily interwoven into one rickety structure, a set of bunks that creaks you into wakefulness again and again, that steadily disciplines your own tossing and turning into the most fastidious stealth, that once more and once more again rocks you asleep and stirs you awake like a cup of black coffee immiscible with its own milk?

Their awareness must be an estrangement of intimacy. It must be the very familiar thing, of lying sound asleep but always a little awake, here beside the other other person whom you lie beside almost every night -- in, it has to be said, a very big bed -- only made strange.

Or (flip quietly onto your other side, forests of fidgets, and spoonings sprouting into sporkings) it must be the strange made familiar.

It must be the strangeness of those nights when you and she can't get to sleep, those fidgeting nights of prickles and frets and crabs, where the world of bed becomes a thicket of thorns. It must be one of those nights, only made safe and inhabitable, technicized and mechanized, and made as comfortable and hospitable as possible, while preserving the essential texture of snarls and crotchets, made hospitable and comfortable and in a sense therefore familiar both by this little metal infrastructure that keeps your distance for you ...
... and by whatever invisible infrastructure distinguishes your lives, whatever invisible infrastructures keeps distances that are not even "your" distances between you, keeps the stranger below a stranger. Beds within beds, wheels of milk within wheels of black coffee, dawn within midnight, trying to show kindness while you are asleep within waking from the dream that you are awake. It must be the strange within the familiar.

Also, you are working together. In a way you are colleagues.

And also, there is a small but non-zero chance that the person in the bunk below you has written books you have read and perhaps been intimate with. And then what would shift or stir?

It is only because this is what has sprung to mind, this is what you have to compare it with, and cut a path toward it with, that it becomes this particular estrangement of a familiar intimacy, and the de-estrangement of this intimate disquiet. It could have been something else estranged last night. Paddling in a canoe, steering it together, trying to keep it level and its course true.

Or -- I think this is right, although I haven't had much sleep, for reasons I won't get into -- it could be an estrangement of some new something else which you retrospectively create in order to be that-which-is-estranged, and I think that is why estrangement can be political still.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Notes on Estrangement 2: Flushed With Pride

I spend a not inconsiderable time yesterday tweeting about these little signs at WorldCon. This thread goes right round the U-bend.

I wonder about the distinction between moments of estrangement in which the estranged person has a clear sense of for whom such moments are estranging, and for whom they are not, vs. moments in which the estranged person is simply disquieted in a way that offers no such distinctions, and a way in which they perhaps may assume to be universal.

I don't know yet how well that distinction would map onto the distinction between cognitive and non-cognitive, let alone how it might relate to science fiction, fantasy, horror, the weird, etc. What do you think?

Read the thread, if you like. This small sign being a text, might it offer an instance of literary estrangement? Was your first thought, "Why would you put up such a sign?" or "Why would you leave poop papers piled in a corner?" or "Good, that might help" or "If only I had a boss who would put up a sign like that"?

If the sign does offer an instance of estrangement, literary or otherwise, where does it stand as regards Suvin's distinction between the cognitive and non-cognitive? And can its status as cognitive and/or non-cognitive be reconfigured through conscious effort? Does reading the thread shift it from non-cognitively estranging to cognitively estranging? Or does it shift it from estranging to non-estranging? Or is there some other shift? Or is there some other shit?

The concept of "cognition," for Suvin, is loosely informed by Kantian critique (and less directly, feminist epistemology): cognition has something to do not only with recognising your object, but with recognising who and what you are.

So who encounters estrangement here? In the thread, among those whom I hint are less likely to encounter any sharp estrangement are:

  • Finns
  • Greeks, Macedonians, Bulgarians, etc.
  • Women
  • Cleaners

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Power Couples of WorldCon: A Field Guide

Marguerite Kenner and Alasdair Stuart. Of PodCastle, Escape Pod, PseudoPod, & Cast of Wonders. Podder Couple.

Malcolm Devlin and Helen Marshall. Travellers to antique lands frequently flock to Shelley's two vast and trunkless legs of stone. But why not squint up with the locals into the desert firmament azure, where hover two vast and trunkless arms of flame, Helen and Malcolm?

