25 March 2007

1 + 1

Just a note to reintroduce myself into this conversation, albeit briefly for now—me, pleasantly encumbered by two new projects in which you all can share. They're of equal importance, so I hate to announce one above the other, but here goes.

I'm now a co-founding editor of a bouncing new baby press called Ninebark, based in Rome, Georgia, where I teach at Berry College. My co-editors are Mindy Wilson, managing editor of The Georgia Review (and my wife); poet Sandra Meek, my colleague at Berry College; and Ray Marsocci, formerly of Elixir Press. As some of you know, our first book, Deep Travel, an anthology of American poets whose work has been significantly informed by their time living abroad, debuted at AWP this year and did so pretty nicely. The book was edited by Sandra Meek (with excellent cover design by Lou Robinson) and includes work by established poets as well as several new names. If you or someone you know might be interested in using such a title in a course, please get in touch with me.

But all this is to say, that the press is interested in prose, as well, and we're currently on the lookout for a prose manuscript to be our second title. While we generally have an interest in international work, that's not our exclusive focus, and, furthermore, while the press is not strictly about avant work, as a reader, that's where my heart is, and, well, yes. So. If you've got a manuscript or know a colleague or even a promising student who does, again, please get in touch with me. I'd love to see anything by this crowd and its associates.

A word about the name Ninebark (from our press release): The press takes its name from a genus of flowering shrubs, Ninebark, named for the way the plant’s bark peels away in many layers. Ninebark occurs naturally both inside and outside the United States in diverse varieties. Both as natural object and as word, Ninebark suggests that complexity is not antithetical to beauty, but necessary to its creation.


I'm on the clock as the editor for the Fictions Present thread at electronic book review:


And, again, I'd love to look at any work you or your associates might have that speaks to the concerns of this currently short thread. Some of you have either contributed to it already, or mostly to other threads of the review, but this link here, from Joe Tabbi:


gives a nice intro to what's going on at Fictions Present, or at least where it starts. Where it stops, if it stops, is another question. I'm just learning to drive this thing. Regardless, as I say, please get in touch with me if you have something to contribute now or in the future, and in the meantime, I'm sure I'll be nudging you all individually about this as well. And, hey, if you presented at AWP, you know, come on now, give it up to ebr, yeah?

Fight the power.

17 March 2007

Mad Hatters' Review Reading 3/23 NYC

Edgy & Enlightened Literature, Art & Music in the Age of Dementia
Poetry, Prose & Anything Goes Reading Series
Curated & Pickled by Publisher/Editor Carol Novack
6th Reading
Friday, March 23, '07, 7 – 9 pm
KGB Bar, 85 East 4th Street, N.Y.C.

Patricia Catto, former Finger Laker, now "Midwasterner," is Associate Professor of Something at the Kansas City Art Institute. She was tenured in 1994 after a now legendary battle with Franconian fascists. Her book Aunt Pig of Puglia (edible portions published in various journals – one such to be published in MHR) recounts the magical realist tale of her cruel, unacceptable, beloved family whose Auntie was born with bristles and trotters. The true but utterly fake tale of the Ferri Family, this fable can be understood as the Sopranos Meet the Fawkers and They All Call Into Car Talk For Advice on Existential Problems. Catto is the author of a poetry book, Wife of Geronimo's Virile Old Age (Mathom Press), several poesms, art reviews and earnest articles dealing with the ecospiritualviagra issues of our day. In addition to teaching creative writing (like, RIGHT) and raks sharki (belly dance ), she does large scale murals in Indian restaurants. She has studied with the Maurice Sendak Kalighat School of the Indian Restaurant Mural. Catto's latest triumph was surviving if not partially mastering a parasite ingested last summer in Chandigarh India. You'll want to come and see her -3 dress size and query her about weight loss strategies.

Ted Pelton is the author of three books, most recently the novel Malcolm & Jack (and Other Famous American Criminals) (Spuyten Duyvil, 2006). In 1994, he was awarded an NEA Fellowship in Fiction. In 2000, he founded Starcherone Books (starcherone.com), an independent publisher of innovative fiction, and he now serves as its Executive Director. He's also an Associate Professor of English at Medaille College of Buffalo, NY. See samples of his work at tedpelton.com.

Steve Tomasula's short fiction has appeared widely and most recently in McSweeney's, The Denver Quarterly and The Iowa Review where he received the Iowa Prize for the most distinguished work published in any genre. His essays on body art and culture appear in Leonardo and other magazines both here and in Europe. He is the author of the novels IN & OZ; The Book of Portraiture; and VAS: An Opera in Flatland, a novel of the biotech revolution that has been released in paper by the University of Chicago Press. He teaches in the writing program at The University of Notre Dame.