Patrick Nielson Hayden and Teresa Nielsen Hayden. Grandmasters of the Worshipful Company of Editors, these two have long since stopped editing your manuscripts directly, and simply edit the fabric of reality so that they have always already edited your manuscripts.

Emma Newman and Peter Newman. Of Tea and Jeopardy. Power Cuppa.

Geoffrey Landis and Mary Turzillo. Of poetry. Pictured here gigglingly bestowing 600 feet of badge ribbons on grateful Cosplay Rapunzel who accidentally locked her golden hair atop her lofty tower.

Jen Walklate and Will Ellwood. The Pyramus and Thisby of the Fourth Wall.

Ann VanderMeer and Jeff VanderMeer. Of Big Book of Science Fiction. Ann here pictured deftly brushing a fragment of rheum schmutz from the inner canthus of the left eye of a jetlagged Jeff. Zoom in and you'll see it's a delicate scrap of film-strip-like ribbon: Jeff's dreams must be physically exuded by a miniature mechanical heirloompunk gland bequeathed by Jeff's really-great-great-grandmother, Greta VanderMeer. Greta, who arrived at Ellis Island Greta AvantDreamer, invented the practice of dreaming, today widespread throughout many parts of the world.

Me and you. You, it will one day be recognized, did most of it.

Elsewhere: all the Podsibilities.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Notes on Estrangement 1: Quick skeptical comment on WorldCon academic track in Helsinki

This may just be the blazing Finnish sun and that weird walnut drink talking, but.

During his paper, Andrew Butler discussed Darko Suvin -- the theorist whose ideas are totally indispensable to our distinctively coherent, and focused, and totally packed-to-the-gunnels enclave conference here in Helsinki -- and in a throwaway comment, mentioned that Suvin thinks only a small fraction of SFF is any good.

Another way of putting that: Suvin might say that only a small fraction of SFF is actually cognitively estranging. (And btw, the more recent Suvin would certainly see cognitive and non-cognitive estrangement as braided together within any text, rather than functioning as a big distinction between SF and fantasy, or differentiating good books from bad ones).

I suspect that he'd see non-cognitive estrangements (which are mystifying, politically useless, conservative or reactionary in their effect) as fairly common. I think I would see them that way too, too, at least for the sake of argument!

I've been to two sessions and seen some fantastic papers and enjoyed them whole(withered)heartedly. But could that very enjoyment point to a problem? Is there maybe a pattern developing here? Do we perhaps systematically overestimate the political usefulness, or revelatory power, of the SFF we happen to love and/or happen to be researching? And/or if these texts do contain radical potentials (via cognitive estrangement or some other mechanism), do we systematically overestimate the ease with which we may access and elaborate those potentials as critics?

To take a crude example (and without doing justice to the nuance of the papers we've seen!): what if the figure of the cyborg does not rupture, but rather reinforces, the binary between nature and technology? What if chimeric human-animal hybrids likewise do not rupture, but rather reinforce, the binary between human and non-human?

(Or perhaps, what if these binaries have become like playthings that texts can rupture as often as they like to little or no effect, while unwittingly reinforcing other equivalent binaries, whose namelessness and elusiveness are part of their resilience and power? Equivalent binaries or other structures which nevertheless are quietly carrying out ubiquitous and obscure work on behalf of anthropocentric domination?)

I find the idea that We3 or Oryx & Crake or Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? disquiet my deep normative structures halfway convincing. I also find the idea that they reinforce those structures halfway convincing.

There is a rich tradition of Marxist literary criticism, to which Suvin surely belongs, which takes as its starting point the powerful recuperative capacities of capitalism and its intermeshed systems of oppression ... a tradition which begins by viewing any object of culture as probably complicit, in at least most of its aspects, with that dominant order. Are we in danger of forgetting that tradition here?

In the WorldCon booklet, there's a splendid and indispensable field guide to academics. One important factoid is: academics do not squee, they critique. Behind it there hovers a gentle tongue-in-cheek recognition of the passion and pleasure of many SFF academics: shhh, don't spoil it for them, critique is just a scholarly squee -- nobody spoil it for them!

It feels a little close to the bone.