For further info, email: madhattersreview@gmail.com
(type READINGS in the subject line)

15 March 2007

Curtis White podcast

Curtis White gave a talk tonight at Clackamas Community College in Oregon City, OR. Lucky for you, we recorded it and we're willing to share.

08 March 2007

jean baudrillard : 1929 – 2007

Jean Baudrillard, the remarkably influential French cultural theorist who argued, among other things over the course of his 50 books, that we live in an age of hyperreality where the real has been effaced by simulations of the "real," died on Tuesday, 6 March, after a long illness, at the age of 77.

I first ran into his ideas back in the early eighties, and simply couldn't shake them. They ended up infecting radically my speculative-fiction anti-trilogy, Tonguing the Zeitgeist, Time Famine, and Freaknest, as well as my recent novel Girl Imagined by Chance. Engaging with his imagination had the same effect on me as engaging with Barthes's and Derrida's. It was impossible not to feel, in some deep-structure way, that you'd left the Garden for good.

Here are a few excerpts from the Time Online coverage:

His interests ranged from anthropology to modern literature, film, art and photography, and he adopted many different styles of writing, from essay to poetry, from monograph to aphorism. Though not always clearly understood, his writing was influential across a broad range of disciplines that included literature, sociology, culture and media, and philosophy.

He was also an important influence on artists and writers — the novelist J. G. Ballard held that he was the most important French thinker of the past 20 years.

Jean Baudrillard was born in 1929 in Rheims, where he attended the lycée. His education was interrupted when, in the crucial year of preparation for entry into higher education, he abandoned his studies and, in his own words, “ran away” à la Rimbaud. He eventually returned to education, however, and spent ten years teaching German in provincial lycées.

In the 1960s he became a leading translator of German literary and philosophical works into French, while at the same time undertaking studies in sociology and preparing a thesis — influenced by the ideas of Henri Lefebvre and Roland Barthes — which would allow him to take up a university position.

This he did at Nanterre in 1966, at a time when left-leaning intellectuals were being increasingly radicalised in the wave of anti-bourgeois agitation that characterised the 1960s. His major publications begin from 1968. He continued to teach and to research in Paris until his withdrawal from academia in 1987. Thereafter he spent much time travelling and lecturing throughout the world and developing his talent as a photographer — his work was shown in several exhibitions.

Baudrillard’s career as a social theorist began with two substantial studies of affluent, modern society: The System of Objects (1968) and The Consumer Society (1970). These were followed by For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign (1972), where sociology, semiology and Marxist economic theory were combined. At the high point of the influence of Marxism in France Baudrillard thus contributed, against the more orthodox styles of Marxism, a recognition that a profound shift had taken place with the development of consumerism. His two studies of consumerism charted the emergence of a society dominated not by commodities as such, but by objects now consumed more and more for their image, or as he called it, their “sign-value”.

This transition to a system characterised by what he called “saturation” and “obesity," among other categories of his invention, made analyses based on scarcity, need, function and proletarian revolt redundant. It was soon clear to him that Marxism, like socialism, was part of the system it sought to overcome.

What distinguished Baudrillard’s response therefore was his search for a way of analysing modern societies that still remained radical.

Wikipedia offers a good overview of his life and work here.

06 March 2007

Gender and the Construction of Authorship

Last fall I read Julie Phillips’ James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon, and it provoked me into months of reflection. For those who don’t know, Sheldon was, among diverse other things, an important sf writer in the 1960s and ’70s who wrote under the name “James Tiptree, Jr.” In 1973 Tiptree’s style was characterized by Robert Silverberg as “ineluctably masculine;” and some of Tiptree’s correspondents characterized “Tip” (as he called himself) as a “man’s man” and a “man of the world.” And yet Tiptree’s work also appealed to feminists, who held him up as a rare examples of a man who “got” it. All of these notions of the masculinity of Tiptree’s writing vanished in the late 1970s when Sheldon was outed as a “little old lady living in McLean, Virginia” (as she bitterly put it). Although Sheldon had had the same experiences as Tiptree (expeditions in Africa, sexual adventures, Army (intelligence) service during WWII, and employment with the CIA for a brief time in the 1950s), the glamour had gone.

Significantly, Phillips’s first epigraph for the book is taken from a letter by Joanna Russ to Tiptree: “To learn to write at all, I had to begin by thinking of myself as a sort of fake man.” Sheldon wrote for many years before creating Tiptree’s voice and style, but apart from her columns as an art critic in the 1930s and an occasional letter to the editor or other nonfiction piece, she published only one story in all those years (published in the New Yorker under the name Alice Bradley. This was written from a female pov, but (going by Phillips’ description) suffers from the very qualities Sheldon in her journal around the time she was writing it believes is typical of women’s writing:

I find, in all the writings of women, a strange muffled quality, as if the living word, as it left the lips, had been hastily suppressed and another substituted, one which would conform to some pattern imposed from without….

The construction of Tiptree, as voice and author(ized) persona, apparently solved her problem.

I know many examples of women sf writers (several of them personally) having pretended (to themselves) to be men to authorize their voices and then eventually being able to write in their own (i.e., non-impersonating) voice; in most cases creating female pov characters presented a challenge to them they overcame with great difficulty. I have also been told by some writers (both men and women) that they are unable to create interesting women characters only by first writing them as male characters and then later changing their sex. And I know that many women writersregardless of their feminismare unable to think of women characters as unmarked or “universal.” (Just a week ago a former student told me that though she wishes it were otherwise, this is the case for her.) The consequences of such gender issues for the construction of authorship are significant. Apart from everything else, as Joanna Russ wrote to Tiptree: “Not being oneself in any way at all exacts its price…The minute one writes about [one’s own experience], you walk head-on into the cruxes of your own life, whatever they are.”

An essay in Rachel Blau DuPlessis’s Blue Studio (“Reader, I Married Me”) offers some insight into the reasons women writers’ construction of authorship is frequently so vexed. (DuPlessis’s most famous essay is probably her experimental piece “For the Etruscans.”) As an undergraduate at Barnard “circa 1960,” Duplessis was a “secular humanist” who saw no need for feminism. She describes herself as having been “poetically awakened” by the Donald Allen New American Poetry anthology and as having being categorically told in a creative writing course that “women can’t (really) write.” She notes that she kept asking herself

which was I, the woman or the artist, with a relentless and lacerating binarism. It was the greatest pain and griefthe sense that I had to choose, that one precluded the other, and that I was a bad woman for wanting an artistic career, a bad artist because I was a woman and couldn’t work out the terms of any art. This ideological and psychological stalemate was perfectly ridiculous, now arcane sounding. Yet at the time it presented a powerful invisible barrier….Self-repression and cultural censorship of females were in interlock. Adrienne Rich’s “Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law” captures the sense of desperation, loneliness, and near-paralysis women felt when faced with what seemed like a billion years of cultural and social despising…My resistance came destructively, in not writing, in long silences around writing, in baffled and punishing blockage. This went on for years.

And then in the late 1960s, Duplessis became a feminist. “If I had not become a feminist,” she observes, “I probably would not have been able to write much or to think anything especially interesting in an original way. I would not have been able to create the works that came through me and go under my name. My title torques the ethical-romantic climax of Jane Eyre (“Reader, I married him”) not to deny biographical marriage but to signal a polygynous entitlement.” The result of her feminism, though, wasn’t simply that she escaped the desperate binarism forced on her psyche, but that she learned that “structural and formal choices were part of ideology; that language, hegemony, discourse, form, canon, rightness and wrongness, allowable and not allowable were historical, relativized, and interested concepts. This insight was always mixed with a strong aesthetic sense of form and language.”

More specifically, she discovered that “as a feminist” one needed “to invent an endless number of forms, structures, and linguistic ruptures that would cut way beyond language-business-as-usual and narrative-business-as-usual, which always seemed to end up with ‘the same’ kind of binary, ‘patriarchal’ normalcy. Experimental writing of all sorts had always been crucial to the female project of cultural change: of revolution, not revision. It seems to me that feminism (with other socially based cultural movements) is a necessary completion of modernism… Writing cannot make these changes alone; but writing exerts a continuous destabilizing pressure and, in both analytic and formal ways, creates an arousal of desire for difference, for hope.”

Science fiction has, of course, been a marvelous medium for all sorts of feminist experimentation. Despite that, many of the women writing science fiction have had to struggle (and may still be struggling) with the construction of authorship. I’m wondering whether this is still the case for women doing alternative/experimental writing. Or have the very powerful female voices of alternative writing over the last twenty years made this a non-problem? For those of you who teach creative writing: do your women students find the gender-inflections of the construction of authorship difficult to negotiate?